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Australia’s best political commentator, Hillary Bray, has had an incredibly productive week with no less than four new items on Crikey including this one which is her weekly column.

How did a phone-around the Gallery to promote Peter Costello’s appearance at a fundraiser for “Bruce Baby” Baird turn into a coronation service? It seems that more than a few people got over excited.

Cozzie had been cocky during the week. Calling Aston on Wednesday evening – with the PM laid up with laryngitis – was naughty. But despite all that, the idea that he would announce a leadership team was simply unthinkable.

We all know that the Rodent has said he’ll review his position in a couple of years if he is elected again. We also all know that this isn’t really likely.

However, if the Treasurer had anointed Baird, in affect he would have been saying “we are going to lose the next election, Howard will have to go, I intend to be leader and I want Bruce Baby as my deputy”.

The idea that any senior minister would behave that way at this time in the electoral cycle is absolutely ludicrous. Malcolm Farr and every other journalist in the country must know that – but the very fact that it was reported shows just how volatile the situation has become in the wake of the Monk’s recent useful comments.

There’s no such thing as bad publicity

You couldn’t miss the lead story in Saturday’s SMH – “I am a dickhead: Hindenburg”. A unique way to campaign for the deputy leader’s spot indeed.

Yep, the Hindenburg isn’t impressed with Sydney. Funnily enough, Hillary gathers that the top end of town isn’t all that impressed at the moment by Hindy, either.

Four Corners – and a hundred subtexts

Gosh! The lengths Jonathan Shier is prepared to go to to boost the ABC’s flagging ratings. What a clever stunt to pull, holding Four Corners over.

Of course, it’s a real shock horror story. Who would ever believe that the Liberal Party – gasp! – dug dirt on the leader of the Labor party – turn pale and swoon! Unthinkable, isn’t it?

Crikey subscribers were told last week that a John Seyffer will pop up in Four Corners. The ALP have been chasing Seyffer through estimates to see if he was employed at public expense to trawl for the piggery material. Michael Baume left a smoking gun – and a hell of a lot of spent shells behind – by giving him a special mention in his valedictory speech. Seyffer – Baume – Howard is a fairly simple line to draw.

Still, there have been some spectacular displays of hypocrisy on the subject during the week. Old Pigswill Paul Keating himself came up with a doozy: “If you can’t rely on the integrity of the ABC who can you rely on in Australia?”. Funny, Paul. All your previous public statements suggested you really weren’t that much of a fan.

The sandal wearers from the Friends of the ABC (i.e. Enemies of Anyone to the Right of Jim Cairns) had to have their two cents worth, as well. The ABC is already facing a damages bill of over $1 million after the Ron Clarke case. Could the Friends please explain how handing over money in defo cases improves the ABC’s services and independence?

Global Cup – latest results

The latest results in the Global Cup – live (and otherwise) from Genoa:

Freedom and prosperity: 1

Trots and hippies: 0

Spinning around

Bronwyn likes to boogie – and hit the dancefloor at the New South Wales Liberal Party Saturday night.

She put on a great show to Kylie, spinning around and lifting her hands above her head – to reveal a generous amount of midriff.

Bronny’s hair might defy gravity – but shocked witnesses say the rest certainly hasn’t.

We’ll all be rooned

Who remembers the days when right wing mavericks in the National Party used to complain about subsidising alternative lifestyles? Funny. Now they’re all joining Mad Bob Katter and his You Owe Us a Living Party.

Paul Keating was spot on last week when he described Mad Bob and co as “economic numbskulls”. As he said, “They take vulnerable and sometimes gullible people and try and feed them a brand of economic nonsense that’s in the end detrimental to them.”

At the same time, a fascinating report came down from Access Economics which found that bumper crops, the foot-and-mouth crisis in Europe and a weak Australian dollar had combined to boost farm incomes to near-record levels.

According to Access, farm exports had surged by 19 per cent this year and were expected to hit a record $30 billion – and farmers were enjoying other benefits.

“To top this off, farmers have convinced governments – federal and state – that they deserve a fistful of dollars in this, an election year,” Access commented. “Politicians worried about rural electorates have fallen over each other in the race to pacify angry farmers.”

Local Government (Melbourne) 101

Two interesting lessons can be drawn from the Melbourne City Council elections:

Major business lobby groups such as VECCI or the Property Council should not blow a couple of hundred thousand dollars of their members’ money supporting one time Maoists such as Peter McMullin.

Major parties should stay out of local government. The voters don’t want you there.

Pass the Yum Cha and shoot another drug addict. Hillary welcomes the most right wing entrant to politics in Melbourne for some time.

PS Darwin’s had an Asian Lord Mayor, Adelaide has one and now so does Melbourne. One Nation’s vote fell in Aston. Is there a pattern emerging here?

Death wish

As predicted last week, the Queensland Lib exec has refused to re-endorse Bob Tucker as candidate for Ryan – despite the Rodent’s requests and the slightly difficult detail that one of the conditions of allowing John “The Reconciler” Herron to take the party presidency was that Tucker would stay on.

You’d think that a party reduced to having only three state MPs and about to face an almighty struggle to hang onto a swag of Federal marginals might see sense – but we Southerners just don’t understand Queensland.

No, instead we’ll have another preselection, another brawl and inevitable bitterness and recrimination when the right wing hand the preselection to Matt Boland that will give Labor’s Leonie Short a better chance of holding the seat.

Churn rate

An e-mail from yet another Democrat refusnik came in this week claiming “Insiders are estimating that NSD has gone through at least 36 staff since becoming a Senator – quite a remarkable churn rate for any employer.”

This supposedly hasn’t stopped Ah Satan from hanging on to the two extra staff that would have normally gone to the Deputy Leader. Hillary understands that Aden Ridgeway’s office is drowning in paper.

As another dissent Democrat asks: “Surely Sen Ridgeway would have appreciated some extra resources given his slew of additional responsibilities. Have these two staff been assigned to Ah Satan to check Democrat staff hemlines or that shoes are adequately polished? I think we should be told.”

Slight distraction

Some bright souls at 104 Exhibition Street are considering holding the preselections for the 2003 Victorian state election in the second half of the year.

A few difficult party members are questioning the wisdom of sparking off preselection brawls in the run up to the Federal election. The Libs hold nine seats in Victoria with margins of less than five per cent, and the state will be a crucial battleground.

Campaigning for re-election rather than preselection may be a better priority.

Dirty story

The Eros Foundation isn’t your normal lobby group. Not only are the industries it covers of a specialised nature, but very few heads of, um, peak bodies turn up to give evidence to Senate Committee in drag.

Last week the Foundation’s offices were broken into twice. Computers, files and even a 250 kilo safe went.

A draft dossier on the politicians who enjoy the rich and varied services the Eros Foundation’s members provide has also vanished.

Looks like someone wanted something pretty bad.

Great advance work

Alice Springs hadn’t seen anything like it since the last Henley on Todd.

There, at the turning of the sod for the Alice-Darwin rail link were three great leaders – the Rodent, Buffy Olsen and, covered by a Klansman’s sheet, Chief Minister Denis Burke.

All three are due to face the electorate in a matter of months. So who was the bright spark who put them up in front of a huge banner saying “The end of the line”?

Hillary can be contacted at [email protected]

ends

And now let’s take a look at last weeks musing from Hillary on the Aston by-election result.

What triumph?

As of Wednesday evening, just over 90 per cent of the Aston primary vote has been counted.

As Hillary predicted on Sunday, the Libs have pulled ahead. Fart Boy Slim had a different view on the weekend, though, and told the meeja that he didn’t accept claims that postal and pre-poll votes in the Aston by-election would automatically favour the coalition.

His people clearly hadn’t looked at the past postal and pre-poll voting record in Aston. The Opposition Leader wasn’t properly briefed. After the mess of Noodle Nation, you’ve got to ask again – where are Labor’s hard-heads.

It’s even more interesting examining the Democrat result. They are deluded – but the media keeps swallowing the pap they dish up. Hillary was stunned by Monday’s Australian – the article by Matt “Puff-Piece” Price and the editorial cartoon. You’d think that there had been some almighty triumph.

Ah Satan made the amazing remark on Sunday “to experience a swing is truly extraordinary for a party that only four months ago was three per cent in the polls, and now we’re over eight per cent, it’s fantastic”.

Satan might like look at some figures, old and new. Hillary knows that any honest observer would find them fascinating.

First, the Dems were coming off a good result. In the 1998 election, the Dems scored 7.53 per cent of the primary vote in Aston – good, but a swing against them of 1.38 per cent when compared to their 1996 showing.

At the close of counting on Wednesday, they have scored 8.08 per cent of the primaries – a swing of only 0.55 per cent. They haven’t even made up half the ground they lost in 98, long before the GST deal.

The latest figures show a swing against both major parties of 9.25 per cent – but the Dems have won less than 17 per cent of these votes. This is a triumph? By-elections are a time for protest votes – and the Democrats have failed miserably in capturing them.

The Dems spent big in Aston, by their standards. A departed Democrat has told Crikey that they put $20,000 into the campaign. By comparison, they have spent sums in the past of $80,000 to cover all of New South Wales, the state with the most Federal electorates.

Campaigners have told Crikey that at some booths the “Change Politics” signs almost outnumbered the posters for the major parties, there is the matter of the paid booth workers and, in addition, a Democrat campaign truck was doing the rounds.

At the same time, with Aston being a by-election, they were able to pour all their human resources into just the one seat.

And what has the result been? A swing of just 0.55 per cent? Not good at all.

What’s even more worrying for the Dems has been the way their result has evaporated since the initial count. On Saturday night, they had picked up a swing of 0.89 per cent. A party that can’t organise a postal vote strategy – even in a by-election – is not a serious contender.

Readers will also be relieved to know that People Power have picked up a massive 15 votes since Saturday – putting them only 108 ballots behind the second worse performing candidate. Stephen, however, is wisely not yet looking for Canberra digs, and his humble scribes trust fatherhood will further mellow the lad.

Natasha sells out to the Packers

The Australian had a good story on Democrat fund raising today and Hillary would like to point out that she was the one who got this issue rolling a few months ago. If the Dems want to “Keep the bastards honest” then their pin-up girl Natasha stott Despoja has got to put some distance between herself and the Packers.

It turns out that Packer’s PBL shoved $25,000 into the Democrats campaign funds on Tuesday by taking a table of 10 at the $2500 a head dinner that only had 40 guests attending.

So now you have Natasha dating Packer staffer Hugh Riminton, advised by Packer man Frank McGuire, whose brother Eddie was MC at the 1999 Packer wedding (subscribers should check the archive for our account of that little affair), voting in favour of the Packer interests in Parliament on internet gambling and now directly taking their cash and breaking bread with Packer fixers like Graham Richardson.

The Packers are Australia’s most successful government rent-seekers. They love a government concession or licence and use their political muscle to make money. At least Rupert has also mastered the art of doing this offshore. In many regards the Packer’s epitomise everything that is wrong with Australia where crony-capitalism rules. Crikey wants to love Natasha – especially after her great showing in Aston – but this Packer cuddling has ended all possibility of that. And as a feminist how can she get close to a man that Piers Akerman once described as “Australia’s principle pornographer” because of his publications such as People, Picture and Dingo.

ends

Now, let’s check out the column Hillary filed on Sunday:

Curious and curiouser

An intriguing rumour did the rounds early last week that the Hun’s “Peter Wraith for Spring Street” yarn was precipitate – but not necessarily inaccurate. Hmmm.

By-elections 101

Off doing the rounds in Aston, Fart Boy Slim told the media in a perspicacious piece of punditry (perspicacious is an official Knowledge Nation word) that “preferences are going to be an issue”.

When asked if water was wet or if the sun rose in the east, Hillary gathers he replied that Labor would be releasing fuller and more detailed policies closer to the election.

The carnival is over

The inhabitants of Aston have never seen anything like it. Party leaders and Gallery heavies have been crowding the streets for days.

The Rodent’s been scurrying about, Slim’s sampled the local cabbages and Saint Steve staged a photo op at the Wantirna Pool Centre so the teevs could get some file footage of him walking on water.

And now it’s all over. And what do the results say? Here’s Hillary’s exclusive Aston analysis – as of early Sunday afternoon.

Liberal

The Libs are sitting on 49.99 per cent, compared to Labor’s 51.01. Fourteen votes separate the candidates. That’s virtually certain to change when the initial count is checked.

There has been a swing of 4.25 per cent against the Government. The obvious spin – win or lose – is to say how the dramatic swing we saw in Ryan has been halted. The croaky Rodent seemed to be unnecessarily negative in his comments this morning. Perhaps the internal polling forecast a better result.

Still, there are still more than 10,000 postal votes out there to be counted. Back in 98, Aston also had a large number of postal and absentee ballots – some 7,000. In two party preferred terms, these favoured the Libs by 59 per cent. Factor in the swing and a majority of these still goes to the Government.

Aston will come right down to the wire – but Hillary will be brave and tip a win to the Libs.

Labor

Hello Kieran, it’s time to get up. Time to shower, Kieran. Wear a nice suit, Kieran. Look at the lovely hearty breakfast Mummy’s made you, Kieran. Now Kieran, time to hit the campaign trail. Have you got a hanky? No Kieran, you can’t take teddy with you?

An uninspiring result from a thoroughly uninspiring candidate who couldn’t cross the road without help from his minders. To be fair, no-one knew poor old Peter Nugent would die when Kieran Boland was preselected, but he has scarcely shone – as the primary swing against the ALP showed.

Despite the formal lack of preference flows from people like the Greens, Labor was always going to be the natural beneficiary of preferences from protest votes at a by-election that won’t change the government.

Labor’s showing demonstrates the doubts people have about Fart Boy Slim and his lack of policies. Knowledge Nation clearly hasn’t struck a chord at all. If Labor wins, it will be by default.

Australian Democrats

How much longer will the Australian media allow Ah Satan to get away with spouting shit?

The Age reports this morning “one emerging winner was new Democrats leader Senator Natasha Stott Despoja, who had been seeking vindication of her takeover of the party leadership from Meg Lees. Despite the large field of candidates, her party had won nearly 8.41 per cent of the primary vote. In the 1998 general election the Democrats won 7.5 per cent of the vote.”

Last night, AAP reported Satan as saying Aston voters had been generous and warm hearted, that they were looking for an alternative to the major parties, and had reacted very positively to the Democrats’ change of leader: “We were the only party that ran on a positive message? They wanted to change politics. They want new leaders and they want fresh ideas and they want new ideas and vision.”

Shall we look at the facts? There was a primary swing of 10 per cent against the two main parties – and how much of this did the Dems pick up? Zero point eight nine – not even one per cent.

In the perfect environment for a protest vote against the two major parties, that’s all the Dems could win. Time for a reality check, darling.

One Nation

Er? where’s that 10 per cent you promised us? One Nation copped a swing of 1.11 per cent against them and scored a measly 1.79 per cent of the total vote.

No doubt Pauline will pop up sometime today to say that all the One Nation voters were kidnapped by UFOs controlled by the Illuminati of the New World Order or something like that. Hillary has another explanation for their poor result. There may have been a lot of informal votes for One Nation as their supporters found it hard to put numbers from one to 15 in the boxes. They tend to get confused around the seven to eight mark.

The Greens

Just because you make a lot of noise, it doesn’t mean that you should be taken seriously.

No GST

Less than 500 votes? Peter Costello’s smirk can be excused today.

Don’t give up the day job

Crikey readers – do you want to see this publication continue? Then for Christ’s sake e-mail our demented editor on [email protected] and tell him to drop his bloody stupid People Power fantasies.

People Power came last – resoundingly. They scored a pathetic 114 votes – less that 0.2 of the total vote. The Lyndon LaRouche fantasists of the Citizens Electoral Councils – who push the theory that the House of Windsor are part of an international drug cartel, amongst other things – scored almost three times their vote. The bong-on boy from HEMP scored six times higher.

Stephen – think of Paula and your poor wee bairn and don’t give up the day job.

(Ouch!! You bitch – Ed.)

Final wrap

The Government is on the nose – but Fart Boy Slim is a long way from being a convincing alternative. The Coalition holds a hell of a lot of seats with margins smaller than the one they enjoyed in Aston and will probably lose the next election, but will not suffer the overwhelming defeat some pundits have been tipping.

Victoria is a crucial state for Labor. We are told that they enjoy some of their strongest polling there. On last night’s results, they might like to take another count.

No such thing as bad publicity

After his helpful contributions in the media on the Liberal leadership and the causes of poverty, the Mad Monk’s profile seemed to drop in the days before the by-election.

By a strange coincidence, Hillary was reading Alice in Wonderland during the week. During the trial of the Knave of Hearts, a guinea-pig in the court cheers and is “suppressed by the officers of the court”. Carroll writes “As that is rather a hard word, I will just explain to you how it was done. They had a large canvas bag, which tied up at the mouth with strings: into this they slipped the guinea-pig head first, and then sat upon it”.

Did something similar happen to the Monk?

DLP, RIP

Does Aston mark the death of the DLP? Victoria used to be their stronghold. They ran in Holt in 1999 when Garrulous Gareth resigned, and fielded a candidate at the Isaacs by-election last year.

They’ve haven’t been able to make a showing for Aston. Have we now heard the last of Santa’s helpers?

Trouble at t’mill

Fart Boy Slim’s life is not being made any easier by the bruvvers of the trade union movement.

When his comrades manage to make the Monk look reasonable, you know he’s got problems.

And here’s one I made earlier

With all the fuss over Aston, we shouldn’t forget the electorate where the last by-election was called, Ryan.

The Queensland Libs seem determined to repeat all the factional brawling that was so damaging them in the seat even before John Moore resigned.

It’s been generally thought unsuccessful by-election candidate Bob Tucker will run again, but one time Whinging Pomp Michael Johnson has fixed his citizenship problems and is now a dinky-di, true blue, dinkum Aussie – mate – and determined to have another go.

At the same time the Carroll faction think they will be able to screw Tucker and Johnson and hand Matt Boland the pre-selection by calling an emergency preselection council made up of state executive and branch chairmen and secretaries. They’re sure this approach will give them the numbers.

No doubt the voters will be much impressed.

PS Old habits die hard. An investigation The Queensland Independent newspaper has found that people are being signed up to the Liberal Party “without authorisation or consent”. Everyone is much surprised by this – but no dogs have made it onto the books at the time of going to press.

Impossible princess

Last week, Crikey subscribers were sent this AAP report of Ah Satan’s appearance on Meet this Press:

“Senator Stott Despoja defended herself against rumours she missed a key party meeting the morning after the Press Gallery ball in Canberra, saying journalists singled her out for criticism.

” ‘That’s a malicious leak and I’m surprised you would repeat it on national television,’ she told Network Ten.

” ‘It may be cute to get a plug in for the midwinter ball, but … I’ve heard none of you journalists talk about (that) in relation to just about any other leader of a political party or member or senator.’ ”

Talk round the Gallery says that immediately after the show, Satan’s Chief of Staff was on the phone to the producer, saying they would be seeking legal advice.

It begs the question – is Satan up to the job of leading a party? The only other figure in Australian politics who plays the victim so much is Pauline Hanson.

The question was thoroughly legitimate. Satan called a party meeting for 8:15 am the morning after the Midwinter Ball and reportedly didn’t show.

If any other party leader – the Rodent, Fart Boy or the Cowardly Lion – did that, it would be leaked and media would want to know why. They would want to know if that leader was sick, if they were caught up by some crisis or what.

Satan may say that journalists single her out for criticism, but the reason none of them have been talking about the episode “in relation to just about any other leader of a political party or member or senator” is that, as far as anybody knows, no other leader of a political party or member or senator failed to show to a meeting they had called that morning.

Satan’s old pal John Schumann had a fascinating feature in Friday’s Age. It was compulsive reading for anyone with an interest in Australian politics – particularly between the lines. Here are a couple of pars:

“A senior press gallery journalist observed recently that he feared Australia was entering a political cycle characterised by glamour and public profile. His remarks followed the re-emergence of Ms Hanson, the media’s preoccupation with her dress and, to a lesser extent, the election of Senator Stott Despoja. It is unfair to cast Senator Stott Despoja’s elevation to the leadership in this way, because she is an intelligent and accomplished legislator.

“However, this tendency on the part of some might well be a legacy of her many appearances on TV panel shows and in glossy magazines.

“It has also been observed that recent Democrat media exposure has been more about ‘puff pieces’ than policy positioning, and this is of concern. Certainly the Democrat response to the 2001 federal budget was not of the standard of previous years. The challenge for the party is to get into the pre-election policy debates in the media.”

How very polite of you, Mr Schumann. As Hillary has observed in the past, Satan has eschewed media like the Sunday program for the likes of Good News Week and the Panel. She has justified this by saying that they are non-traditional shows that allow her to communicate to young people. True – and they are also shows that subject her to no real scrutiny whatsoever.

Now that she is Democrat leader, Satan can’t just stay in the yoof ghetto. She will have to front up before Laurie Oakes on a regular basis – and one can only imagine that she will be given very short shrift if she tries to play the victim line in response to thoroughly legitimate questions.

On Friday night, Satan told the annual Queensland Pride Festival that she had received hate mail for her support of gays and lesbians. Oh, gosh! Does she think she’s the only MP to get hate mail and all sorts of weird threats? Remember how John Hewson was treated for supplying a foreword to the Mardi Gras guide? Grow up.

PS One of our readers has taken exception with Crikey’s general reporting of Satan and written to Yoursay: “You had previously described Natasha as ‘conspicuously’ dating Sam Newman, but gave no evidence to back this claim. As you said yourselves, Sam Newman has a habit of going into action ‘even when there is no reciprocating interest’. You have just put forward an alternative explanation for the rumours. Maybe Natasha never dated Sam, but was rather the recipient of unwanted advances.”

Unfortunately, there are a few hundred thousand witnesses – the “date” was arranged on The Footy Show and reported extensively in the Melbourne and Adelaide papers.

Vote of confidence

Rumours out of Adelaide point to a new push to replace Buffy Olsen as Liberal leader. Not again, you?

Well, this time the supposed ringleaders are a rather interesting bunch – Hugh Martin, the candidate for the state’s most marginal seat, Morphett, state Liberal Party immediate past president Corey Bernardi and a Steve Ronson, a staffer to one of Buffy’s cabinet colleagues.

Berlin, now Beijing

Australians have learnt that the International Olympic Committee is a bunch of bent freeloaders who are much more concerned with the quality of a country’s room service than its human rights, so it was no surprise when Beijing got the nod to stage the 2008 propaganda coup?. er, Olympics.

Of course, we all know how China will treat a local Dan McNutt, don’t we.

PS Full marks to ABC News for toeing the party line and referring to “alleged” human rights abuses against Falun Gong several times during the week. Keep up the good work, guys. Have you thought about using Frederick Tobin from the Adelaide Institute as a commentator on the Holocaust?

Acid flashback

So the veteran anti-American, sorry, anti-nuclear campaigner, Helen Caldicott, is going to have another go at getting into Federal Parliament.

Dr Caldicott is well known for her commitment to our nation. That’s why her web site lists her address as P.O. Box 656, East Hampton, New York, 11937.

Hillary can be contacted at [email protected]

Peter Fray

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Editor-In-Chief of Crikey

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