Modia Minotaur

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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Carl Scully Quits

No sooner had I stepped out of tonight's Fabian Society forum and into a delightfully windy evening, than a friend turned to me to say that she had just found out that Carl Scully had resigned. At this point, I didn't know whether it was as Police Minister or from politics (at the moment it appears only to be the former).

What a turn of events, I thought, still rather shocked as I walked home, desperate for my laptop (my kingdom for a BlackBerry!) So many implications, so many potential repercussions. For years, he cultivated the backbench in order to gain credence as a potential leader, only to be knifed by his former friends in the poisonous Right. He's still regarded as one of the most effective performers on the floor at Parliament. Nevertheless, he will certainly not hold another ministry, and you couldn't blame him for retiring at the next election, though he holds his seat with a very comfortable 25% margin.

Transport Minister John Watkins will assume Scully's former portfolio, while the rapidly rising David Campbell - only made a Minister in the 2003 cabinet reshuffle - has taken up his prestigious position as Leader of the House. Eric Roozendaal also gets a leg up as Assistant Minister for Transport (I once said they'd create a position out of thin air if it were to hoist Roozendaal further up the slippery pole, and I've been proven right). Watkins has held the police ministry before, and it will be interesting to see whether he dismantles some of the more extreme policy positions Scully advocated for in his time in the portfolio, something which, it is said, made him fairly popular with the police themselves.

Were Scully's error worthy of resignation? Certainly, he acted foolishly and eventually dug himself ever deeper as obfuscation became mistruth but, as I said before, I really don't get the sense that the Cronulla Riot report was being withheld for political reasons. I may be in the minority there, but I truly believe that the events leading up to this were overplayed by an overheated media and a sweaty-browed Opposition. I can't help thinking that other Ministers have done worse with less reprimand.

Nevertheless, Scully is gone - either by mutual agreement or the decree of Morris Iemma, both risky things politically.

Why was this risk taken? Well, there's one obvious point - Laura Norder is always the queen of the ball at election time. No government can afford to appear to be indifferent to it. Perhaps Scully's deposal will be seen as an affirmation of Ms Norder. The crisis may have been used to delicately slide aside a Minister who had been falling out of favour, politically speaking, for some time and pledge a new era of law enforcement, much the same as Iemma himself proclaimed the start of a new government rather than the continuation of an old one when he began his term as Premier.

However, it is inevitable that the public will see Scully's resignation from another, and far more potentially damaging, point of view: as the first real hit laid on the Iemma Government by an Opposition so weak it would be a travesty if it came to govern. Perception is all in politics, and if a public perception grows that the Opposition are mighty enough to depose a senior Minister - something that occurs increasingly rarely in Australian parliaments - it could be a serious problem for the Government. Evidently, they have not assessed it as large enough a risk to convince Scully to stay on, but it sets a dangerous precedent. The best way to be in a winning position is to look like you are. I still maintain that it would be nearly impossible for the Opposition to win, but I certainly don't want them coming a close second.

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