Natasha, Alex Somlyay, branch stacker Michael Johnson and the speaker vote all feature in this week’s Hillary Bray column.

True, Satan didn’t do any deal with the government over the GST. But if that was the reason for the Democrats decline in the Western Australian and Queensland elections at the beginning of last year, the Dems have got to ask why the appointment of such a high profile opponent of the GST hasn’t help turn things round.

After the Dems debacle in South Australia at the weekend, Satan’s days must be numbered. She didn’t do it but she hasn’t fixed it and it looks more and more likely as if the I didn’t do it kid is going to get done over.

Natasha’s overwhelming support

ACT Democrat president Wayne Sievers’ responded to rumours of a leadership spill on Monday by telling hacks “I certainly have not heard of any whispers about rumblings in the ranks”. Here’s hoping that none of the scribes expected the division that set off the spill that got Natasha in power to be the first to knife her?

However, Sievers and a few other people might find it helpful if we put the level of Satan’s support into some sort of perspective.

After an election, the Democrat leader’s position is automatically spilled and all party members get a chance to vote. Last year, after the federal election, they were spoilt by choice with one contender for the top job and one for the deputy’s Satan and Uncle Tom Ridgeway.

The faithful can chose to tick one of two boxes under the candidate’s name, either approving or disapproving, before they pop it in the mail.

The Democrats say that their numbers are increasing, but from what the old guard see the new members appear to be uni students collected with heavily discounted memberships at O-weeks or fashionistas and luvvies found at the Mardi Gras and or fair days and first nights rather than the traditional sort of party member the type that would hand out how to votes.

Whatever the case, if these new members exist, they don’t seem very good at participating at all. The results of the spill are now in and thousands of Democrat members simply couldn’t be bothered voting.

Natasha has been endorsed by the membership but only just over a quarter of them, 28 per cent, bothered to vote. It has been the lowest turnout for a leadership ballot that Democrat veterans can remember.

In voluntary elections in the USA, a 40 per cent turnout is considered pretty bad. In Britain, it would be taken as a sign that the punters couldn’t give a toss.

A fifth of the 28 per cent that could be bothered voting didn’t even support Natasha. What’s left over might be considered an overwhelming endorsement by her standards but other Democrats would beg to differ.

Here’s what one told Crikey: “Anything below 90% is a fucking disaster. Even Lees got 75% when she was spilled by my crowd after the GST deal.”

Note which side it comes from.

PS One Satan spotter has observed to Hillary “Watching her being interviewed over the last few days, her Cheryl impersonation is almost down pat. It is a spooky thing to observe”.

Sleaze and the Speaker

When Federal Member for Fairfax and Mr Speaker wannabe Alex Somlyay came out on Sunday and admitted that two family members were enrolled to vote at a house in which they never lived it would have been nothing new to Crikey readers. The Hillary column has referred to this a couple of time. Mainstream journos have simply ignored Crikey’s lead.

What should have been extraordinary was his whine that the matter had been a smear campaign raised to scuttle his chances in the vote for the Speaker’s job. Earth to the Honourable Member for Fairfax! Hel-lo?

Let’s just look at the facts of the case. Somlyay has admitted his wife and son were enrolled at a Coolum house on the Sunshine Coast in 1998 just weeks before the federal election after a redistribution before the poll had put the family’s Maroochydore home outside his electorate of Fairfax. The Coolum house, owned by his personal assistant Toni Milne, was still in Fairfax. Somlyay says it was under contract to be purchased by himself when his family were enrolled there, but that when he wasn’t reappointed to the Ministry after the election, the sale did not proceed.

So what the facts mean is that members of Mr Somlyay’s family were registered, falsely, at an address they did not live at. A few fellow Queenslanders got into trouble last year over that sort of thing, Mr Somlyay. Don’t you remember? One of them was even in court last week.

Without wishing to sound like Alan Ramsey in full lounge bar bore of the gallery mode, one of the key duties of the Speaker is to maintain the dignity of the Parliament. Someone who is caught playing funny buggers with the electoral roll and reacting with overweening arrogance when he gets caught is a slippery pol, not a suitable candidate for the position.

Somlyay has been lucky that so far this has largely been a Queensland story. His luck has just run out. The Opposition will find it very hard to resist revenge for Chris Pyne’s electoral rorts inquiry from last year.

The fun and games for Alex Somlyay are only just beginning.

Proxy war

It’s been odd that the Somlyay story hasn’t had wider coverage and its odd that some of the other dimensions of the battle for the Speaker’s job have only been reported in the most cursory terms.

In many ways, this is probably one of the biggest confrontations yet between the Rodent and the Treas. Costello hasn’t forgiven Neil Andrew for disciplining him several times and wanted to replace him with someone more obedient. The Prime Miniature is no great fan of Andrew’s either but has supported him for several reasons.

First, he didn’t want a Costello candidate to get up and give any impression that Costello may have the numbers for another certain vote further down the track. Secondly, he was worried that Marlborough Man David Jull still has the taint of the travel scandal about him. Third, the Rodent has never forgiven Hawker for being a Peacock man in the eighties.

There has been some reporting of the Marlborough Man as the moderates’ candidate but he seems to have had much wider appeal. The PM’s henchmen were working the phones against him big time and he still polled well, and that’s despite his troubles at the time of the travel rorts scandal and the fact that he’d already scored a big retirement junket with his UN junket several years ago. What does that mean for that other vote that might just come along one day if a certain short man doesn’t retire?

Gloria’s gig

Crikey readers all owe Richard Ackland the only Media Watch host ever worth watching an enormous vote of thanks for reminding us all just what Singo had to say about Cash for Comment:

“At the time, Singleton gave an interview to this newspaper [the SMH] and declared that at his radio stations: “There is not one code that we breach and if anyone did so and I became aware of it they’d be sacked on the spot.” So Jones would have been sacked by Singleton in February 2000 if he was a 2GB broadcaster. But, as he now says, that “was something that came and went”.”

Nice one, Singo maaate.

The Bracks reshuffle

Steve Bracks’ reshuffle raises more questions than it answers. It’s long been noticed that Mary Delahunty is prone to make the odd gracious or over theatrical arm movement while speaking in the House. Now that she’s taken on new responsibilities, will these increase and will the lads on the backbench who always mimic the wave be able to keep up.

And it’s long been rumoured that Bracks’ office does all of Monica Gould’s work for her and even then she still mucks it up. How do the poor grunts feel about their boss rewarding her with extra responsibilities.

Travelling in style

Was this really good Liberal moderate Phillip Ruddock, he of the Amnesty International badge or did a jet-lagged Crikey operative spot someone at Melbourne Airport who looked just like him?

The Cadaver or his twin was spotted at a check in desk, going cranky as he was told his favourite seat had gone. The flustered airline staff explained that it had been allocated to an earlier-arrived departing passenger, an overseas diplomat only aggravating things. They were told that the Cadaver was much more important.

Driving the West wild

Well, now we know for sure. Crikey is driving the Western Australian Liberal Party wild. At the end of Saturday’s state council meeting, a delegate rose with this plea: “Whoever is leaking to must stand up now, because you are doing a lot of damage to the party”.

At the same do, Chris Ellison came up with another little gem to enliven things. Ellison usually makes the Federal report at these meetings but he was feeling so guilty about trying to do Tuckey over, he decided to let old Iron bar do the honours. Tuckey was over joyed with the offer and proceeded to speak for an hour or so as the delegates nodded off but Ellison had one other treat before he handed the microphone over.

Ellison could not help himself and proceeded to explain how wonderful it was that Wilson had been cleared and tell how Western Australia’s presence in Canberra had been enhanced now that Ian Campbell had been promoted and was now “virtually” the Assistant Treasurer.

That’s left a lot of sandgropers scratching their heads. The Virtual Assistant Treasurer. When was that position created?


The flak keeps flying in the wake of the Tassie Liberals decision to disendorse Greg Barns but this time he’s the one who keeps on getting hit.

E-mails are coming into Crikey that claim the republican leader flew former Tasmanian Young Liberal VP Joe Aston up to Sydney for a chin-wag and then, by some strange coincidence, a couple of Young Libs appeared on the books in Dennison days before Barns just scraped over the line to win preselection. Over to you, Greg.

Another correspondent claims that the former state Liberal leader, Sue Napier, desperately pleaded with Barns to calm down and act a little contrite before he appeared before the party’s star chamber. From what Hillary hears, she was scarcely the only one.

Not more on Michael bloody Johnson!

After the preselection, John Moore’s resignation, the by-election and the second preselection, what more could happen in the Queensland federal seat of Ryan? Well, it seems that the fun just won’t stop when the Whinging Pom Michael Johnson is around.

The latest yarn claims that when the electorate committee met last week, campaign director Karen Racey went troppo to hear that the candidate had “lent” the campaign $18,000, had been repaid $10,000, and was claiming he was still owed $8,000.

Racey is alleged to have said she was unaware of the loan, had not approved the payment as required by the Committee and that campaign treasurer Russell Galt and the other signatory should not have signed a cheque for that disbursement as the money had been a donation from the candidate albeit a pretty reluctant one. Strange things happen in Queensland at this time of year, so who know what the case is.

People from the preselection, however, seem to recall Johnson promising to make something along the lines of a “sizable and significant donation to the campaign”. They don’t remember anything about a loan.

Oh yes. And Michael Johnson is no longer being called “the Whinging Pom”. His new name is Khemlani.

Hillary Bray can be contacted at [email protected]

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