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This certainly rates as one of Hillary’s best columns yet. No punches pulled, everyone gets sprayed, great grubbiness exposed. You’ll love it. The critic in yoursay this week should withdraw everything.

Mark Latham’s go at Kerry Packer may have been typically cack-handed – but the Prime Miniature’s response raises more than a few questions by itself.

On Thursday, Latham described Kerry Packer as a “beneficiary of the Government’s inability to eliminate tax manipulation and tax avoidance in corporate Australia”. However, the following day the PM told Melbourne radio he believed Packer’s claim that his companies have paid more than $2 billion to the Government in the past decade.

“I don’t know the details of Mr Packer’s personal affairs and I don’t want to know them, frankly,” he said.

“He, like any other citizen of this country, is entitled to secrecy provisions of the tax act but he, like anybody else, has got obligations. He says that he’s kept them, he’s pointed out his companies employ a lot of people and pay a lot of tax. Now I can’t imagine he would say that if it were untrue.”

So, Prime Minister, why has your own Tax Office taken such an interest in Packer family affairs over recent years? Does the Treasurer believe Big Kez’s claims?

Nation Shocked By Rampage

The really destructive rampage last week didn’t take place at the Woomera Detention Centre. It took place in Canberra. The four ringleaders have been identified – a John Howard, a Phillip Ruddock, an Alexander Downer and one Darryl Williams. However, it is believed that the rampage was masterminded by a shadowy figure known only as “Pauline”.

In two days, this gang destroyed Australia’s excellent reputation on human rights issues – and worse, the international moral authority our country has enjoyed.

As Palitha Kohona, head of the United Nations Treaty Section, told Inter Press Service, “Australia should be mature enough that when someone else criticises its record, it doesn’t just go off and sulk, but takes that criticism on board and does something to improve its standing.”

Yes, there are problems with the UN. It can be bureaucratic and swayed by ideology. There are also completely legitimate grounds to ask about the internal democracy of many NGOs. However, this does not justify the Government’s petulant behaviour.

Indeed, last week’s decision will expose Australia to more scrutiny, not less. The timing of the announcement itself was extraordinary – with the Olympics days away and the eyes of the world already focussed on us. It’s amazing Mahathir Mohamad hasn’t already started a nudge-nudge, wink-wink campaign.

Twelve months ago, Australia needed the legitimacy of the UN to intervene in East Timor. Have the Rodent and Lex forgotten already? What about the regional security and diplomatic implications, PM? Gosh, there might be a little more to this UN thingy than refugees and mandatory sentencing.

At least, in a week where much of the focus has been on foreign trade and debt, one would have hoped that the Government might have recognised the economic benefits Australia gains from internationalisation.

Trading nations do not turn their backs on the world. We depend on the rest of the world for our economic success. That’s why Australia pushes for free trade and international engagement to further this cause. Remember that, PM?

What a week of accomplishment for the Howard Government. Australia’s international voice has suddenly been diminished – and the Hanson/Cameron trade agenda has been given a great kick along. Well done, lads!

Gimme Shelter

Apologies, but Hillary is going to do an Alan Ramsey and fill up space with a long quote from somewhere else.

Flicking through Friday’s Age, Hillary was fascinated to see the following comments by Sam Lipski. Lipski ain’t no pinko – if Hillary remembers correctly, he served on the editorial board of Quadrant for many years. That’s what made his comments so interesting:

“He is concerned at the recent statements by Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock attacking Kosovar refugees forcibly returned to their homeland and boat people who arrived in Western Australia from the Middle East. With 25 million refugees on the move around the world, he believes a way must be found to lead community debate with a tolerant and compassionate attitude.

“Instead, he describes Ruddock’s warning early this year that a wave of 10,000 Middle Eastern refugees was heading for Australia as an appeal to prejudice, anxiety and fear. ‘Why exploit such emotions? Even if it was true, I have to ask so what? It’s not as if Australia could not absorb such numbers. The country accepted 10,000 Indo-Chinese refugees and no one batted an eyelid.’

“He says the country can be proud of what it has achieved in the past 50 years but he is concerned the government’s attitude has turned the clock back.

” ‘There seems to be a mindless bureaucratic impulse to do everything by the book which displays an unnecessary rigidity. There has been some opposition to further immigration but your elected governments are supposed to lead public opinion in this case opinion has been ahead of the government.’

“As a trustee of the Australian Refugee Foundation, Lipski is concerned that Australia’s reputation in international forums, a reputation that has taken years to build, is being needlessly tarnished by the Government’s attitude. ‘There has been nothing gained by its stand. It’s not as if it can be justified as part of attempts to solve environmental or pollution problems. Australia has lost some its standing and prestige for nothing in return.’ ”

Onya Sam! Unfortunately, something has been gained – the Rodent, Crosby, Lex et al won’t need to engage in any embarrassing negotiations over One Nation preferences. They’ll get ’em automatically.

Not Happy, John

Is there some hope for the Howard Government? Hillary hears from very reliable sources that Attorney-General “Dazzling” Darryl Williams is most unhappy with the bill to make the IVF amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act.

Daz is said to have privately called the legislation a disgrace and is throwing hurdles in its path. Then again, with his past record of assertiveness

The Laws Is An Ass

Pressies past and present popped ‘n’ poured at the news last week that John Laws had been nicked once again.

While we can only keep our fingers crossed until the sentencing hearing, it was fascinating to see the fine folks who were offering their support to the man with the mysterious coif down at Otto’s restaurant at Woolloomooloo.

Sydney’s finest passed by – Big Kez, Singo (whose speed camera adventures have already demonstrated the egalitarian nature of the Australian justice system) and the ever pleasant Piers Ackerman, one time wild man of Surry Hills. Ah, to bask in the support of the great and the good.

PS Talking of Piers, nasty rumours are doing the rounds on the Sydney media circuit that a Sunday Telegraph colleague gets her plastic surgery done on a contra basis. Guess who, don’t sue! (Ed’s note: Hillary’s contract says I can’t change the copy. Sorry!!! We also hear a Melbourne television presenter had the above arrangement.)

Little Libs And Lachlan – Later

Oh dear. Did Warwick Smith fail in his chaperone duties at the dinner with the little Libs and Lachlan?

Hillary hears that the attendees headed off to the bar at the nearby Westin for drinks afterwards. One – no stranger to controversy after some issues last year over his electoral enrolment and actual address – changed into black jeans and a muscle top – and was boasting to colleagues the following day how he got lucky!! (Ed’s note: C’mon Hillary, name names you softy)

Preselection Predilections

Oh surprise, surprise! Louise Staley has nominated for Menzies. Who could have ever predicted it.

It’s early days yet, but at the moment the smart money is on Kevin Andrews holding on. Yes, on policy matters he makes the PM look like a wife swapper – but he knows how to campaign. He is always coming up with various promotional gimmicks, and has just been racing round the electorate distributing Kevin Andrews key rings.

The Little Fella himself gave a steadfast defence of Andrews on Melbourne radio on Friday morning – creating a huge problem for the folks at 104 Exhibition Street. The PM firmly endorsed Andrews as his candidate – and indicated that anyone opposing Andrews was opposing him and his Government.

Poor party president Ian Carson and co won’t know what to do – support the PM or help their hack.

Meanwhile, in Kooyong, one John Davies has nominated against Petro Georgiou. Davies’s chief claim to fame is that he served as chief of staff to Michael Wooldridge during his period as deputy leader – a chapter in Liberal Party history so glorious that making Alexander Downer leader seemed like a good idea.

Talk is, however, that Davies is just a stalking horse, laying the groundwork for state Upper House member David Davis – the man who shot to national fame when he tried to ban Anne Peacock from a branch in her father’s old electorate – to launch a proper preselection bid next time round.

In a wonderful coincidence, Davis and Staley were engaged at one time.

The most spectacular preselection news comes from the north east Victorian seat of Indi, with arch monarchist Sophie Panopolous nominating.

There has been much head scratching across the country as Libs try to figure out young Sophie’s local links – she is currently a member of that traditional rural branch of the Liberal Party: the Melbourne Branch.

However, Sophie says she opened a visiting chambers for her fledgling legal practice at Wangaratta about six months ago as proof of her rural roots.

It appears that she is actually banking on backing from local monarchist networks – Indi votes against a republic by a massive 67 per cent.

Sophie has support from some interesting people – the PM right wing bully boy Gerry Wheeler and her old boss, Michael Yabsley.

She won’t, however, be getting any help from her old comrade in arms, Kerry Jones. Jones and Panopolous had some heated exchanges with both claiming each other was hogging the media spotlight during the republic campaign.

International Joke

Last week another preselection candidate, short lived minister Andrew Thomson, kept the Opposition provided with questions after his comments on treaty making – and earned a sharp rebuke from Senate leader Robert Hill.

Hillary hopes that Wentworth preselectors remember that Thomson spends inordinate amounts of time not only outside the electorate, but outside the country for someone who is so scared of these evil international organisations. Does he not realise that many of the countries he travels to (and let’s face it he has been to all of them in the last couple of years) have signed up to these dangerous treaties?

Carve Up

Conventional wisdom in New South Wales for a long time has been that – barring Olympic disasters – Michael Knight will take over rail from hapless Transport Minister Carl Scully in the wake of the Games.

However, Bob Carr may well have scope for a wider reshuffle. Reports handed down this week on Star City Casino and greyhound racing has cast a gigantic shadow over the future of Gaming Minister Richard Face, and a steady stream of Sydney Morning Herald articles have raised more than a few questions about the business dealings and ethics of Mines and Fisheries Minister Eddie Obied.

Shame there’s no Opposition to follow these matters up.

PS Hillary hears that at the recent Sydney Chinese Friends of Labor fundraiser, NSW state secretary and Telstra shareholder Eric Roozendaal was escorted to the podium by Miss Chinatown herself. Fortunately, no Jeffish unseemliness seems to have occurred.

Dumb And Proud

Mr Roozendaal – and many others – were watching Telstra share prices when the company reported a record profit last week.

As T2 shares dipped, Coalition MPs reported receiving disconcerting – and heated – calls from local punters who had bought into the float – seemingly oblivious to the fact that shares can go down as well as up.

The last remaining socialists in the Parliament – Bob Katter, De-anne Kelly and co – used the occasion to proclaim once again that Telstra should not be privatised. Hillary suggests they put in a call to New South Wales Treasurer Michael Egan to find out just how much money can be lost by government bodies trading in a deregulated environment.

Weekend reports suggest that New South Wales taxpayers will have to foot a bill of some $600 million for bungled electricity trading contracts. Whoops! (Ed’s note: And who was chairman of Pacific Power at the time? Yep, Fairfax CEO and IR novice Fred Hilmer, that’s you)

However, Mad Bob happily trumpeted “why the hell would you want to get rid of an asset that’s going from strength to strength?”

Well Bob, you might want to look at the share price. You might want to compare T1 and T2. Hillary knows you don’t like it Queensland, but there is this thing called competition – and Telstra is very, very heavily exposed to it. And – gee, mate – if Telstra starts losing money, guess who’ll be footing the bill – no matter how loudly the cockies crow.

PS Kim Beazley and Steven Smith could also do with a quick chat with Michael Egan – but, then again, all the Keating biographies basically suggest that Humpty Dumpty is innumerate – and his stint as finance minister tends to back it up.

Putting Out Fire With Gasoline

Mad Bob and other assorted backbench nonentities gave the ALP a fantastic boost last week with their comments on fuel prices.

OPEC has been an international pariah for almost 30 years but, no – these geniuses had to make sure the Government wore the shit for massive increases in the price of crude exacerbated by a falling dollar.

The PM told that party room last Tuesday that he didn’t understand how people take their opponent’s line. Little Johnny should realise that he’s dealing with morons here.

The most spectacular intervention on the subject came from little known South Australian backbencher Trish Draper. Amidst a flury of publicity, Draper launched a petition against high fuel prices and promised a “keynote” speech in the House on the matter.

When the time came, her name was on the notice paper – but Trish was nowhere to be seen. No doubt she realised that her skills are better used in areas she has a stronger record in – like calling for paedophiles to be strung up.

Apology And Correction

In the last column, Hillary referred to an episode where a dog was joined up to the Queensland University Liberal Club. This item was inaccurate, and Hillary would like to apologise unreservedly to Candy, the dog involved, and clarify matters.

Candy was actually signed up to the Wavell Young Liberals – but never formally joined the Liberal Party, as the cheque paying for Candy and a number of other stackees bounced.

Bent Banana II

More fascinating e-mail out of Queensland – this time claiming that a Liberal state executive member has made some strategic donations to the ALP in the state’s north. Any further details will be gratefully received.

Mac Attack Setback

Regional Services Minister Ian Macdonald – facing a fight with Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Herron over a Senate spot – can breathe a little easier.

Liberal membership in the seat of Leichhardt has fallen one member short of the one hundred needed to send delegates to the preselection – eight out of its ten votes were tipped to go against Macdonald.

A Truce In The Battle For Ryan

The Tucker camp has claimed victory in the battle for control of John Moore’s seat of Ryan, and claim they now have the measure of the hapless Michael Johnson and his 300 recent recruits.

State Liberal president Con Galtos, who dreams of creating a massive cross factional alliance, has done a deal with Tucker guaranteeing that he will not open an investigation into allegations that ballot papers were tampered with in the now infamous vote for chairman of the Ryan electorate committee. The return demanded is that Tucker supports his ticket for the executive and his chief cheerleader, Trevor Nelson Jones, at next weekend’s Queensland Liberal AGM.

Subtle

Amanda “The Incredible Bulk” Vanstone was her usual subtle self last week when she released a four-year tally of heroin and cocaine seizures during the Coalition’s term in office.

The Bulk told journos that the Government’s gimmicky “Tough on Drugs” strategy has led to enough heroin seizures to provide hits to more than 60 capacity crowds at the main Olympic stadium, before boasting that Customs has seized three times the amount of heroin and twice the amount of cocaine taken in the final four years of the Labor government.

Hillary hopes that this doesn’t actually mean the overall volumes of drugs entering Australia have increased too, Minister.

Very Important Journalist

Gallery guru Michelle Grattan turns up on SOCOG’s list of Olympic media with the accreditation of “VIP Media” – the only journo to boast such an impressive title.

Not even editors make the grade. Amazing. Hillary had no idea Michelle was such a highly regarded sports writer.

She’s Baaaack!!

Carmen Lawrence is back from the political dead. Shame that Penny Easton has no such second chance.

Lawrence’s return to the frontbench will be a disaster for Labor. If she had any sense of shame, Lawrence should have resigned long ago. The central fact of the Easton affair remains – the name of an innocent woman was used for political gain, and she killed herself.

Labor powerbrokers have insulted the intelligence of voters by believing they have such short memories to have forgotten all this already.

At the same time, the selection of Lawrence to fill the frontbench vacancy is yet another failed ticker test for Kim Beazley.

There were other contenders for the position – but choosing one of them may have ignited factional difficulties. That was all too hard for Kim.

Family Values

Hillary last week reported some talk from South Australia on Liberal Senate preselection hopeful Martin White. An e-mail popped up repudiating all the nasty gos – from his niece, a former staffer to Ho.

Hillary can be contacted at [email protected]

Peter Fray

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