The shock resignation of Health Minister Dr Michael Wooldridge has thrown up all sorts of interesting combinations for the Victorian Liberal powerbrokers to mull over.

Firstly, we can categorically say that it has nothing to do with hand-luggage being reduced on domestic flights so it’s no longer possible to put two cases of wine in the overhead locker.

No, the really interesting thing about this is timing – the timing of a few events.

Back on Wednesday, the ambition-challenged Victorian Liberal Legislative Council Leader Mark Birrell announced he would leave Parliament at the next election, sparking speculation that always sober driver Louise Asher (we are serious about this – contrary to earlier suggestions she has a clean record) would be dumped from her shadow treasury portfolio.

The Victorian opposition is scarcely performing well. When observers ask the Libs why the keep Napthine, all they can say is “We got him cheap. He fell off the back of a truck”.

The Fall of the House of Asher was going to be no horror story, either – but now it’s lucky, not lacklustre, Louise, as talk says that she should sashay into Wooldridge’s seat of Casey.

But then again, Louise was parachuted into Alan Stockdale’s safe seat of Brighton after winning a bitter preselection battle against Costello adviser Mitch Fifield.

So maybe Hillary has her Louise’s a little confused and the one that is slated for Casey is actually Louise Staley.

Whichever Louise it might be, the red wine loving Health Minister has guaranteed his successor a straight run to Canberra. By resigning now, six weeks or so out from the Federal election, it will not be possible to hold a full preselection. Instead, the new candidate for Casey will be selected by the party’s administrative council. Either Louise shouldn’t find them too hard to woo.

Quite what the voters will make of her is another thing.

Staley has had two unfortunate run ins with breathalysers and at this point we must apologise to Asher for suggesting these were her skeletons in a late Friday email to Crikey subscribers.

Asher was at the centre of a very public preselection brawl when she moved to the lower house before the 1999 Victorian election. General Jeff had to pull out the really big guns to stop Costello staffer Mitch Fifield beating his anointed candidate.

Meanwhile, Staley got involved in another divisive preselection row when she tried to roll God-bother Kevin Andrews and win the nomination for his federal seat of Menzies (where the Crikey editor grew up).

Asher’s colleagues have also been less than impressed by Asher’s performance as Dynamic Den’s deputy – and she won no friends after half the Government overheard her fighting with shadow AG Robert Dean in the corridors a couple of months ago.

Casey isn’t exactly a safe seat. Doc Wooldridge won it at the last election by 4.8 per cent – and polling this week shows that Labor is still running strong in Victoria.

Either of the Louises will need a lot of support to pull it all off and on further reflection we now think that Asher has got buckleys.

But will all the support be forthcoming for Staley?

The media have once again flown the Jeff Kennett kite but Hillary regards this as unlikely sabre rattling, especially when he is kicking so many goals for SofCom – not.

The only real challenger to Staley is likely to be Box Hill resident, Monaro-driving and long-time Costello adviser Tony Smith, a professional political player since his uni days.

Howard is set to be keen to get Smith, 34, into the Parliament and with Costello and Howard singing from the same hymn sheet, it would be relatively easy for some collective heavying of Staley to stand aside.


Meanwhile, it looks as if the Mayne Man underestimated the millions that 43 year old retiree Mark Birrell will score from his state-funded pension for being a Liberal MP for 20 years if this email from a subscriber is any guide:

“Your comment in your news sheet of 6 September 2001 re Mark Birrell’s super and the cost to the taxpayers rather underestimated the dollars.

An indexed pension starting at $80,000 at age 45, indexed at just 3% pa, will produce a pension of $302,527 p.a. by age 90, with an aggregate cost over the 45 years of $7,720,117…….!!!!! Obviously, the higher the indexing each year the greater the cost.

Mark would seem to be doing his best!



With Wooldridge and Birrell both retiring to “spend more time with the family” in their early 40s, it would appear that it is not only Macquarie Bank executives who can retire as millionaires at an early age.

This is our list of former MPs who are under 55, drawing a pension (or about to) and also working in the private sector. The Parliamentary super scheme is so generous that we would imagine nearly all of these people will die millionaires. Feel free to add any names to this:

Lynn Arnold, Rob Borbidge, Richard Court, Chris Downey, Jim Elder, Bob Gibbs, Wayne Goss, Alan Griffiths, David Hamill, John Hannaford, Gary Johns, Jeff Kennett, Michael Knight, Rob Knowles, Michael Lavarch, Stephen Loosely, Wendy Machin, Dee Margetts, Bob Martin, Christine Milne, Ron Phillips, Gary Punch, Bill O’Chee, Gary Punch, Michael Photios, Graham Richardson, Karen Sowada, Warwick Smith, Andrew Thompson, Robert Webster, Gary West and Michael Yabsley.