Everyone gets a spray in this Hillary column which is one of her biggest and best yet.

Parliament resumed with a new spring in the stride of Government backbenchers. Poor deluded fools. Some were pushing that an election be held as soon as possible. The Prime Miniature, though, appears to be more circumspect. He seems to know that he still has problems.

Alterative media

One of the most read articles in Canberra this week wasn’t from the Fin, the Oz or the Bulletin. It was an item in the satirical fortnightly The Chaser, purporting to be an interview with the Treasurer on the Shaun Carney unauthorised bio.

It has very naughty words in it, so Hillary can’t post it here, but you can find it here.

New friends

The new Member for Aston, Chris Pearce, was sworn in – and the factions immediately began to woo him.

On Tuesday, the right took him out to lunch, while the moderates looked after him at a dinner on Wednesday night.

All those new friends!

Across the brief

The Monk’s mastery of the machinations of his portfolio was widely questioned when he called a press conference unaware that the Tristar dispute had been solved.

When journos said they weren’t interested in his chosen topic and started to ask questions on Tristar, the Monk then asked if he could go off the record. They then had to point out to him that that might be a little difficult in an open presser he’d called.

Worth his weight in gold

The PM backed Sharon Stone for the job of Liberal Party president – and look what a great asset he has turned out to be.

First the memo, and now this week he pulled off the brilliant coup of convincing his old CLP colleagues in the Territory to put One Nation last on their how to votes. Not.

PS There’s some other interesting talk doing the rounds on Sharon. Reports say that him and Hitman Heffernan are hatching a plot to dump Wentworth candidate Peter King and replace him with Malcolm Turnbull. That’s an odd cross-faction deal, but King hasn’t made much of a mark. Other rumours say that Sharon has been offering words of comfort to Bob Tucker, much to the chagrin of the Queensland state executive.

News from the war zone

The Queensland Liberal exec met on Friday to discuss the Ryan preselection further in the wake of Bob Tucker’s court action.

They have decided to accept an offer by the Federal secretariat to supply the manpower needed to vet the Ryan members to see if they actually exists, were signed up willingly, paid the right, don’t live in a post-box in Kowloon or whatever.

Is the groundwork being laid for an almighty backflip? The PM has indicated that he thought Tucker should have kept the candidacy, and his office and the fed sec have hinted that they do not see Michael Johnson as an acceptable candidate. Sorta narrows the options.

PS Hillary is surprised that one little matter that came up for debate in the Liberal Party Room meeting on Tuesday received so little attention.

The PM came under attack from Queensland backbenchers George Brandis and Brett Mason over a bill directing that public funding for elections goes to the Liberal Federal secretariat, rather than the State divisions, and accused him of centralising the Liberal Party.

Brandis and Mason, of course, represent a division that is reported to be some $400,000 in debt, can only get three state MPs elected and was tearing itself apart over stacking in Ryan long before John Moore’s resignation, has created a running sore in the seat over cack handed power plays and has to detail with all the diversions in the seat of Moncrieff. Who would you trust with the cash?

Hillary hears that the PM had words for his handpicked Queensland party president, John “The Great Reconciler” Herron, after the meeting.

PPS It appears that the move to overturn the centralised funding came from Victorian Liberal president Ian Carson. This is a little strange, as the move to originally implement the centralised funding came from Victorian Liberal president Ian Carson.

Ross, we hardly knew ye

The announcement by former Western Australian National Party leader Hendy Cowan that he will run for the Senate at the forthcoming poll has changed the dynamics of the competition.

The contest is now being seen as a run-off between Cowan and One Nation. Hillary’s old friend and corporal punishment enthusiast (see media release Lightfoot paints new picture for spray can vandals, 2/12/98) Ross Lightfoot has vanished from the equation.

Compare and contrast

Lightfoot suggested on AM back in July 1998 that the Coalition should form government with One Nation. Well, the panic-stricken WA Libs have been forced by their far right faction masters to crawl to One Nation – and it looks as if Ross and his party will be the losers.

Hendy Cowan’s attitude is a little different. He told the delegates at Saturday’s WA National Party conference that he wanted to provide representation for Western Australia in the face of equivocation about One Nation from conservative parties.

The grab was a doozy: “How can the Liberal Party say it wants to take this state and this country forward and then engage in dialogue with a party that only wants to take us backwards?”

Helping hand

There have been several reported sightings of Bob Ellis staggering the streets of Adelaide this week. Sources say the great litterateur is “helping” local Labor leader Mike Rann. However, there are no reports that Rann’s alcohol consumption has dramatically increased, that he is fathering illegitimate children or droning on about how wonderful it was to be an Arts student at Sydney Uni in the 1960s.

PS Labor is ready to take the reins in South Australia. “Media” Mike had an enthusiastic party state council meeting during the week. The start had to be delayed for half an hour or so before the comrades could find enough bodies to make a quorum. Mike then spoke only very briefly, warning the bruvvers to expect an election in the next two weeks. Surely not even Buffy and his advisers are thick enough to go to polls before the Rodent?

PPS Er? they might just be. Would be South Australian Liberal leader Ian Evans, unlike many of his colleagues, has the nous to know that you have to be Parliament to get the top job. He is now maniacally doorknocking his electorate of Blackwood, where he faces a heavy Democrat campaign. However, he has put his ministerial work to one side – and that isn’t impressing colleagues waiting for responses to letters, comments on submissions or whatever.

PPPS The smart money is on a South Australian election in October.

Independents move south

Staying in South Australia, it looks as if the country areas of the state are shaping up as the next target of independent wannabe MPs. There’s talk of an independent challenge against Speaker Neil Andrew in his seat of Wakefield, but the really interesting action seems to be in Barker, in the State’s south-east.

Barker was held until 98 by Ian McLachlan, but towards the end of his tenure he was faced with threats of a challenge from revolting pork producers. Funnily enough, their industry hasn’t collapsed – but they made a lot of noise.

The new MP is Patrick Secker who, unlike the previous two incumbents, isn’t a pillar of the Adelaide establishment and has taken the radical step of actually opening an electorate office.

However, Pat has been a little more broad church than his exterior and rhetoric would suggest – to the astonishment of the locals – and two of the state electorates in Barker, formally Liberal strongholds, are now occupied by active, popular and high profile independents.

Add Barker to the list of seats to watch.

Laughing behind teacher’s back

If an independent doesn’t get Neil Andrew, then a few of his own mob might be tempted to have a go.

As Hillary has reported before, Andrew has lost all authority as Speaker of the House of Representatives. Government backbenchers find his little sermons on the subject of Parliamentary standards hilarious, and believe he has been cowed into submission by the Opposition.

Several Government members will tell you that Andrew lets leader of opposition business, Bob McMullan, get away with launching the most spurious points of order.

At the same time, they also are beginning to wonder if the leader of government business, ole Wreathie, has his heart in it. After seeing his performance last week when McMullan started ranting, quite a few thought he was already off on the yacht.

Making sense of the Census

Did you enjoy filling in the census form Tuesday night? What, you wanted to watch the final episode of Water Rats instead?

C’mon on. Be fair. If you think it was dull for you, what must it be like for the poor public service grunts who have to key it all in to the Bureau of Statistics computers.

That’s why Hillary decided to make it a little interesting. Hillary’s place now has 17 bedrooms and is shared with 48 Swedenborgian arms dealers from Uzbekistan who speak Khmer at home and travelled to work yesterday on pogo sticks. That’ll surprise ’em.

And what will the Government do with all this data? Sod knows – but this is what Hillary and co will use it for. Australia is divided up into Census Collection Districts of around 250 or so households. Party hacks can get the data from the census for all these individual CCDs – age, education, income, profession etcetera – check with their in house systems to see if you’ve been in touch with your Member and on what issues and then tailor their campaign material accordingly.

So, next time you get an oleaginous piece of direct mail from your local MP or some Senator you’ve never heard of that sorta kinda touches on the local demographic but doesn’t quite hit the mark, you’ll know that the three hours you spent wrestling with the damn form were worth it.

Quality media

That didn’t take long. Talk goes out that Jonathon Shier is thinking about giving the 7:30 Report back to the people of Australia rather than running it our of Canberra and Sydney and the sandal-wearing brigades come out and say it’s all just a plot to get Kerry O’Brien.

It’s quite surprising to see that these sort of people think Seven’s Today Tonight does such a great job of covering local capital city news that it shouldn’t have a rival.

MPs’ expenses shock horror

Do you know that your local MP – shock horror – illuminates his or her office with electric light! Do you know they have hot water? Do you know that they may use Mr Bell’s telephonic apparatus to contact constituents, various bodies on behalf of their constituents or their electorate office when they are in Canberra.

Yes, this is the sort of outrageous perk the Auditor General uncovered last week.

After all, the average Australian has to go down to the beach each spring and slaughter a whale and use its blubber in their lamps to light their homes for the year, don’t they? What a scandal that MPs’ have electricity.

It’s OK for fly-in, fly-out miners to get a plane to reach their workplaces. Should our Federal MPs be forced to take a bus to Canberra? Is flying to work a perk?

In other words, most of what you’ve read over the last week on MPs’ expenses has been a leetle exaggerated. Our so called top political commentators have been happy to include the costs of basics such as utility bills in costing “MP’s perks”.

An MP spent $16,880 on flags for constituents. MPs are able to give Australian flags to their local community groups. Imagine the talkback response if he or she had told them they were a burden on the taxpayer and could buy their own bleeding flags.

MPs spend too much on postage and stationery. And what would people say if they never got a newsletter or whatever from their local representative? What would the response be if you told the local pensioners association who wants to run off their newsletter on the office photocopier to eff off?

Here’s a fact that has been buried in all this confected outrage. The report also found only very minor incidents of politicians abusing their entitlements – mainly due to error – and widely varying spending by politicians, with many not even using the various entitlements available to them. Yes, that’s right. Many MP’s didn’t use all that they were granted.

That said, there are some ludicrous perks that should be scrapped immediately. Do you know that MPs are entitled to free public transport? Have you ever seen an MP on a tram? That can go.

The Gold Pass scheme that gives free travel to MPs who serve 20 years and their spouses is an outrageous rort. That can go too. Restrict it to former Prime Ministers.

Electoral allowances – a key part of MP’s remuneration – get spent in interesting ways. School fees is a favourite. Put some restrictions on their use.

There is also an enormous misuse of office facilities and supplies for internal party and union purposes.

So what do you do about it? Most pols work hard. Those who don’t get nowhere. They attend mind-numbingly dull and insignificant functions and deal with demanding and unreasonable people. They spend about 20 weeks a year in a cold, boring town called Canberra locked up in a big building away from the rest of the world for around 14 hours a day. They are constantly under pressure, under scrutiny – and being undermined. Read the Alan Clark diaries. You’ll learn a lot and have a laugh. If politics is a gravy train, then the gravy’s usually cold, thin and lumpy.

The solution is easy Cut the obviously wasteful ones, don’t drown MPs and their staff in paperwork accounting for how money is spent as that will only detract from the service they give constituents but instead face facts and accept that Mal Colstons are few and far between.

True, we need greater transparency. And the best way to tackle the whole issue is to release the details of what MPs spend every quarter. If it’s excessive, we’ll notice it – and they can try and justify it.

One big happy family

Ah Satan has continued her sterling efforts to reunite the Democrats. Not content with attempting to blackmail the Howard Government at the Press Club on tax cuts, she has now been browbeating the Dems newest Senator, John Cherry.

Apparently convinced that Cherry’s thinking may not be in lockstep with hers, Satan has taken to long strolls down the Senate corridors with the virgin Senator, attempting to convince him of the wisdom of her point of view.

Parliament House may be as big as 16 Melbourne Cricket Grounds, but the question remains – are there enough corridors for Senator Cherry to change his spots? The public deserves to be told.

At the same time, the Hillary also hears that Western Australian Dem Senator Brian Greig has threatened to walk unless they support his campaign to tack on same sex couples provisions on everything he can, regardless of relevance – leading to legislation being voted down needlessly.

Save all you kisses for – which one?

Foreign Minister Lex Loser is a phantom kiss-blower, according to New South Wales Fed Julia Irwin.

However, the fragrant Ms Irwin has told the speaker that “I and the member for Franklin (Tasmanian Christian Harry Quick) found it very offensive and I’d like to know, is it unparliamentary?”

So who really is the object of Lex’s attentions? Lex was a huge Big Brother fan, and he’s got together with Crikey to hold the Pick the Parliamentary Poontang competition. You can vote over which lucky legislator – Julia Irwin or Harry Quick – should have a dream date with Lex.


“You spot the spunk”

To vote, all you need to do is e-mail Lex on [email protected] or phone or fax his office on 02 6277 7500 or 02 6273 4112, and he’ll be keen to know your choice.

Insider out of luck

Political insider – inside as in “On the inside the flowers grow/and the rain still falls” – Chris Nichols is in touch. Does Crikey want the story of the role he played in organising a covert investigation into Lex Loser’s time as a diplomat in Brussels with shadowy European figures on behalf of the Liberal Party’s right wing during Lex’s distinguished leadership?

Thanks, Chris, but we’ll just take your word for it and let the matter rest there.

Hillary’s mailbag

Who says Hillary is always negative? Crikey got an e-mail last week from a shrub-hugger saying we should give Environment Minister “One Tree” Hill a pat on the back:

“Although I’m left-leaning, I reckon Senator Hill is a brave and honest man for standing up for some of the issues we deal with – particularly trying to stop land clearing in Queensland which threatens so many species as well as creates tonnes of greenhouse gases. The Federal Government is split on these issues, with John Anderson coming out against Senator Hill for listing some plant species in Qld as threatened under Commonwealth legislation so that farmers will stop clearing them. It’s shameful that Hill’s cabinet colleagues are so narrow-minded and short-sighted in terms of thinking ahead to what our environment will look like for future generations. I don’t know that a Labor government would give us a better proponent for the environment than Hill.”

Hillary and the boss fella thoroughly agree.

Why do they stereotype Satan?

Satanic versus keep flooding in, too. It’s gratifying to know that this isn’t just an obsession of Hillary’s. Here’s something from a friend of a disaffected Democrat:

“Dear Crikey,

“Below is a message from a friend about NSD’s interview with B magazine. Amazingly my friend doesn’t like to e-mail directly from her work e-mail. I am not so reluctant knowing from experience that if you guys do anything with e-mails that are sent to you, you are careful to make sure the senders remain anonymous. I am sure you will do so here.

“Dear Crikey

“Check out this quote: Q ‘Have you ever been stereotyped?’

“A ‘The stereotyping for me is young and therefore inexperienced, glamorous and therefore stupid, more style than substance – a stereotype I’m pretty over.’

“Who’s speaking? Ah Satan. And where were these comments made? In the AFR? BRW? A political journal of some substance? Not likely. This quote is taken from B Magazine, September issue, and was next to a, dare I say, glamorous photo. As far as I can tell, the important issues were that Ah Satan was wearing a Saba suit, Brave top and Erana belt. The photographer was Steven Chee, her hair was coiffed by David Keogh and her make up applied by Carolynn Travaglia. Perpetuating a stereotype? Not.

“Natasha. It’s offensive on so many levels but that would cause me to continue this email for some pages so I will stop and try to forget the whole sorry episode.

“Regards

“P.S. I have asked a friend who is a subscriber to send this email to you as I don’t particularly want to send using my work email, discretion being the better part of valour and all that.”

Funnily enough, the same issue of B contains a sex survey. Here’s how AAP reported some of that: “Nearly half of those surveyed said? they also liked having sex in unusual places, including? on top of Parliament House.” Wonder who they were talking to.

Here’s more from another Dem supporter:

“I have two stories for your politics section, one several years old, the other more recent. Both deal with Democrat leader, Natasha Stott Despoja and are indicative of the type of thin skin she has clearly inherited from her predecessor, Cheryl Kernot. I write this with some degree of credibility, I think. I want to remain anonymous for the purpose of your site but I was a member of the Dems for seven years and was on the State Executive.

“The first amusing story about Nat comes from 1996 – from memory she had recently been appointed to the senate.A couple of Dems were talking about Natasha in front of Matthew Baird (now the Dem. National Campaign Director). The other young Dem made the harmless observation that having met Natasha, she couldn’t help but have the impression that Natasha was nothing more than a ‘facade of political correctness’ and a ‘bit desperate to please. It all sounded like it had been rehearsed’.

“Within a week this girl received (no doubt via a tip-off from Matthew Baird) a typed two page personal letter from Natasha, with Natasha justifying her views, political correctness, the manipulation of her words by the media(?) etc. It’s an old story but it shows, to me, someone who cannot take any form of criticism or dissent and it has continued to manifest itself, which leads to my second story.

“Six of the nine current Dem senators opposed Natasha’s bid for the leadership – Woodley, Bourne, Alison and Murray (all of whom are up for election this year) Ridgeway and obviously Lees. My own internal source said that on more than one occasion during the ballot process Natasha commented that she could not believe the other senators were not supporting her and in fact refused to co-operate with those senators offices during the ballot on other party and legislative issues.

“When Natasha won, she pushed John Davey, the National Executive Rep from the ACT to move a motion at the National Executive to re-open the pre-selections or the senators who opposed her and to attempt to install her own cronies into heir roles – including one Matthew Baird. The National Executive opposed the move and it died.”

And, finally, we got this response when the B interview was circulated to subscribers:

“Loved the Ah Satan quote. It reminded me of a radio interview I heard of her on Canberra’s ABC 666 a few weeks ago when I was in the midst of moving house. Would hope there’s a transcript somewhere, because it featured a spirited defence by Short Despot (one of my fave names for her) of the fact that she’s more than just a pollie in search of a photo-op – ‘That’s not just me… I have a lot of interests, I read books, go to the movies… I own a cat’.”

Hillary Bray can be contacted at [email protected]

Peter Fray

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