Monday, May 28, 2012

Max and the other cut snakes

I’ve thought a lot about how I think over the years. One thing I’ve worked out about what happens in the big old round thing on the top of my shoulders is that in the most part, words get translated into pictures before I can process them.

So when I think of Parliament my heart sinks, because the image that follows is a fuzzy big grey blob.

It’s not quite as boring as that. It moves around, almost spinning on its axis – but it’s not that controlled either. Every now and then I see little bursts of colour, but they are either sucked into the centre of the blob and assimilated or wildly spun out to the edge and discarded…

Which brings me to the way Nationals’ stalwart Max Trenordan was treated by his party over the weekend - spun to the edge and discarded.

I’ve known Mr Trenordan for a long time and it’s been an honour.

I remember one particular occasion when he invited me to dinner at his house in Northam with the then Deputy Prime Minister Tim Fischer. It was nothing like what I expected. There were no silver spoons, no real formalities and not even very much in the way of politics. My memory of the evening includes images of a fire in a 44 gallon drum, lots of laughter, a few cowboy hats and a dog that had a rather unhealthy interest in my leg. It was honest, friendly, down to earth and very… Max.

The truth is Mr Trenordan has been one of those rare colourful bursts in Parliament - and he’s paid his dues by serving both his electorate and Party with vigour for 26 years.

Now, I’m not suggesting a statue for Max. He’s done a job and he’s been paid for it. Everyone knows that particular job comes with some perks and many, many risks - one of which is the very real possibility of losing it at least once every 4 years. And regardless of the vocation, there’s probably some wisdom in prompting change, or “renewal”, after a quarter of a century. So with all that in mind, it’s not the discolouration of the National Party I’m lamenting. I accept that the public’s growing hunger for the salacious means all political parties will probably respond with candidates who are less colourful and more likely to blend into the big grey blob that is our current Parliament.

My issue is the lack of courage, respect and courtesy inherent in the way Max was dumped. Frankly, he deserved better. He deserved the chance to step aside on his own terms, with a little bit of time to plan a somewhat more graceful departure. If it was inevitable (and sometimes in politics, that’s just the way it is), his retirement as a National Party Member should have been negotiated, not thrust upon him.

But some heartless individuals might propose, “C'est la vie,” “Live by the sword, die by the sword” or even “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen” as justifications for this kind of bastardry.  And I might even get a vitriolic email from someone who claims to be a political genius suggesting that this is merely an example of “beautiful Machiavelli” in practice...

I say the clichés are fine, from afar - and just because there’s a fancy Italian name for stabbing people in the back doesn’t mean it’s smart politics. Indeed, it’s probably the opposite. There is really only one absolute rule in modern Australian politics: to succeed, you need more friends than enemies on election day, and it really does help if they stay friends for longer than a day.

This stuff – knifing loyal servants without doing enough damage to ensure they don’t fight back - is possibly the most foolish political manoeuvre possible. In vernacular perhaps more familiar to traditional Nationals’ voters, don’t just cut a snake. Either coax it away, leave it alone or behead it.

But injuring people - foolishly turning friends into enemies - isn’t the exclusive domain of the National Party.

In July 2010, around five months before the second of the Premier’s ‘John Farnham’ (the last one, I promise) reshuffles, Mr Barnett’s Chief of Staff (CoS) asked me to stay back after a weekly joint CoS meeting.  In an alcove of the 24th floor meeting room, he quietly and delicately asked me if I thought my Minister at the time, the Hon Graham Jacobs, would be “amenable” to a discussion about his future as a Minister.

Knowing Mr Jacobs was, at that time, a very loyal supporter of the Premier, I responded, “Yes, however this is not a discussion you and I should be having. Graham is a very strong supporter of the Premier. If Colin takes the time to speak with Graham one on one, I’m sure they would be able to plan a win-win outcome.”

Sadly, the very next discussion regarding that occurred was when the Premier walked up the hallway to the Minister’s office on that day in December 2010 when the very decent, very loyal Minister Jacobs learnt that his Ministerial career would come to an end in a few days time. In retrospect, the Premier’s arrogance was kind of funny – I received a phone call from his diary secretary who told me “the Premier is on his way up to see your Minister.” The funny thing is that the Minister was out of the office at an official event and was going to be for some time. Apparently the Premier’s car was promptly turned around and the ugly 5 minute meeting happened later in that day, when the always busy Minister Jacobs could fit it in.

So there you have it.

We are soon to inherit a new generation of political hopefuls who think this kind of disrepect is not only acceptable, but the norm.

And Graham Jacobs and Max Trenordan share a lot more than just being honourable, loyal conservatives. They also share some of the colour we desperately need in our ever-greying Parliament and because their respective Parties didn’t have the political wisdom to treat them with the respect they deserve, they both have at least 9 months to brighten the walls of Parliament with the many tones of blue blood.


  1. Max's dumping bodes ill for rural communities, particularly the notion that Max does not fit the "new" Nationals.

    The "new, inner city" Nats are looking like a collection of Oakshots and Windsors, people who have been seduced into the left wing sphere because they think it makes them more intellectual.

    Despite Mark McGowan claiming Labor won't deal with Nats for government, we know words for Labor are cheap and the Nats are under the sway of a group that showed its willingness to betray the sensible, conservative minded rural populace at the last election.

    Will people risk

  2. It has been a while and I know there is material to be dissected, but where oh where is the squeaky wheel? We miss the insight, we miss the truth. Is there a BIG scoop to come? Have you been analysing a cat copter for a ministerial moggy? Possibly via a regional relocation to get some of the copious rorts for regions cash. Or has the squeaky wheel been oiled?