Another great column from Crikey’s political insider Hillary Bray. She is Crikey’s greatest asset and has just received a pay rise to $100 a week.

Don’t think for a moment that the Sharon Stone memo episode has been forgotten. The name of a certain staffer in the PM’s office – someone with a reputation for being somewhat of a zealot – keeps popping up from all directions.

Budget boost?

Coalition members were cock-a-hoop when they boarded their flights home Friday. The Budget had confounded everyone, poor old “Twinkletoes” Conroy’s tax gaffe had taken the wind out of Fart Boy Slim’s speech in reply and, when it was given, all it contained was pissant promises about cutting spending on government advertising and stopping tax breaks for donations.

How long this mood continues, however, is anyone’s guess. The Smellie’s poll today doesn’t exactly suggest it’s all plain sailing.

This is the Brisbane Line Budget. The Government has decided what territory it can concede and the heartland it must hold. And the battle is going to come at a terrible cost – literally.

Stephen Koukoulas penned a pious piece for the Fin on the Government raising taxes and “spending money at a rate that would make Gough Whitlam blush”. True – but how it’s chosen to blow the bucks is this Budget’s most mortal sin.

How many years have we been hearing about the costs our ageing population will create? Right. And what do we do? We toss more money at them, give them a whole new range of concessions and offer an incredible boost to the entitlement mentality. Great.

As Australians get older, live longer and compulsory superannuation expands the ranks of self funded retirees, it will take a government with guts to claw these goodies back – and there might be a few little problems when other spending priorities emerge.

So, readers, a toast to the future. Higher taxes all round!

Budget bash

Now, the Budget analysis you really want – who got pissed and embarrassed themselves down at Kingston and Manuka afterwards. Hillary hates to say this, but things were a little subdued.

There was the traditional Budget Bash – a staffer of Tasmanian Senator Kerry O’Brien exchanged fisticuffs with a civilian down at the Holy Grail. The poor punter was ejected. The staffer stayed.

Stephen Conroy put on a great show on the dance floor – hence the “Twinkletoes” tag. Unfortunately, as Thursday showed, an agile mind is more of an asset in politics than agile feet.

Ol’ One Tree Hill (Robert) and “Dazzling” Dazza Williams were the only Ministers who seemed to be making a night of it – and Hilly hitting the town isn’t exactly anything new.

The New South Wales Labor left were out in force – Albo obviously refreshed by his paternity leave.

Margo Kingston had been given a leave pass and was in town, complaining that she was being “marginalised” by the Herald. Hillary is a Margo fan – but was a little concerned at just how “marginalised” Margo had seemed to get herself before going on Lateline on Friday. (Ed’s note: is it true Margo has publicly stated she’ll be voting Green at the election? There’s a good reason for marginalisation.)

Crikey’s favourite Theravada Buddhist, Matthew Fergusson-Stewart, and a few of his disciples from the Australian Liberal Students Federation were there too, fresh from a book burning and resplendent in their saffron robes. Most journos present commented on what a bunch of prats they were.

Speaking of journos, News Limited accountants might like to look very carefully at any expense claims that feature The Lobby restaurant – and is Jim Middleton really a baby snatcher?

Budget bashed

One person who did not have good Budget was Ah Satan (Natasha backwards for first timers). Rather than taking finance spokesperson – and Mystic Meg supporter – Andrew Murray into the Budget lock up, Satan went in with running mate and party Animal Welfare spokesman Andrew “Gary Numan” Bartlett. No doubt he provided valuable advice on the bits that dealt with foot and mouth disease – but going by the distinct lack of coverage given to the Democrat’s response to the Budget, he didn’t offer much more.

Satan also tried to take her new economics adviser into the lock up – but as he hadn’t formally started, he was refused entry. Touchingly, Satan’s staff hadn’t bothered to check if that was OK.

Satan also insisted on playing the “yoof” card in her Budget response. Sweetie, you’re almost 32 and party leader nowadays, not the token Xer. You’re supposed to stand for a little more. Grow up.

Pulling together

When Satan decided not to take Murray into the lock up, she gave a perfect demonstration of the mistrust and divisions dividing the Democrats.

There’s usually a very good formula for working out the number of factions in the Dems – take the number of Senators and divide by one. After this week, one has to wonder if they can hold together.

Filing separate, dissenting reports on the Senate committee inquiry into online gambling was bizarre enough, but the three way split on a Labor gimmicky HIH motion was incredible.

Still, Ah Satan was able to portray herself as a victim. As she told Channel 9, Labor had changed the motion’s timing and it was all a media beat-up.

PS In news just in, claims are being made about $2,500 Democrat dinners. How much vegetarian wholefood do you get for that? Hillary will be e-mailing the Dem HQ and Satan’s office for more details.

Church and State

Another e-mail from that crazy gang at the Australian Monarchist League has come Hillary’s way – this time over our new GG. League Secretary Philip Benwell has got his knickers in a knot over The Vicar’s lukewarm republicanism.

From what Hillary can work out, the League are so conservative that they’d like to see an Established Church in Australia. Perhaps they think the Vicar’s comments smack of Popery. Anyway, read on and enjoy:

From:

Sent: Wednesday, 23 May 2001 8:23

Subject: THE ARCHBISHOP

I have come under a great deal of criticism for daring to oppose the nomination of and acceptance by Archbishop Peter Hollingworth for the highest office under The Crown of Governor-General.

If I, as National Chairman of the Australian Monarchist League, must be muted on these issues, then what worth is our democracy.

I believe that there is no transgression in justified criticism, even against members of the Royal Family. Rather, the fault is in slavishly paying obeisance.

For the edification of those interested I append below a copy of a letter I had written to the Archbishop. I have had no reply, not do I anticipate one.

With regards,

Philip Benwell

National Chairman

Australian Monarchist League

The Most Rev’d Peter Hollingworth AO OBE

Archbishop of Brisbane

Etc.

Your Grace,

We must admit to concerns over Your Grace’s open dalliance with support for a republic which we believe could well taint you for the high office to which you are to be installed. We would like to clarify matters for you are to be our Governor-General and we are to be your People.

We note that at the Constitutional Convention you did not simply observe and comment on matters pertaining to the Christian nature of our Constitution, but was actually a very active participant, presenting reports from working groups and seconding motions and you are even reported as having said that the Australian People “would be fools” not to vote for a republic.

We remain disturbed at your inference at the Convention that the term ‘God’ in the Preamble is meant in a generic sense whereas the actual wording is ‘Almighty God’.

Whilst it is true that you abstained from voting on the final day of the Convention, we note that you consistently voted along with the republicans in favour of the ‘Turnbull’ Model in rounds one to four on the 12th February 1998.

The final motion on that day was “That, if Australia is to become a republic, this Convention recommends that the model adopted be the Bi-Partisan Appointment of a President Model” to which you voted in favour.

It was only on the vote on the following day, the 13th February 1998 for the motion: “That this Convention supports in Principle, Australia becoming a republic” that you abstained. You have since been reported as saying that this was because you felt the model proposed to be unstable. If this was so, why then did you not vote against it?

We are disappointed that our calls for prayers for The Queen on special occasions, the last being for Her Majesty’s 75th birthday, have never been acknowledged by you or your staff. We have also over time received numerous concerns from monarchists that their communications to you have been ignored.

It would be to the benefit of us all if these concerns could be clarified. Notwithstanding this, we wish to assure you that as Governor-General you will have our complete loyalty.

Philip Benwell

Off the medication?

In an incredible blast from the past, former Victorian Liberal MP Ken “Crackers” Aldred, popped up on Melbourne radio last week suggesting he might have a go at Aston.

For the benefit of readers of more tender years, Aldred, the former member for Deakin, jumped up in the House back in the mid nineties with a range of allegations about DFAT head Michael Costello – now Fart Boy’s Chief of Staff – that involved South American drug cartels, the Mossad, “an officer of the KGB’s elite special reserve”, the collapsed BCCI – known as the Bank of Crooks and Cocaine International – mysterious payments of $US 640,000 and a Mark Leibler connection. Strangely enough, his political career never recovered.

The ratbag People’s Power movement is already running a candidate in Aston (Ed’s note: thanks for nothing star columnist). If Crackers throws his hat into the ring, we could really have some crazy times.

Freedom from information

Sir Humphrey would be delighted. News comes from South Australia that the FOI officer for the Department of Premier and Cabinet is one Ms Vicki Thompson.

She also holds another job – Chief of Staff to Premier Buffy- but clearly there’s no conflict of interest.

Saved!

Well, well, well. In a surprise upset, God-Bother and Erica Betz clone Guy Barnett didn’t get a winnable spot when the Tasmanian Libs held their Senate preselection Saturday.

All those phone calls Senate Whip Paul Calvert put through to delegates while he was off on a junket to Kiwiland paid off. He got the number one – but Senator, who paid the phone bills and was this the best use of time on a taxpayer funded trip?.

Hillary can be contacted at [email protected]

Now, this is last week’s effort from our star columnist.

Hillary’s hat trick

Ah – the joys of brave predictions. Your peerlessly prescient politico-pundit has scored a horrendous hat-trick over the past couple of months telling readers how the Libs would win Ryan on postal votes, how John Herron was about to resign and, last week, how John Fahey was back and raring to get stuck into the fray.

From now on, all of Hillary’s forecasts will be in Nostradamus-like terms – viz:

In the fifth year of the rodent

Winds harsh and foul

Shall emanate from the West

And blow, yea, even unto the Hall of the Square Fountain

That lies ‘neath the verdant hill

And of the members of the Ming Dynasty

That sit in the Palace Green and the Red Room that is on high

Many shall be swept away

And lost for evermore

Placido performance

Compare and contrast – the Rodent’s woeful performances in Melbourne and the “third term agenda” laid out by the Treasurer on the Sunday program. Interesting, hey?

Staff meeting

News seeps out of a fascinating staff meeting called and run by the PM in his office after Sharon’s memo slipped out. The details are very, very sketchy – but Hillary gathers that the atmosphere was tense and none too cordial.

Royal omission

Hairy-chested headlines on Friday all but declared that the Monk was about to order a Royal Commission into the building industry – but when he held a presser that afternoon things looked a little different.

“I’m certainly not ruling out a royal commission but at this stage I’m certainly not committing the government to that course either”, he told the hacks, saying that the Government would be considering the matter over “over the next couple of weeks”.

Of course, there’s another rather delicate issue here. If you have Royal Commission into the building industry, it’s very hard to refuse one into the HIH collapse.

And there’s tricky procedural problem, too. A Royal Commission can only be established by legislation – and would Ah Satan’s kinder, gentler Democrats support the bill?

Bad Minister!

Kacky Jelly’s been a bad, bad Minister. Government Members Secretariat boss Dawn Crosby told a training session in Sydney for the Coalition’s direct mail database Feedback that Kacky’s office were way behind with their updates and campaign preparation – and that anyone in the room who knew Kacky staffers should tell them to “pull their fingers out”.

Poll positions

Talk of a July election has been around since the Ryan debacle – but why did Malcolm Farr run so big with it on Wednesday. No-one else has taken the idea seriously.

Well, such is the atmosphere of paranoia at the moment some sages speculate that the story was leaked by Labor to put a rocket up their own people.

The tribulations of Job

Poor Cathy Job! This press release from her boss Count Yorgu appeared – briefly – on the Youth Roundtable site last week:

First stage of National Youth Roundtable 2001 ends today

Members of the National Youth Roundtable 2001 today presented to the Government their plans to address important issues on the youth agenda.

In closing the meeting Dr Kemp, Minister for Education, Training and Youth Affairs, remarked “{insert quote}”.

Fifty Youth Roundtable members from all over Australia have been meeting in Canberra for 4 days and will now work in teams to investigate issues around:

o employment perspectives;

o educating outside the square;

o families, community and the environment;

o equity, the law and young people;

o beyond the traffic lights; and

o youth health and living.

The issues covered by the Roundtable are determined by the member’s own areas of interest. Anew theme this year is the issue of equity, the law and young people. These issues have not been covered in previous Roundtables.

Again the National Youth Roundtable is discussing with Government a great range of issues, for example:

o {insert a good example from each team}

Members today presented the plans for their projects to an audience of powerbrokers including the Ministers, Senators, Members of Parliament and senior representatives of Commonwealth departments.

Members will have the support of Ministers, their local MPs, Government departments and non-Government organisations over the next six months as they develop their projects, before making their final presentations in Canberra in September.

{insert quote from Dr Kemp}

Media Contacts:

Catherine Job Minister’s Office (02) 62777 460 or 0412 639 754

Susan Finnigan Roundtable member interviews (02) 6240 7397 or 0412 998 538

Hillary understands there’s quite a frenzy on as Labor staffers rush to plug the gaps.

Halo slipping?

Pious Peter Andren, the independent Member for Calare and rort rooter-outer, called last week for the consideration of the British electoral process which removes ministerial advisers from the public payroll as soon as an election is called.

In Australia, with the exception of a couple of Department Liaison Officers or DLOs, ministerial staff are political appointees who stand or fall with their Minister. In Britian, it’s the opposite – hence the claims of “politicisation” stemming from some Blair appointments. Just think “Yes, Minister”.

Now, Pious Pete either doesn’t know this – or decided that the facts shouldn’t get in the way of a good story. Surely such a worthy soul wouldn’t do that.

Preview pieces

The Government’s been very fair this year slipping out the Budget details. It was so nice to see on Thursday morning how the News Limited tabloids had a yarn on a bonus GST funds pulled from tax dodgers, while the Fairfax broadsheets carried a story for their demographic on assistance for self-funded retirees.

Don’t cry for me, Dennis Napthine, 05

Wits at 104 Exhibition Street, the Victorian Liberal secretariat, have come up with a nice nickname for their ultra-competent deputy leader Louise Asher – Evita. The name is fast spreading to Spring Street.

And which part of our history are we celebrating here?

Hillary isn’t a member of Emily’s List – Hillary actually thought it was a “to do” list for one of the maids – so missed Mary Delahunty’s wimmin’s shindig in Federation week.

It was a big mistake. The lucky guests were able to enjoy to a rendition of a communist song performed by an Italian artist and choir – and invited to wave their hands in the air during a chorus celebrating blood stained banners flying in the wind.

Gee, thanks

“Slippery Pete” Slipper came up with a novel Mother’s Day gift idea at the Liberal barbecue in Brisbane last weekend. He suggested everyone there sign their mums up to the Party.

Strange timing

Hillary hears that the Democrats national campaign director, Jim Downey, has resigned. At this stage in the electoral cycle? How odd.

Back to the bingo

Australia’s youngest pensioner, Bill O’Chee, will just have to go back to bingo for excitement after he failed woefully in Saturday’s preselection for the Queensland seat of Moncrieff.

The transition, however, will not be smooth. Retiring Member Kathy Sullivan is suing successful candidate Steven Ciobo over allegations he and another man defamed her at a branch party meeting. The Gold Coast Bulletin reports her lawyers are seeking “a public apology and aggravated and exemplary damages”.

Moncrieff is blue ribbon Liberal territory – just like, say, Ryan. Oh dear. This is just what they need.

Recognition at last!

Hillary was delighted to read in Tony Walker’s piece in Saturday’s Fin that Joe Hockey is “known to friend and foe alike as ‘Hindenburg'”.

“Hindenburg” dates back to the very first issue of Crikey. Hillary knows Joe hates the name – and has never actually heard anybody use it at all.

Still, it’s recognition – at last.

Hit list

Wow! Wasn’t it great when Bambi Blair’s deputy, John “Thumper” Prescott, let loose at the bloke who egged him last week. Such a pleasant change from New Labour’s usual maniacally stage-managed platitudes.

Hillary loved it – but then started thinking. Who would our politicians like to take a swing at? After a bit, Hillary came up with this list:

Peter Costello would like to punch “Sharon” Stone

The Rodent would like to punch Hayley Eves

Fart Boy Slim would like to punch John “General Norriega” Della Bosca

Mystic Meg would like to give Ah Satan a Batgirl kick

The Cowardly Lion would like to punch Bob Katter

Wayne Swan and Scott Emerson have already had a go at the Teenage Toecutter

And Hindenburg Hockey would like to punch Ray Williams and the HIH board and their auditors and Kerry O’Brien and the News Limited photographer who took that terrible shot of him that was on the front page of Thursday’s Oz and the entire staff of APRA – and that’s even before he’s got his jacket off.

The punters should watch out – the Monk has a boxing blue from Oxford, after all.

But who do the readers think our pols would like to punch? Welcome to the Crikey All-In Brawl.

Simply submit a list of up to 10 true-blue Aussie possible political pugilists and their tentative targets to [email protected] before Monday 28 May and you could be in the running for a free Crikey subscription.

All entries will be turned over Sydney’s sporting sage, Dan “The Hammer” McNutt for judging and results and the winner and runners up will appear in the column.

Round One begins!

Hillary Bray can be contacted at [email protected]