Now that Natasha stott Despoja is engaged to Crikey’s old mate Ian Smith, the time has come to stop calling her Ah Satan (Natasha backwards) so we’re open to suggestions for a new nick-name for Mrs Smith and intend to be more friendly towards Natasha in the future. But this does not mean we’ll be backing off other tough Private Eye-inspired nicknames so Kim Beazley remains Fart Boy Slim and John Howard remains The Rodent. Meanwhile, this is the Who Weeklyesque coverage of the celebrity engagement subscribers have received in recent days.

Crikey is clearly more pro-Ian Smith than our political insider Hillary Bray based on this brief snarl from HB:

“Hillary has been gobsmacked by the Natasha ‘n’ Schmitty announcement and has a terrible warning for the blushing bride to be.

Hillary hates to spoil Natty’s news – but is she aware of the sad fates of the pols her fiance, now the CEO of spindoctoring outfit Gavin Anderson, is linked with.

Rhodesia’s first political boss was the short lived South Australian Liberal leader Dale Baker. Baker – somehow – managed to make little headway against then premier John Bannon, despite the small matter of the collapse of the State Bank. He stood down as leader, tried to get Buffy Olsen back in his stead and instead sparked off a counter coup by the moderates that resulted in the right’s worse nightmare – the return of Dean Beige. He then got done for drink driving, was forced to stand down as a minister over conflict of interest matters after the Libs won and, finally, lost his ultra-safe blue ribbon seat to an independent candidate.

Rhodesia entered into a political relationship of another kind when he married the daughter of former South Australian state Lib Graham “Bingo” Ingersen. Bingo, through his unique mix of low cunning and low intelligence, had a roller-coaster career. He became deputy opposition leader, got dumped, became deputy premier after the Buffy coup, was forced to resign over some dodgy decisions – humiliatingly making the announcement while cornered in a lift by a media scrum, somehow managed to get reappointed to Cabinet in one of Buffy’s deckchairs on the Titanic reshuffles, was forced to resign for the second time in the term of one Parliament after being damned in a judicial inquiry and then retired at the February state election. His strong local following showed in the result – his seat of Bragg was one of only two where the Liberals recorded as positive swing towards them.

Rhodesia, meanwhile, moved to Melbourne and took up with Jeff – and no-one knows his terrible fate better than Crikey readers, although he did leave Jeff’s employ in 1994 so you can hardly blame him for what happened in 1999.

Of course, Natasha’s position is already weak. Her loyal deputy Aden Ridgeway said recently the party would probably have been better off sticking with Mystic Meg. At the same time, only three of her eight party room colleagues said they considered her leadership a success. The Adelaide Advertiser published a lovely Hello magazine-style feature on Natasha a couple of Saturday’s back that seemed to be clearing the decks for retirement.

Perhaps she knows it’s all too late to be worried by the Curse of Ian Smith.

SPOTTED TELLING THE LAUNDRAMAT PROPRIETOR

A subscriber sent this one through at 10am on Saturday April 6, so if Crikey wasn’t off playing tennis club championships, we might have even been able to break the news:

“Morning gents,

Just went into my local dry cleaner in Middle Park and ran into a beaming Natasha and Smithy, with the dry cleaner to the stars saying congratulations and best wishes to the hand holding couple. I had a quick peek down, and the snaggle toothed one was sporting a MASSIVE rock on the wedding finger.

Is it in the papers yet, or can I change my name to scoop?”

WHAT THE PAPERS SAID ABOUT IT

This is what the Sydney Sun Herald had to say about the engagement: click here

The media seemeed conveniently tipped off about an impending flight interstate on April 7 and Natasha did an airport door stop for the TVs saying that she isn’t going anywhere after reports in the Sunday Herald Sun that she’d given the party six months to like her or she’d be moving on.

CRIKEY’S TAKE ON SMIFFY’S PROPOSITION

Crikey used to be great mates with Ian Smith and even lived with the lad after his first wife left him back in 1996. However, we’ve been advised that he’ll never speak to us again because of our coverage on Natasha.

However, I’d like to offer my personal congratulations for what is the third engagement and second marriage for the lad. Whilst Hillary seems to be suggesting Natasha is picking up some baggage, I’d submit that if anything the opposite is the case and Smithy is actually a tremendous catch for Natasha.

Smithy is a rare combination of being an absolute networker and charmer at the same time as having a conscience. He’s very worldly and cultured, a great cook, owns two properties in the City of Port Phillip worth an estimated $1.5 million and earns a reported $300,000 a year.

Women flock all over the suave Englishmen who is also one of the funniest and entertaining bloke I’ve ever met.

Having worked with him for 18 months on Jeff Kennett’s staff, he was clearly the most effective spindoctor Crikey has ever seen in operation which is what makes Natasha’s dreadful performance since they started dating a little hard to fathom.

Smithy’s mates were expecting he would marry his defacto of three years Sarah Jones when it all ended acrimoniously last October as he took up with Natasha – a controversial client of his supposedly Liberal-friendly PR firm.

In fact the last time Smithy rang me was about six months back to ask for the number of a family lawyer friend of ours which he said was for a friend but given that he sounded agitated I suspect it was to deal with his own situation.

Smithy has been known to comment privately before about political operators who damage themselves through their love lives and I can’t see how marrying Natasha can possibly be positive for his business given the well-documented potential conflicts with issues like the next sale of Telstra shares.

But with a move to Adelaide on the cards I’m guessing that Smithy will not be long for the PR game as you can reasonably expect that children will quickly follow the marriage. There have even been unsubstantiated rumors that Natasha is already pregnant but this is believed to be false.

When Natasha’s term expires in 2008 she’ll be entitled to an indexed pension for life of about $50,000 and with Smithy worth a couple of million they could retire to the Adelaide hills, grow a few organic vegetables and contribute the odd column to the Adelaide Review which is published by Smithy’s mate Christoper Pearson. A move back to the Old Dart would also have to be a chance.

Afterall, who needs the shallow but lucrative world of PR if you’ve got the cash to retire and bring up a family. I can just imagine Smithy becoming a professional director on the business circuit as those monthly meetings would fit in perfectly with family life.

It will be interesting to keep watching the spin unfold around this liaison as we really are in unchartered waters for an Australian political leader and a PR heavyweight who operates in the political arena but is associated with a rival party.

Natasha’s ill-health and high profile engagement will surely quieten the knockers in her own party for a while but she’s so far down in the polls that unless this event can somehow lift her popularity, it will surely all be over before the year is out.

We’re keen to hear your thoughts on all of this and any insights you have.

NO MORE TASHY AND SMIFFY

Sealed section April 9

A subscriber writes:

“Dear Crikey,

Get over Smithy & Natasha. They are worth a par – no debate. But beyond that I have to start to question. Tell Bray not to waste its time – or perhaps focus on something that would be interesting to more than the two of you.

I wish Smithy and Natasha long lasting happiness.

Former Smithy Colleague”

CRIKEY: Sorry, just can’t do it. We cover gossip, PR and politics so this story has it all. We’ll be doing our level best to mend fences with Smiffy and score an invite to the political wedding of the year.

Now Hillary is a bit of obsessed with Natasha and has filed this little morsel:

Natasha’s mum, Shirley Stott-Despoja, is an idiosyncratic woman. Her stoushes with successive Adelaide Advertiser editors Piers Akerman and Peter Blunden are legendary.

Back in the dim dark past, she took pity on a young Christopher “Piggy” Pearson, who was suffering from distressed circumstances as he pursued his anthropological studies with strapping young Aboriginal lads in the deserted sand hills of Adelaide’s Tennyson beach.

Recently, she has had thoughts for no-one but her beloved progeny and prote51ge51. Natasha’s room remains untouched as a shrine – but why wasn’t Shirl in Melbourne with her daughter and Rhodesia Smith for the big announcement.

The Adelaide Sunday Mail reported “an ear infection had prevented her from flying to Melbourne to join the celebrations”. Shirley suffers from hearing difficulties and air travel can exacerbate such problems – but that hasn’t stopped her flying in the past. Indeed, she was even down as Natasha’s official travelling partner entitled to trips on the taxpayer tab at one stage – the two are that close.

So why didn’t Mum join the happy party? Rhodesia isn’t too corporate for Shirl’s tastes, is she?

NATASHA’S FRIEND BOLLOCKS HILLARY

Crikey,

I agree with another correspondent that the coverage of Natasha and Ian’s romantic life delves well beyond the reasonable – and I haven’t noticed too many other politicians getting the same treatment re their romances, which kind of stymies the “we cover gossip, its all fair game” angle.

And comment regarding Natasha’s mother goes well beyond the pale. To put the record straight, Shirley thinks that Ian is a great guy (not something that can be said of all Natasha’s past partners) and if she said she had an ear infection which meant she couldn’t fly, I’m sure she had an ear infection. Deaf people do have ears, you know. Also, having seen Natasha’s former bedroom at Shirley’s house, I can categorically state that it is not a “shrine” in any way, shape or form to Natasha. This is an old furphy which has been trotted out in the past and is just being repeated without any independent verification.

Those of us who care the most about Natasha are thrilled with the news and most especially to see her happier than she has been for years. So please, quit with the pointless inuendo.

Melissa McEwen

CRIKEY: Some fair points in this but Natasha’s mother takes a more prominent role in Natasha’s political career than any other political mother I’m aware of. She even rang Crikey once and was mentioned prominently in Natasha’s maiden speech. She’s also a journalist who has twice sued editors of the Adelaide Advertiser so she’s not exactly a shrinking violet and has also travelled at the public’s expense with Natasha on a few occasions. However, I’m not at all surprised that she thinks the world of Smithy as he is a genuinely great catch and incredibly charming so he no doubt turned it on.

100 YEARS AGO

Hillary Bray Sealed Section April 10

Readers may enjoy this touching tale of romance from the Adelaide Advertiser from April, 1993 which we presume was placed by either John Ferguson or Colin James who were two of Smithy’s groomsmen and both with the Tizer at the time. We can only guees what were things like this time round with Natasha?

“LOST son of the South Australian Opposition, Ian Smith (pictured), former press secretary to Dean Brown and Dale Baker, has been regained by the local Libs.

“Rhodesia”, now a starring member of Jeff Kennett’s illustrious Victorian press pool, has become engaged to Robyn Ingerson, daughter of Lib pollie Graham Ingerson and sister to Crows player Anthony Ingerson.

“And oh, how romantic was his proposal. This artful operator had the Victorian Premier himself propose Rhodesia’s proposal – in writing on letterhead, of course. Then kindly Kennett provided his official limousine with chauffeur to transport the valiant suitor to deliver by hand his proposed proposal to Robyn at Myer where she works as a buyer.

“She said ‘yes’, of course. What girl wouldn’t? Even so, “Rhodesia’s” old world English values were not quite satisfied. Would you believe an instant trip to Adelaide to seek the paternal approval of Graham Ingerson?”

GET THEE BEHIND ME NATASHA

By Wendy Wedge and Frank Flak

Published on Crikey in February this year.

Until the last decade or so the mainstream media has simply ignored stories about sex and politicians.

Over the past century there have been some notable exceptions. With typical ruling class ruthlessness those purveyors of fair play and games – the Brits – successfully trashed the reputations of Parnell and Casement when the requirements of empire made it necessary. But generally the sexual habits and proclivities of everyone from Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Kennedy et al were off limits. For those innocents who aren’t aware of just how extensive and exciting this subject can be, Wendy is happy to provide a bibliography at a later date.

In more recent years the curtain has been lifted a bit – normally on the grounds of the need to address issues such as “character”. Bibliography also available here if required.

For the media in Australia today the difficult questions about what is legitimate to print are being raised once again by the alleged relationship between Democrats Leader, Natasha Stott Despoja, and Gavin Anderson head flak, Ian Smith, who have just jetted off together to the World Economic Forum in New York.

But back to that in a moment. Whenever Wendy raises sex she gets lots of angry emails. Frank of course simply regards it as something else to be covered up when necessary. So perhaps before we get down to it with Ian and Natasha some principles and history might just be in order.

Rumors about pollies are assiduously spread by friends and enemies. The Libs accused Paul Keating of having affairs with Janet Holmes a Court and Geoffrey Tozer. After he was seen having coffee with his son Sydney was awash with “authoritative” reports that he was a paedophile. The Prime Minister was accused of having an affair with Pru Goward – much the most interesting thing many people had heard about him. Poor Cheryl Kernot was linked by malicious rumor with just about everybody except Kim Beazley and Bob Ellis.

The vast bulk of such rumors are quite untrue and motivated by Freudian projection more than anything else.

Then there are the notable cases in which family values campaigners get caught being caned in gym slips or soliciting Guards troopers in parks. This is generally a British phenomenon although a few notable Australian campaigners for family values had interesting personal lives.

The most notable recent case of media agonistes about sex was of course dear Bill Clinton. As the great polemicist Christopher Hitchens pointed out in his book about Bill – No-one left to lie to – the media and Republican obsession with what Bill did with Monica was not the story.

The story was really why the left never recognised that Clinton was a small time crook who bombed the shit out of Iraq and destroyed what little there was of the US welfare system; and, why the right hated him so much when he was actually one of the most right wing presidents of recent years.

Wendy and Frank also generally think sex is off limits – it’s probably just too primeval to be a guide to character. Moreover, we have no objections at all to most of the many variations on sexual behaviour drawing the line at only two practices – bestiality and sleeping with politicians.

With bestiality it is a simple philosophic objection about informed consent. For instance, if a National Party member and a sheep have intercourse how do we know if the National Party member had sufficient consciousness and intelligence to consent to the sheep’s advances or not?

With politicians it’s simply aesthetic – having sex with the narcissistic is strictly for mugs.

We’re a bit the same with alcohol – can’t see the problem with too much although we draw the line at teetotallers (particularly as Frank has always been happy to work for the liquor industry).

But even here the media pussyfoots around as well. For instance when George Dubya choked on a pretzel, fell off the sofa and gave himself a shiner a few people in the Washington media asked – publicly – whether he was back on the booze or not. They didn’t ask whether he was back on the coke lines but then that’s another story too.

Now why a war leader needs to stay sober just mystifies us. Churchill was drunk for much of the Second World War and seemed to do all right despite that. When someone told Lincoln Grant was a drunk who imbibed too much whisky, Lincoln asked if the complainant could tell him what brand so he could send it to all his generals.

Indeed, we rather favour the alcoholic fog version of history as much more fun than either the black armband or the white blindfold versions. It doesn’t go too well with the Blainey see saw version as developed by Max Gillies as a fusion of the two leads to serious disorientation.

So with all that preamble what about Smithy and Natasha

Neither Wendy nor Frank knows what has transpired, is or may transpire between the self-promoting duo beyond the fact a relationship seems to exist.

We also know that – thanks to Christine Lacy at the Financial Review – they are off to WEF and that Smithy is “close to the telco” and aims to get the T3 work after winning T2.

Well that’s half true. Smithie is after T3 but has not been close to the telco since GA stuffed up the launch of the PCCW deal. Why they were even working for the company after dodging backwards and forwards between Optus and Telstra is a bit off a mystery as well.

But experience, if not success, is always useful. Selling the shares at $7 plus and then helping promote the deal which was a major contributor to slashing 25% off the price is certainly an experience.

In the grand days when Sue Cato and Ian Kortlang had a relationship the company did do much for Telstra. Sue boasted to all and sundry that she had developed Telstra’s multimedia policy and Kortlang just boasted. Eventually the company got the shove and raced off to Optus in the same away they raced backwards and forwards between GIO and AMP.

In recent years privatisation has been important to GA as a staff exodus and the loss of some clients have put the days of the superprofits in the past.

One of those privatisation clients has been the Sydney Airports sale even though GA also worked for just about everybody else in the airline business – except of course the most successful, Qantas.

Now Smithy has an interest in adding to all the privatisation experience by winning T3.

And there’s the rub.

To win T3 he needs to overcome two prior conditions: getting someone in the Senate to vote for it; and, then winning it through the tender process.

And, of course, Natasha is one of those someones who will have a say in one of the outcomes.

This may not be a problem of course. Smithy is a flak and, as Frank says, by definition a flak is a person of fierce integrity who would never dream of using a personal relationship for profit.

Natasha is a distinguished statesperson whose vision and integrity are unimpeachable. As a feminist she knows that the personal is political but then that’s all about victims not statespeople.

So it probably doesn’t matter what they talk about together as they busily elbow each other away from any available mirrors wherever they are staying in New York. (That’s a bit harsh. The editor once lived with Smithy and he’s not notably vain -ed.)

The fact that something might just come up has to be of some relevance to both the gallery and the business media. Frank argues that as it’s only about legislation and taxpayers money, it is totally illegitimate for the public to want to know anything at all. But Wendy is not sure – if only because it may not be good politics to ignore it.

What is going to be interesting, however, is how the media deals with it and how two such attention-getting hounds manage to decide whether they keep it private or go for the front cover of New Idea.

Peter Fray

Fetch your first 12 weeks for $12

Here at Crikey, we saw a mighty surge in subscribers throughout 2020. Your support has been nothing short of amazing — we couldn’t have got through this year like no other without you, our readers.

If you haven’t joined us yet, fetch your first 12 weeks for $12 and start 2021 with the journalism you need to navigate whatever lies ahead.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW