This weeks installment from Australias best connected poltical insider.

On Monday, this column referred to an e-mail sent to Crikey under the name of Gladys Berijiklian.

Although Ms Berijiklian has not contacted Crikey, we now have reason to believe that the message came from another party purporting to be Ms Berijiklian.

Obviously, given these circumstances, the item has been removed and we apologise unreservedly to Ms Berijiklian.

Spoilt for choice

The Mad Monk likes to tell us that Fart Boy Slim is the worst opposition leader since Calwell. It’s a good line – but he omits to add that the Rodent is the worst prime minister since Billy McMahon. Worse, maybe. At least we got some laughs out of Sonia. Hyacinth ain’t exactly glam.

Crikey readers look at the Sydney Morning Herald, so they would have seen the wonderful dissection of Fart Boy’s meandering musings by Michelle Au Gratin and the Lounge Bar Bore of the Gallery. It’s not a good sign when your staff have to doctor your transcripts.

They would have also heard the Prime Miniature offer his non-specific outlines for a third term agenda at the I Can’t Believe It’s Not A Press Club Lunch. At some time in the future we may enjoy some kind of tax cut.

The Government has been attacking Labor for being short on detail. The tactic seemed to work in Aston.

Why, then, did the PM completely nullify this approach by floating a whole range of policies without detail or a timeframe for their implementation?

It seems that the Little Fella has run into some very big problems with his own Charter of Budget Honesty. If the Government – or Labor – provides the nuts and bolts of policy, then Finance and Treasury will cost their promises and assess their budget impact.

It would be incredibly embarrassing for a Government to outline a tax break now – only to be told by its own public servants in the middle of a campaign that whole thing was unaffordable.

Campaigning Journalism

Are we seeing a change in the wind at News Limited? The Telegraph has been vitriolic about the PM since Rupe lost out to Big Kerry over datacasting – until lately.

There have been a series of front page stories over tax thresholds and bracket creep over the past fortnight – exactly the issues that the PM touched on in Wednesday’s speech. The acknowledged it the next day.

Is this just a post-Col phenomena – or does it represent something else at News Limited?

Second Thoughts

Rupe’s local flagship paper, The Australian, was also in the news this week when Fart Boy called it a Liberal rag.

True, it’s hard to imagine Dennis Shanahan getting many exclusives from a Labor government, but nothing like letting your paranoia.

Last week’s Newspoll put the government ahead on primaries and gave the Rodent a seven point lead as preferred PM. Queensland pollster John Black has said that between Ryan and Aston Labor has lost a swathe of middle Australia – people in two income families on around $100,000 with two cars.

Still, Labor only needs five seats. The Government has 10 – count ’em, 10 – marginals it holds by less than one per cent. Half of these are in Queensland – a political Bermuda Triangle where the Coalition vote has vanished without trace.

National Party heartland is threatened by Mad Bob and the You Owe Us A Living movement and various dairy farmers who think they are somehow exempt from the sections of the Constitution that deal with free trade between the states.

If – if – the Dems are picking votes from thousands dazzled by the appearances on Satan on Rove, their preferences will favour Labor.

Slim should quit the whinging and do something radical to lock in the votes – like offering some vague definition of what Rollback really means.

Courtroom Dramas

The Queensland legal profession must be grateful to the Liberal Party at the moment.

At the start of the week retiring Moncrieff MP Kathy “The Invisible Woman” Sullivan was in the Supreme Court, suing Stephen Ciobo, nominated by the party to be her successor.

Then came the main game – where Bob Tucker, the Liberal candidate in the Ryan by-election, took an application against everybody who’s anybody in the Queensland Party to stop a new preselection.

At the time of the half hearted federal intervention in the division it was made perfectly clear that various parties would accept John Herron being given the presidency is Tucker was kept on. John Howard made it clear he wanted Tucker as the candidate. The Libs blew half a mil on the Ryan campaign, so keeping Tucker also gave them the chance to claw some of this back.

That hasn’t stopped the Queensland Liberal exec. When they decided to hold a new preselection they kicked sand in the poor PM’s face and showed how Lynton Crosby’s intervention has failed dismally. They also created the virtual foregone conclusion that right winger Matt Boland would get the seat by locking out rank and file voters.

Tucker successfully got the preselection, scheduled for Sunday, delayed, but didn’t get it opened to all the 1,200 or so Ryan party members – but it’s still early days. Tucker isn’t exactly short of a bob. Expect further applications this week.

A scurrilous rumour swept the nation that Senator George Washington Brandis was acting as junior council for the Liberal Party. A horrified Brizzie barrister wrote to Hillary saying it would be “a serious ethical breach to appear in something in which you have a conflict of interest”.

In fact, Hillary gathers that Washington acted more as an articled clerk and helped carry the files.

Missed The Boat

Peter Costello may not have blessed him – but Bruce Baird got a very soft run in The Age last week as a future Liberal deputy.

A couple of obvious rivals were also trotted out – the Monk and the Hindenburg – along with Michael Wooldridge. There was possibly only one thing worse than poor old John Hewson’s performance as leader after the debacle of the 1993 election – Woolly’s performance as deputy.

Someone who didn’t get a name check was Lex Looser. Lex insists that all this deputy stuff is the work of a few bored backbenchers. Which is why the Adelaide Advertiser ran a “Downer’s second coming” headline back earlier this year?

Bent Blue Line

What a great week for the boys and girls in blue. A few members of the Victorian drug squad think the best way to control naughty substances is to sell the stuff themselves. But that’s nothing compared to the successes of their friends across the Murray in New South Wales.

The Rum Corps had a real treat. Blue Murder was finally broadcast – letting them relive some of their high points from the eighties.

Then there was all the drama of Cabramatta. Commissioner Peter Ryan is one of Australia’s most politicised public servants – not a good state for a police chief – and felt the tug of the leash. The footage of Police Minister Paul “Benny Hill” Whelan interrupting then shutting him up in a press conference was priceless.

Hillary’s never been a Benny Hill fan, but knows that the TV shows used to give you plenty of tit jokes and comic chase scenes. New South Wales’ Benny Hill looked like a right tit – and with his runs out west provided plenty of laughs.

What isn’t funny is the way the New South Wales Government and Ryan have failed to clean up either the police or drug crime. Police reform is stalled. The political attacks on Cabramatta police whistleblower Tim Priest by “local” MP, former lower North Shore and sometime Coogee resident Reba Meagher, and the apology – on Richo’s show, of all places – show just why police work shouldn’t become politicised. Ugly.

Answers, Please

The question still remains – and came up again in the Courier Mail last week. Greg Malouf and some of his colleagues claim that John Seyffer “relayed a message… that the PM’s office wanted the controversial inquiry ‘shut down’.”

Strangely enough, no-one seems to have asked the committee chair, Senator Grant Chapman, anything. He could surely clear this all up in a flash. Why doesn’t some enterprising journo give him a ring. His office number is 08 8231 9611 and if you ask nicely Hillary can pass on the mobile.

Brawl Of The Ball

Hillary was delighted to hear that the Victorian Young Liberals were giving away two free Crikey subscriptions to their members at their ball last week.

The night started out with a $10 per head pre-dinner drinks organised by Young Lib and staffer Conrad Xanthos to get his troops in the mood for love. At the YL Ball Michael Josem and Adam Woolcock got into a heated argument after being accused of leaking – shock, horror – to Crikey. Boardman got caught up in the fracas, and from there it was on for young and old.

Since then, the matter has been discussed in The Age, the Hun and on 3AW – but some Victorian Libs are putting a broader spin on matters.

They claim that wannabe David Davis has let the attack on Boardman occur to send a powerful message to other members who have been fair-weather supporters of the David Davis/Joy Howley/Louise Staley faction. They say the media coverage has been a warning to the Class of 96 – which includes Boardman, Louise Asher, Helen Shardey, Lorraine Elliott and Carlo Furletti – to back the faction 100 per cent or get out of the way.

Groundwork

Rumours seep out of South Australia alleging that the Liberal candidate for the most marginal state seat, Mitchell, realises he has no hope of winning in the current climate, but is using the candidacy as a dry run for a campaign against the MHR for the area, the little-known Andrew Southcott.

Martin and Southcott both come from the same right faction – and the stories claim that the heavies don’t find the idea of dumping Southcott – who beat Senate Leader Robert Hill for the seat – too hard at all.

Hillary Bray can be contacted at [email protected]

Peter Fray

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