“Poodle”, ”mincing” and ”loathed” are just some of the epithets used to describe Christopher Pyne, but ”annoying”, ”schoolboy” and ”juvenile” are the ones you’ll most often hear.
Which may make it hard to believe that, now Nick Minchin has retired from parliament, the bumptious boy from Adelaide is the Liberals’ leading power broker, now.
”He will be instrumental and decisive in every leadership contest from now until government and beyond,” says one well-known Liberal MP. ”He travels all over the country, knows all the MPs and the party organisation, and he’s been at it for nearly 20 years, so he has a really solid base. There’s no question he’s the most powerful person in the party after Abbott.”
Not only is Pyne Tony Abbott’s No. 1 supporter and most trusted tactician, but the two men have been friends for more than a decade. ”It’s the Jesuit connection,” says one seasoned journalist, who has watched them break bread many times at Portia’s Place, a Chinese restaurant in Canberra. ”Since the late 1990s, Abbott has booked a table in the window every Monday while parliament is sitting. And in the early days it was always him holding court to Chris Pyne and Joe Hockey and the other Catholic boys.”
Pyne and his leader are at opposite ends of the political spectrum. But even though Christopher is a self-styled moderate, republican, ardent Peter Costello supporter and leader of the Liberal Left, he takes a hard line on drugs, abortion and stem-cell research, like so many Catholics. He also has WA Senator Matthias Corman, the Right’s answer to Arnie Schwarznegger, as a prominent Facebook friend.
One small ”l” Liberal from Victoria describes Pyne as being ”very right wing on every issue”. And, like Abbott, he is anything but moderate in the way he plays the game.
”Because he plays his politics hard, he does make enemies,” says his old Adelaide foe, the Right’s Nick Minchin. ”Where there is power to be gained, he will seek it; ruthlessly do numbers, ruthlessly pursue political goals without deference to what others might consider to be the niceties.”
Pyne draws his power from his formidable media contacts, immense energy and insatiable appetite for self promotion. His personal website, pyneonline, offers transcripts of all his latest interviews and media releases (there are scores), plus a potted bio (”About Christopher”), and links to his Twitter, Facebook, Flickr sites and YouTube appearances, replete with glossy photos of himself, his wife, his four children and his adoring Mum.
Pyne also commands an army of willing foot soldiers. ”He works hard on the ground with Young Libs,” says a senior Liberal Party official. ”He spends a lot of time running around, marshalling people, getting them involved, getting them organised, getting them obligated to him. He can get jobs for people, he can get people into seats, he has the numbers. He would have a huge influence on the South Australian state government if the Libs were in power there.”
Former NSW hard right MP Alex Hawke (now part of the so-called ”Sensible Right”) claims that Pyne takes the job so seriously he was on the floor at the Young Liberals conference in 2005 offering jobs to delegates if they voted against Hawke for president.
”Pyne is talented, effective and a very shrewd factional operator,” says another Liberal powerbroker. ”He has personality, he’s likeable and he really understands his colleagues. He runs the South Australian division of the party totally.”