January 14, 2004 | Graham

Merri Rose – Opposition chewing the wrong bone

My life is full of essays I was going to write, and last week I was going to write an essay saying that if the Opposition couldn’t handle the Families Department Child Abuse Scandal more effectively then they had no chance of winning the state election. I didn’t realize that this week the Minister for Sodom and Gomorrah (Tourism and Racing to you non-Methodists) Merri Rose, would resign and give me the opportunity to write it any way.
Yesterday I suggested that the Opposition should have been playing up the sneaky aspects of this surprise election announcement. “The question ought to be not whether [Springborg] was taken by surprise but what is Peter Beattie trying to hide?” Today we have the answer.
It wasn’t the Families Department scandal that prompted the announcement, it was Merri Rose’s impending problems. At least that’s the way it looks, considering that just last week the Premier was saying he wouldn’t announce the election until his holidays were over. He always knew the CMC Inquiry into the Families Department was coming down, so something else had to have been the trigger to make him change his mind. Better to announce the election and deal with the Merri Rose issue in a context dominated by an election campaign than to have it hanging around for a week doing the political equivalent of a soliloquy while everyone waited for the Premier to make the election announcement.
This gives Springborg an opportunity to not only revisit the surprise announcement and cast doubt on Beattie’s integrity, but to really put the Families Department issue back on the agenda.
Instead he concentrated his attack on Minister Rose, the one person he couldn’t do any more damage to. What he should have done is draw parallels between her quite proper resignation and the continuation in office of Minister Spence. Rose was found to have bullied an employee. Spence’s office was so derelict in its duties that it allowed children in its care to be abused with some of the children remaining in foster homes even though they had been infected with sexual diseases by their carers! Spence might not have been directly responsible for this malfeasance, but the scale of the damage puts her in a similar position to Merri Rose whose transgression while personally committed was much more minor. If Beattie really wanted to show the depth of concern for the Families issue he would follow the proper Westminster course and hold the minister responsible.
Instead the Opposition is actually trying to sweep the Families Issue under the carpet, claiming that as their policy is as good as the government’s it is “off the agenda as an item”.
Government and Opposition have both made much of similarities between this election and the 1995 surprise defeat of Wayne Goss. The similarities are few while the differences are legion. One of the differences was that when the Borbidge Sheldon team was thrown a bone they worried it to pieces. In particular they would not have won that election if Joan Sheldon had not pursued and pursued the allegation that she was going to privatize the hospital system to the point where the Courier Mail was producing editorials telling the government not to be “grubby” and accusing them of lying on the issue. This Opposition doesn’t even seem to recognize a bone, let alone be able to get any marrow out of one when it is thrown to them.

Posted by Graham at 10:56 pm | Comments (1) |
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1 Comment

  1. Springborg’s relegation of the Families Department to the bipartisan bucket rather amazed me, too. While there is a good case that this is really a long standing systemic problem which all governments over the last few decades have failed to address, Beattie would find it pretty hard to run that as an argument.
    Perhaps there is something fairly specific in the background on child abuse / foster care / etc which would be damaging to the coalition.
    Then again perhaps Springborg is just taking a position that he thinks is conducive to a real solution to the problem – this would be highly morally commendable but is unlikely to help his election prospects much.

    Comment by Alex McConnell — January 14, 2004 @ 11:22 pm

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