Australia’s most prolific political commentator has another column choc-full of great gossip ranging from more trouble in the Democrats to the possibility of GST scam-inspired pre-election shuffle that will leave the Queensland cupboard bare.

A scent of spring is in the air as Hillary frolics by the shores of Lake Burley Griffin, but the heart of the Howard Government is clenched by the cold, dark hand of winter – and will not escape its icy grasp.

When Ian Macfarlane started copping it in Question Time on Thursday, the accident prone Employment Services Minister Mal Brough and Parliamentary Secretary “Slippery Pete” Slipper turned pale – and it had nothing to do with the curry the new Indian chef dished up for lunch in the Members Dining Room.

All three Queenslanders are in deep do-do, as Dubya’s dad would say – and it’s going to be a very nasty week for the Government.

PS Hillary hears that the problems might spread a little higher than just the Queensland Liberal secretariat.

Positions vacant

Ministerial standards went out the window a long, long time ago for the Howard Government, but with an election so close – and given the nature of the offence – the Prime Miniature may be forced to act against Macfarlane, Brough and Slippery.

He’ll have a problem, though, trying to fill the three vacancies – who the hell can he appoint from Queensland? There’s virtually no-one left.

Poor old Marlborough Man David Jull is unlikely to be readmitted to the Ministry. That means the Rodent will be looking outside the Sunshine State. Who might he pick?

The shy and retiring Brendan Nelson is a possibility. He’s been unusually quiet as Peter Wraith’s Parly Sec. Fellow New South Welshman “Bruce Baby” Baird has been there, done that – and is unlikely to stuff up a portfolio in the weeks before the election.

Victorian God-botherer Kevin Andrews would be a good stop-gap minister, as would Western Australian Ian Campbell. At this stage of the electoral cycle it doesn’t matter that he’s in the Senate. Poor old Petro Georgiou has been reduced to “I coulda been a contender” status nowadays, despite his obvious talent.

Then, there’s the radical option. If the Rodent is serious about a third term, he can blood a budding talent from the new generation of MPs – someone like Julie “The Mattress of Natrass” Bishop or Teenage Toecutter Chris Pyne.

Disaster area

There’s another pressing reason for not appointing any new ministers from Queensland that’s quickly gaining currency – why would anyone reward a division that is doing its best to lose the next election single-handedly.

Various factional spins were already being put on the GST leaks by the end of Question Time on Thursday.

The brawling just can’t stop. This week it spread to the Brisbane City Council, where Liberal Leader Michael Caltabiano was rolled. Caltabiano presented himself to council Liberals as a factional cleanskin – then jumped boots and all into the brawling over Ryan, uttering all the right Carroll faction lines. What it means for his hopes to inherit Dr Whatisname’s old seat of Moggill is anyone’s guess.

Still, Whatisname clearly remains an inspiration to the Queensland Libs. One factional warrior says the polling up north is “execrable”. Five of the 10 Coalition seats that require a swing of less than one per cent are in Queensland – and the local Libs seem to be determined to produce a federal result to match their own three seats in the state parliament.

Getting it up

How do you get an issue up – and keep it up? Fart Boy Slim and the rest of the Opposition have been plagued by the matter all week.

Slim hasn’t exactly been helped by his team. George Campbell and Sue West completely stuffed the Gallery briefing on Tuesday’s caucus meeting – and the Government shamelessly exploited their incompetence.

This, in turn, was jumped on by the meeja – the News Limited rags in particular. Changes in key personnel seem to have altered the thinking down on Holt Street quite dramatically.

It was one of the best representations of the complete absence of reality that absorbs all the occupants of Parliament House for too much of the time.

With a non-stop news cycle and instant communication, there are demands for idiot levels of consistency. Hillary once ended up out in a paddock in RARA land during a Ministerial function on the mobile while a live interview with the PM was played down the line by a press sec holding their phone up to a monitor in the studio – just to make sure Hillary’s boss would be on message in case the local ABC had any tricky questions planned on the controversy du jour.

Every word gets jotted down by Rehame, by Media Monitors by the Government’s non-existent ANiMaLS and their Labor equivalents – but MP and Ministers can’t be expected the know the exact phrase they used in Ulladulla eight weeks before.

Hospital care is something people are entitled to feel strongly about – and any decent parent will get emotional when their child is suffering. It wasn’t wrong for Fart Boy to exaggerate a bit – but it was spectacularly dumb for him to play the Government’s game.

Slim had a simple appeal to the heart of everyone who’s worried about a loved one at a hospital or surgery – and he fluffed it.

Who the hell is advising him?

Shunting Sharon

It was strange that no-one picked up Black Dwarf Glenn Milne’s comments on Monday about John Fahey taking over from Sharon Stone as federal president of the Liberal Party.

Sharon has been singularly ineffective. He hasn’t been able to stop the civil war in Queensland and hasn’t been able to do anything about loops like Spanker Lightfoot and their One Nation preference deals. All he’ll be remembered for is a certain memo.

There was murmuring around the House last week that the rot in the CLP should have been obvious when Sharon couldn’t get the statehood referendum through. There are plenty of powerbrokers who can’t wait to shunt him aside.

Striking terror into the very heart of government

The Older Women’s Network from Sydney bought a self-written musical to a Canberra conference organised by the Department of Health and Aged Care on Sunday – but the show was censored by cultural commissars before the performance.

The oldies were told they couldn’t perform a reconciliation number, White Hands, Black Hands and a piece on the GST in case the Rodent was present and took offence.

Hillary hears that they were accompanied by some unexpected timpani – departmental heavies bashing kero tins as a reminder of what happens to older folk guilty of developing incorrect thoughts.

Not news

How long ago was it that this column tipped that the Mad Monk would be challenged in his seat of Warringah by former state independent Peter Macdonald. Last year?

Whatever the case, he has a fight on his hands.

Don’t cry for me, Deng Xioaping

Hawkie has returned to help New South Wales’ much beloved Transport Minister Scowl Surly fix a railway dispute.

And where was the toiler’s friend dragged back from? Working with his old mates in the People’s Republic of China. Yep, no more crocodile tears from Hawkie. Things are different when there’s money to be made.

More Dem dirt

Oh dear. More papers have fallen of the back of the Democrat’s solar powered bicycle and been taken round to Crikey by a thoughtful soul.

They reveal that the you-beaut candidate the Dems have lined up to run against Lex Loser in Mayo is – non existent.

It appears that Satan’s patron saint, former leader John “Blinky Bill” Coulter had asked a local mayor to go for the preselection to scare off John Schumann – who declined, leaving Blinky Bill and Satan terrified of a leadership challenge at some time.

Still, they were safe. Schumann publicly presented a number of reasons for not contending Mayo and played down the splits with Satan – although he is said to have remarked privately that if he wanted to work in a kindergarten he would have got himself a qualification in childcare.

And the new dream candidate for Mayo? Well, it appears that after much scraping of barrels two of Satan’s camp followers are up for it, but that’s about it.

One of them, Bill Spragg, enjoys the confidence of absolutely nobody. The other, Haroon Hassan, is yet another student pol acknowledged as one of the more sycophantic members of the Satan Cheer Squad. Hassan is a big writer of letters to the editors when any journo questions Satan’s version of history. It’s also said that he has been promised a position on Satan’s staff.

In other news, Satan’s chief of staff, Sam Hudson, is said to be disappointed and distressed at not being a fully-fledged member of her inner circle – or “The A Team”, as they are called by everyone else. Hudson has sought to remedy this by imploring staff and other party people to stop leaking – despite her own lack of influence.

Frank Maguire, brother of a certain TV identity and Satan’s key strategist, is said to be ignored by most Senators and disliked by everyone outside The A Team.

Interesting gos is doing the circuit on John Davey, Eros Foundation CEO and the architect of Satan’s ascension to the throne. It is said that during the Ryan campaign that he told Queensland members of the Democrat executive that he would flood the seat with off-colour Eros Foundation material supporting the Dem candidate if they didn’t support the ACT division’s spill motion against Mystic Meg. It is also claimed that he has stacked the ACT with members of the gay community and repeated the stunt in Western Australia in an attempt to roll Street Fightin’ Man Andrew Murray.

The party’s nation executive is now run by the Satan Cheer Squad – AKA a gay mafia and the Young Democrats. The few people left who remember what it was like when the grown-ups were in charge, are said to be desperate at the tinys’ naivety, lack of nous – and profligacy with a rapidly dwindling war-chest (please, Uncle Kerry).

There is a growing number of members who feel that the party has become a star vehicle – and is like a star on the brink of extinction, burning brightly before burning out.

Security concerns? “Yes”.

Hillary often hangs round the mess at Duntroon, cadging Malibu pineapples from strapping young officer types – and picked up an interesting yarn one night.

A couple of years back, a Singapore military flight arrived with a contingent of friends and allies ready to take part in some exercises. Oddly enough, the flight also contained a whole lot of other personnel who weren’t on the manifest.

A security cordon was placed around the plane, and the Singaporean brass were told that while their soldiers were welcome, it would be appreciated if the spooks went back home. They finally agreed.

Lee Kwan Yew forgot one important ingredient – liberty – building Singapore. Personal and economic freedom is restrained.

Optus’ new owner, SingTel, is a product of this system. It is part of the government. And it is really going to manage Australian defence contracts? As the Optus ads say, “yes” – alas.

An Australian first

The Adelaide Sunday Mail has scored a unique distinction – it appears to be the first Australian newspaper to carry out push polling.

There were already doubts raised by a poll of state voting intentions it published last week, and in a follow up during the week its pollsters managed to call an ABC journo – who was amazed at leading questions favouring the government.

Still, the paper breathlessly reported Sunday that Buffy was “clawing back support, overtaking Labor on primary votes for the first time in more than a year”.

It went on to say: “the Democrats’ primary vote has dropped 7 percentage points in a week to 13 per cent.. The Liberals have picked up 4 percentage points in a week to edge ahead of Labor – 33 per cent to 32 per cent. Support for Labor has risen by two points”.

A firm conclusion can indeed be drawn from the Mail’s polling – that there are creatures out there lying at the bottom of ponds with a better understanding of how to interpret polls than its political writer Craig Clarke.

Unintended consequences

There is a lot of ill-feeling in the corridors towards the Melbourne Central Young Libs for inviting Crikey’s esteemed editor to address them. Mutterings in dark corners ask if they will be disciplined by federal director Lynton Crosby or 104.

Basking in the afterglow of the Mayne Man’s speech, King of the Klingons, Conrad Xanthos, held a meeting of his lieutenants in the offices of David Davis. The King Conrad laid down the law to his henchmen – if you want promotion, build your base. Trouble is, it seems that a couple of the positions he promised were doubled up.

Conrad will now face the ignominy of one of his branches changing sides, but that should still leave him with around 52 per cent of the floor. So as long as he can ensure that no more branches are assimilated by the Borg, his run for state and federal president and the grown up Libs national executive is clear.

Hillary looks forward to all the leaks from next years Victorian State Executive meetings headed by Ian the cardboard cut-out Carson as he tries to stave off the Klingon attacks!

Queer as folk

Ross Heavyleg’s Crikey feature on gay government staffers raised a few eyebrows – including Hillary’s.

There’s no mistaking the Rodent’s conservatism. When he first became PM, he banned women staffers from wearing trousers in the office.

He’s scarcely gay friendly – and the Dragon Lady is supposedly worse. One story that’s been around for years claims that a staffer said not to be as other men was transferred to a different role as Jeanette didn’t like him travelling with hubby. Another yarn alleges that Piggy Pearson’s predilections kept him off the ABC Board.

Hillary Bray can be contacted at [email protected]

Peter Fray

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