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Whilst most political commentators are off lying on the beach, Crikey’s political guru Hillary Bray is churning out more great columns. This is one of her best.

Two thousand and one is going to be a great year for pollie-watchers. All those elections.

The Rodent will make his run, a poll will soon be called in the West with the parties neck and neck, Peter “don’t ask me, I only work here” Beattie is set for an unexpected date with destiny and Buffy Olsen can look forward to a bollocking at the ballot box. Whoopee!

Both Territories face polls, too. These won’t be as interesting. Up North, we can expect the usual whitewash – literally – as the CLP engages in barely-veiled boong bashing and romps home once again.

There might be a little more suspense in the actual ACT results – Kate Carnell’s last win went well against the odds – but party leaders Garry Humphries and Jon Stanhope make even Kambah clerks look interesting. If you want thrills, spend that campaign rearranging your paper clips.

Federation celebration

How can the greatest event of January 1 have gone unnoticed – the revelation that Ros “Porn Star” Reines has got it wrong and that Natasha Stott-Despoja and Hugh Rimington are still an item. Hillary was delighted to spot Australia’s shortest celebrity couple joining in the Federation commemorations.

Hillary, however, is more concerned than ever that Natasha is wasting away. The “Buy a Sandwich for the Senator” appeal is still running. Cash donations can be mailed to Hillary C/- Crikey Media, PO Box 2095, Templestowe Heights 3107, or you can send parcels of tinned goods and non-perishables direct to Natasha’s office at Suite S1-101, Telelift 20-8, Parliament House, Canberra ACT 2600, marked “Attention – Tammy Franks”.

Sold short?

Remember the outrage on the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age just before Christmas over how Federation had been “privatised” and the parade guide rights sold to the Daily Telegraph?

Well, Hillary hears that Fairfax were actually offered first dibs – but that head honcho Fred “The Bumbling Beancounter” Hilmer couldn’t put together anything that even resembled a halfway decent bid.

PS As a perfect illustration of our knowledge of our nation’s great story, Hillary’s Darlinghurst correspondent reports that many members of the local community have commented sourly on how the Federation Parade pinched the Mardi Gras route.

Summertime – and the beat-ups come easy

What was the greatest political non-story of the holiday season? There was some stiff competition. First, the Incredible Bulk Amanda Vanstone put in a good bid when she used the start of the Boxing Day test to unveil our nation’s secret shame – the trade in fake Bradman memorabilia.

Victorian Manufacturing Minister Rob Hulls gave a bravura performance when he demanded that incoming Defence Minister, Peter Wreath, fulfil his sacred duty as a Victorian and swear that the (privately owned) Williamstown shipbuilding yards would not be closed. The propriety of decision making on these grounds escaped mention – although the technical term for it is “corruption”.

But the award must go to Sandra Kank, the Deputy Leader of the South Australian Democrats. Ms Kank issued a release warning the influx of people for the New Years’ Eve race on the old Adelaide grand prix circuit and the other celebrations had increased the risk of sexual assaults in the city – and the Sydney Morning Herald put this piece of pissant parochial pap on its website!

You stab my back, I’ll stab yours?

It speaks volumes for the quality of our political reporters that the really interesting end of year story – the sudden announcement by Government Whip Michael Ronaldson that he’d retire at the next election – vanished over the holiday break.

Mr Whippy had been a Parliamentary Secretary – and an OK one at that. It was reasonable for him to hope for a guernsey for the A team at some stage, but December 19 wasn’t his lucky day – as a couple of commentaries on the reshuffle noted. His retirement was announced – unusually, under embargo – the following Friday.

So what? Well, Ronaldson’s seat of Ballart is a crucial marginal. It’s exactly the sort of seat that Steve Bracks (indeed Ballarat is Saint Steve’s home town) won in 99 and that the Federal Libs are terrified of losing lots off in Victoria. Having an incumbent MP would have given the Coalition a vital edge. All sorts of resources have been tipped into the seat to shore him up and the Government Members Secretariat – the Liberal Party’s taxpayer funded electioneering unit – has even “tested” campaign techniques in Ballarat.

Given all this, Ronaldson’s retirement raised more than a few eyebrows. He says he told the Prime Miniature and the Victorian Liberal HQ, 104 Exhibition Street, back in the middle of the year about his plans – and the little fella asked him to think about it for a few months.

Hillary’s yet to find a soul who believes that 104 knew. With the fear and loathing that has flourished there since the fall of Jeff, telling 104 would be telling the world.

And if the PM knew – and Ronaldson had still decided to go – why wasn’t the announcement made at the same time as the reshuffle, when one Minister announced his resignation from the Parliament and two others stepped down? It would have made it clear that there were no sour grapes.

All very strange indeed.

It ain’t necessarily so

Ructions in Ryan are raging as the preselection to decide John Moore’s successor draws closer – with young Michael Johnston feeling the heat.

However, Hillary hears that many of the stories surrounding the budding candidate are more than a touch apocryphal. As revealed in the last column, the infamous Hong Kong branch members appear to have actually been signed up by Moore.

And all those new members Johnston supposedly signed up at the heavily discounted student and pension rate? Well – surprise, surprise – they appear to be students and pensioners.

No ARM done

Slay the fatted calf! The Liberal Party is welcoming prodigal son Malcolm Turnbull back with open arms. Everyone from federal director Lynton Crosby to local electorate committee president Sally Betts wants Mal to run for Wentworth.

The chance of a Turnbull candidacy has left the other contender, Peter King, looking concerned. King is making the best of it all by talking up his support for the monarchy – but there are two slight problems. First, spouse Fiona Sinclair-King handed out how-to-votes for Conservatives for an Australian Head of State back in 99 – and the other is the inconvenient fact that Wentworth scored the second highest “Yes” vote in NSW.

The local numbers gurus also appear not to have noticed a key aspect of a Turnbull bid – it will probably split the opposition to sitting member Andrew Thompson and result in his re-election.

Musical seats

Wentworth isn’t the only New South Wales federal seat to watch. Young muscular Christian Ross Cameron wants out from the mega marginal Parramatta and is eyeing Mitchell on Sydney’s north-western rim, where Alan Cadman has been gathering cobwebs for more than quarter of a century.

If Ross gets his way, down and out Stephen Mutch, the former MLC who swapped factions, jumped to the Reps seat of Cook and was deselected in favour of “Bruce Baby” Baird is almost certain to make one last desperate bid to get back into politics.

In Mackellar, the smell of death – as well as kerosene – is hanging over Bronwyn Bishop. Despite her exciting new do, everyone knows that Bronny is going nowhere – fast. An exciting competition may be looming there as lachrymose boy wonder John Brogden and factional schizophrenic Concietta Fiervanti-Wells both closely watching developments.

Cry Baby is terribly torn. Opinion is firming on Macquarie Street that he should take the opposition to the next election. No less a figure than “Chairman Nick” Greiner is going around town advocating a switch to Brogden a year out (despite what happened when he advocated much the same strategy last time round) – but a safe seat in the Reps is a glittering prize for one so young.

Fiervanti-Wells was tipped as a moderate candidate for preselection in the early 90s, but suddenly discovered a deep and abiding love for the Queen when she had an unsuccessful go at North Sydney. Concietta is now leading an insurgency in the right wing as she becomes more and more revolted by faction boss David Clarke – and sees new career opportunities. She could make a fascinating candidate – but who will be left with a seat when the music stops?

A house is not a home

There could be yet another seat up for grabs in New South Wales – Jackie Kelly’s.

Chris Pyne, the Elliot Ness in charge of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Affairs inquiry into roll rorting, has already rescued Kacky Jelly once – but will he able to save the damsel in distress once again?

Two of her staff have come under suspicion for roll rorting. Former press sec Nick Berman seems to be in the clear. He might have moved around a lot – but at least he lived at the addresses he was enrolled at. Steve Simat may not be so lucky. He may find playing around in council elections can impact at completely different levels of politics.

Holy fool?

Is the peripatetic Malcolm McGregor returning to the faith of his fathers – or has he just decided that sucking up to the Monk offers the best hope he has left of ever holding down a full time political job again?

There’s only one other explanation that readily leaps to mind for his extraordinary piece on the Liberal Party as the embodiment of Christian values that appeared in the Oz after Christmas – that Mal had a night on the turps and was feeling particularly penitent the morning after.

Mal has flogged himself to virtually every political leader in Australia other than Pauline Hanson but seems to have run out of takers. He’s had his ups and down, but until the article the only sign of faith he had showed for many years was a touching devotion to the cult of the Massachusetts Martyrs – Jack of Camelot and the Blessed Bobby.

Interestingly, the piece appeared on December 28, the Feast of the Holy Innocents. Perhaps Mal now counts himself amongst their number.

I want my KPTV

Digital TV has begun. No-one can watch it as the converters aren’t in the shops yet, it interferes with analogue broadcasts but it’s still a triumph for Richard “Milhous” Alston and the Rodent – they’ve kept Big Kez on side.

Their loyalty seems to have been repaid. How else can one explain the Bulletin’s decision to publish the full transcript of THAT little lunch with Maxine McKew and General Norriega – six months after it first hit the headlines.

No poofters

Strange that Australia’s most overpaid and politicised public servant, New South Wales Police Commissioner Peter “Pommy Poofter” Ryan, has taken court action against the very men he chose to continue the clean up the Rum Corps.

Has he started to develop a sense of cultural sympathy and decided to run the Corps in the traditional the Aussie way?

Stranger in town

In South Australia, blue-blood Michael “Lord” Armitage, Minister and member for the marginal seat of Adelaide is finding switching to the more convivial – and safer – Bragg a hard ask.

The local Libs aren’t impressed by Lord Armitage’s chicken run – it took a hell of a lot of phone calls before he could find anyone willing to sign his nomination form – nor his demeanour.

He found the candidate review process draining – complaining that it kept him from his beach house. The fact that his press sec, not his Lordship himself, gave the quote to the Adelaide Advertiser when nominations closed saying that he was a “serious contender” doesn’t exactly indicate a high level of dedication. And locals haven’t been impressed by his accessibility – the candidate details form gives his home number as “silent” and contains a blank next to the “mobile” category. Still, his office number is there – if you wish to speak to his Lordship’s lackeys.

Yabba dabba did what?

Michael Yabsley and his mates on the New South Wales Libs Millennium Forum have bailed the pathetic party out of its financial doldrums – but at what cost?

Claims are drifting round Sydney that in its first 18 months the Forum spent $500 grand to raise $1.25 million. Surely not?

Drop outs

New South Wales Education Minister John Aquilina must be getting worried about retention rates – in his own office. In the past year 10 members of his staff left – including the chief of staff, senior adviser, media adviser and office manager.

There seems to be a general sense of malaise about Aquilina’s office and he appears very bored and disinterested It’s being whispered round that traps that he has increasingly become a captive of his bureaucrats and relying on education director Ken Boston to run the show

This has lead to complaints to the media by community groups that their funding submissions have not been considered in time and that they risk having to lay off staff as resources run out.

His staff want action when it is politically needed – not Sir Humphrey style “in the fullness of time” – and aren’t interested in being part of the cast of Yes Minister.

Hail to the Chief

Yeah, yeah, yeah – Hillary’s round is domestic politics, but this yarn can’t go unreported locally.

William Jefferson Clinton, Hillary salutes you. The playful President has ordered new license plates for the official limos that carry the DC Democrats’ slogan “Taxation without Representation” – part of their campaign for full Congressional rights for the District of Columbia.

The Washington Post has already suggested that President-elect George Dubya will insult all DC residents if he removes them. What inspirational shit-stirring!

Hillary Bray can be contacted at [email protected]

ends

If you enjoyed that, check out Hillary’s recent summary of John Howard’s pre-Christmas reshuffle.

Shuffling the deck chairs

Welfare reform was going to be the Howard Government’s big idea for 2001, the definitive election year policy agenda but if today’s reshuffle is anything to go by it ain’t no more.

The one clear lesson the Government learned from its first few tentative steps back in 1996 was that if you want to carry out major reforms in a sensitive area, don’t chose Incredible Bulk Amanda Vanstone to do the job.

No, the real agenda for now until the election is clear bash the bludgers and beat the drums.

Putting a proven incompetent with the emotional range of a piece of two-by-four and an ability to sympathise that rivals a house brick into Family & Community Services shows that serious commitment to welfare reform has gone out the window. Presumably all we can expect is the further extension of “mutual obligation” to quadriplegics, the unborn, the over 90s, etcetera, etcetera backed up by barks from the Bulk but little more.

The Bulk would still like to pretend that she is a moderate yet the way she has maligned, say, boat people from Iraq (We were in a war against their dictator, Amanda. Do you remember that? Or were you out on the red?) betrays the divisive, hard-line approach she will take pushing public prejudice against easy targets. Promoting the “job-snob” bashing Mad Monk to Employment Minister only reinforces that this is the new agenda.

That’s bash the bludgers. And beat the drums? Will the Living Dead, Peter Wreath, experience a political resurrection in the Defence portfolio?

If if the Government gets all the big ticket items it promised in the Defence White Paper and if an even bigger if it wins the next election, there will be lots of good photo ops for old Wreathy as the AWACs fly in. We mightn’t be able to support our troops in the field and have no recruitment strategy other than spending up on TV ads, but the new big boys’ toys will go down a treat with the camera crews and commercial TV news directors. They will look good for the Government, be hard for the Opposition to criticise and might well improve his standing but two nasty facts will remain.

Firstly, Wreath has had an almighty fall down the Cabinet ladder. He wanted Industry and got Defence. Check where that stands on the rankings well below both his old job and the one he so publicly pitched for. And fact number two? The hard yards have been done in Defence. The Minister doesn’t matter much. Work in the portfolio is finished just like Wreath is as a future leader. The PM recognised that fact today. The Monk has been set up as the rival to Costello.

Quite how far the Monk gets with the task he has been drafted for is another matter. The Rodent’s release claims “his philosophical commitment and impressive advocacy skills make him superbly well equipped to further develop the Government’s industrial relations reform agenda”.

Really? It’s clear whose golden boy he is but the Dems will enjoy dealing with him on IR in much the same way as the Pope would enjoy a weekend in Vegas with Marilyn Manson.

That’s the Cabinet changes. And the outer Ministry?

Well, the new token Tasmanian, Eric “Erica” Abetz, Special Minister of State, is notable only as a stand out right wing fruit-and-nut bar even in the Howard Government.

New Minister for Employment Services, Mal Brough, is justly famed for is justly famed for is famed, er, justly, er, for for check back in April, will you. Oh, yeah. His brother Bob hosted Family Feud for a while that must count for something.

Ian Macfarlane might be a former head of the National Farmer’s Federation, but unlike most of the RARA brigade he is smart enough to realise that people who chose to live in Antarctica shouldn’t complain of the cold. Small business people are a prickly lot at the best of times. His senior Minister, the Monk, is as diplomatic as a blitzkrieg. Given his background Macfarlane should be able to build a rapport with a key Coalition constituency already alienated by the GST and getting wobblier and noisier as threats of an economic slowdown loom.

Chris Ellison will bring his usual somnolent style to Justice and Customs.

Bronny should count herself lucky that she still has a job. The Little Fella was keen to see the back of her but knew he had to buy her off and that giving Bronny a diplomatic post anywhere would be tantamount to a declaration of war.

Brendan Nelson, the new Parliamentary Secretary for Defence, has won a pyrrhic promotion if there is such a thing. He’s stuck in limbo between the back and front benches in about the only portfolio areas he’s had nothing to say about and will be obliged by convention not to stray. If the Prime Miniature wasn’t such an obvious git one might almost say this appointment betrayed a sense of humour.

The real surprise is the promotion of Christine Gallus to Parliamentary Secretary for Reconciliation. Gallus is a pinko, even by the standards of the South Australian left. Of course, we still need to wait a see if she is allowed to actually accomplish anything before we know if the PM’s recent tentative steps away from the “poison the waterholes” approach to Indigenous affairs is genuine.

Finally, one unlikely person has become a real winner from the reshuffle beleaguered Queensland Premier and Hillary fan Peter Beattie.

His Government is a virtually dead cert to fall over on the floor of Parliament early in the New Year yet, as Monday’s Newspoll showed, the pathetic pair of “Revolting” Rob Borbidge and “Disastrous” David Watson aren’t picking up any support.

Now that John Moore is retiring, the inevitable preselection sh*tfight in his much-stacked seat of Ryan won’t help. Neither will the fact that there are now no Queenslanders in the Cabinet or the fact the Queensland junior minister will be squabbling to claim the spot on their divided state executive as Federal Parliamentary rep or, indeed, the fact that “Slippery Pete” Slipper is inconsolable over not being promoted and about to throw an almighty sulk.

The Queensland Libs and, indeed, the Queensland Coalition is already a disaster areas. This will split them even further. It’s very smart politics for the Little Fella to have made these moves in the state where he holds the most marginal seats and where the next election will be.

So Merry Christmas to you all.

Your favourite political insider, HB

Hillary Bray can be contacted at [email protected] but stop stending that stupid Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs virus. One dwarf-sized political virus in The Lodge is enough.

Peter Fray

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