Federal Cabinet Ministers pass Hillary Bray’s columns down the front bench during QT in Parliament and as you read this week’s effort you’ll understand why Crikey’s Howard Government insider is Australia’s best read political commentator.

Does the Prime Miniature think it doesn’t matter if there are no women in the Cabinet? That seems to be the subtext of a report in Sunday’s Sun-Herald.

In yet another piece on Jocelyn Newman’s impending retirement – first broken by Hillary almost six months ago – clearly sourced by right wingers close to the PM, Tony Abbott the Mad Monk was tipped to take Newman’s portfolio and Tasmanian loon Erica Betz earmarked for a junior minister’s spot.

A reshuffle along these lines would leave no women in the Cabinet – but, to be fair, given that the women in the outer ministry are Jackie Kelly, the Incredible Bulk and the inventor of the kerosene cure-all, Bronwyn Bishop, for once the PM’s behaviour might be influenced by something other than a 1950s world view.

No more Moore?

Last Monday the Oz splashed a piece by foreign editor Greg Sheridan on John Moore’s impending resignation all over page one.

Moore denied that article – but Hillary clearly hears that he was the source of the story. Hillary also hears that Max Moore-Wilton wants Moore gone.

Could the two be possibly related?

Herron today, gone tomorrow

Saturday’s Queensland Senate preselection was tipped by some punters – Hillary included – as a fight to the death by Senator Ian Macdonald for the future of his political career.

In the end, Macdonald thrashed his ministerial colleague John Herron 146 to 86 – with right wing hope Debbie Kember crawling in a very poor fourth.

Herron has been tipped to go many times in the past, but surprisingly indicated his intention to stay on past the next election a few weeks ago. Were his fellow party members giving him a message?

Ryan’s sons and daughters

Staying in Queensland, the soap opera thrills in the seat of Ryan just won’t stop.

Whispers from local Liberal’s say that last week’s confidence has been replaced by apprehension in the Tucker camp as the battle for Ryan continues. State executive decided on Wednesday night to take the matter out of President Galtos’s hands and handed it to the Constitution and Rules committee – leaving keen executive members without the chance to examine the suspect ballot papers themselves.

Tucker – who claims that the ballot was legit – is claimed to have been putting up roadblocks to ensure the exec cannot look at the suspect ballot papers themselves. The Tucker camp were running the line that any right to complain about the AGM was lost because the scrutineers did not raise the objection with the meeting prior to a motion to destroy the ballot papers had been passed by the electorate committee.

When it seemed likely that the Executive would not buy the “it’s all over, too bad” line, Tucker’s barrister, Peter Dunning, is claimed to have made the extraordinary threat to the Party solicitors that if anyone examined the ballot papers Tucker would sue the Party!

This approach has caused a split in the Tucker camp in Ryan, with the Moore camp taking a different approach. The Moore camp are blaming Johnson for tampering with the papers and want the ballot papers examined so that they can finally have Johnson expelled and put an end to what they call “The Opium War”.

John Moore’s candidate Roger Traves upped the ante at last Monday night’s Ryan FEC meeting when he spoke about the need to have the suspect ballot papers checked by handwriting experts. Traves went on further to say that anyone involved in the scandal should be expelled from the Party. Onlookers say that Ryan’s wannabe MP, Michael Johnson, looked a little agitated during the speech.

Masterclass

The Queensland ALP – electoral rorters supreme – have also made their own useful contributions to Ryan. Last week, state backbencher John Mickel rose in state parliament with some fascinating statistics about the Centenary branch of the Liberal Party – supposedly released by former Liberal Party president Bob Tucker.

According to Mickel, members of the branch come from 31 different electorates. Sixteen only identify their addresses as post office boxes. Four give their addresses as shopping centres. Two live in Sydney – one of them giving a Martin Place address.

Dogged by problems

The branchstacking antics have even become too much for the Queensland Young Liberals.

Since Candy the dog’s membership application was rejected, the little Libs have decided to go for the high moral ground, successfully moving a motion over the weekend calling for photo ID membership cards as a first step in cleaning up the Party.

Sophie – so far, not so good

Hillary’s readers have reacted warmly to arch monarchist Sophie Panopolous’ candidacy for preselection in the federal seat of Indi. So much, in fact, that they have sent in a range of suggestions as to why the inner-city barrister should want to go bush.

“Perhaps she thinks it’ll be a good place for some fox hunting,” reads one. “Perhaps she’ll let the corgis stretch their little legs on the wide open plains,” goes another. Best of all, a third suggestion goes “maybe Will the Dill can come and jackeroo on the farm when she finds one”.

Further interesting stories on the subject have also made their way to Hillary. Some Victorian Liberals wonder why Panopolous, a resident of the winnable marginal of Melbourne Ports with a demographic much closer to her own, is contesting a seat she has no links with other than a brass plate on a door.

Other, darker tales make the scurrilous claim that Sophie is a barrister without any briefs. They allege her monarchist mate the Monk has saved her from the indignity of filling in a dole diary by shoving her on various Employment National boards – in much the same way Richard “Milhous” Alston has been said to keep her fellow preselection aspirant Louise Staley off the streets.

Some even more curious messages have made the suggestion that, for a right winger, young Miss Panopolous’ private life is run on decidedly “broad church” principals.

It is also said that powerbroker Michael Kroger has no intention of supporting Sophie and – even more interestingly – a number of former members of the arch-right Australian Liberal Students Federation remember Sophie voting for a republic at a convention in Brisbane in the late 80s.

The National Party is also said to have reacted well to Sophie’s nomination.

If Sophie wins the preselection, the Nats have no doubts that they will win the seat from the Libs and are grooming two young candidates with genuine local links – one a mayor – as contenders for the seat.

(Editor’s Note: It was Sophie who signed Crikey up as a member of the Melbourne University Young Liberals club way back in January 1988 during O week so it’s all her fault.)

Staley stalls

Things are not looking good for the would-be member for Menzies, Louise Staley.

Memories run long in Melbourne – and poor Louise might well fall victim to a payback killing in revenge for the Jeffistas’ unseating of then Senator Karen Synon in 1998.

Doing the numbers

The camel is said to be a horse designed by a committee – but no-one wants to claim credit for the Victorian Liberal Party preselection process.

For the past 15 years or so, preselection colleges in Victoria have been made up with a mix of 60 per cent of delegates from the seat and 40 per cent from Policy Assembly. Since 1992, a custom software package has been used to select random delegates from Assembly.

This, however, has recently been changed. A motion passed at the last Victorian Liberal AGM decided to select the 40 per cent component from members of the party state council, with KPMG appointed as independent observers.

Last Friday, a KPMG rep arrived at 104 Exhibition Street to oversee the selection of delegate for the coming round of federal preselections. The rep asked for a list of eligible delegates and a copy of the database the selection would be made from – and quickly discovered about 80 names were missing.

The rep then refused to conduct the draw until 104 discovered if the names were left off the database by human data entry errors or a fault in the software.

If it is the latter problem, a storm is bound to erupt as Liberals angrily demand to know how often the voter draw has been stuffed up in other preselections – particularly the contentious round that preceded last year’s state election.

Getting in early

While the focus of the Victorian Libs is on federal preselections, it seems that some Libs are already looking forward to the next round of contests for state seats.

Ambitious Libs are already eyeing off the safe seat of Caulfield, currently held by the supposedly accident prone Helen Shardey, a good friend of WMC boss Hugh Morgan.

Shardey’s run of gaffes started at the official opening of her new electorate office after her election. Shardey invited a number guests from the large Jewish community in the area, including Diamond Joe Gutnick, but on-lookers were gobsmacked when Shardey – the now Shadow Minister for Multicultural Affairs – offered her guests plates of ham sandwiches as they arrived.

Not wanting to be seen as a one hit wonder, her office got into the newspapers a second time in 1999 for allegedly circulating anti-Semitic jokes on Parliamentary e-mail.

Observers say Shardey has been obsessively paranoid for sometime that local branch member and young IT millionaire Jason Aldsworth, who works for the Kroger-charged dotcom emitch, will challenge her at the next preselection. However Liberal watchers say that expanding business commitments will rule out any Aldsworth challenge, and claim Shardey is most likely to be the victim of her own Kennett/Poggioli faction.

Helping hands

Queensland and Victoria aren’t the only state divisions of the Liberal Party having fun with preselections at the moment. Things are hotting up in South Australia as the local Libs choose their Senate ticket, too.

E-mails received by Hillary suggest sitting Senator Jeannie Ferris has developed a preselection production line, producing material for candidate Martin White as well as her own. Meanwhile, other sources say that candidate Michelle Lensick has been assisted by the charity of the state’s much-loved Tourism Minister, Joan “Elvira” Hall.

Reports say that Lensick has produced a truly extraordinary document in which she compares herself to other prominent political figures. From what Hillary has heard, the list seems to include names such as Natty, Madeleine Albright, Margaret Thatcher, Indira Gandhi, Madam Mao, Golda Meier, Eva Peron, Catherine the Great, Elizabeth I, Joan of Arc, Boadicea, Cleopatra, Helen of Troy and the Queen of Sheba.

Constitutional niceties

Crikey and Hillary aim to educate readers, despite what their detractors say – and this means Hillary is very proud to introduce South Australians to the concept of “cabinet solidarity”.

Put simply, the notion says that ministers should either shut up about cabinet decisions they disagree with – or resign. Hillary thought it existed in all Westminster democracies, but the idea is clearly unknown in South Australia.

Last week, the State Cabinet prevented a mine development which threatened an endangered fish – much to the chagrin of Mines and Energy Minister – and bad hairpiece modeller – Wayne Matthew.

Wayne dashed off letters all over the place condemning the decision – including to its proponents, BHP – denounced it in the Adelaide Advertiser and, indeed, did everything other than what he should have done if he could not live silently with the consequences of Cabinet’s actions – resign.

Strangely enough, no political commentators or the Opposition seem to have realised this.

Goal!

The Demons weren’t the only people left feeling bombed after last weekend’s AFL grand final. Poor Bronwyn Bishop was also battered and bruised.

Bronny was loudly greeted at the North Melbourne Grand Final Breakfast by a comedian dressed as the Queen Mother, who greeted her with loud ostentation, informed the crowd that they were at school together – but that Bronwyn was a few years older, marvelled at how Bronwyn had kept her complexion looking so good before finishing with “it must be all those kerosene baths”.

Turps and turpitude?

In the wake of the PM’s performance at Parliament’s Mid-winter Ball, Hillary hears claims from New South Wales that his hitman, Senator Bill Heffernan, was somewhat tired and emotional at a recent meeting of the New South Wales Liberal state executive.

All this on top of the revelation last week of the PM’s $8,000 bill for a wine consultant. What is going on?

Balls up

A late item from the Mid-winter Ball arrives in Hillary’s in box – claiming that a senior Cabinet minister saw the PM and Glenn Milne watching the Press Gallery Choir and complained that two midgets were blocking his view.

Raining on the rorts

Hanrahan’s from WA regaled the Coalition party room with tales of woe in the west, with locust plagues unseen since biblical times. They demanded that the Feds bail farmers out, complaining that the state government had failed.

Primary Industries Minister Warren Truss then rose to his feet, said he would like to help, but that as Western Australia had been the only state not to join the National Locust Eradication Commission – no doubt seeing it as an easterner plot – they could fix the matter themselves.

Next up was the Member for Parramatta, Ross Cameron. He spoke about the problem of small business in his electorate, particularly strip shops. Apparently, as a result of rain, their gutterings were starting to rust. Cameron demanded that a Cabinet committee be established to examine the problem and program of government-subsidised loans for new roofs and gutters.

He continued in this vein for several minutes to a rising tide of laughter from city members – and steadily more threatening growls from the rural and regional rorters.

Bright lad

Meanwhile, sometime author of pornographic books Senator Ross Lightfoot made a remarkable contribution to the petrol price debate.

The day after the Aussie dollar plunged new depths and a rise in the international oil price was announced – the very time when the Government could most clearly indicate how petrol prices were beyond its control – ol’ Redneck Ross was on AM demanding that they do something.

Divorce settlement?

Extraordinary claims come from the deep north that Queensland Senator Brenda Gibbs, when she split from her ALP powerbroker hubby, had clauses written into her separation agreement ensuring he would still give her his support within the ALP to ensure she could keep her position.

Hillary doesn’t know how to treat this news – particularly as the yarn goes on to allege that copies of the agreement are being circulated by that lovable family of freaks, the Colstons.

Kinder, gentler politics

Hillary hears an equally strange story about Meg Lees’ behaviour during July’s Centenary of Federation forelock tugging trip back to the mother country.

Hillary won’t even repeat it – for surely such nice types as Democrats, when they say they will be happy to use public transport, don’t swear at Embassy staffers and commandeer cars when the station is too far away.

And, after all, Cheryl Kernot is such a sweet person.

Still more preselections

Two quick ones Hillary hopes to follow up in more detail later.

Monarchist and maintainer of Moran family values, Kerry Jones, may not be the shoe in many thought she seemed for the vacancy in the New South Wales Legislative Council. Poor PM.

Meanwhile, former NFF head Ian Macfarlane isn’t the flavour of the month amongst his preselectors in his seat of Groom – ironically because of his support for a republic last year.

Lampshade on head time

Joe “Hindenburg” Hockey threw yet another party last week – yet managed to emerge relatively unscathed. Who was the night’s party boy? Step forward Queensland Senator George “Washington” Brandis.

Olympic spirit

What a coincidence that Juan Antonio Sammaranch and Mikey Knight happened to run into Nelson Mandella at the Olympic Village last week.

And what a contrast, too, between the old fascist freeloader and a BLF hatchet man turned factional rat and one of the most admired political figures of recent decades.

And to think that Mandella didn’t even hold his nose once during the meeting. Hillary admires him more and more!

PS Here’s Hillary’s hint for those who want to share the spirit without coughing up cash for the IOC and their lackeys. Come and watch the marathon as it travels down Oxford Street, Darlinghurst, between Taylor Square and Hyde Park. It will be high drama to see how many athletes trip over deros or suffer needlestick injuries.

S11 – idiots’ heaven

Hillary joined Age readers at Stephanie’s on Richmond Hill on Sunday. The conversation was fascinating.

Firstly, the deeply concerned inner-city latte lovers welcomed the end of the footy season and the ever-so-disturbing parade of working class people past the restaurant on their way to the MCG. They then turned to the World Economic Forum and the imminent arrival of the Four Horsemen of the Activist Apocalypse in Melbourne – Jobs, Growth, Freedom and Opportunity.

Hillary was fascinated to read the following quote from a protestor in Friday’s Age: “I think the meeting itself is an act of violence because it’s a conspiracy of the ultra-rich to rob the poor”.

However, Hillary was left with two questions. How many drugs do you have to take before you begin to think that way – and how the hell is Burger King so much more virtuous than McDonalds’?

Party boys

So the two delightful Davids – Ettridge and Oldfield – are at it again.

When the news seeped out from the sewers during the week that the lovely couple had come up with two new parties, everyone suspected some scummy second preference strategy. However, is the truth more prosaic?

When Ettridge left One Nation, he said he planned to pursue a business career in Asia – despite the fact that his chances of success were up there with Dolly Dunn becoming the fifth Wiggle.

Now he’s back and playing politics with his pal. They don’t just want the money, do they?

PS One other Ettridge venture ran into strife last week – a backpackers run by his brother was caught in the post-Childers crackdown.

The Beachcomber Beachfront Backpackers was unlicensed and unregistered and according to Queensland Emergency Services Minister Stephen Robertson contained “a long list of fire and other defects that fire officers believe constitute a major fire hazard”, and was closed after “Mr Ettridge refused to comply with a notice to cease trading”.

Oh dear.

Jeff’s Property Play

Lastly, political players of all persuasion have been asking themselves where on earth Jeff Kennett found $1.4 million to splash on a Richmond office at auction last week as fellow Richmond resident Karina Barrymore reported in the Fin Review. There’s been no piggery sale, no Hawkie-style property deals and he certainly hasn’t got a Greineresque 16 board seats. Did Crown casino owner Kerry Packer really pay him that much for one story on 60 Minutes? Jeff is also driving around town in a 100k-plus late model Beamer. And to think, it was only 15 months ago that he was crying poor over his six-figure legal bill after his failed defamation action against The Australian. Lachlan, you shouldn’t have let him off after all.

Hillary Bray can be contacted at [email protected]