Another crackerjack column from Crikey’s political insider Hillary Bray.

Poor old Wreathie’s decided he won’t contest the next election – or rather, he’s admitted that he’s unelectable. What an inglorious end to his career. A would-be leader retiring in shame.

Wreath should have resigned when the Telecard matter leaked last year. He broke the guidelines and created a massive embarrassment for the Government. Resigning would have at least indicated that despite being “born to plot”, he was a man of honour. Instead, in the most egregious demonstration of the Howard Government’s complete lack of integrity, he was allowed to keep his job.

Friday’s announcement was an admission that he cannot win his seat. Flinders is held by a margin of 3.7 per cent. Under normal circumstances, that should be defensible. But Wreathie threw the standards out the window. He didn’t do his penance – or the Rodent wouldn’t run the risk of losing a minister and make him. And when the standards are gone, normal circumstances don’t apply.

Victoria is still subliminally seen as the jewel in the Liberal crown – the home of Menzies, Fraser and before then, Deakin and the first Liberals – of people like Bolte, Hamer and, more recently, the glory that was Jeff.

The situation’s a little different today.

Kerry Chikarovski might be more of a national embarrassment to the Libs than Victorian leader Dennis Napthine – but that’s only because he lacks the profile to actually be a national embarrassment.

The Liberal Party holds nine Federal seats in Victoria with margins of less than five per cent, including Aston. Government could be lost in that one state alone.

The Victorian party is in a mess. The factionalism is terrible, the polling worse – and just to add to it all, they currently lack a treasurer.

There’s talk around town that president Ian Carson is trying to sweet talk former Coles Myer CEO Peter Bartels into the job – but he remains a controversial figure up the top end of Collins Street.

It will cost around $3 million to run the federal election campaign in Victoria. Hillary hears that at the moment there’s only around half of that in the coffers – and the money ain’t exactly pouring in.

No treasurer equals no money – or not much. Add nine marginals and you get big, big trouble for the Government.

Peter Reith, by his behaviour, has only added to his Party’s woes.

He leaves politics a tarnished and diminished figure.

Further fall out

There are a couple of other interesting, if more oblique, observations that can be made about Peter Wreith’s departure.

Firstly, the polling in Aston must give the Government a chance. It would have been unlikely for the Prime Miniature to allow a “rat leaving the sinking ship” scenario to emerge if things were looking bad.

The signs of panic that surrounded the Ryan by-election aren’t there, either. Rowena Cowan from the federal secretariat has been on the ground since the poll was announced, deputy federal director John Burston was down this week and Jim Bonner has been around, but the campaign is mainly being run as an Exhibition Street effort.

If the Libs hang on, then that raises – oh most delicious of ironies – a whole lot of Flinders by-election style questions about an early election and Fart Boy Slim’s appeal.

PS The Lounge Bar Bore of the Gallery, Alan Ramsey, was busy hosing down any suggestions of an early election in his column in Saturday’s SMH. Readers might recall how, the day before the 98 poll was called, the Bore wrote a detailed piece on why an election wouldn’t be called that weekend.

Patience is a virtue

As everybody knows, the Rodent bought the Mad Monk into Cabinet to act as a balance to Peter Costello’s leadership ambitions once the Telecard matter killed of Wreith’s chances.

The Monk has taken up his new role with great enthusiasm – but surely he should have waited for Wreith to give his presser before shouting the eulogies. Instead, he was delivering them to journos a full three hours before the official announcement.

Legal eagles?

Hillary, like many pols and pundits, has an LLB from that fine institution, the University of Bush – but a proper lawyer might be able to provide an answer to this question.

When the Prime Miniature’s attack dog, Bill “The Hitman” Heffernan, tipped a bucket on Terry O’Shane from the very highest battlement of Coward’s Castle, the allegations were the subject of legal proceeding between O’Shane and Queensland Newspapers, the proprietors of the Courier Mail.

Doesn’t that raise issues of sub-judice? Can anyone help?

Keep yourself nice

It’s generally agreed. This year’s Parliamentary Press Gallery Midwinter Ball was a lot nicer – pronounced “naicer” – than the first effort.

A few occupants of the Ministerial Wing and the Gallery tried to storm the stage to dance with Marcia Hines, but were too drunk to make the leap. Other than that, everyone was very well behaved.

The Gallery Choir was in fine form, Lex Loser’s staff seemed particularly amused by HG and Roy’s jokes about “busted-arse countries” and Qantas very kindly filled the sponsorship gap left by the demise of Impulse.

The only nastiness of the night surrounds the auction of an “artwork” by carpet salesman and Pauline Hanson backer Pro Hart.

HG and Roy were finding this particular lot very hard to shift – despite drawing attention to the fine frame, etcetera – before it was finally bought at a ridiculous price by a staffer for Tasmanian Labor Senator Kerry “No Relation” O’Brien.

It’s now being said that the sad sod who ended up with it doesn’t have the cash to pay – and is about to vanish into the Tasmanian wilderness to try and hide from the organisers.

PS Which party leader partied so hard that she missed a very different sort of party meeting that she herself had called for 8:15am Thursday. Hillary hears the Democrats were not impressed.

Melbourne comedy festival

The title of Dark Prince of the Melbourne City Council used to rest fairly and squarely on ALP numbers man Kevin Chamberlin’s head – you would cross him in a deal at your peril.

There is a now new pretender to the title. Proving that a misspent youth as a Liberal Student teaches you more about politics than any other training ground, John Fetter spun such a web of complex deals, promises and compromises that not only did his proposals have to be in writing (nobody could actually follow the conversation), but teams were bringing in University Politics lecturers and other psephologists in order to actually explain the implications of his proposals.

Of course, the other teams were trying to understand his deals on the basis that they could all be delivered – and in the end, you just can’t count on rational behaviour, especially when you are counting numbers for a member of the Socialist Left.

Meanwhile, Don Chipp seems to have come out of the preference negotiations as the most honourable of the candidates – not surprising, given how his preference negotiations went. Earlier, it was said that the John So, Clem Newton-Brown and Don Chipp teams were in a three-way “Liberal Pact”. Clem ratted on that deal in order to negotiate with the ALP Pledge (that’s hard left but different from the Socialist Left) member McMullin.

This left the other Liberals – So, Chipp and Wellington Lee – in an invidious position. They all met with shoe retailer Peter Sheppard (whose team consists of an even mix of Liberal and Labor), and a four-way pact was brokered by Chipp at the eleventh hour.

In the end, immense pressure on Clem from senior Liberals meant that Clem waited until McMullin had lodged his preferences, then also ratted on McMullin. In a mind-boggling suicide mission, he placed Sheppard above So, Chipp or McMullin. This notionally gives Sheppard the lead, but Hillary still rates Don Chipp a strong contender.

The “Liberal 3000” team have been re-born as “Melbourne Independents”. Readers will remember that this is the Liberal team which bailed on Clem’s ticket because of the involvement of party VP and David Davis fan club head Peter Clarke. Hillary is fascinated to hear that the Melbourne Independent’s new policy is “put McMullin last, put Clem second last”. After all, they were devastated to learn over the weekend that Clem had done a deal with the hard Left of the ALP.

Hillary has already outed a number of Liberals on the McMullin, Newton Brown, Sheppard, Chipp, and Chambers tickets. Now that registrations have closed, and deals are being done, even more Liberals have surfaced! Helen “Chardonnay” Shardey’s ageing lieutenant James Logan-Bell is running for Deputy Mayor on a ticket which preferenced Jon So and Don Chipp, while John So’s campaign is being largely organised out of Kevin Andrew’s office (Kevin has a long memory, and Newton-Brown is way too close to Louise Staley for Kevin’s liking).

Hatred of Louise Staley isn’t just confined to the So ticket. Old warhorse Wellington Lee has waded into the race without a chance of winning. Why? Well, Wellington resigned from the Liberal Party after being publicly insulted on the floor of State Council by Louise. Perhaps Clem should choose his friends a little better. Then again, he must have a lot of love to give – nobody else can get away with giving their second preference to three different teams.

(Editor’s note: This is all Hillary’s work and not mine. It should be disclosed that John Fetter came to Crikey’s wedding, we did a preference deal with McMullin but finished up a little further down their council ticket than expected and we ended up with Clem’s 2nd preference as he promised us.)

Shuffling the deckchairs

Persistent rumours keep coming our of Adelaide that Buffy, or his chief of staff, Vicki Thompson, is planning a reshuffle.

Thompson seems keen to remove Attorney General Trevor Griffen and Government Services Minister Michael Armitage. Perhaps she’s discovered a couple of backbenchers who can play “Nearer My God to Thee”.

PS A great story broke last week about the collapse of the South Australian Business Cooperative, chaired by former federal treasurer John Dawkins. The SABC – that pursued such logical ventures for South Australia as salvaging porcelain from the wreck of a Chinese junk off Indonesia – was a beneficiary of Buffy’s wild ‘n’ wacky industry policy, more normally known as “business welfare” or “succumbing to blackmail”. This lead many members to think it was an official government endorsed body. And was the story broken by the Adelaide Advertiser? Naaah! It was in the Sydney Morning Herald, of course.

Buddhism and book-burning

Sydney, stand by for a week of Buddhism and book-burning. The Australian Liberal Students Federation is coming to town for its annual conference – and they’ve been kind enough to send Hillary an invitation.

Top of the list of interesting speakers is that well known Liberal, er… Coalitionalist, er… Nat, er… still a member of the National Party in a formal sense at the time of writing, Mad Bob Katter. He’ll presumably be there to tell them of the immediate need to nationalise the banks.

All your other favourites from the National Right faction of the Libs will be there – Bronny is opening the show and Erica’s speaking. Ho Chi Minchin is a no-show, but, presumably in recognition of his refugee detention policies, one time moderate Phillip “The Cadaver” Ruddock has been asked to appear.

The former Joh for PMer “Slippery” Pete Slipper is also coming along, to represent the deranged, no doubt, but most curious of all, is the presence of John Davey from the Eros Foundation. In an excellent bit of planning part-time pornographer, Ross “The Redneck” Lightfoot will be speaking in the same session as Mr Davey.

When he sees the Teeny Taliban, Davey will no doubt recognise that he is in the midst of a bunch of wankers.

The voice of youth

ALSF have some fantastic policy motions lined up for debate during the week. Here are a few of the more interesting ones:

“That ALSF support the complete withdrawal of government from the provision of retirement pensions, except for ensuring minimum contributions to private retirement accounts.”

“That ALSF strongly oppose any moves to change the Australian National Anthem ‘Advance Australia Fair’ and furthermore that all school children be required to sing the National Anthem on a weekly basis at school.”

“That ALSF support the complete privatisation of the ABC once pay television is available to all parts of Australia.”

Funnily enough, one motion suggests that they’ve been reading Crikey: “That ALSF condemns the Taliban for destruction of historically and religiously significant statues and artefacts.”

Party policy?

A reader has been studying the Taliban’s web site and sent in this fascinating posting:

“11:35am – Tuesday, 2nd May 100 melbourne, Vic Australia

“Whilst i am a supporter of mandatory sentancing i would pretty much concur with the comments of John Snaden. However i believe we should draw a clear distinction between the actions of the Howard government decision of mandatory sentancing and Euthanasia. Call it the moral police, but any government that allows Euthanasia to contiue is condoning human rights abuses and breaches it’s responsibility to protect its citizens(even from themselves). Mandatory sentancing is just an extension of the governments role legislation, similar to its role in mandatory driving offences.

“Liz Hassett ”

Ms Hassett is a staffer to Victorian shadow Attorney-General Robert Dean. Does her boss share these views?

Hillary’s mailbag

A couple of beauties. One reader’s memory was jogged by the mention of the Uptown Girl and sent in the following message about some comments by Sophie in Crikey fan Graham Young’s e-zine On Line Opinion:

“Reading the subscriber update, I saw mention of Sophie…and following that, the thing about monarchists turned politicians (God help us).

“Here’s a quote of Sophie’s

“”As for the opportunism and intellectual dishonesty that has come to characterise a significant number of our politicians, all I can say is ‘what else should we expect?’ These are the same politicians who took months to agree on a preamble that is uninspiring, daggy, serves no purpose at all and yet they expect us to trust them to elect a President!”

“Ironically, in her next paragraph she talks about generalising groups of people.”

Nice one. Weird how all these people who say you can trust politicians want to join the profession. By the way, Hillary thought that Sophie’s pal the Prime Miniature penned the preamble – and she’s calling it “daggy”?

Another reader has been studying the Teeny Taliban:

“Was browsing the website of the ALSF. For that I am truly repentant.

“Anyway, I saw they had an open debate page and decided to mosey on in to see if I could get a look at policies advocating the crucifixion of single mothers or something.

“On the opening page it says ‘OFFENSIVE OR OBSCENE CONTRIBUTIONS WILL BE EDITED OR REMOVED’ right next to a picture of John Howard which I believe qualifies on both counts.”

Boom boom.

Hillary can be contacted at [email protected]