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Great Liberal Gossip With Hillary Bray !

Should I Stay Or Should I Go

Is Community Services Minister Jocelyn Newman about to resign? Since Hillary broke news of the speculation last Tuesday, the story has run hot and cold.

Newman’s office has told journalists – verbally – that the Minister has no plans to go. That isn’t what Hillary – and half the house – have heard.

As of Friday PM, this is what Hillary understands the position to be: Senator Newman has told her staff to start looking for work as she plans to leave sometime before the end of June. They, understandably enough, have blabbed – and a certain Senator isn’t too impressed.

Jocelyn For Positions

As Hillary has reported, the Dear Leader will face a whole range of problems if Newman goes.

First, how big a reshuffle will the PM have? The timing couldn’t be worse. No-one wants to have ministers playing musical chairs the moment the GST comes into force. A tough call for the little fella.

Next, Senator Newman is the only woman in the Cabinet – and even John Howard knows he needs one. Bronwyn Bishop and Jackie Kelly, both in the outer Ministry, won’t get the spot. Hillary thinks the job will go to Amanda Vanstone – by default. After her performance in higher education, she will be kept on a very tight leash.

Finally, Senator Newman is also the only Tasmanian in the Cabinet – or the whole Ministry, for that matter.

The Coalition holds no lower house seats from Tasmania. The PM will have to make his pick from Newman’s four local Liberal colleagues in the Senate. There’s Eric Abetz, a Parliamentary Secretary – and ambitious. Hillary has previously described Erica as resembling Tony Abbott with ADD. This isn’t quite true. Erica is like Tony Abbott with Attention Deficit Disorder AND a funny voice. He fulfills the most important prerequisite for a spot in the Howard Ministry – he’s a right wing maniac – but not even that can overcome his other failings.

Hillary’s money is on Brian Gibson, the former Parl Sec to the Treasurer.

When the history of the Howard Government is written, it will be divided into three stages; PS, PR and PP – Pre-Shares, Pre-Rorts, and Pre-Parer. Back in the PS days, the Ministerial Code of Conduct actually stood for something. In the PR era, it only meant “don’t get caught” and in the PP period, it was considered more of a nuisance than anything.

Gibson was unfortunate enough to be caught with a conflict of interest back in the PS days and – along with the then assistant-treasurer, Jim Short – was forced to resign. Now that that’s ancient history, he’ll be acceptable back on the front bench. He might even become a moral beacon – a minister who’s demonstrated some vague sense of decency.

Lex Loser

Hillary has always wondered why DFAT does their transcripts all in capital letters. They’re impossible to read. Now Hillary knows why. It just one of those subtle, subtle ways in which our diplomats act to protect Australia’s national interests. When you have a Foreign Minister like the egregious Lex Loser, you want to make his words as hard to read as possible.

Lex’s comments at the Asia-Pacific Leader’s Forum last week were right up there with “the things that batter” quip. Like his disastrous 1994 comments, like the famous fishnets photo, they betrayed a shallowness and immaturity that is simply incompatible with high office – and being taken seriously.

Alexander Downer is damaging Australia. He is a threat to trade, to business and to our regional and international standing.

Hillary understands that Washington is finding the whole thing wearying. They’re the poor bastards who have to defend him when they get complaints from Asia. And if this is so, we can add another item to the charge list. Alexander Downer is threatening Australia’s most important security relationship.

Canberra corridor talk says that Lex’s department gave him a proper speech – with nice large letters and no big words – that talked about regionalism and engagement with Asia. The story says he ditched it because he is bored with all that and wanted to strike out on his own – and also wanted to impress a certain little fella with an equally narrow grasp of foreign affairs.

The foreign policy record of the Howard Government is feeble – Parliament misled over concern over the axing of the DIFF scheme, an ONA dossier that said the leaders of supposedly friendly Pacific neighbours were drunks and crooks, similar leaks in Port Moresby about how we can’t trust any of their ministers, a failed attempt to get a seat on the Security Council, East Timor, and the collapse of relations with Indonesia. The only two wins this government has pulled off on the world stage – Kyoto and the UNESCO meeting on Jabiluka – have been carried off by its Environment Minister, for Chrisssakes.

John Howard and Alexander Downer are so clueless that it has decided to push programs against landmines and nuclear proliferation while picking running fights with the United Nations – the very body it needs if anything is to come of these initiatives.

When one travels at an official level in Europe or North America – or the more affluent parts of Asia – one quickly realises how much money they spend on nations in Africa, Asia, South America and the Pacific. This isn’t for any particularly philanthropic reason. It’s because it helps them exercise influence in all the various international forums – and win contracts that mean big dollars for their businesses.

The French are currently creaming us on this in East Timor. No wonder we need new VIP jets. Lex and the little bloke are just too jet lagged when they travel to see what’s going on and how the world works.

Whitewash

The black armband view of history will not prevail at the new National Museum of Australia – if Christopher Pearson and David Barnett have their way.

While little is known of the museum management background of Pearson – gentleman amateur anthropologist and sometime Howard speechwriter – and Barnett – author of the official life of the Dear Leader, the quickest ever remaindered biography – the PM and Richard Alston have seen fit to place these two independent spirits on the National Museum Board.

Talk suggests that the pair have been determined to ensure that the repository of our nation’s heritage tells a tale consistent with the John Howard view of our past – white colonialists civilizing a waste land.

The story says that the Museum’s Charter was becoming a bone of contention, so the Museum Chair, the similarly disinterested Tony Staley, was obliged to call to a special meeting of the Board last week to ensure that nothing too much could be read into the words on indigenous heritage and culture.

Shopping With The Senator

Sydney readers will remember Remo – the uber-yuppie knick-knack shop that stood for years in the heart of Darlinghurst on the Oxford and Crown Street corner.

Remo now wants to relaunch itself as an e-commerce business. Old customers can visit its site to fill in a guest book saying just what stock they miss – and a kind reader has sent Hillary the following extract: “Thank goodness you’re back – I’m desperate for a couple more of those cotton sunhats that travel brilliantly and take up no space. I wore one in East Timor during the ballot but left it behind so I only have one left!” .

Who was this stylish traveler? Why, it was Vicki Bourne, Australian Democrat Senator for New South Wales.

Vicki’s Timor tuckbox can’t have been as well equipped as Richard Carleton’s – the Remo merchandise she misses includes Haigh’s chocolates and Haigh’s chocolate frogs.

Vicki would also like to see the return of Sonic II Noise Filters – very useful during Question Time – and, most revealing of all, the Fortune Teller Miracle Fish. Now Hillary understands how the Democrats reach their policy decisions.

Boys!

Reports drift south from Rockhampton of a Labour Day holiday brawl last Monday between Queensland Housing Minister Rob Schwarten and one Craig “Dalby” Brown, the husband of the Federal Labor MP for Capricornia, Kirsten Livermore. Police say they are investigating a complaint. A spokesman for Mr Schwarten says the minister’s lawyers have advised him not to comment on the incident. Mr Brown and Ms Livermore are unavailable. And Premier Peter Beattie? His comment has been “There’s always a bit of robust exchange on Labour Day”.

Scurrilous rumors say the whole thing may have begun with uncharitable references to one of Kirsten’s staffers’ surname – Gay. Not in the caring and sharing ALP? Surely not!

Leadership Challenge

Prime Minister John Howard received a stinging rebuff from his own party division last weekend.

Some 150 members of the New South Wales Liberals met last weekend as part of a series of consultation meetings to consider changes to the party constitution suggested by the Staley Committee. They were overwhelmingly rejected by delegates from the right – despite having the blessing of the PM and his headkicker in chief, former NSW party president Bill Heffernan.

Howard is terrified that the New South Wales Liberals are in no state to face a federal election. Now, he must also be worried about his own authority over his own faction in his own party.

Hillary Bray can be contacted by encrypted e-mail at [email protected] or at [email protected]


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