Well Fridays are often the time for on line fun and laughs – a day when people start sending around dopey things on email like pictures of cats doing stupid things as part of “Friday funnies” – and so it was with the Liberal Party today.
The laughs had actually started last night (well they did for all those who like seeing Abbott trip up) when Tony Windsor let rip a few missiles Abbott’s way regarding his going back on his word over allowing the speaker to be paired:
"A lot of what we were trying to do as independents during that period after the election was assess whether anybody really wanted to be in government in a hung Parliament, and whether they could be trusted to be there for the period of the Parliament," he said.
"I actually gained a much higher personal regard for him during that period of a fortnight and I thought he was serious about some of the things that he was saying to us privately and publicly.
"To say that this is against the Constitution I think anybody would say that's just a blatant excuse for going back on your word."
Geez. Now that is straight talking
He then went on Lateline and kept it up:
TONY JONES: You're disappointed. Are you angry about it? I mean, it does put a rather large hole in the reforms that already ruled out your colleague Rob Oakeshott from being Speaker.
TONY WINDSOR: Well I wouldn't say I'm angry. I'm disappointed.
I think one of the things we were trying to assess right throughout this was trust in individuals, and I said at the time that I'd gained a greater regard for Tony Abbott through the discussions that we'd had.
But I think it's taken a bit of a backward step again, having gone down this pathway.
TONY JONES: Does this actually change your mind about the nature of the negotiations you were having with Tony Abbott? You've said there's a question over whether they were actually in good faith?
TONY WINDSOR: Well I think it goes to the issue of trust and stability. And one of the things we were looking for - well, I was looking for in terms of the fortnight after the election was who was actually interested in stability and who could we trust to go the distance, in a sense.
Tony Abbott didn't win the prize, in a sense, but I think it's gone to that issue of trust and in some ways I think it's vindicated what we did for those who are out there suggesting we should have done something else.
TONY JONES: It's interesting to hear you say that because Tony Abbott himself said very recently that he'd be working to woo the independents back onto his side and he was actually hoping that some time in the not-too-distant future he might be able to achieve that and that you'd flip over and basically allow him to put a coalition government together.
You'd think that's now less likely to happen than you might have imagined?
TONY WINDSOR: Well, his early warning signs aren't good. If that's a love note coming towards us, I must pick it up and read it the other way. I don't see that as being terribly constructive, what's happened today.
TONY JONES: Do you think he's deliberately antagonising you at this point?
TONY WINDSOR: Oh, no, I wouldn't say that. I think he's just made a mistake.
A mistake? Hell even Bob Katter was pissed:
"I think he has established a most unfortunate reputation for himself," he said.
"I think he is going in there with an adversarial attitude and is not seeing the bigger picture and I think that he's making a very bad political judgement there. The people are also sick and tired of this sort of approach.
"I have told a number of high-ranking Liberals in the Parliament that I don't think their cause is best served by simply making trouble at this early stage."
After the election, all Abbott had to do was convince three guy who represent pretty conservative electorates where the easiest thing for them to do would be to support Abbott as PM, and yet he failed to do that. Since his best chance now is to get them to swap sides, the first thing he has needed to do is show them some respect; and yet again he has failed to do that – and has in fact seemingly gone out of his way to piss them off, even though he will need their support for any Private Members Bills he would like to get passed – such as the Wild Rivers Legislation.
The laughs kept up a piece by Peter van Onselen in The Oz:
Leader fails the honour test in Speaker backflip
"HE wants to blow the place up. He'll either be a terrorist or go kamikaze - we'll see."
That is how one of Tony Abbott's frontbenchers summed up his decision to walk away from an agreed parliamentary reform to pair the Speaker's vote.
Firstly I have to say the who “terrorist or go kamikaze” thing is a bit odd – given that the standard terrorist move is to be a suicide bomber, there maybe a bit of tautology their, and also I’m not sure if the speaker is trying to suggest going the terrorist route is a good outcome. But look either way, that a member of his front bench is saying this is not a sign of great stability.
It’s the type of thing you start hearing just before people start idly wondering about counting the numbers.
Now I can’t see Abbott being knocked off yet – Turnbull’s lack of party strength keeps him safe (because let’s be honest Hockey has lost all credibility for the leadership), but given his complete success at alienating the Independents, a few Lib MPs might start thinking that Abbott has peaked – getting close does not mean you win next time.
That might really start thinking this when they look at how he handled the Deputy Speaker issue today.
In the early afternoon Chris Uhlmann an ABC24 broke that the ALP had approached Lib MP Alex Somlyay to be Deputy Speaker and that he would be paired with the Speaker – ie he would not vote.
Well soon after out came this release:
Media Statement from Alex Somlyay
I can confirm that I have been approached by the Gillard Government, through the Leader of the House, the Hon Anthony Albanese, to stand as their nominee for the position of Deputy Speaker on the basis that I would support the Government on no confidence motions and supply bills.
I have declined this approach.
I have been a proud member of the Liberal Party Room for 21 years and my commitment to serve the Liberal-National Party remains strong.
After discussions with both the Labor Party and my own leader, the Hon Tony Abbott MHR, I confirm that I will be contesting the nomination for the position of Deputy Speaker in the Coalition Party Room on Monday.
I support the Coalition’s decision to reject any pairing arrangements for the Speaker and Deputy Speaker positions on the basis that such pairing is inconsistent with the Constitution.
So a nice win for Abbott, you’d think…well it was for about an hour.
Then came this:
Federal Government sources say Mr Somlyay has agreed to back Labor in terms of supply and confidence if he is elected deputy speaker of the House of Representatives.
But Mr Somlyay has rejected the other element of Labor's proposal - a guarantee on pairing votes.
Earlier, a statement issued in Mr Somlyay's name indicated the Liberal MP had rejected the entire deal.
But Mr Somlyay's office now says the statement was issued by the office of Opposition Leader Tony Abbott.
So it seems Abbott’s office had jumped the gun, putting out a statement in Somlyay’s name and unfortunately getting the facts wrong – ir hoping their version of the facts would indeed become true.
Instead it appears that Somlyay will support the ALP in no-confidence motions and supply, meaning (given Katter had also said he would actually do this – cheers Possum for reminding me of this) on such votes the ALP would have 77 votes and the LNP would have 72 – a pretty handy majority. And yet (as Possum also noted on twitter) on any other piece of legislation the vote will be… well who the hell knows? So pretty stable… but not really. Interesting, indeed.
But though he is not going to be a pair on all pieces of legislation Somlyay’s decision is a big slap in the face to Abbott. Why do it? well Somlyay was a Turnbull man, is retiring at the next election and was the Opposition Whip, but was dumped from that position by Abbott for Warren Entsch.
What Somlyay has shown is that the media should not be so focussed on the possibility of the ALP being “1 by-election” away from defeat, but instead should be looking at any LNP MPs who are to retire at the next election and thus have little to lose, and may be prepared to use their vote to either display their discontent, or because they want to get some goodies for their electorate that may be up for barter from an ALP desperate for any vote.
Perhaps as well Somlyay (who reportedly had been wooed by the ALP for 9 days) was having a look at Entsch’s work this morning and thought, geez if they’re going to be this useless, I might as well half jump ship.
Entsch came out on ABC radio and said that not only were the Libs not going to allow a pairing of the speaker, the traditional pairing arrangements for Ministers and MPs was off the table:
WARREN ENTSCH: It will depend on the circumstance. I mean there are issues such as national interest etc etc will be taken into consideration. But to just expect it’s going to happen so that somebody can have an overseas jaunt is highly unlikely.
ALEXANDRA KIRK: Now clearly some ministers need to go overseas in order to do their job for example like the Foreign Minister, the Defence Minister, the Immigration Minister. They are not overseas jaunts.
WARREN ENTSCH: Well it depends on, some would argue differently in some of the cases. And of course each one needs to be assessed on its merit. And there are a lot of times when we are not sitting.
The pairing is done for many reasons – someone may be overseas, someone may be sick, someone may have a meeting, heck – someone may want to go to their kid’s school concert. Now you could I guess take the view that they should bloody well have to turn up to every vote. But the reality is pairing is asensible arrangement, and if the Libs are going to play silly buggers with it, then they are really moving into holding breath til they get their way mode. Christopher Pyne had to quickly come out and put the kybosh on the implications of Entsch’s statements – such as the Libs could deny Tanya Plibersek a pair when she goes on maternity leave.
But even though they won’t be that stupid (I think) Pyne did still say:
“We're not going to be in the business of providing pairs willy-nilly,"
It’s one of those statements though that sounds nice and tough from Pyne, but in reality it’s just a lot of talk. Are they seriously suggesting they’ll not allow a Minister a pair because he is overseas on a conference or at an international event? If so, I guess they’re applying the Albert Field model of parliamentary democracy, and it will be interesting to see how it is reported.
Joe Hockey meanwhile was providing some laughs (and hell I won’t even get to his hilarious attempt at economics over on The Punch) by thinking more of Mal Colston – the ALP Senator who in 1996 acted as Deputy Speaker for Howard in the Senate, giving the LNP the majority (including Harradine):
JOE HOCKEY: You probably don't remember Mal Colston, but I do.
SAMANTHA HAWLEY: The shadow treasurer Joe Hockey points to the bitter fallout from Mal Colston's defection from the Labor Party in 1996 to act as deputy president and support Howard government bills. He was dubbed the "quisling Quasimodo from Queensland".
JOE HOCKEY: And I think everyone should be mindful of that. So I think people have long memories.
Which just shows that Joe fails logic and history as well as economics. First, is Hockey suggesting Howard and the Libs should not have encouraged Colston to jump ship? Curious – I’d like to see some quotes from him back then suggesting that (Joe was elected in 96). Or is Joe just suggesting it’s only ok when and ALP Senator does it but not when a Lib MP does it?
Also Colston resigned from the ALP – Somlyay is doing no such thing.
And thirdly, comparing anyone to Colston is a very dangerous thing to do given he would soon after be charged with 28 counts of defrauding the public. Joe would be a hell of lot better calming down and shutting up, because his comparison is just funny – and not in a nice way. But then Friday funnies don’t always bring out the laughs.
UPDATE: So it seems Somlyay has had a “change of heart”, saying, “Now that the vote of the deputy speaker has become the focus of attention, I am no longer interested in the position.” If you believe that is why he has withdrawn then please email me, because I have a bridge in Sydney I’d like to sell you. So Abbott shows he still has some sort of control of his party. But I tell you this, Julie Gillard will not be worrying about any of her MP’s crossing the floor. Yes the ALP has “the pledge”, but I tell you this, all that crap about the Liberal Party being a broad church where crossing the floor is part of its traditional, will be shown for the bunkum it is. Any Libs who threatens to do so will I bet be getting a call from Bill Heffernan. Reg Withers may have been the “toe cutter” back in the 1970s, but “the devil” certainly is his kindred spirit.