The delicious prospect of the imprisonment of members of the Victorian Premierâ€™s Media Unit and other ministerial staffers not in full compliance with the authorit-eye of the slumbering beast that is Victoriaâ€™s Legislative Council seems to have thoroughly distracted The Age (nearly in receivership) into a front-page frenzy.
The issue is whether ministerial staff should accept the orders of the superiors not to attend political parliamentary inquiries or whether they must comply with any order of the Legislative Council to appear before its committees and answer its questions.
There are wildly competing views about the legal position on these questions.
The parliament seems generally very reluctant to enforce contempts against it. For example there is no doubt that Victorian prosecutrix Michelle Williams was in contempt of parliament when she illegally used speeches made by a subsequently acquitted MP in committal proceedings. An old but settled and undisputed law inherited from England is that the speeches of MPâ€™s are not to be used against them in a court of law.The parliament did nothing about it. In theory it could have tried, sentenced and imprisoned her for an unlimited period of time. It would have been a just outcome in light of the scandalously thin nature of the case she presented.
A CACOPHONY OF CONTEMPTS
Equally, when a couple of patriot lobbyists attended a state parliamentary inquiry and gave brazen non-answers to direct questions from the wannabe barristers on a parliamentary inquiry into gambling licenses, they did nothing to insist on real answers to their questions.
When a senior Treasury bureaucrat Godwin Grech attended a Senate Estimates committee hearing last year into Utegate and gave a fictional account that Jeffrey Archer would have been impressed by, it caused a scandal but led to no parliamentary enforcement against him.
Disobeying the orders of Parliaments seems reasonably common practice, the politics of enforcement seems too difficult and too inclined to backfire most of the time.
And yet, fresh from weekendsâ€™ spectacular effort of printing the wrong weeksâ€™ real estate listings in their now besmirched Domain real estate section, The Age is now only going to splash with excitable yarns about Brumby government spindoctors being hauled off to a Parliamentary prison cell for not obeying the commands of the Legislative Council.
There is an already small cell prepared for this task but it could be more crowded than Christmas Island the way the Windsor Hotel issue is unfolding.
Some wags have suggested the staff be â€œimprisonedâ€ in the Parliamentary precinctâ€™s nearest hotel, the Park Hyatt, which offers most of the facilities afforded Victorian prisoners in Hullstopia.
LIEUTENANT DANâ€™S GRATUITOUS TOUCH-UP
There would be few Victorians troubled by the idea of Brumby COS â€œLieutenantâ€ Dan Oâ€™Brien in leg irons and orange jumpsuits but thatâ€™s only because they donâ€™t know and love him like his colleagues do.
Jailing minstaffers conjures up all manner of possibilities including the delightful prospect of Liberal upper house patriots Bernie Finn and Inga Peulich serving in a custodial capacity. Their tough on crime approach would be a delight. Those ancient enough to recall the TV series â€œPrisonerâ€ will already be pondering which of the prospectively imprisoned ministerial advisers would emerge as â€œTop Dogâ€ or â€œQuee Beeâ€ in the parliamentary dungeon.
Given the scraps over buffets at minstaff offsites or the crudely territorial standoffs about who gets what carpark near or within 1 Treasury Place, these conflicts would certainly be far more vicious than anything going in the sedentary Legislative Council which â€“ of a winter â€“ seems mostly fueled by red wine.
It goes without saying that Inga Peulich would be cast as Joan Ferguson, the terrifying guard who donned black leather gloves prior to giving any of the inmates a much-deserved beating. She â€“ like Inga â€“ was an instrument for crude but undoubtedly direct justice.
CANâ€™T SEE THE WOOD FOR THE TREES
The Age â€“ as ever â€“ loses sight of the real issues. Normally their anti-development mantra would have them opposed to the Windsor Hotel redevelopment which even from our pro-jobs and pro-development editorial position seems to be an inappropriate thing to put in front of the state Parliament. Hopefully weâ€™ll be proved wrong about that.
But in the end, Paul Austin is a lefty who like most of them is a process-obsessive. He lives and breathes process.
And even though the end result of the AgeBCâ€™s breathless reporting on a media adviserâ€™s apparent prejudice against a planning application was a lot of pressure that it be approved, they still seem quite happy with themselves.
We have studied the ultra-left for nearly two decades, in between making and losing fortunes, and we still sometimes struggle to understand the logic they use (or donâ€™t use).
The ABC journalist who unethically traded on an email she was not meant to receive can now ponder in the quiet lull of her inner-city dinner-parties that she â€“ Sarah Farnsworth â€“ is responsible for a radical change to one of Melbourneâ€™s most historic buildings in one of Melbourneâ€™s most sensitive heritage precincts.
If the lucky Windsor owners were willing to give credit where itâ€™s due, they would surely name their proposed construction Farnsworth Tower.
Next time a government wants political cover for a controversial planning decision, theyâ€™ll be sure to inadvertently send it to Comrade Farnsworth.
THE SETTING OF PRECEDENTS CAN BE LIKE CEMENT SHOES
Meanwhile, Liberal, Greens and DLP Legislative Councillors have a serious issue to ponder. While they want government advisers to appear before their politically motivated parliamentary committee to inquire into the ins and outs of the first ever major development proposal facilitated by inner-city left-wing forces at the ABC, they might ultimately have to order their imprisonment to do so.
We know some Brumby government spindoctors and underneath the cool haircuts they can be a stubborn and wilful bunch.
While gone to a more peaceful life of spinning about bushfires, the spirit of Sharon McCrohan haunts the corridors of the media unit.
We suspect many of them would be willing to stand up for the principle that ministers should answer to Parliament not their private office staff.
Perhaps the government will bend on the issue, giving them an out, but if they donâ€™t it wouldnâ€™t surprise me to see Peta Duke and any number of other ministerial adviser be willing to defy the orders of the political opponents in the upper house.
The Liberals have a lot to think about too.
They will soon win election. Theyâ€™re due for a win. It might not come this year if you believe the published polls, but it will happen, as the shampoo ad once advised.
If the Libs insist on getting Ms Duke to show up rather than her elected boss Labor minister Justin Madden, they will be setting a precedent for a long time.
They might have considered that before Liberal wet Ted Baillieu staffer Simon Troeth â€“ Liberal spindoctor and son of a Senator Judith Troeth â€“ distributed a document (click here to obtain) to the State Parliamentary Press Gallery compiling what some might think were a number of extremist views on the issue, including from former Cain government cabinet secretary Ken Coghill. Coghill while in the Labor Right was actively involved in the government that eventually nearly drove the Victorian economy off a cliff and has since adopted a number of eccentric if not bizarre views about criminalising political conduct and asserting blatant falsehoods like the Legislative Council could call any Victorian any time.
Thatâ€™s simply not right. They canâ€™t call any lower house minister or MP, a pretty big restriction.
This government â€“ very unwisely in our view â€“ has created an upper house where it is very unlikely for any one party to have a majority in the upper house.
A future Baillieu â€“ or more likely Mulder or Oâ€™Brien or Roskamâ€“ government will have to live with these same tactics that are ultimately nothing more than political cunning stuntery. Does anyone doubt Labor will gladly return the favour when the time comes?
Regardless of who is in charge, indulging in political show trials that generate nothing but yawn-inducing process stories in The Age does very little for the good government of Victoria.