John Howard’s new Cabinet is a major slap in the face for the Costello camp and demonstrates the PM’s insecurity as he surrounds himself with subservient types and rewards brown-nosing rather than talent. Hillary Bray, of course, has long been a key supporter of the Rodent who regularly gets rewarded for brown-nosing herself.

Gosh. That was quick. Less than a fortnight into his third term and the Rodent has already gone into his Ceausescu phase and built a massive monument to himself.

Like his Balkan big brother, the Prime Miniature has come up with something that is ugly and mediocre, but he considers it a fitting tribute to his grandeur. And the name of this monument? Why, it’s the new Howard Ministry.

The Gallery has only made the bleeding obvious comment on the new ministry – that it’s a slap to the Costello camp. More on that later – but here are a few more facts they might like to recycle during the week.

The new ministry is a sign of the Prime Miniature’s arrogance. It’s a statement that he doesn’t need anybody – the moderates, his Treasurer or people outside New South Wales (especially in the West). It’s worth looking at the new members. They are people without power-bases of their own. The PM has followed the classic tactic of all weak CEOs – surround yourself with people beholden to you.

While Simon Crean has been shaping a younger frontbench team, the Rodent has gone for the oldies. The majority of the Howard Ministry are from the saggy, baggy faction ? in their late fifties or sixties. Only two of the new boys and girls are under 50 – Gary Hardgrave (quite credible appearing next to Aggro as a kids TV host but considered a buffoon in Canberra) and Brendan Nelson (a manic self-publicist and careerist).

There has also been a remarkable shift of power between the Chambers. Three very significant portfolios – Health, Defence and Finance – have moved from the Reps to the Senate. Hillary is bitter, twisted and cynical – but the changes will alter the dynamics of Question Time in the Reps. Anyway, let’s take a look at the winners and losers from it all.

The reshuffle winners

Brendan Nelson – promoted to Minister for Education, Science and Training from parliamentary secretary. Careerist and manic self publicist with no power-base of his own and still considered suspect by many in the party. Made a lot of noise over mandatory sentencing, then became the first to back off when PM’s heavy ‘Hitman’ Heffernan warned him it was not assisting his advancement. Universities are in drastic need of greater access to private capital. Nelson faces a big ask overcoming the Trots ‘n’ trogs and middle class welfare enthusiasts in the NTEU, the student unions, the ALP and the Democrats if he is to affect any real change. It makes sense to add science to the portfolio – and R&D is another area where the government needs some policy changes. A chance for him to put his money where his mouth has always been

Kay Patterson – promoted to Health and Ageing from parliamentary secretary. No power-base of her own, but a hard worker. A good and interesting choice (and the only Cabinet change Hillary tipped correctly). The change of title from Aged to Ageing is also a sensible move.

Ian Macfarlane – promoted to Industry, Tourism and Resources from junior ministry. Capable, but should have got the boot from the Ministry over his electorate committee’s dodgy GST practices. Survived what should have been tough election challenges from Nats and the Free Lunch Movement. This bloke should buy a lottery ticket.

Gary Hardgrave – goes from backbench to Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs. Again, someone without a power-base. Credible as kids TV host. Not credible as government frontbencher.

Helen Coonan – promoted from backbench to Minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer. Amazing what happens when you switch faction, ride on their coat-tails and practice your brownnosing technique.

Danna Vale – goes from backbench to Minister for Veterans’ Affairs. Yet another person with no power-base of their own. Rebelled over mandatory sentencing, but then delivered the grovelling ‘Captain, my Captain’ love ode to the Rodent and restored her status as a teacher’s pet.

Kevin Andrews – goes from backbench to Minister for Ageing. Just scraped through his own preselection despite having the Short Man?s blessing. Plodder sans power-base.

Ross Cameron – promoted from backbench to Parliamentary Secretary to Minister for Children, Larry Anthony. Watch this space – huge potential for a great comic double act to emerge.

Kacky Jelly: dumped from the Ministry but still a winner. Fought like hell to keep her job. Ended up as Parly Sec to the Rodent as he lacked the guts to axe his pet.

and losers

Peter Costello. Got really done over on Friday: a hostile comment piece by Au Gratin in the Herald (presumably sourced from the PM’s office), his cheer squad overlooked and had Ho Chi Minchin dumped in Finance to keep an eye on him.

Bronwyn Bishop. No tears here. Most reasonable people believe that even if Bronny fell to the bottom of the most perilous pit in perdition that wouldn’t be far enough.

Bruce Scott. The Nat who drew the short straw. Hillary rejoices in his downfall for vindictive personal reasons.

Rod Kemp. Elmer Fudd loses his beloved job as Assistant Treasurer for developing incorrect thoughts – ie being too close to the Treasurer. The freebies in Arts and Sports will be small comfort.

Ian Campbell. Overlooked for the Ministry and stays as a Parly Sec, also for incorrect thoughts. This has not gone down well in the West.

The Hindenburg. Snigger, snigger. Joe spent a lot of time last week telling people that he only got onto the Costello bandwagon as he thought it was an exercise in car-pooling and jumped off as soon as he realised what it was. It didn’t wash. He was effectively demoted down from Financial Services to Small Business. This means less time at the Harvard Club in New York and more down at the local shops.

Bruce Baby, the Mattress of Natrass and the Teenage Toecutter Chris Pyne. The Costello cheer squad. Bruce Baird has extensive ministerial experience at a state level and a strong and influential network that extends beyond Sydney. Compare and contrast with new New South Welsh minister Dana Vale. Julie Bishop is young and capable and unlike all these suburban solicitors or article clerks, she actually has 16 years experience at a major legal firm in Clayton Utz. She could have been a fresh female face in Cabinet. Chris Pyne has the weakest claim to a ministry of the three, but plays the game hard and has been blooded after chairing the electoral rorts inquiry. Dennis Shanahan even wrote a column in The Australian saying he was a bright young thing earlier this year.

Australia outside New South Wales. If you haven’t already read it, have a look at the excellent item by Tim Colebatch in Saturday’s Age about how the election wasn’t won or lost in Sydney – http://www.theage.com.au/news/state/2001/11/24/FFXM6Y3UCUC.html. The Prime Minister, the Cabinet Secretary and the Parliamentary Secretary to the PM all come from Sin City. Nothing like a diversity of views and broad representation, is there?

The environment. David Kemp, Environment Minister? Ol’ One Tree realised that nothing could be done to placate the mad shrubhuggers other than returning to live in holes in the nurturing earth, so set out to do a few practical things like tackle land clearing, salinity, water quality and try to make sure than when he retires and returns to Adelaide he and his townsfolk will actually have water to drink. While Lex Loser and the Rodent have been busy destroying our relations with Asia, One Tree also pulled off two great coups against apocalyptic greenies on Kyoto and uranium mining at Jabiluka. What the hell can an ideologue like Count Yorgu do in the portfolio? You can’t contract out quokkas and quolls.

When she got there, the cupboard was bare

Hillary supposes that we can at least draw some small comfort that no-one quite knows who’s won Solomon yet, so Dave Tollner wasn’t included in the Ministry. But what, you ask, of the Government?s exciting third term agenda? Well, that’s very interesting. Did you notice the Prime Miniature’s comments last week on why Parliament is having a nice little breather from now until February: “There’s no occasion to bring Parliament back before Christmas. We won’t come back before Christmas, but we’ll be back strong and active in the new year. There’s a lot of work to be done and there are a lot of items on the reform agenda. It’s going to be a very active government.”

Presumably the Government – and the new Ministry in particular – will be very active indeed between now and February actually coming up with the third term reform agenda, because none certainly exists at the moment. It’s going to be a short Chrissie break for all those cardigan wearers in Belconnen.

Load of cobblers

Is Lynton Crosby the most shameless man in Australia? He made a powerful claim to the honour in his speech to the Press Club last week.

Lynton’s assertion that the Libs had not played or fear or racism should have had ’em rolling in the aisles – or, strictly speaking, around the tables. He completely let the cat out of the bag by saying “More than anything else the election was about leadership. MV Tampa provided further evidence of this leadership strength” while claiming that the “Pacific solution” ranked sixth in the minds of Liberal voters. Right, Lynton. And those last minute “we decide who comes to our country” ads never existed either, did they.

Victory celebrations

All the new boys and girls from the Liberal Party got treated to lunch at the Lodge with the Rodent when the party met last Thursday. Hillary hears that the new Members for Dobell and Paterson, Ken Ticehurst and Bob Baldwin were particularly enthusiastic in their celebrations and not much good for the rest of the day.

New Labor

Crikey readers are invited to join with Hillary in celebrating the remade, rejuvenated ALP. Yes, the party is now lead by a union hack and a leftie from Victoria. Such a great reinvention.

Subtle hint

Bob Carr, the Malthus of Maroubra, spent much of last week saying that a New South Welshman should be included in Labor’s leadership team.

Does this mean that the Enoch Powell of the Greater West, Mark Latham, is back in favour? These Labor things are beyond your humble author.

Flawed logic

Fart Boy Slim made his farewell speech to the Caucus last week – and even though we’re stuck with the Rodent, it looks as if we may have had a narrow escape from something even worse. Have a look at this par:

“We have got to re-educate this gallery some how or other re-educate the Australian political system back to where it was in Gough’s day where all you needed to say is that you wanted to do a schools commission, or you wanted to assign priority to sewage in the western suburbs, or that you wanted to assign priority to the national transport system, or that you wanted to do something about universities, or deal with poverty. It was enough in those days to establish those as priorities. Gough didn’t have to go around putting dollar signs on things. We cannot have a decent political debate in this country until we can argue those issues again.”

Say what? Back in 72, if people had known quite what inflation and massive growth in government would do for their hip pocket, even a three foot tall crinkly closet queen may have looked attractive.

And compare words and deeds. The forward estimates are dodgy – everyone knows that but Beazley and Crean accepted them throughout and fought the election on ground chosen by the Liberals – and chopped off their spending options.

Two times two equals?

Satan survives – for now – and turned up for the Dems first meeting post the election to tell the hacks that the rise in support for the Greens was not a “surge”. Hillary agrees. When a party’s vote doubles, it becomes an “overwhelming surge”.

Still, the Impossible Princess seems to have found true lurve, with that well known journal of record the Adelaide Advertiser confirming Crikey’s yarn that Satan and Ian “Rhodesia” Smith – former adviser to failed South Australian opposition leader and disgraced former minister Dale Baker, former son in law to twice-disgraced former South Australia deputy premier Graham “Bingo” Ingersen, adviser to failed Victorian emperor Jeff the Almighty turned spinmesiter – are an item.

A reader, however, offers this intriguing suggestion:

“Tash’s ex-BF, Hugh Riminton, occasionally presented the late-evening National Nine News from the North Adelaide studios of the network’s local affiliate. Reading the bulletin from Adelaide enabled Hughie and Tashie to spend quality time together, undiminished by her hectic travel schedule. Not only quality time, but quality hamburgers. There’s long been intense competition between two authentico, ridgey-didge burger bars located around the corner from Nine’s Adelaide production facilities. The Blue and White is one player in the O’Connell Street duopoly, while the North Adelaide Burger Bar was the preference of Tash and her pal for tucker after a hard night’s news reading. Perhaps swapping Hugh for Smithy was really about a change of cuisine.”

CRIKEY: Crikey will get around to writing a piece about Smiffy before Christmas, but as a former flatmate and workmate of the lad, I won’t be divulging any private stuff as he’s very sensitive about this. However, his mate Rebecca Cooper was in fine form on RRR’s Sunday PR show The Spin saying that Natasha and Smiffy were spotted walking around the South Melbourne market with a big box of vegetables recently but she could only reveal this now that the Sydney Morning Herald had covered the yarn. Herald Sun political reporter John Ferguson is another mate of Smiffy’s who must have known but his paper failed to report what is a good Melbourne gossip story. Smiffy is one of the best connected and charming blokes around but taking up with Natasha is still a story and his mates should have got this into the public eye a lot earlier.

Overnight conversion

When Crikey reported earlier this year that the Australian Democrats had paid workers handing out how to votes for the candidate at the Aston by-election, Pierre Harcourt, there were howls of protest and swift denials.

That made it very interesting to see the comments last week from Victorian Democrat campaign director in Victoria Pierre Harcourt that using paid staff to hand out how-to-vote cards was not uncommon: “There were 1744 polling booths across Victoria, and there are 10 hours on every booth. There’s no way small parties have the resources to staff all their polling booths.”

So who was keeping the bastards honest back in July? Harcourt or Crikey?

Why aren’t we surprised?

From Friday’s Courier-Mail: “A former One Nation candidate raped his sister and tried to get his brothers to have sex with her in the family’s outdoor toilet, a court was told yesterday.”

Democracy at work

Governments, as all Crikey readers know, need to be as transparent and accountable as possible in all their dealings – and even more so when they concern an organisation with entrenched corruption such as the Rum Corp, sometimes referred to as the New South Wales Police.

Bob Carr, as a scholar of politics, was at pains to make sure that this was the case when he appointed a new police minister last week. Not. The public should be up in arms at the news that Michael Costa met with shock-jock and cash for comment king Alan Jones, police dissident Tim Priest and academic Richard Basham at Gloria?s Newtown palace for a quiet tete-a-tete the previous week with the Premier’s endorsement and after he had decided to make Costa police minister.

Of course, that’s democracy Sydney-style. It’s how you do things in the city of the deal and on the capital m Mates home turf. In law, it isn’t corrupt. In spirit? Well, you be the judge.

Meeting Priest and Basham would be an entirely appropriate – if not desirable – thing for any police minister to do – but after they were appointed. Pulling in the Parrot was something altogether different. What sets him apart from other men?

The Parrot is a self-appointed moral arbiter. Nothing sets his views above those of other men and women, other than the fact that he has two well paid daily gig to use to promote them. Indeed, Gloria is flawed as a moral force – cash for comment and his continued used of cash for comment indicate just what can shape the views he expresses.

The Parrot is not above working the network himself. After all, that’s how he made it from being a failed political candidate and humble staffer to the lofty heights of his mighty pulpit – and got all those influential names across business, politics, sport and the media when that unpleasant misunderstanding in the Gents occurred in London back in 88.

The simple matter is this. Ministerial appointments should be made on merit. That merit should be clear for all. The Parrot’s imprimatur is not worth a damn.

When a Premier himself actively condones and encourages dodgy dealing, then we shouldn?t be surprised that the odd copper or two – or three – isn’t exactly scrupulous about their own behaviour.

This story should not be allowed to die. This is one of those occasions when you see why we still have upper houses (Steve Bracks take note: after the last week’s allegations yours might show its worth soon). Here’s hoping that the lot of ’em – Costa, Priest, Basham and the Parrot too get sweated – and sweated bloody hard – by a Legislative Council committee.

Keeping the world safe

The Rodent’s influence is being felt at all levels of Australian society – and one candidate for the Legal Practice Board in Victoria has adopted his winning strategy.

Simon Libbis has told his learned friends in his candidate statement: “Through the uncertain times ahead you can ensure that at least one thing won’t change…”.

Hillary has been sleeping more soundly since hearing this news, since it is generally recognised that the Legal Practice Board rather than the United States or Britain that will be taking the primary role in stamping out terrorism and preventing a global recession over the next year or two.

Photo-oops

An amusing tale from the dying days of the campaign from a scarred Labor veteran reaches Hillary.

It claims that David Borger, the genetically engineered ALP candidate for Parramatta had a bit of trouble getting coverage – but much to their delight his campaign staff bravely managed to pitch a yarn for him to Nine’s Peter Harvey.

Harvey and the crew turned up and everything went well – until Borger had one question. He asked Harvey if he could do just one thing for him: end the report with a “Peter Harvey, Parramatta”. The deep voiced legend’s reply was something along the lines of “I’m not a f*cking circus act”.

The interview did not make it to air.

Battlefield

Now that the World Cup qualifier has become a diplomatic incident between Australia and Uruguay with foreign ministers and diplomats involved, Hillary is surprised that Lex Loser or even the Rodent himself hasn’t trumpeted the obvious “Pacific Solution”.

If there is a threat of violence, why doesn’t FIFA hold the game on some island halfway between our two countries?

Hillary Bray can be contacted at [email protected]

Peter Fray

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