Many litigants are like gamblers on the pokies. Having had the satisfaction of winning a small jackpot, they punt, punt and punt again in hope of winning the biggie: and then they’re surprised they lose all and end up with nothing.
So it seems with the organisational leadership of the Liberal party’s Victorian division.
Having taken on its biggest donor, the Cormack Foundation, in an inconclusive but very costly Federal Court battle, which gained the party a minority of Cormack shares but no board seat and certainly no control of the $70 million Cormack funds at stake, Monday’s Australian Financial Review reported that the party is considering a new legal offensive, this time against the Cormack shareholding of director and former ANZ chairman Charles Goode. According to the AFR, state Liberal president Michael Kroger has ‘focused on what he has said was an acknowledgement in court by Mr Goode that there was a conflict between his own interest as a shareholder and a trustee of the Liberal Party’.
If so, the Victorian Liberal leadership is considering a double or nothing approach that, like all litigation, has no guarantee of a favourable result. Presumably, even if it does succeed, it would win control of just one board seat, Mr Goode’s, rather than the two needed to control the small Cormack board. In terms of perceptions, it also would send a message to business supporters of the party that their personal long-term commitment to the Liberal cause isn’t respected, and indeed there’s something not quite right about the look of pursuing individuals rather than an incorporated body. It’s very hard to insist there’s nothing personal in the litigation when it becomes very personal indeed.
After the recent Federal Court judgment, the Cormack board agreed to release funds to the Liberals to help funds their looming Victorian election campaign. Whatever the conditions, that was a clear and public signal that Cormack at least wanted to reopen dialogue with the party, that it sees jaw-jaw as better than war-war. It would not be a concession for the party to accept that offer as a sign of good faith and deal accordingly.
I’m prepared to give the benefit of the doubt to Michael Kroger and his Liberal administrative committee supporters and presume they genuinely believe they’re doing the right thing by the Liberal party to widen whatever chinks of light it was given by the Federal Court’s Mr Justice Beach. But instead of resuming legal hostilities with the Cormack board, which after all consists of true and distinguished supporters of the party, this lawyers’ picnic needs to be wound up. The hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars that otherwise would be destined to line the pockets of expensive QCs, juniors, solicitors, PR consultants and various other hangers-on would be far better used in preparing the Victorian Liberals for very difficult but winnable campaigns against Daniel Andrews in Victoria and Bill Shorten (or Albo?) federally.
Whether it be taking on Cormack or pursuing internal power games, grass-roots but voiceless Liberal members want their organisational as well as parliamentary leaders to focus on the party’s true opponents and antagonists, Labor. They may not be getting much of a hearing from their ‘betters’, but they want their leadership to concentrate on contesting and winning elections, not alienating valued friends and supporters. And when they themselves donate, they want their money going to support those election campaigns, not subsidising the legal profession in another quixotic gamble for that elusive big jackpot.
Besides, it’s not as if there not enough work for corporate legal eagles: Monday’s Fin also highlighted how all those downtrodden corporate lawyers are working round-the-clock to service the demands of the Big Four banks and other clients under the gun at the Hayne royal commission into the banking industry.
Instead of pursuing yet more litigation, the Victorian Liberals should get on with fighting impending elections, make the most of what they already have, and leave ruinous Jarndyce v Jarndyce cases to Charles Dickens and Bleak House.
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