Another great column of political gossip from Crikey’s best and brightest asset, Ms Hillary Bray.

The Rodent seems to think he’s ending the year on a high note. He told the Party Room 2000 has been the Government’s most successful year – but the Kurnell Peninsula airport episode this week gave a beautiful example of just how weak the little fella actually is.

Thanks to the Prime Miniature’s indecisiveness over Sydney airport, he has put five of his own seats at risk. By not ruling out Badgery’s Creek, Parramatta, Macquarie and Lindsay remain vulnerable – and the Kurnell craziness has created a furore in two more seats, Cook and Hughes.

Brilliant work by any standards.

Clear and present danger

The defence white paper has created some good opportunities for the Government to enjoy some populist porkbarrelling – and a whole new set of questions to answer.

Firstly, where are they going to get the troops from. Hillary has already revealed that the ADF’s $33 million advertising campaign has only collected 960 recruits – a cost of $34,000 each – yet the white paper lacks any clear recruitment and retention strategy.

Second, with the dollar hovering at the low 50 cent US mark, what’s the package really worth in purchasing terms?

Most crucially, the issue that almost caused the Timor intervention to lapse into disaster hasn’t been tackled. What issue, you say? Hillary is constantly amazed that our useless national media hasn’t touched this story. You’d think the Official Secrets Act had been invoked and dozens of D-Notices issued – but this is how things went.

In Timor, the ADF’s logistics all but collapsed. We were saved by the Americans. The episode proved Australia cannot maintain itself in the field because crucial specialist skills have been allowed to waste away and equipment is poor. A bit of careful reading between the lines shows that Major-General Cosgrove has admitted as such.

Perhaps John Moore and the Rodent should fix this slight problem before picking up a few AWACs.

Berk’s backyard

Labor scored a spectacular own goal last week when they tried to get Senate leader Robert Hill over enrolment fraud based on an exchange on – of all shows – Burke’s Backyard.

According to the Opposition, Hill and wife Di said they were empty nesters – and therefore their son and daughter in law should not be on the electoral roll at their Adelaide address. Labor’s quoting was remarkably selective. The line from Di Hill was “we vary from nesters to empty nesters” – with Robert adding “they come and go”. Great research, guys.

However, if they’re such keen Channel 9 viewers, Hillary is surprised Kim “Humpty Dumpty” Beazley and Co haven’t submitted a few tapes of their woeful performances over the year to Australia’s Funniest Home Videos. That way they might actually win something.

PS It’s understood that the right wing of the fragmenting SA Liberal Party leaked the Hill material to Labor. The PM’s office, Hillary hears, is not impressed.

Roll rorts roundup

The Teenage Toecutter raised Labor and Democrat ire when he used his casting vote as Chair of the Electoral Matters Committee to save the hapless Jackie Kelly from appearing. The lad never struck Hillary as the type who would do such favours for the PM. Wonder what he wants?

All this paled into insignificance, however, when Charlie Lynn rose to his feet in the New South Wales Legislative Council with tales of scandal involving Labor heavy Laurie Ferguson.

It was a wonderful repeat performance. Just like the time the brilliant NSW Libs bucketed Sydney Lord Mayor Frank Sartor on the eve of local government elections, Charlie’s claims were found to be decidedly dubious and blunted the feds attack on real rorts.

Readers will recall that Charlie’s last great idea was putting Chikka in as leader. He’s clearly going places – like an asylum.

Meanwhile, Hillary gathers the Christmas Tree at ALP headquarters, Centenary House, is a beauty this year – covered from top to bottom with baubles, tinsel and other decorations. Indeed, Labor sources say every branch has been stacked. Geddit?

The headmaster ritual

How long into the new year will Mr Speaker, Neil Andrew, keep his position? The dark muttering about his performance on the Government benches is growing to a dull roar.

Andrew’s manner in the chair is schoolmasterish in the extreme – but even backbenchers are beginning to treat him like some dotty old headmaster. They’re polite and respectful to his face – but it’s a different matter when teacher’s back is turned.

The Government feels Andrew has been broken by the Opposition. He warns people – but rarely throws them out. They say Andrew has lost the respect of the ALP and is regularly walked over by “Loathsome Leo” McLeay.

Sources say it’s not a matter of wanting a partisan Speaker – but a matter of one with authority who commands respect.

Party system

The last sitting week is notorious for its parties – but the Coalition staff do had about as much spirit as a Methodist meeting. It was conveniently held away from the House during the evening break, so MPs could pull their staff back to work rather than letting them piss on.

Hospitality flowed freely at the Parker & Partners Christmas bash. The Parliament House latte set was out in force – but unfortunately about the only detail that remains clear from the night is that Labor young gun Steven Conroy was even drunker than Hillary.

The Government Whip’s drinks were another thing. Bronny’s new do could only lure Lou Lieberman into the main room where she was – he is retiring, after all. Everyone else stayed in the foyer.

It isn’t their ABC – despite what they think

Hillary visits the killing fields of Ultimo, where thousands of ABC staff are being lined up and shot and their bodies flung in freshly bulldozed pits.

Oh dear. The ABC staff union – and all their thoroughly objective friends like Simpering Errol – are clearly finding the notion that they do not necessarily have the right to run the taxpayer funded broadcaster – or use it as a means to further their agendas – a very difficult concept indeed.

Every media person knows the ABC is the best resourced outlet in the country. And every media person – ABC folk included – has a dozen horror stories about overstaffing and suffocating bureaucracy. So why the screams of horror?

There are several candidates for the most pathetic ABC story of the week. The bleaters at the Friends of the ABC threatened legal action at the idea of a “Friends” branded credit card or a “Friends” pay section on the ABC’s website. If they are interested in the ABC rather than political ideas left over from the seventies, then they should back the plan.

Then there were the Paul Barry yarns. Barry wasn’t even sacked. His contract simply wasn’t renewed – but the conspiracy theories flowed thick and fast, helped along by a pious piece from Barry himself. Hillary thinks the story behind this shameless, politically driven beat up would be a great piece next year for the opening program of Media Watch.

Finally, there’s the ABC Board’s decision to ask for another 40 million from the feds. Hillary has a great idea about how the ABC could get $40 million – and much, much more. They could introduce advertising. After all, SBS hasn’t fallen apart since commercials began.

Political censorship

The only real attack on the ABC of the week – and, indeed, of recent times – has come from the Media Arts and Entertainment Alliance.

The MEAA commissars have banned ABC staff from applying for the position of Media Watch host – an truly disgusting act and a ghastly precedent MD Jonathan Shier rightly described as “censorship”.

What next? Will they be checking to make sure Mixy carries a union card?

Haunted House

Those dread initials N-C-B are being muttered around Parliament House. Dark and terrible rumours suggest that the dreaded one is out of his grave and haunting WA Libs – and responsible for the stories doing the rounds about dodgy enrolments and membership rorts in Chris Ellison’s and Richard Court’s home branch of Nedlands.

Curious sideline

Pols appearing on Adelaide station 5AA with host Leon Byner are receiving follow up calls from the grand inquisitor asking them if they’d like to buy a tape or transcript of their interview from, er, Leon Byner Media Services.

What a strange sideline. What does his station think of this all?

Ally McMeal?

There’s a lot of comment in the corridors about how Natasha “Ah, Satan” Stott-Despoja seems to be wasting away. Has the Parliament got its very own Calista Flockhart?

There could, of course, be a simple solution. It is well known that Natasha keeps up an arduous schedule representing the dispossessed youth of Australia at first nights, openings, awards ceremonies and other luvvie dos. Perhaps the canapes have little nutritional value.

Whatever the case, Hillary thinks we should start a “Buy a Sandwich for the Senator” campaign. Please send your donations, made payable to Crikey Media, to PO Box 2095, Templestowe Heights 3107. Hillary will then arrange to have the money credited to Natty’s account with Parliamentary Catering.

Rough end of the pineapple

Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Herron is the last person you associate with reconciliation – but that will be his new role in the strife-ridden Queensland Libs.

Despite Premier Peter Beattie’s all too obvious woes with his bent buddies, the party is making no impact in the polls and the donations are scarcely flooding in.

There were different views on how to approach the matter in the lead up to a state exec meeting Saturday. One school said that party president Con Galtos should get the chop. Another wanted to fire a warning shot across the bows of the hapless Parliamentary leader David Watson.

Galtos got wind of the plots – and decided he wasn’t going to get the rough end of the pineapple from anyone. He went in swinging – much to the alarm of his VPs – and now John Herron has been appointed to act as mediator.

Hillary can picture the scene now. Reconciliation. Herron, David Watson, Santo Santoro and Denver Beanland walking arm in arm across the Storey Bridge.

Pigs arse!

Naked ambition

Victorian Upper House Liberal Bruce Atkinson is best known for his inglorious resignation from a parliamentary secretary’s spot in the Kennett Government after it was discovered he was earning a nice extra income as a private consultant.

Now he’s better known for something else. Recently Atkinson attended a debate in his electorate with team mate, Lower House Liberal colleague Andrew Macintosh.

Trying to make an impression on the locals, Atkinson turned up to the event in costume – board shorts, singlet, thongs, zinc cream and a floatation device around his waist. But the zany outfit failed to make his speech any real impression until Macintosh decided to lean over and gently tug Atkinson’s board shorts – which slipped, fell to the ground, and revealed that poor Bruce had chosen to attend sans underwear.

Internationalist

Old Tory and branch “rebuilder” – and would be MP for Wentworth – Peter King, is chuffed about his new Howard government appointed role as head of the UN World Heritage Committee – so chuffed, indeed, that he’s sending the Fin story on his appointment to anyone who might have a stake in his preselection battle with the UN-loathing Andrew Thompson.

Newshounds

The Adelaide Advertiser’s ace political reporter Greg “Scoop” Kelton is staying hard on the job.

Last week, the Canberra bureau – not Scoop – reported the story that former state deputy Opposition Leader Ralph Clarke, dumped and disendorsed after clashing with the bizarre left/right coalition that runs the local party and generally expected to run as an independent, has been summonsed to appear before the local Labor exec to explain a current doorknocking and leafleting campaign.

Then there was the curious spin Scoop decided to put on a broad range of polling conducted by the Advertiser. The voting intentions results showed Labor well in front – on 53.5 per cent compared to 46.5 for the Libs on a two party preferred basis – but Scoop decided to open his report with the fascinating news that voters thought Buffy “had the better vision” for the State.

Still, we should be fair and judge Scoop by the standard of his Adelaide peers, which – as far as Hillary can tell – is bloody awful.

There have been some fascinating e-mails since cash for preferences broke about SA State Minister Ian Evans – already the subject of some interesting speculation over the basis of a certain recent decision of his.

Evans comes from a long line of stackers and rorters. His father, also an MP, once ran as independent when he lost his preselection and knocked off future premier Dean Beige before returning to the Liberal fold.

An independent candidate who stood against Evans at the last election was surprised to discover a good Samaritan had provided how to vote cards for her on polling day that gave preferences to Evans. By an amazing coincidence, the person authorising the how to votes shared the same first name as Evans’ mum Barb and, even more remarkably, had Barb’s maiden name as her surname.

Fascinating stuff – but you won’t hear about it in the Adelaide media.

Crikey, no!

Our sainted editor is behaving almost like Col – but pissing into the wind, rather than the sink.

What the hell does he think he’s doing with his comments in Saturday’s Age about running for the Senate with “a new Liberal-leaning political party”? The political landscape of Australia is littered with the bones of “new” parties and independents.

Stephen, mate, listen to Hillary – if you want to get anywhere in politics, stack an established party and use its resources to get to the top. Name your branch. Hillary will sign up, and Barnsey is probably free. You might even get Gazard if you’re lucky, then you can ask the subscribers. But no more of this new party crap. OK?

Summertime – and the living ain’t easy

We’re all going on a summer holiday

No more Par’ment for a month or two

Fun and laughter on a summer holiday

What the hell will that Hil’ry do

For a month or two.

Yes, the Summer Parliamentary recess has now begun but, apart from taking a short adventure holiday seal clubbing in Newfoundland, Hillary will be keeping the column up. Christ knows how, as sod all happens over summer. Even senior Gallery journos are reduced to begging scraps from pressies – a heart-rending sight.

Way back in Crikey Number 1, Hillary praised the efforts of Paul Cleary from the Fin Review for filling in one of those slow summer afternoons by penning a wonderful spec piece that suggested – amongst other things – that Peter Costello and Lex Loser (Downer, for first timers) were about to swap portfolios.

For that, Paul takes Hillary’s Nostradamus award for 2000 – and if Hillary writes any bullshit like that over the next few weeks, Hillary promises to reveal his/her identity so he/she can be taken out the back and shot.

Hillary Bray can be contacted at [email protected]

And if you enjoyed that, check out last week’s column as well.

Bronwyn Mark II

The phones started ringing early on Saturday morning – and the first line of every conversation was “Have you read the Ramsey piece yet?”.

Yes, it was remarkable. Not only – uniquely- did it not largely consist of quotes from Hansard, an interview transcript or some report, but the lounge bar bore of the Gallery had actually broken a story – that the Mad Monk has declared he wants the top the job.

Now, where have we heard something like this before? A thoroughly obnoxious, hard right winger with a massive ego from the North Shore thinks that they’re the Messiah.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, please rise to welcome the Bronwyn Mark II. Here’s hoping it meets with similar success.

Reshuffle? What reshuffle?

Journos who attended the PM’s Press Gallery Christmas drinks at The Lodge on Monday night were left bemused when the little fella claimed he had never said there would be a reshuffle – and didn’t understand where all the speculation had come from.

Does this mean Newman, Moore and Herron are dug in so well that they’re impregnable? A few of their colleagues – like the Monk and the shy and retiring Brendan Nelson – will be disappointed.

Roll up, roll up

The Queensland rorts saga gets better and better – but the thrills and spills of the Shepherdson inquiry are distracting from a few interesting manoeuvrers at the Canberra end on the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters.

Firstly, hapless Chair Gary Nairn was dumped by the PM in favour of the Teenage Toecutter. Now, the lacklustre Nat John Forrest is also gone, replaced by Sinker’s successor Stuart St Clair.

Who’s next?

Observers are now also asking how much longer Queensland Dem Andrew “Gary Numan” Bartlett can stay on the Committee.

Gaz, you see, was Queensland Democrat campaign director when Wayne Swan came waving wads. Oh dear. Surely he should step aside until everything is sorted out?

Dirty deeds done Dem cheap?

Poor “Mystic” Meg Lees gets shriller and shriller as she denies any knowledge of brown paper bags.

The Dems, of course, are an amateur league party – and their candidates all too often are ratbags who are never heard of again.

But we should also remember a few of the clever stunts they pulled at the 1996 election – like preferencing the oh-so-simpatico Fred Nile candidates over Green Bob Brown in Tasmania in a desperate attempt to save Senator Robert Bell.

Makes you think, doesn’t it?

You can’t always get what you want

Mick ‘n’ Keef have their ups and down – and the same thing seems to be happening to Labor’s Glimmer Twins, Wayne Swan and Steve Smith.

One might have thought that Steve would leap to the defence of his mate. Might have – but he hasn’t.

Wrung out

Why did the bells only ring for one minute before last week’s tied vote of confidence in the Speaker? That doesn’t give people at the ends of the Reps wing enough time to get to the Chamber – let alone Ministers. The bells are only rung for a minute on subsequent votes when the Chamber is full.

So who stuffed up – and given that a stuff up clearly occurred why did Kim and co get so precious and take their bat and ball home when Neil Andrews put the question again?

Loquacious

Despite the events of last week, there were no public remarks from Electoral Commissioner Andy “Alfred E Neuman” Becker – not even his usual “What me worry?” – until Friday.

Hillary, however, understands that throughout the week odd whimpering noises could be heard from where he was curled up under his desk.

Apocalypse not

Queensland is an electorally sensitive state – but we should forget all the hype generated by the volume of whinging from RARA rorters. The next Federal Government won’t just be decided there.

In New South Wales, Larry Anthony and Ross Cameron now occupy seats that are technically Labor – and the Prime Miniature is loyally leaving John Fahey to twist in the wind.

Three metropolitan seats in South Australia – Makin, Hindmarsh and Adelaide are on a knife edge. The slightest swing will give them to the ALP.

That’s six possible gains before we even get onto Victoria – where voters are still bathing in the warm afterglow after plunging into bed with Steve Bracks.

Beattie might go, federal Labor might not pick up a single Queensland seat, but the Rodent shouldn’t be getting cocky. He’s still got a stiff fight on his hands.

Funnily enough, one victim of the fallout could be the Western Australian Labor leader Geoff Gallup. With an election due at any time, the news that federal backbencher Kim Wilkie has fessed up to dodgy travel claims from his office being used to pay the membership fees of phantom party members will not be welcome.

The state election could go any way – but the last thing Gallop needs is any tribal warfare. Disgraced former premier Brian Burke keeps on doing his Colonel Kurtz act – sitting out in the wilderness fat, bald and mad, but still with a loyal army under his control. If they come out fighting, Richard Court could well be returned – despite, ironically, the claims of membership rorts the Nedlands branch, his own branch and the branch of the Minister who oversees the Electoral Commission, Chris Ellison.

Plus ca change!

Things have really changed in Victoria under Steve Bracks. Just have a look at this extract from a leaked memo to the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee chairman Peter Loney from Saint Steve himself:

“In particular, officials are not expected to answer questions…seeking details of matters considered in relation to a Ministerial or Government decision or possible decision, unless those details have already been made public or the giving of evidence on them has been approved.”

Gosh! Who does that remind you of?

If that wasn’t funny enough, take a look at the commitment made under Item 1.4.b on the Independents’ Charter the Holy One signed back in 1999 under the sub-heading of Promoting Open and Accountable Government:

“Adhere to the ideals of freedom of speech by: removing restrictions on the freedom of speech of those employed under government contract or as public servants.” Naughty, naughty!

Aunty Joan would be pleased

The Bracks Government isn’t just maintaining the worst aspects of the Kennett Government. They’re also beginning to show a Kirner like approach to financial management.

Almost 2000 additional public servants were employed in Victoria the last financial year, and Auditor-General has already warned the Government that its rate of increase in expenditure exceeded the increase in Gross State Product.

How much longer will the honeymoon last?

Settle in, Steve

The end of the last item was rhetorical – but here’s an answer, anyway. Steve Bracks can expect to be Premier for quite a while yet.

And the proof? Well, last weekend the Victorian Young Liberals held their AGM. One of the delegates was basketball tantrum thrower Lana McLean, the failed candidate in Jeff’s old seat of Burwood.

After the Presidential ballot, where there were four informal votes, Lana reportedly exclaimed to a colleague, “Oh? Were we supposed to number the boxes?” Apparently, instead of numbering each box as instructed on the ballot, delegates believe she merely ticked and crossed.

Settle in, Steve. Make yourself at home.

Read all about it – maybe

Hillary’s South Australian readers write in with more exciting news about the Adelaide Advertiser’s state political reporter, Greg “Scoop” Kelton.

Scoop has a keen nose for a story – it is said he can sense whenever a release from Buffy’s notorious propaganda ministry, the Government Media Unit, is coming off the fax. Strangely, though, the really meaty news about South Australian politics appears to be coming from the Tiser’s Canberra bureau.

A few weeks ago it was the Canberra end that uncovered the story of massive stacking in the home branch of state minister Mark Brindall – and the Queensland-like habits of his friends, many of whom seem to live in a post box in country Victoria.

The journo who broke that story, Annabel Crabbe, has since left for a newspaper pitched at people who can read, the Age, but her successor, Samantha Maiden, has got off to a strong start.

On Friday, Ms Maiden told the tale of strange goings on earlier in the week at a pub in Adelaide’s leafy eastern suburbs.

That Monday, a number of right-leaning business people convened a meeting to discuss the forthcoming South Australian state election. The consensus was that Buffy was finished – and that the best way to prevent a Labor government was to support conservative independents. The meeting was addressed by SA’s sole Nat MP, Karlene Maywald, independent Rory McEwen, psephologist Dean Jeanche, oddly enough the just retired head of the Premiers Department Ian Kowalick and – even more peculiarly – state Liberal immediate past president, Cory Bernardi.

Cory told the group that the parliamentary Libs were “dills on wheels” and “dead from the neck up” and that independents were the way to go – but even when this was all wheeled out in Question Time, the story still escaped Scoop’s attention.

Narcolepsy is a terrible ailment.

PS The SA Liberal State Council met on Friday. Hillary hears that Cory was standing outside more than an hour before, ready to tell delegates as they arrived that he had been quoted out of context.

Anagram corner

A reader writes:

“A good friend of mine referred me to your column this week in regards to Natasha s d. I read it and thought it once again exposed her for the hypocrite she is.

“While this is a slight tangent have you ever noticed that Natasha spelt backwards is ‘Ah Satan’. I have always been curious as to why no writer (or cartoonist) has ever commented on this.”

Give that man a big cigar!

Hillary Bray can be contacted at [email protected]

Peter Fray

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