Victorian Opposition leader Matthew Guy looks absolutely nothing like Michael Corleone (Image screenshot @madashelltv)

The Victorian pairing controversy confirms that conservatives really have only one principle — to win at whatever cost, writes managing editor Dave Donovan.

TIME AND AGAIN, we see the thirst for victory far outstrips conservatives’ oft-expressed concern for principles and conventions. You could say it is itself a long-standing tradition.

This tradition was again observed last week, on Easter Friday, in the Victorian Parliament.

There, the Upper House was sitting to discuss legislation to restructure fire services in the State, by replacing the Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB) with a new statewide authority, making the Country Fire Authority (CFA) a volunteer-only organisation. The CFA is a strongly conservative organisation and so the change was bitterly opposed by the Coalition Opposition. The legislation had been scheduled for weeks and looked like being passed after a crossbench MP, Dr Rachel Carling-Jenkins, had fallen ill on Tuesday night. By convention, crossbench MPs are not granted pairs and nor did Australian Conservatives MP Dr Carling-Jenkins ask for one.

After a marathon debate was set to send the legislation into the public holiday, two Liberal MPs, Bernie Finn and Craig Ondarchie ‒ after filibustering for hours ‒ applied to the Government for pairs, citing strong religious objections to working on such a holy day. (Pairing is where absent government and opposition MPs cancel each other out to maintain the balance of the chamber.)

On 9.55am on Thursday, Craig Ondarchie made a personal statement, beginning by quoting John 3:16.

Ondarchie continued:

“Today is Maundy Thursday, tomorrow is Good Friday and it is the most solemn day of the Christian year. It is the day our saviour died for us. It is the day we were redeemed from our sins by the voluntary death of God himself at the hands of man.”

Ondarchie then recounted that rather well-known bible story, before reiterating that Easter Friday is  

“…the most solemn day of the Christian calendar.”

This apparently most devout MP then closed his contribution with a lengthy prayer.

At 11.30pm, Bernie Finn claimed that he regarded Easter Friday as so “sacred and solemn” he didn’t even celebrate his birthday when it fell on that day:

“… pairs will be accepted and we will at that point in time observe Good Friday and go home. From my personal perspective it is something that I have long believed in: you do not work on Good Friday.… That is the rule. Even when my birthday falls on Good Friday, I do not celebrate it on Good Friday. This is a sacred and solemn day…”

At 12.15am, Craig Ondarchie accepted the Government’s offer of a pair, saying he wanted to be with his “church family” on the “day that Jesus died”:

“Today is the day that Jesus died. It is a very important day. Today, I want to be with my church family. I want to take up your offer, as do some of my colleagues, about accepting the pair that you have offered.”

Speaking straight after him, Bernie Finn said the thought of sitting on Easter Friday made him “physically ill”:

“I have to say to you I have been sitting here since midnight and I feel quite ill, physically ill, to be sitting here on Good Friday when I know that I should not work on Good Friday, that this is a day of extreme solemnity; it is a very sacred day.”

He then accepted the Government’s offer of a pair:

“I heard Mr Jennings say that every one of us who asked for a pair would get one. Now, I want a pair because merely being here, as I say, is making me feel ill when I know I should be elsewhere. I want a pair…”

Before leaving the House, Finn reaffirmed the pair’s Christian devotion:

“I know that we sometimes say we are in the post-Christian age, but I am not [and] I know Mr Ondarchie is not…”

Later that morning, as the bells rang to vote on the legislation, Finn and Ondarchie crept out from their offices and back into the chamber — just as one might imagine Jesus would. With these Christian soldiers’ pairs absent, the legislation was voted down — 19-18.

This was the first time in Victorian history the convention around pairing had been broken in this way.

Later, much like the Apostle Peter, Bernie Finn bore false witness, breaking the eighth commandment, issuing a statement denying he had ever asked for a pair.

Victorian Liberal leader Matthew Guy has accepted responsibility for the controversy on Tuesday, saying the decision was his alone:

“It was my decision all members should be back. Pairing or no pairing, I had made it clear that I expected all of them to be back…. It was my decision, not theirs.”

Of course, Guy can’t accept their responsibility. If Finn and Ondarchie were persons of principle, they would have refused Guy’s request and gone home. But they aren’t; they’re just a pair of opportunists — willing to cheat, lie and compromise their principles in order to get what they want. True conservatives, some may say.

According to Guy, the deception was justified and he would do it all again:

“The means were absolutely justified and I stand by it and I would do the same tomorrow.”

Like a true conservative, the ends always justify the means. Even if it means using religion as a cover to run a grubby scam and vote down a piece of legislation. Even if it means destroying an old convention that enables Parliament to operate smoothly. Even if it means whatever.

Matt Guy’s office was also caught out saying the Government pairs were going away for Easter and wouldn’t be at the vote anyway. Both MPs confirmed this was a lie.

The end justifying the means may have been how Matt Guy rationalised his secret dinner with a mafia boss and other crime figures at a Melbourne lobster restaurant last year. Getting donations from Tony Madafferi was a dirty business, Guy may have told himself, but it is important so we can win the election and “make the State great” — or something like that.

But if you don’t have principles ‒ principles you won’t sacrifice under any circumstances ‒ then you have nothing. You are a weak individual, able to compromise yourself ‒ and be compromised by others ‒ at any time in order to satisfy your own interests. You are not a good person.

Victoria goes to the polls later this year. Let’s pray they stay on a progressive path and stick to their principles. Let’s hope they don’t vote for the bad Guys. The end does not justify the means.

This is only half the story! The full version of this editorial, originally published as part of the Independent Australia weekly subscribers' newsletter, may be read in the IA members only area. It takes less a minute to subscribe to IA and costs as little as $5 a month, or $50 a year — a tiny sum for quality journalism and many great extras! 

IA subscribers can read the full editorial HERE.

Subscribe to Independent Australia HERE.

You can follow managing editor Dave Donovan on Twitter at @davrosz.

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