John Howard is happy to interfere in a Queensland state seat – but not to help his own Finance Minister in his own backyard.

The Government must be glad Parliament is not sitting for the next fortnight.

After the antics of “L-Plate” Larry Anthony, the discovery of the Hindenburg’s secret fascination with cross dressing and the pulping of eight million pieces of mail from the Rodent himself, it hasn’t been a good week.

Queensland Capers

The PM’s bad week continued right up until 1:30 on Saturday morning. That was when a marathon Queensland Liberal Party state executive meeting that delivered a 23-18 rebuff to the PM on a key vote finally finished.

The Queensland Libs have had a stormy week, with name calling and the spat between leader David Watson and his would be successor, Santo Santoro that culminated in Santoro’s resignation from the front bench. Yet another issue was fought out on Friday night – the question of three cornered contest with the Nats in state seats.

A previous deal with the Nats limited the number of contests to three – but Queensland Libs were chafing to run a candidate in the Darling Downs seat of Cunningham.

The Rodent, however, disagreed. He told senior Queensland Federal Liberal John Moore – who has an automatic spot on the Exec and is in favour of three cornered contests – to stay away so John Herron could go in his place.

Herron – naturally – gave a dynamic performance. He repeatedly told the Exec that the PM did not want Cunningham contested – and was completely ignored when exec voted 23-18 in favour of running.

And why have three cornered contest suddenly become such a big deal? Well, it appears that the Nationals are deliberating “throwing” seats associated with One Nation.

In the State seat of Lockyer, they have preselected a 30 year old unknown party hack, Lindsay Christensen, who lives on the fringe of the electorate in the small town of 200 people, Tarome, to run against popular City Country Alliance member, Peter “The Vet” Prenzler. Popular rumour has it this is a deliberate National Party strategy to run dead.

Lockyer is not the only part of the world the Nats have selected a 30 year old unknown party hack to run. In Cunningham they have selected Stuart Copeland, the unknown manager of the local show-ground, after a bitter preselection battle. With more than half the local Nats not supportive of Copeland, there are real concerns that the Nats may be unwittingly replicating the Lockyer strategy, leaving the gap for a conservative independent to come through the middle.

The One Nation experience at the last Queensland election has clearly shown the need for a choice between parities. If there had been a credible Liberal alternative in some of the One Nation seats, One Nation would have never attracted the vote it did.

Confidential National Party polling shows that after nine months of campaigning, the Nat candidate for Cunningham is still unknown within the community, rating a single digit recognition factor in polling. This is why they are so concerned about a potential Liberal challenger.

At the same time, the Nats intend to run against Liberal candidates at the federal election – which makes their complaints look a little precious.

In a further delightful piece of irony, former Federal National Party leader Tim Fischer has welcomed a three-cornered contest in his electorate of Farrer. Tim says he is relaxed about the Nationals’ chances in a possible battle with the Liberal Party over his seat, from which he retires at the next election.

Whose Hume ?

The Rodent is happy to interfere in a Queensland state seat – but won’t get involved to help his own Finance Minister in his own home state.

A wandering psephologist e-mails Hillary:

“The problems created by the new electoral boundaries for the federal seats of Hume and Macarthur will provoke a sense of deja vu for both the combatants for Liberal pre-selection, Alby Schultz and John Fahey.

“It will also be deja vu for the voters of Hume. This is the third redistribution in a row that has resulted in sitting MPs being pitted against each other in Hume.

“In 1984, new boundaries forced sitting National Party MP Stephen Lusher into a contest against the Liberal MP for Farrer, Wal Fife. Fife won, but prior to the 1993 election, faced the same problem as new boundaries looked like forcing him to contest against National Party MP John Sharp. In a gentlemanly act not common in Federal politics, Fife chose to retire rather than create Coalition disharmony.

“This time the problem is within the Liberal Party rather than between Coalition partners, but the cause of the problem is the same. As the proportion of the State’s population that lives in Sydney grows, rural electorates are either abolished, or slowly slide up the Hume Highway into the metropolitan area, drawn by the magnetic pull of population growth.

“This drift is exactly what has happened to Macarthur, the redistribution transforming a semi-rural Liberal seat into an urban and notional Labor seat in the southern parts of Campbelltown. It is a process that has happened before to the neighbouring safe-Labor seat of Werriwa, which is actually named after the aboriginal word for Lake George near Canberra, contained in the electorate earlier this century.

“The 38,677 voters in the rural parts of Macarthur have now been combined with 41,821 voters from Hume. On projected enrolments for three years time, there will be more voters from Macarthur than Hume. Based on population, both Fahey and Schultz have valid claims upon the new electorate.

“Fahey understandably wishes to follow his electoral base in the southern highlands. He has always represented the area, despite constantly re-drawn boundaries. He was first elected as State MP for Camden in 1984, but prior to the 1988 election, Camden was re-drawn like Macarthur in southern Campbelltown, and Fahey shifted to the new seat of Southern Highlands.

“In 1991, another re-drawing added Goulburn to his seat, absorbing much of the abolished seat of National Party colleague Robert Webster, who was forced to move to the Legislative Council. Following his defeat as Premier at the 1995 election, Fahey cast his eye over his local Federal seat of Macarthur, and the endorsed Liberal candidate, Charlie Lynn, also found his way to the Legislative Council.

“In contrast, Alby Schultz is taking a different line to past statements about the electorate he wishes to contest. He was the MP for the state seat of Burrinjuck from 1988 until 1998. Following a state redistribution that moved his home base of Cootamundra into the National Party seat of Lachlan, he threatened to contest that seat, damaging Coalition relations.

“A vacancy in Hume created by the retirement of John Sharp solved the impasse, and Schultz easily won the seat in 1998. As with the state redistribution, the new boundaries have moved his base in Cootamundra into a neighbouring National Party seat, this time to Riverina. But this time Schultz’s argument has changed, wanting to stay with his seat rather than follow Cootamundra.

“In the past, an MP in Schultz’s position could have been encouraged to stand aside with some government sinecure. However, that would mean either a by-election in the middle of a post-GST uproar, or a promise that the government may not be able to meet if it loses.

“Even with John Fahey as candidate, the prospects of the Liberal Party winning Macarthur at the next election would be slim at best. The pre-selectors of Hume will be left with the task of deciding who is more important for the future of the Howard government, John Fahey or Alby Schultz.”

To which Hillary responds “Too true, mate! I tips me lid to yer.”

Hillary understands that on the day the New South Wales redistribution was announced, Alby Schultz contacted party figures to say he recognised John Fahey’s claim to the seat and would not be running.

What has happened since then? Why has Schultz changed his mind? Why won’t the Prime Minister defend a Minister from his own state – particularly after his efforts in John Moore’s and Alex Somlay’s preselections? And just what has been the role of the PM’s eminence gris, Bill Heffernan, in all of this?

Positions Vacant

The Liberal Party is looking for state directors in two vital states, New South Wales and Victoria.

Material floods in about filling the spot on Exhibition Street which will take much too long to edit up for this week. Meanwhile, in Sydney, the headhunters haven’t been inundated with quality candidates.

Hillary hears that the nasty right is searching for a candidate acceptable to Howard – and is tossing around the name of the PM’s resident bovver boy, Gerard Wheeler. Wheeler, the brains behind the rise of Bronwyn Bishop has already been exposed by Gerard Henderson as an unashamed elitist – university educated, Canberra resident, long time political staffer and married into an old Tory family, the Clunies-Ross clan. He is also the same man who penned a memo to the ACM before the republic campaign got into full swing, outlining the tactics which should be used against the republicans – the primary tactic being to expose them as elitists out of touch with ordinary Australians.

In addition, Wheeler was behind the Australian Federation of Liberal Students’ swing in the 80s to the loony libertarian right. Recent ALSF convention speakers have included that well known Liberal and Coalition supporter Joh Bjelke-Peterson and convention dinners have featured toasts to local environmentalist Jacques Chirac.

Wheeler has long had his eye on the Libs ACT Senate spot currently held by Margaret Reid. A gig at Riley Street wouldn’t hurt – but the timing might be off, as Reid is getting long in the tooth and can’t stick round forever.

Naughty, Naughty

Did the Government’s media buyers try to block the screening of anti-GST ads produced by the – admittedly pretty unpleasant – brewing lobby? Were they afraid that they might spoil the works of creative genius that are the “Unchain My Heart” campaign?

If so, isn’t this a little hypocritical coming from a Government made up of parties that cried floods of crocodile tears at Labor’s attempts to ban political advertising in the early 90s?

Empire Building ?

A foul smell wafts from the bowels of Parliament House. Is it a meeting of the so-called National Right faction, supposedly led by the PM’s pal, Senator Nick Minchin?

Dark and terrible rumors fly around the House of a band of desperadoes who, unable to meet upon the moor – a la Macbeth – settle for telephone hook ups to discuss who they’re doing over that week.

These stories say the members of this black brotherhood may be Ho Chi Minchin, wannabe Queensland Liberal leader Santo Santoro, the Monk, Bill Heffernan, our old friend Eric “Erica” Abetz from Tasmania and Western Australian Senator Ian Campbell.

They also say that it is a source of much frustration that no Victorian can be recruited to their cause to close the magic circle.

Stumbling Block

Paul “Porky” Everingham has called for federal intervention in the Queensland Liberal Party – along the lines of the intervention in New South Wales.

One problem with this is that the intervention there hasn’t happened. The New South Wales Liberals are in such a mess as no one is prepared to bite the bullet.

What has been suggested is a series of reforms but – surprise, surprise – the biggest stumbling block to them at the moment seems to be that forward looking leader John Howard.

The left and right of the Party have agreed on some of the Staley package, but the PM – apparently on Bill Heffernan’s advice – remains obsessed by the idea of proportional representation.

Complete Crap

A fortnight ago, Crikey published a somewhat, er, controversial piece on new Queensland Senator, George “Washington” Brandis.

This has sparked a bizarre rumour that the author of the piece was fellow Queensland MP and former federal minister, David “Marlboro Man” Jull.

Hillary doesn’t believe this for a minute – but, of course, feels duty bound report such scurrilous stuff in deference to the public’s right to know.

Wooing Washington

Washington, for a new boy in town, appears to be attracting a disproportionate level of interest.

Hillary hears that Washington’s dance card has been full as new friends eager to make his acquaintance flood him with invitations.

And people say no one’s seriously doing the numbers….

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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