September 02, 2004 | Graham

Free advice for the Queensland Liberals

What would a federal election in Queensland be like without an expulsion? On my watch it was Pauline Hanson who was despatched. This time around Russell Galt is threatened with the axe. My advice to the Queensland Libs is “Don’t do it.” There were good strategic, tactical and ethical reasons for disciplining Hanson; there are none for doing anything to Galt.
Indeed, it is a little ironic from my perspective that Galt is the potential subject of retaliation, given that he was one of those who voted to refer me to the Disciplinary Committee for writing about the Liberal Party as part of my work as a commentator. Still, I would defend his right to free speech just as strongly as I would mine, and I am happy to give him and the party the benefit of my long reflection on just exactly when and why people should be expelled.
The first reason that they should not do it is a practical one. Galt has no media standing in his own right and has the narrowest and flimsiest of issues to run on. Stop talking about him, and he will disappear. He is like a Boggart (no idea what I’m talking about, check out Harry Potter III). He feeds on your fears. Think happy thoughts and he will vanish, with a pop.
The next reason is also practical – what is expelling him going to do to his capacity to create trouble? As far as the media are concerned he will move from whistleblower to martyr. Not only will he still be able to say all the things that he can say now as a member, but he will be less constrained, and his voice will be magnified even more in the media megaphone.
Another practical reason is that an expulsion will demonstrate once again that the Queensland Liberal Party is an angry, vindictive, self-indulgent organisation, completely lacking in tactical and strategic sense and with no capacity for self-discipline or focus on the things that really matter. (Although I should make honourable mention of new State Director, Jeff Greene, who was quoted in the papers as suggesting the whole matter should be allowed to pass.)
These comments assume that there is a legal basis for expelling Galt, but I doubt that there is, unless it can be proven beyond the balance of probabilities that he was lying. The grounds on which someone can be expelled are:

  • gross disloyalty
  • ;

  • breach of confidentiality
  • ; and

  • conduct bringing the party into disrepute
  • .
    Is it disloyal to blow the whistle on someone in an organisation of which you are a member? I wouldn’t have thought it was in any legally actionable way. Whistleblowers are generally held to do the organisation a service.
    Has Galt breached confidentiality? You can only breach it in a case where there is a duty to maintain it. The meeting Galt describes appears to be an unofficial one with the purpose of plotting the preselection victories of Brandis and Mason. No duty to the party here. In fact, if there is confidentiality that has been breached, Brandis may well be the offender. If he said what he is alleged to have said, then the way in which he came by that information might well give rise to grounds for expelling him!
    Has he brought the party into disrepute? Only if he has lied. If Brandis said what he did say, then it is Brandis who is bringing the party into disrepute. It might also be that John Howard has as well. To suggest that the person who observes and reports on this is themselves bringing the party into disrepute is a variation on the old mistake of “shooting the messenger”.
    There are good philosophical reasons why Galt has not committed an expellable offence. The Liberal Party champions freedom of speech, and as a political party is an agent of the people in the democratic process. As such it must support the ability of people, including party members, to say what they think, as well as being open to as broad a membership as possible. Of course they have to have last resort powers to discipline people who campaign against the party or undermine it in a fundamental way, but it would be inconsistent with their objects and functions to have the power to discipline for any but the most serious offences.
    Fraud and illegality are both sound reasons for expelling a member. So would campaigning against the party, or failing to honour undertakings given to the party (as was the case with Hanson). But the times when a real case exists must be very few and far between, and even when a theoretical case exists, acting on it may still do more damage than leaving well enough alone.
    George Brandis has made many criticisms in the last 36 hours of Russell Galt. Including that he is “small time”. He is. Throw him back. He’s not worth the trouble or the damage to your reputation, or to the word “liberal” that you sport in your name.

    Posted by Graham at 3:21 pm | Comments Off on Free advice for the Queensland Liberals |
    Filed under: Australian Politics

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