She’s inside the tent and her content is hot. Crikey’s Canberra insider has more great political gossip for you this week.

Speculation has been rife – just what would the Premiers find to whinge about at COAG in the exciting new post GST world of Federal/State financial relations.

The answer, of course, was fuel prices. Premiers rarely look beyond their borders – unless there’s a junket involved – so it should come as no surprise that they haven’t noticed the state of the dollar, let alone the situation in the Middle-East.

Even more foolish are the Government backbenchers like Fran Bailey, who have done so much in support of Labor’s campaign to make fuel excise a major issue. While Bailey is a deeply unpleasant individual, Hillary at least thought she had a brain – but remember, if you turn something into a negative for your Government, then it hurts you all. Your own shouts get lost in the storm.

Mystery story

A staffer goes from a senior Tasmanian Senator’s office – but stories remain of stamps ripped off to help this figure’s local government campaign and, worse, of Tripodi like behaviour. All very mysterious.

In and out and in?

Bizarre rumours also surround Ian “Mister” Hanke, press sec to The Living Dead, formerly known as Workplace Relations Minister, Peter Wreath.

Tales tell that the hard-edged Hanke was given the boot then suddenly readmitted to the fold. What gives? Is he back being a bald-headed St Kilda bar fly or not?

A tale of terror

Picture this: mild mannered member for Indi Lou Lieberman is sitting in the Party Room with his Coalition colleagues.

Suddenly, his face twitches. He coughs. He coughs again – deeper this time – and grimaces. Suddenly, he is wracked with pain. He falls to the floor. His colleagues start. He screams and convulses in agony. He grips his chest as an ominous crimson stain spreads across his snow white shirt. He gives one more ghastly cry that turns into a gurgle then cuts off as a horrible head bursts out of his chest. Its hair is armoured with layers of lacquer, and it shows a terrible toothy smile. The late Lou Liberman’s colleagues fall back in shock and horror. It is – God help them – a Baby Bronwyn. It smiles its terrible smile again – and then darts off to the shelter of the far right side of the room

A Baby Bronwyn. That’s what Uptown Girl Sophie Panopolous will be if she wins Indi. She is already telling friends that she only got the preselection as Lieberman was off on a jaunt to Poland. Thanks, Lou. But will she take the seat?

The Victorian Nats have stopped their celebrations – and are getting down to work and planning a big budget campaign. They don’t think a city slicker Lib will be hard to beat.

The Nats aren’t the only people pleased to be up against the Uptown Girl. The ALP feel confident, too, given their performance in the bush at the state election and then, again, in Benalla – in the very heart of Indi.

Most of the Liberal preselectors of Indi are over 50 – indeed, a 50 year old Indi Lib is fairly young. Sophie wooed them with tales of her undying love for the Queen. Ordinary voters, however, may have other concerns.

PS Hillary hears that Victorian Lib president Ian Carson is already trying to buy off one unsuccessful Indi candidate with a run for a state seat. They’re not afraid of any local backlash, are they – let alone a run by an independent?

Full disclosure

More on monarchists. This weekend, Kerry Jones launches her account of the republic referendum, entitled The People’s Protest.

Kerry says that dirty tricks marred the referendum campaign. Indeed. The forelock tugging and curtseying brigade dropped all reference to their gracious sovereign lady in their campaign, as maniacal monarchists ran under the slogan “Vote no to THIS republic”.

In fact, Hillary would like to suggest another title for Kerry’s book – The Conservatives’ Con.

Grudge report

The grudge match continues in Queensland, with the next round of the Ryan Rumble to be fought on Monday night as contenders Bob Tucker and Penny Behan fight for the Liberal electorate committee presidency.

Observers are predicting a massive turnout, with up to 400 people expected to attend. If the battle goes to yet another round, the local Lib officials will be forced to book Lang Park.

It’s whose ABC?

Spare a thought for poor Ian Henschke, the much criticised staff representative on the ABC Board.

Last week Henschke justified his little appreciated efforts to The Australian saying “I could assist the staff by giving them a vent for their anger through rhetoric, or I could assist the staff by explaining in a rational and reasonable way at board level the real concern about the restructure and the fact that we don’t have the funding to carry it out”. Still, he continues to feel flak from his fellows.

Does this mean that the staff at our quality, independent broadcaster are only happy when they’re represented by a crazy Trot?

International statesman

Retiring toiler’s friend, Michael Knight, tells his friends he has a simple ambition. He wants to be the next Henry Kissinger.

This doesn’t necessarily mean he wants to let a bunch of genocidal maniacs take over Cambodia – despite the “whatever it takes” motto of his adopted New South Wales right faction. No, Mikey has simpler ambitions. He merely wants to become the most highly paid political consultant in the world.

Job application

Victorian Liberal Senate preselectors were a little surprised when Kay Patterson specifically asked for a promotion to the safer number two spot on the ticket.

Patterson’s turn to be surprised came when the final ticket read: Alston, Kemp – and guess who?

Best defence

The Prime Miniature has called for greater spending on defence. And how many recruits has the ADF’s $33 million advertising campaign collected so far? Just 960. That means they cost $34,000 each. Well done.

The company we keep

Wentworth MP Andrew Thomson was shocked a few weeks ago when the Incredible Bulk, Justice Minister Amanda Vanstone, reportedly referred to him as an “idiot”.

He should also be worried about the reported sighting at the Paralympics of the Bulk with Wentworth challenger Peter King.

Odd company

New South Wales Senator Helen Coonan is off wooing the right, but recently organised a soiree with Justice Michael Kirby – not the sort of company a budding conservative is supposed to keep.

Disintegration

The e-mails flood in from Adelaide as the South Australian Liberal Party continues to disintegrate. Amongst this week’s highlights are:

“Far right faction hack Hugh Martin joins the Unley stack in support of Mark Brindall – despite being the preselected candidate in another electorate.

On the cut off date for eligibility to vote in the Unley preselection, Brindall reportedly has a lackey sitting in car all day outside Lib HQ to see just who drops in membership forms.

In Canberra, sore winner Andrew Southcott, who beat Robert Hill for preselection for the seat of Boothby, organises a meeting of right wingers to attack Hill’s alleged involvement in Unley – the seat he lives in. Reports from the meeting say the group also accuse Hill of “pursuing environmental reforms too aggressively, to the detriment of industry”. Like what? The remarkable Kyoto win on greenhouse gasses or the Paris win over uranium mining in Jabiluka?

Speculation mounts over what senior figures such as Foreign Minister Lex Loser and Speaker Neil Andrew are doing at such a squalid meeting. Some reports say Southcott lured them there under entirely different pretences. Meanwhile, other Libs wonder why Senator “Government” Grant Chapman is still happy to help the same mob who tried to deselect him only a few days before. His masochistic streak has not been noticed before.

Talk flies around Adelaide suggesting right wing forces are planning to fund a part time faction organisers post – while other rumours circulate that a number of business figures sick of Buffy’s incompetence plan to fund a breakaway party or independent liberal candidates. Surprise, surprise.

This state of chaos is complemented by the brilliant reporting of the Adelaide Advertiser’s local political correspondent, Greg Kelton. In one report he gets the date of Don Dunstan’s resignation wrong by a mere four years. He goes on to state that one candidate for the Liberal preselection in Dunstan’s old seat of Norwood, Michael Durant, is a resident of – shock, horror – the neighbouring electorate, while omitting to mention the second contender, Stavroula Raptis, lives on the other side of town.”

Tripped up

No matter what happened at THAT Macquarie Street party, Hillary hears that other questions are being asked of fading New South Wales Labor star Joe Tripodi – questions like what exactly is his relationship with the preferred supplier of PCs to local unionists, who benefits where from the deal, and what is the Hong Kong connection all about?

Farce trains

Wal King, head of construction giant Leighton Holdings, threatened to take home his bat and ball last week if the Federal Government fails to support part of his Speedrail project.

Treasury estimates the Sydney-Canberra VFT proposal could need up to $2 billion dollars of public funds to be a goer, but Wal disagrees. Earlier this year he circulated a report by Macquarie Bank suggesting as little as $500 million would be needed.

However, the head of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Max Moore-Wilton, is said to have disagreed – and disagreed so emphatically, in fact, that Hillary hears that even Macquarie were forced to express second thoughts about their figures.

Still, Wal might as well make his threats. They are sure to be adequately communicated to the Government by one member of his team, Kate Schultz – recruited straight out of Ho Chi Minchin’s office.

Hall of Shame

Say it isn’t so! Canberra corridor talk says that Trish Worth, the invisible Parly Sec to the dreaded Education Minister, Count Yorgu, is yet another one of those tight fisted MPs who refuses to pay their electorate grunts any overtime.

True, Trish?

Support group

As part of Crikey’s new, kinder, gentler approach to Victorian wannabe Louise Staley, Hillary is pleased to announce the formation of a new organisation – Friends Of Our Louise Staley.

Anyone interested in joining can write to 148 Exhibition Street, Melbourne 3000 – with the envelope marked to the attention of “FOOLS”.

Hillary Bray can be contacted at [email protected]

ends

Now, check out last week’s excellent column as well.

Manners!

Pauline Hanson is an ill-mannered bitch. As promised, Hillary sent all your suggestions on how to get rid of David Oldfield to her Parliament House e-mail address – [email protected], for anyone who’s interested – and do you think she said thank you? Cow!

Suck, suck, suck

Christopher “Piggy” Pearson is at it again. As previously reported, the Prime Miniature is concerned at the unhealthy relationship between Piggy and the Monk – but the Tory toady seems determined to suck his way back into favour and was busily bagging the ABC on the Sunday program last weekend.

His column in last Monday’s Fin was a beauty. Piggy poured scorn on the idea of a judicial inquiry into Telecard scandal, saying it “would establish that Reith inadvertently breached the guidelines back in 1994; the administration of entitlements should be tightened up; [and] Paul Reith and Miss X have different stories. It would be a political circus for breathless media and an Opposition far better at hurling accusations than developing policy.”

Wonderful stuff – and definitely worth a closer look.

“Reith inadvertently breached the guidelines.” Pigs arse! There was nothing inadvertent. It was a considered and conscious breach of guidelines. Even Wreath himself has admitted that.

“Paul Reith and Miss X have different stories.” Exactly. Even though Mr Y and his family seem to have been the main card culprits, since a $50,000 bill has been run up essentially through fraud, wouldn’t it be nice to know which one out of Paul Reith and Ingrid Odgers is actually telling the truth.

What has the little fella had say on Wreath’s behaviour this week? This is what he told Brisbane radio last Thursday. “He was foolish to have done it and he was wrong I believe that the Australian reaction in relation to the telecard incident is that he is a fool and he was breaching entitlements.”

Poor Piggy. Decidedly off-message.

Hindenburg Huff

Financial Services Minister Hindenburg Hockey has been in the UK on a post Olympic promo tour – but not even a free overseas jaunt has helped his humour. The Hindenburg dropped by the London Bloomberg bureau for an interview – but got huffy went he discovered it was only for the wire service, not Bloomberg TV. He stood around looking put out, then decided that it really wasn’t worth it and retired to his black stretch Saab limo with tinted windows and was whisked away. Meanwhile, back in Australia, Stock Exchange chairman Maurice Newman was telling his shareholders that it was Joe who cocked up the premature announcement of the decision to lift ASX’s minimum shareholding level from 5 per cent to 15 per cent.

Consulting widely

Melbourne City Council mediators Joan Kirner, Alan Hunt and Tim Costello seem to be in a bit of a pickle.

Recent reports that the mediators have had to hire a consulting advisor have indicated the depth of the problems being experienced by the troubled city council. It would seem though that this has not helped much either.

Latest news is that the mediators, feeling a little sensitive over criticism that they are out of their depth, have decided it wise to consult the Victorian Liberal local government spokeswomen, Leonie Burke, in order to solve the situation.

Then again, no-one can argue that the Bracks’ Government is not consulting.

Early election?

Ross Cameron – the Member for the very marginal seat of Parramatta – might be trying to tell us something. There’s a “For Lease” sign on his office.

They’re going back to Yarrawonga

If you’re heading to Wodonga and see cockies dancing in the fields, chances are they are members of Indi branches of the National Party.

Why are the celebrating? Well, in an unparalleled bout of stupidity, the local Libs have preselected the semi employed Melbourne barrister and maniacal monarchist Sophie “Uptown Girl” Panopolous to replace retiring member Lou Lieberman – and the Nats are sure that means they’ll regain the seat.

Sophie’s very much the city girl. To her, a drought is when the Mink Bar runs out of Bollinger. She’ll go down a storm in the bush. In contrast, the Nats have a good short list of young local candidates – including a mayor.

Most of all, Sophie’s preselection shows just how the Victorian Libs have learnt sod all since they were trounced in the bush at the state election 12 months ago.

Indi includes a town called Benalla. Now where have we heard that name recently…

Dear diary

Hillary hears that extraordinary extracts from the Uptown Girl’s diary did the rounds at a Liberal Students conference one year.

It would be fascinating to see what insights it provides into her, er, intimate thoughts.

If anyone has a copy, the Crikey fax number is 03 9663 1314 or you can mail it to PO Box 2095 Templestowe Heights 3107.

Above it all

When the South Australian Liberal Party state council met last week, president Rosemary Craddock told members to zip the lip when it came to commenting on the massive stack in the state seat of Unley.

This, of course, only applied to mere mortals. It certainly didn’t stop Ho Chi Minchin from firing a letter off to the Adelaide Advertising blaming the whole thing on the moderates – and creating yet another story about divisions in the disintegrating party.

Buffy beware?

Buffy’s woes and the furore over the Unley stack have given demoted South Australian Minister Ian Evans – himself the heir to a long line of branch stackers – an opportunity to push his own claims to the top job.

Evans must have the strange ambition to be the shortest serving Premier of any state -Hillary hears a truly astounding quantity of shit is about to hit the fan over his own dealings.

Tease

Western Australian Premier Richard Court played a tantalising game of footsies with One Nation during the week.

Even the local Nats were horrified over the idea of a preference deal. That’s saying something.

How to win friends and influence people

New South Wales Liberal Senator Helen Coonan is at it again. Coonan deserted the moderate faction in an attempt to shore up her preselection prospects – but has still bagged the PM’s right wing powerbroker Senator Bill Heffernan.

Coonan reportedly says the Junee based Heffo is a bit country and a bit slow. Her new friends beg to differ – and don’t know if they want to play with Helen anymore.

When dinosaurs ruled the world

Noisy Nat De-Anne Kelly has come out in support of a new state for north Queensland – and suggests the name Gondwanaland “would be very nice”.

How very appropriate – a prehistoric continent and an economic troglodyte.

Damsel in distress

Poor Louise Staley calls the editor to complain about the treatment she gets in Crikey. Relax. It’s nothing personal, Louise. It’s just that you make such good copy. For the record, Louise reckons her ex boyfriend Ian Carson did vote for her in the Menzies preselection and that having a drink driving conviction doesn’t make her a drunk. Further, Louise told Hillary’s boss that she is not unemployed and has just returned from doing some investor relations work in Chile.

Plastic surgery disasters

Is Ros Reines’ tit job in trouble? Her pal Eng-Peng Tan appealed a $140,000 award to a disgruntled client in a Sydney court last week – but was still forced to hand over 40 grand.

Tan told patient Seka Benkovic his mission on Earth was to make people beautiful – but she claimed the procedure left her deformed and resulted in friends asking if she had had a stroke

Judge Justice Mason said of Tan “there is certainly an entrepreneurial flair about some of the appellant’s practices that some would find inappropriate or even offensive”.

A perfect pal for Ros – if nothing goes wrong.

Hillary’s mailbag

Two cute items to share this week- after all, Hillary’s such a carey, sharey type.

The first if from one of the lucky winners of the Hillary Helps Hanson competition: “Finally, recognition. However, I do want to share this triumph with Pauline. But do you think she’d listen if I advised her to forget Oldfield and forge a dream team with that true man of the people, Bill Hayden.”

The second’s slightly more detailed. At the end of the Games, Hillary – and later, a Fin Review editorial – pointed out how the current mania for tossing money at elite sports is doing bugger all to encourage the rest of us slobs to get off our bums.

Well, last week, two interesting things happened. The ABS released figures showing that almost half of Australian adults have not exercised in a year, and activity levels were lower this year than last, with 54.7 per cent of adults reported exercising this year, compared with 59.4 per cent last year and falls in participation in organised sport and other physical activity in all age groups, for both genders and in every state except Western Australia – and this e-mail arrived:

Hillary – You will no doubt be intrigued to know that your views on sports funding would have been endorsed by none other than John F Kennedy. Here is an extract from a speech he made in Newport, Rhode Island, before Gar Barwick and Harold Holt at a function for the 1962 Australian America’s Cup team:

“I am particularly glad to be here because this Cup is being challenged by our friends from Australia, this extraordinary group of men and women numbering some 10 million, who have demonstrated on many occasions, on many fields, in many countries, that they are the most extraordinary athletic group in the world today, and that this extraordinary demonstration of physical vigour and skill has come not by the dictates of the state, because the Australians are among the freest citizens in the world, but because of their choice.”

For once – just once – Hillary is speechless.

Hillary Bray can be contacted at [email protected]

Peter Fray

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