View from The Hill

Labor process might have been bad, but so is Brandis’ retribution

Barrie Cassidy has submitted his resignation, but has been poorly treated. ABC Insiders

The government’s forcing Barrie Cassidy out of the position of chairman of the Old Parliament House Advisory Council seems a particularly partisan and graceless act.

Cassidy, a senior and respected journalist with the ABC, and one time president of the parliamentary press gallery (in the old House), is a former Hawke staffer.

He was appointed by Labor to the chairman’s position (for which he would not be paid) just before the caretaker period, but no announcement was made. Old Parliament House is the Museum of Australian Democracy.

In the latter days of opposition, the Coalition was critical of Labor for making last minute appointments. At one stage it talked up a storm about the possibility Labor might name a new governor-general (which never appeared on the cards).

When the Coalition came in it quashed the posting of former Victorian premier Steve Bracks to New York as consul-general, shortly before he was about to depart.

On Wednesday Chris Kenny, a former staffer on the Coalition side and a strong critic of the ABC, wrote in The Australian that “claims of ‘political favours’ have enveloped one of the ABC’S most senior political commentators following revelations he was secretly appointed to a government board just hours before the election caretaker period kicked in”.

In the wake of the story Tony Abbott, critical of Labor’s behaviour, sent rather mixed messages. “Barrie Cassidy is a good bloke. I don’t begrudge him the appointment. But it did all seem to be done with a certain unseemly haste.”

George Brandis, Minister for the Arts, pressured Cassidy to quit, which he has done today. Cassidy said he didn’t want the board caught up in ongoing controversy.

In a letter to the director of the Museum of Australian Democracy he said: “The minister explained to me that he has a high regard for me personally, but nevertheless has (a) concerns about the process leading up to the appointment; and (b) a strong view that it is not appropriate to have anybody currently involved in the political process, whether they be politicians or journalists, sitting on boards such as these.

"He prefers people retired from any involvement in politics and I respect that view.”

Brandis has a point about the process; he may even be right that it is better to have retirees, although it is hard to see in relation to this particular body that it matters.

But with the appointment having been made, and with every prospect that Cassidy would do a good job, going after him retrospectively does not look like the behaviour of a minister simply determined to enforce high standards. It smacks of a strike in the culture, political or some other “wars”. It is the sort of pettiness that you’d hope a minister was above.

Michelle Grattan has a regular spot on Radio National.

Listen to Nick Xenophon on the Politics with Michelle Grattan podcast, available below, by rss and on iTunes.