Liberals ready to flip two headed coin. June 10, 2014 Mark Hawthorne Senior Editor at The Age On Monday night of last week, Denis Napthine picked up his mobile phone and made two calls. The first was to Geoff Shaw. The other was to Ken Smith. Neither bothered to answer.
It’s a sign of just how far on the outer both men are with the political party of which they are members. Whatever the result of Tuesday’s showdown at Spring Street, the feud that has simmered between former Speaker Smith and Shaw will finally, at least, come to a head.
Napthine has spent much of the past week railing against Shaw, whom he calls “the rogue MP for Frankston”. The fact is, Napthine has two rogue MPs to deal with, and his relationship with both is equally toxic. “I have spoken to Ken Smith a couple of times recently and made my views clear on what he has said,” Napthine said at last week’s late-night press conference. “I was full and frank in my comments to Mr Smith.”
Despite his 25 years as a Liberal, many in the party are now referring to Smith as the “rogue MP for Bass”. Others call the pair “the two roosters”. Such is the fallout from Smith’s decision to publicly support any move by Labor to expel Shaw from Parliament, the only senior Liberal who will now deal with him is Louise Asher, and only because she has been given the task of doing so. It has been an interesting year for Asher – she is also the Liberal Party’s designated go-to person dealing with Shaw.
For Napthine and his government, it will be the decisions made by Smith, rather than Shaw, that will decide their future. For Labor, they are betting Smith’s hatred of Shaw surpasses his hatred of them. “This is a bloke who calls us ‘pinkos’ and ‘commos’ on the floor of Parliament,” said one ALP tactician on Monday. “We know he hates us, but we suspect he hates Geoff Shaw even more.” To get to the bottom of the feud, it’s important to remember it was Smith who first referred Shaw and his misuse of his car to Parliament and the Ombudsman.
For Smith, there was never any question he was doing the right thing. Reporting such wrongdoing is mandatory. “He’s stubborn,” said one Liberal colleague on Monday night. “And he just won’t let go of his hatred for Shaw.” Shaw, on the other hand, feels he was dobbed in by Smith. “Shaw was furious about it [being reported by Smith] and thought it was totally disproportionate,” said one observer on Monday night. Another senior Liberal, who lunched privately with Shaw last year, concurred.
“His focus was very much on the Speaker and getting back at him,” The Age was told. “Geoff thinks they [the government] should have done a deal to make it all go away, instead of reporting him.” From that moment on, Shaw swore to get revenge. Smith had lobbied for the speakership as his swansong, but questions about his competency arose from the early days of the Baillieu government.
With Smith’s performance under siege from Labor, Shaw seized the chance. In the media, he criticised Smith’s performance. In Parliament, he shouted: “Step down. Step down now. You’re a disgrace.” By February, Shaw had his man. Smith quit, but was not going down without a fight.
The former Speaker went on the ABC and declared Shaw was “not fit to be an MP”. When Shaw famously became embroiled in a fight with taxi protesters on the steps of Parliament, security footage was leaked to 3AW that showed Shaw choosing to encounter the protesters. At the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee last month, it was revealed Smith had leaked the video.
Now, the fight between the two roosters comes to a head. In one corner, a plumber from Wonthaggi who has been kicked out of State Parliament more times than any other sitting MP. In the other, a bouncer from Frankston who stands to be kicked out for good. The Liberal Party can only hope for a swift end.