Friday, February 28, 2014

Conroy Must Go

Conroy Must Go 270214

Whether Senator Stephen Conroy eventually apologises for insulting Lieutenant General Angus Campbell or not, his position as Shadow Minister for Defence must surely be called into question.

When Senator Conroy impugned the integrity of General Campbell, he may have been suffering from a momentary lapse of judgement, or a fit of frustration, but such lapses of judgement are not acceptable from someone who is the alternative Defence Minister.

But reports suggest it was no momentary slip. Instead, it has been revealed that his own colleagues warned him in advance not to pursue such a tactic. It should be no surprise that he chose to press ahead regardless.

Senator Conroy has a reputation for being a tough operator, which might be all very well for the internal politics of the Labor Party, but it is entirely out of order when it comes to dealing with senior officers in the Defence Force. Not only should he apologise, but he should resign from his position as Shadow Minister for Defence.

But I doubt it will happen.

Senator Conroy is one of the most powerful factional leaders within the Labor Party. In fact he is sometimes referred to as a “BOVVER BOY.” As such, he has been instrumental in the back room wheeling and dealing that decides the fate of the party, and its leaders.

Senator Conroy isn’t exactly a “faceless man,” but he was one of the cabal of conspirators who knifed Kevin Rudd in the back in 2010, and we all know how well that worked out. The party lost its grip on government, was forced to endure a hung parliament for three years, and is still struggling to overcome the fallout.

It was Stephen Conroy who was instrumental in getting Bill Shorten into the Parliament, and subsequently installed as Leader of the Party. So don’t expect Bill Shorten to be too tough with Senator Conroy… he’s hardly likely to bite the hand that feeds him.

But back room politics is one thing… running the country is another. Conroy’s record as a parliamentarian is just as disturbing as his efforts within the party.

As Minister for Communications in the previous government, Senator Conroy promised to deliver the world’s best internet, at an extraordinary cost, and then set about trying to censor it.

The results of the effort were farcical, when a trial of the proposed filtering system blocked perfectly innocent websites belonging to businesses such as dentists and doctors.

He was accused of conducting a scare campaign when he suggested that Google could be collecting people’s internet banking details.

But the pinnacle of Senator Conroy’s foolishness, at least until now, was his ill-judged effort to impose draconian restrictions upon the media in the dying days of the Gillard Government.

The proposed legislation was widely condemned as an attempt to gag media criticism of the government, and an assault on the principle of a free press.

Senator Conroy has demonstrated time after time that he is a clown… but unfortunately his antics are not funny.

His latest brain explosion, attacking the integrity of General Campbell, has rightly been condemned by everyone, except his own colleagues, who apparently are too frightened of him to say boo.

Bill Shorten might try to gloss over it, claiming that the criticism is directed at the government who is issuing the orders, rather than the military officers who are following them, but that just doesn’t cut it.

Unfortunately for Mr Shorten, Senator Conroy scored a spectacular own-goal by attacking the wrong man. The fallout from this error has left the Opposition Leader floundering in the Parliament, when he should have been in a position to nail the Government to the wall over their obsession with secrecy.

Instead of calling the Government to account, not only for its iron grip on information, but also for its clear failure in maintaining the peace on Manus Island, it was the Opposition who was targeted with a motion to admonish Senator Conroy.

In the meantime, the strange state of affairs arose where the only person who seemed to realise just how far off the rails the debate had run, was the Greens MP Adam Bandt.

Mr Bandt said after Question Time, “Parliament has once again missed the point. A man has been killed while in our care. We should be debating why this happened and how we can stop it happening again, not wasting time in another Liberal/Labor tit-for-tat.”

It should be hard to disagree with a statement like that, but such is the extraordinary state of affairs that we are currently witnessing a Coalition Government implementing a policy introduced by a previous Labor Prime Minister in a desperate attempt to be re-elected.

The upshot is that the new Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten, is unable to attack the Government on the policy itself, only the way it is managed. Both sides of the Parliament support off-shore processing, both sides embrace Manus Island, and both sides should be held accountable for the debacle that is unfolding.

In the meantime, we have been left with the spectacle of witnessing the Shadow Minister for Defence confronting a senior general, of unquestioned integrity, and directly accusing him of participating in a political cover up.

There is absolutely no way that Senator Conroy will ever enjoy the trust and the confidence of the military leadership after such a monumental insult. He can never become Defence Minister, when or if the Labor Party somehow miraculously returns to government.

His position as Shadow Minister for Defence is untenable, and the longer he stays in any senior position, the longer the Labor Party will remain unelectable.