Crikey’s political insider is at it again with more great gossip and intrigue. The Dems and the ABC seem scarily close and poor old Buffy has suffered another big set back.

It’s been a fascinating week for anyone following pious Democrat Deputy Natasha Stott-Despoja’s possible media conflicts of interest.

Natasha must be very fond of recruiting staff from the ABC. Hillary has learned of the case of one Jo Chichester, who left JJJ to work for Natty on the recommendation of the station’s Canberra correspondent, Sarah McDonald – then ended up back at the jays and is now with ABC Radio 702 in Sydney.

In the trade, this is known as “doing a Barrie Cassidy”. To the layperson, it is known as yet another incident that raises doubts about the ABC’s and the Democrats’ much touted respect for an “independent” public broadcaster.

But – to quote a certain friend of Crikey – wait, there’s more.

Natasha is a regular guest on Good News Week. She seems to prefer appearing on shows like that to, say, a session with the Sphere of Influence on the Sunday program. Natty, no doubt, would say that they give her an opportunity to reach a young audience that usually considers politicians remote. They also give her an opportunity to maintain a profile while avoiding scrutiny – but Hillary digresses.

GNW has a credited writer called Daele Healey. Interestingly enough, the on-line Parliament House phone directory shows that Natasha has a staffer called Daele Healey. What a remarkable coincidence.

Hillary understands that in the days when it was on the ABC, Natasha would only appear on Good News Week if JJJ’s Adam Spencer was there to back her up. Isn’t she lucky to have now found a new friend who shares her interests?

Fides defensor?

This is the third week in a row that Hillary has run items about Natasha and the ABC that raise questions about the independence of the taxpayer funded broadcaster and the Democrats’ commitment to this noble cause.

The only other media outlet that has reported the Natasha/Alison Rogers story has been the Adelaide Advertiser. Hillary understands that the journo who covered the yarn, Simon Yeaman, normally does nothing much else other than cutting down AAP’s daily “That’s Showbiz” feature and then adding his by-line, so presumably he didn’t approach, say, Communications Minister Richard “Milhous” Alston for a comment.

But why hasn’t anyone else gone near the story. Is it all a load of bollocks? If so, why haven’t champions of the ABC, people such as Errol Simper, the ABC staff union representative in News Limited, e-mailed to let Hillary know?

Surely sympathetic journos aren’t protecting the ABC?

In denial

Why won’t Electoral Commissioner Andy Becker admit there are real problems with the electoral system?

This is a serious matter. While Australians don’t think their parliamentary representatives have much integrity, there must be no doubt in any democracy about the integrity the system that puts them there. Just take a quick look at Florida.

Last week’s story of Curacao Fischer Catt was outrageous. What sort of idiot would accept an electoral registration under a name like that – and what sort of authority would have individuals like that on its staff.

The current inquiry being undertaken by the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Electoral Matters in the wake of allegations of organised branch stacking by the Labor Party in Queensland has already heard there are little or no security checks on AEC staff. Two Queensland returning officers have said electoral fraud is a problem.

McPherson divisional returning officer Mark Lamerton has detailed AEC bungles which included seeking enrolments from dead electors, those already enrolled, and from non-citizens. Graham Smith, the divisional officer for Forde, told the Committee the implied trust of the current voting system is “misplaced” and warned of “a distinct possibility that superfluous entries will exist which could be the target for those intent on perpetrating fraudulent enrolment practices”.

A third Queensland AEC employee, Bob Longland, told the committee investigations revealed several dubious votes in Fisher in 1987, said investigations into electoral fraud in Ryan and Bowman had led to several convictions, and that federal police were yet to complete investigations into similar allegations in Moncrieff but had indicated charges would be laid. Best of all, however, was his statement “we have had a number of grieving partners who have arranged to vote for their dead partner because they did not want to see that person pinned for not voting”.

Something is rotten in the state of Queensland – but this doesn’t seem to rattle Mr Becker. He told the committee that it was his view that “the federal electoral system is in very good shape”

Becker stated “the AEC is concerned about the impact on public confidence in the electoral system of the canvassing of unsubstantiated and anonymous allegations of electoral fraud more than a decade after the even. Less than accurate press reporting has contributed to an atmosphere of severe crisis in the federal electoral system, reflected on radio talkback and in the letters columns of the newspapers, that the AEC believes is not justified by the facts.”

Becker, indeed, suggested that the Brisbane Courier-Mail journo who broke the Dickson story should be summoned before the committee. Oh, brilliant!

The Federal Police have already written to Courier-Mail journalists Hedley Thomas and Chris Griffith asking for help in approaching the Labor insider as part of the federal police investigation into the claims, while the Queensland Criminal Justice Commission has also approached another Courier-Mail journalist asking for the insider’s identity.

Queensland Newspapers editor-in-chief Chris Mitchell has made the obvious statement that journalistic ethics will prevent the identification of the source. Becker must know that – and any Parliamentary committee would be extremely reluctant to do a Star Chamber and jail a journo for contempt on a matter like this.

Becker needs some better ideas – and fast.

PS Hillary fan Peter Beattie has suggested that electoral fraud could be avoided by reviving the reviled Australia Card. He really must have been under the heel of Bill Ludwig’s jackboot for a long, long time to suggest such an authoritarian idea.

Lynton Crosby, Member for Moncrieff ?

The soft political sands of the Queensland’s Gold coast continue to shift as posturing for the position of next member for the safe Liberal stronghold of Moncrieff continues.

Property developer, Murray Dalmeide is reported to have the support of the local Tucker camp and sitting MP Kathy Sullivan. However, the predominantly younger electorate committee want a candidate with the potential to be a long term MP and minister. There have been reports that local solicitor Michael Yarwood has approached key Carroll Moncrieff point-man and state member for Nerang, Ray Connor, to try for an upset. His prospects may be looking better, with FEC chairman, Peter Gallus, having fallen out with Sullivan.

Rumours continue to circulate that the Prime Miniature backs the repulsive former National Party Premier, Rob Borbidge, but an even more astounding piece of gos has emerged – that state party president Con Galtos wants to parachute Liberal federal director Lynton Crosby into the seat.

Crosby is an adopted Queenslander – he left his native South Australia to serve as state director there before shifting to the federal secretariat – and is said to be very tempted. There is one big problem, however – Crosby is concerned he will appear to be putting his own ambitions ahead of the Party by leaving the directors job less than a year before what will be a tough election campaign.

Supporters of the move say Peter Pogiolli could take over the reins at Menzies House. That will probably put the kybosh on any move. After Pog’s crucial role in the destruction of a popular government in Victoria, other Libs will be too terrified to even think about what he could do with one that’s languishing in the polls.

Hot air

Worthy shrub huggers from around the world are meeting at the United Nations climate change conference in The Hague – and amongst them are Environment Minister Robert Hill and his opposite number Nick Bolkus.

Why is Bolkus there? True, he loves a freebie – fascinating claims about STD calls suggested that long, long ago. But given that Kim Beazley and the rest of his mob keep calling for cheaper petrol prices – or in other words, more easily consumable fossil fuels that only add to environmental problems – it seems a little strange.

Award ceremony

Hillary has already been privileged to introduce the Order of the Brown Nose for conspicuous public toadying. Now, it is time to unveil another honour, the Jim Cairns Trophy for gross economic idiocy – and Hillary is pleased to present the initial award to National Party backbencher Paul Neville for his call to blow the budget surplus.

Neville noted that inflation was under control – then called for major spending on roads, rail, dams and seed funding for large infrastructure projects. A high school economics text book is now in the mail to him.

Neville won against a strong field, and special mention must be made of the runner up, Australian Democrat Leader “Mystic” Meg Lees – mystic because no-one can ever figure out how the Democrats make decisions on anything – said last week that the Treasurer was obsessed with debt. She was referring to paying it off – something that’s much better for ordinary folk than creating it, dear lady.

Unsung hero

Hillary is on the trail of a sadly ignored Australian sporting great, “champion rower” Cory Bernardi.

Who? Well, that’s what Sports Minister Jackie Kelly said in a recent press release announcing his appointment to the Australian Institute of Sport board – and the Sports Minister should know, shouldn’t she?

Funnily enough, there is a Cory Bernardi who is a factional mate of Jackie’s senior minister, Ho Chi Minchin, in his home state of South Australia and a former president of the local division of the Liberal Party. The two, however, clearly can’t be related.

Hillary has seen a CV of the second Cory from a South Australian Liberal AGM. Under “other activities” it lists “Husband, SA Youth Entrepreneur Scheme (Business Vision 2010), Parish member, Lower North Adelaide Parish, training golden retrievers, serve on various private and organisational boards and trust organisations” – no mention of rowing at all.

So who is this unsung hero?

Healthy organ of government

Only in Darwin! It appears that the new CEO of Territory Health Services, Ian Fletcher, has worked as a consultant for – wait for it – tobacco giant Phillip Morris.

Mopping up in Menzies

Victorian Labor backbencher Tim Holding had some fun in State Parliament, tabling a letter to the Liberal state executive as the fall out continues over the Menzies preselection.

But how did he get the info. No sore losers would rat on their own party, would they?

Quote of the week

Hillary thinks Tim Fischer is a thoroughly decent bloke – and Hillary was very amused by this comment he made last week over the decrepit RAAF VIP fleet: “One of my duties often enough was to go out to farewell or greet various heads of state and chancellors, such as (former) chancellor (Helmut) Kohl in Luftwaffe Number One. I could not resist because I heard there was this giant spa and double bed on Luftwaffe Number One. I was allowed to peek inside and there was a giant spa and a giant bed, the like of which would no doubt give The Daily Telegraph 20 days of headlines.”

Hillary loves the Tele but loves you more, Tim. God bless.

Bolt the doors, stay indoors

Dick Smith, manufacturer of Pauline’s Pantry Foreigner Free Foods, is clearly a marketing genius. First he came up with a brand to appeal to xenophobes and economic illiterates, then publicised it with a conspiracy theory the target market couldn’t resist – that THEY were trying to block its sale.

Dick took his campaign to Newcastle during the week, decrying the evils of globalisation. Apparently, the masses rose. Novocastrians sacked book and record shops, burning foreign publications and CDs by non Australian artists. Theatres immediately stopped screening Hollywood blockbusters.

Most spectacularly, Hillary hears that coal miners throughout the Hunter responded to the call by laying down their tools and demanding that no more of the black ore be exported and that they all be sacked immediately. Yes, globalisation is evil indeed.

Malthus moved by masses

Well surprise, surprise! The Malthus of Maroubra, Bob Carr, has finally made some comments in support of the South Sydney Rabbitohs – after 80,000 people marched through Sydney protesting their exclusion from the NFL. And to think that Hillary thought he would rather be engaged in intercourse with Gore Vidal than talking football.

But here’s hoping that pollies in Victoria, South Australia, the West and Tassie have comfy walking shoes, now that the AFL are happily locked in negotiations with the mob who bought you – or tried to bring you – Super League.

Another win for Buffy

South Australian Premier Buffy Olsen is basking in yet another win. At the recent preselection for the marginal state seat of Norwood his candidate – ably assisted by the skills of his numbers person Joan “Elvira” Hall – went down by only 32 votes – 10 to 42. That’s a great victory in Buffy terms.

The Buffed One, however, has been deprived of a genuine triumph by his disgraced former deputy, Graham “Bingo” Ingersen. Bingo, despite being forced from the DP’s job two years ago, has continued to hang round like a fart in a lift. The Speaker even pulled him in for a discussion of his behaviour in the House last week – reportedly calling him “an oaf”.

It’s being said that Bingo assured a number of people that he would announce his resignation at an electorate committee meeting last week – but the evening came and went without any momentous statement. Poor Buffy. More bad news for South Australia.

Strange days

Just what are the staff of New South Wales Senator Helen “Coonan the Barbarian” up to?

Stories suggest that one staffer has put Coonan’s postal allowance to use in furthering his own political ambitions, while another has been openly heard boasting of the numbers work he is doing in branches across the state as the Senate preselection looms.

The Doctor looking poorly

Vertically challenged Queensland Liberal Leader, Dr David “Dr Who?” Watson, has come under fire from all fronts for his attack on the Federal Government’s fuel excise policy. Party president, and the Prime Miniature’s number one Queensland flag bearer, Con Galtos, is furious over what he sees as gross disloyalty on Watson’s part, and has threatened party officials he will resign unless Watson either falls in line – or falls on his sword.

In a week in which the Labor Party should have been the issue in the State Parliament, with more evidence mounting in the electoral rorting stakes, Watson’s “Mutiny on fuel” succeeded in making Liberal divisions the front page issue in the Courier Mail for three successive days. Watson looks like he could be in trouble, with cross-factional demands for his dumping. Local Libs claim the one percent approval rating Watson scored in a recent Sunday Mail survey is one percent higher than his approval rating inside the Queensland Division at the moment.

A very peculiar story is doing the rounds suggesting that old foes Denver Beanland and Santo Santoro have done a leadership deal – with Beanland getting his old job back and Santo finally positioned to take the job of his dreams.

It would mark the end of a great feud – Santo did the numbers for Joan Sheldon when she rolled Beanland – and might even suggest that the Queensland Libs want to win some votes.

Follies on Fox

What it is to have friends in high places. Followers of the US election debacle would no doubt have heard of Fox News election analyst John Ellis – George Dubya’s cousin.

A storm erupted when Ellis admitted that he had spoken with Dubya and little brother Jeb while heading Fox’s “decision desk” which reviewed data and declared state-by-state winners throughout election night.

By some strange coincidence, Fox was the first network to call the election for Bush – a call it was later forced to recant. But did this rattle Rupe? Not at all. Last week, Murdoch told the Fox Entertainment Group’s AGM that he was not troubled by Ellis calls, adding, “every journalist on every channel was trying to get in touch with the candidates”.

Funnily enough, last week too the Fin informed readers that News Corp and its subsidiaries have donated about $US1.4 million to the Republicans over the past four years – as opposed to a meagre $US205,000 to the Democrats -, with Murdoch himself giving at least $US20,000 to Republican campaigns.

Mrs Murdoch donated too, with Republican Senate Leader Trent Lott receiving $US1,000 from Wendi Deng – occupation “home-maker”.

Ryan revolution

Is Michael Johnson, the wannabe MP for Ryan, a spent force? There are claims that the show of force at the rematch meeting to chose an electorate committee chair was orchestrated by key Chinese community figure, Bernie Mack.

And who is a good friend of Bernie Mack? A George “Washington” Brandis is said to be close. Mack also has other interesting friends. He spent most of his time on the night of the Ryan meeting in the company of numbers man Grant Muller.

R is for

Who heard AM on Thursday? After Kim Beazley called him a “recalcitrant” over leadership in APEC, the Prime Miniature replied “Oh, the ‘R’ word. He likes ‘R’ words doesn’t he – ‘roll-back’, ‘recalcitrant’, and ‘republic'” – fairly spitting out the last one.

There’s an “R” word Hillary likes, too. Rodent.

First with the news

The Australian Defence Force was spending up to $34,000 per recruit to try to find the right people, Defence Minister John Moore has revealed.

– The Australian, 17 November 2000

How many recruits has the ADF’s $33 million advertising campaign collected so far? Just 960. That means they cost $34,000 each.

– Crikey, 6 November 2000

Hillary Brag can be contacted at [email protected]

And if that wasn’t enough It’s their ABC

Log onto the Australian Democrats home page. Have a look at the issues sheets listed under Policy. There, under Communications, you’ll find one entitled National Broadcasters: The ABC and SBS.

Have a read. It begins: “The ABC and SBS are vital sources of independent, impartial and Australian news, information and entertainment programs. The Australian Democrats are committed to keeping the ABC and SBS strong, independent and fully funded. The Democrats believe the ABC and SBS must remain strong, free from government interference.”

So that means everything’s OK, then? That they’ve given themselves a cop-out clause that makes it fine for the Dems to compromise an institution they claim to hold so dear as long as it remains free from “interference” from the Government of the day?

Well, the news that Alison Rogers, an announcer on ABC Radio 891 in Adelaide, planned to stay on air until the beginning of December after accepting a job with Australian Democrats Deputy Leader Natasha Stott-Despoja has come as no surprise to local media insiders.

During the week, Hillary has learned that the South Australian Democrats and the ABC have enjoyed a long and fascinating relationship:

– Journalist Shane Sody managed to work simultaneously as both a producer at the ABC and as an adviser for former state Democrat leader and Legislative Councillor Ian Gilfillan

– Local ABC program director Sandra Dewhurst’s partner Kim is a former Democrat staffer turned consultant who undertakes paid work for the party.

– Phillip Satchell, 891’s highest profile and longest serving on-air identity regularly MCs at Democrat functions.

– A former ABC Adelaide TV News host, Judith Barr, later contested a seat for the Democrats.

Meanwhile, more facts continue to seep out about the Rogers appointment.

ABC Trots take note – Hillary understands that the individual who first raised the conflict of interest and compromising of the ABC’s independence was the much maligned Board staff representative, Ian Henschke.

Hillary also hears that Rogers expressed relief to ABC staff that news of her political appointment had finally became public. How much earlier does this mean her new job had been confirmed?

One thing is very clear – the procedures followed in South Australia seem to be different to those observed earlier this year when Cathy Job became press secretary to Federal Education Minister Dr David Kemp and in 1996 when Pru Goward left Radio National – not for a political post – but for a public service appointment as head of the Office of the Status of Women.

Indeed, it has been reported that Michael Mason, the ABC national head of radio, said the matter was a “non-issue” because Rogers rarely did political interviews. But – once again – who exactly was deciding what was political and what was not? And – again – why the different treatment?

The Australian Democrats – let alone ABC staff and management – make much of the protecting the public broadcaster’s independence. Since this story broke, none of these parties have said a word. If they are to have any credibility, they must explain these dealings.

Reshuffle rumours

Reshuffle rumours are doing the rounds again (yawn) – but this time there are a few new variations.

There’s talk about putting the Incredible Bulk in Immigration. This seems to fit with the Government’s current fondness for bullying and humiliating refugees and scaring off as many people as possible – the Bulk would be perfectly suited to that role.

More interesting, though, is the speculation that Phillip Ruddock might take Community Services. If the Prime Miniature is pinning his hopes for a third term on welfare reform, the portfolio will need a gentle touch.

Ruddock has been both a brute and a bastard in Immigration – but if he can pretend to have returned to the moderate policies he once held for long enough he might be able to fool the Democrats and sneak the package through.

PS Strangely, there’s also talk that if John Herron goes, freshman Queensland Senator George “Washington” Brandis will get the vacant spot. That’s one hell of a quick promotion!

The girl can’t help it

At the launch of her book on the republic campaign, compulsive curtseyer Kerry Jones warned that Treasurer Peter Costello would damage himself politically by advocating a republic “because he would be going against the wishes of the majority of Australians”.

Kez, luv – never believe your own lies. Don’t say you’ve forgotten your own sleazy slogan – “Vote no to THIS republic” – in just 12 short months?

Last time Hillary looked, more Australians preferred a republic to a distant monarch. You should have learned that from your own failed foray into party politics. In fact, it might be why more and more people feel that Cozzie might be somewhat more in touch than a certain short bloke from Sydney’s North Shore.

The con continues

Meanwhile, bouffant buffoon David Flint has warned that plebiscites on a republic would amount to constitutional change by “stealth and fatigue”, and shared his fears of “cascading constitutional plebiscites designed to soften people up before a final federal referendum”.

Too true, Lord Flint, your worshipfulness, sir. After all, m’lordship, that’s how we arrived at all this dam’ newfangled Federation foolery.

Remembrance day

November 11 rolls around – and Edward Gough Wanker must once again be thanking the good Lord for giving him Sir John Kerr.

It must be wonderful to be regarded as a martyr, rather than the most disastrous Prime Minister Australia has ever seen – a self-deluding egomaniac who was so up himself that after getting one almighty boot in the arse at the polls from the people that he hung round for a second serve.

The decision making process

How do governments make decisions regarding the health, wealth and well-being of their voters? Let’s look at South Australia.

Last Monday Buffy’s Cabinet met. Over the previous few days, they’d been receiving a hell of a lot of stick in the media over the state of public hospitals.

The meeting began and Health Minister Dean “Beige” Brown – the one-time Premier rolled by Buffy – suddenly announced that he’d unilaterally ordered 65 beds to be opened – and that the Buffed One and the rest of them could accept it or wear the consequences.

They reached a supportive conclusion in record time.

Politics 101

Tetchy Territory Chief Minister Dennis Burke is at it again over mandatory sentencing, calling on magistrates who do not support the draconian laws to quit.

If any reader has a high school civics text going spare, can they please run a highlighter over the parts in Chapter 1 that explain how the Westminster system is founded on the concept of the separation of powers and mail it to Dickhead Den at Level 5, Parliament House, Darwin NT 0800.

Gone South

Okay. So everyone knows that New South Wales Premier Bob Carr would rather be reading Gore Vidal than at a football match, but why hasn’t the Malthus of Maroubra got behind his local club?

True, his mates at News Limited are the mob who rooted the Rabbitohs – but that surely shouldn’t scare a big boy like Bob. Why isn’t he sticking up for his constituents and fellow members of South Sydney’s working class?

Tribune of the people

How could the ALP have ever doubted Mal Colston’s working class credentials, now that he has been spotted in the studio audience of The New Price is Right? You can’t get any more blue collar than that.

And how can pious Labor folk like Duncan Kerr urge Colston’s continued pursuit when they tolerated the repulsive rorter for so long? It’s hard to know who is the more sickening.

Whatever the case, though, Hillary is delighted to learn that Big Mal is still with us – so happy to have penned this little ode to the Colstons, sung to the theme of The Addams Family:

They’re sordid and they’re sleazy

Big Mal is always wheezy

And rorting’s really easy

Say the Colston family

The house was bought with TA

Doug’s girlfriend was the PA

And that’s the only w-ay

Say the Colston family

Big Mal once fought ‘gainst Joh

But then went for the dough

That’s all you want to know

‘Bout the Colston family.

Hillary, in fact, is so happy to share the Colston family’s joy that it’s time to play Santa and hold another Crikey competition where the lucky winners will get one of three Crikey subscriptions AND a Crikey t-shirt.

You are invited to submit a song about Mal and Dawn and Doug ‘n’ Dave – of any length – to the tune of either The Addams Family, The Jetsons, The Flintstones or The Love Boat themes.

Entries can be sent to either [email protected] or [email protected], and must be received by Saturday 25 November – and to make this competition even more special, the judge will be none other than Crikey’s very own Olympics Correspondent, the great Dan McNutt.

So, dear readers, go for it – and that includes YOU, Robert Ray and John Faulkner!

Young talent time

Hillary knows all about the Labor talent out there and expects great things from the Colston competition – particularly after receiving a copy of this spectacular effort from the ALP entitled the Higgins Stackers Song and performed to the tune of My Old Man’s a Dustman:

My old man’s a branch stack

My Mum’s a branch stack too

My auntie and my brother

Are worth a vote or two

My older brother’s partner

Is living with us too

A friend of mine is sleeping

On a mattress in the loo

You may think six is quite a few

To share the same abode

But just as many share

A mail box down the road

Another three are living

In another box nearby

I’m sure that they can fit more in

If they would only try

Some friends of mine from out of town

Popped in to say hello

I signed them up before they went

Back home to Bendigo

I also think the homeless

Deserve a helping hand

I’ll give them all addresses

On a vacant block of land

Not even Hillary – who’s been known to sign the odd soul up to certain strategic branches – can understand why the hell Labor are trying to stack the branches in a safe Liberal seat, but that’s what the strange, irrational beauty of the Victorian ALP is all about.

And at the same time Hillary imagines that the song will also strike a chord with the South Australian Liberal MP Mark Brindall and all his pals – wherever they may live.