Hillary Bray = great column. Nuff said. Here's how the very first Hillary column in the very first Crikey kicked off, way back on February 14 2000:

"Not enough quirk: Michelle Grattan ain't glamorous. So what? We all know that Coke bottle bottom glasses, a hairdo that hasn't changed since Dylan went electric and a journalistic style to match won't get you a job on commercial TV. Now, it appears that it might mean you don't qualify to write for one of the country's more smugly self styled 'quality' papers. Gallery gossip says the Sydney Morning Herald has warned one of Canberra's most experienced political correspondents that her copy needs to be 'quirkier' this year."

Anyone read the lead story in the Oz Media lift out last Thursday?

We told you so: II

Don't say you weren't warned. Get ready for an almighty backflip by the Government over the International Criminal Court.



The hard right won't shut up, the previously supportive Foreign Minister, Lex Loser, has suddenly gone lukewarm and Daz the Doormat, the other relevant minister, looks set to be walked all over again.

The moderates are getting worried and the fact that the Social Security Minister, the Incredible Bulk, has felt obliged to keep buying into an issue so far outside her portfolio area shows how threatened they feel. (Hullo, Hilly! Where are you? Aren't you the most senior moderate? Isn't this more in your turf?) As well they might. If the ICC goes down, it will be one of the biggest win for the uglies in the life of the Howard Government.

The court is being established to bring criminals guilty of genocide, war crimes and other crimes against humanity to justice. It's designed to offer a permanent alternative to the present ad hoc arrangements with the additional deterrent that that brings. That's why the Government not only went into the 1998 election trumpeting the establishment of the court as a major initiative, but also took over from Canada a chair of the group of nations advocating its formation.

Now its opponents say it will represent a loss of sovereignty and could lead to Australian defence personnel facing legal action. The first objection is nothing than the latest rehash of the paranoid right's line against all international treaties and, since the ADF has expressed no concerns about the proposal, the second is only relevant if we have some Idi Amin wannabees in our armed forces but if the ICC is rejected it will be further evidence of the growth of Hanson-style isolationism in Australia.

The issue is due to be debated at a party room meeting in Canberra on Tuesday. The Prime Miniature has said he will listen to the views of his party room before making the final call, claiming "I always listen to my party room. Always do. I am a very consultative leader." That will come as news for many in the Government. Policy, appointments and a whole range of other decisions all too often are made by Prime Ministerial fiat, rather than consultation.

Anyway, the Short Man's word from Washington "the matter is being re-examined" was a virtual give away.

Best friends

Just how many or rather, how few Congresspersons gathered to hear the Rodent's rendition of America the Beautiful last week? Some reports put it at 50 but others dropped as low as 30. In percentage terms it is less than the One Nation vote in 98.



Remember that we're not talking of a Parliament the size of our own. The One Hundred and Seventh Congress, to give it its full title, has 540 members. That's a lot of empty seats and might explain the Farm Bill, the steel decision...

Death watch

Forget kids-in-the-watergate, punters this is the big one. For months there have been dark murmurings round Canberra that the story of SIEV-8, the refugee boat that sank with the loss of 353 lives is even more incriminating.

The official line has been that the Government didn't know it had put to sea. Now, the suggestion has emerged at the kids overboard enquiry that the Prime Minister's people-smuggling task force was aware that it had left Indonesia but did nothing to assist when it went under then passed the the name onto another boat after the drownings.

Some real Deep Throat stuff just in time for the thirtieth anniversary of a certain break-in.

You've got your dough now piss off

Nauru's President, Rene Harris, isn't the most impressive character, but it was amazing to see the contempt the Government showed for him.

The reffos are safely parked in the birdshit, so what did he get? A meeting at Lex Loser's electorate office. Full pomp and circumstance and probably only got instant coffee, too.



Repeat offender?

No-one should be surprised to see former staffer Chris Nicholls, introduced to the wonderful world of politics by Liberal Senator "Government Grant" Chapman despite serving time, back in the dock again. This time he has been charged with nine counts of corruptly soliciting or receiving secret commissions worth more than $100,000 from the developers of a luxury resort on the Gold Coast while working for former Queensland Nat minister and one time LaRouchist Trevor Perrett (who himself admitted that he had had a sexual relationship lasting several years with a prostitute who was found dead in her Brisbane home in 1996).

Nicholls is an interesting case study for Crikey subscribers keen to examine the difference between whistleblowers, ratbags and crooks. A former ABC journo, he was jailed for contempt in South Australia in the early nineties in a case involving the then Tourism Minister, Barbara Weise, in the wake of the introduction of poker machines. When he was released he published a book styling himself as a martyr to the anti-pokies cause and wooed fundamentalist groups.

Despite his conviction, he was employed by Chapman and developed a fondness for conspiracy theories. This was scarcely discouraged by his boss - in and out of Parliament since the seventies but never on the frontbench and desperate for publicity. The National Crime Authority was a key focus of his obsessions, with Nicholls accused of leaking a confidential submission on casinos received in camera by the Joint Committee on the National Crime Authority. Nicholls was also suspected of improperly receiving documents relating to the infamous Operation Wallah into claims of money laundering, defence contract irregularities and prostitution involving none other than our old mate Richo. At the same time, he claims he was also involved in the dirt digging campaign into Paul Keating's interests with Chapman's full backing.

With a ratbag record like that, it came as no surprise when he ended up working for the Queensland Nats.

Nicholls went to jail for not revealing his sources - normally a badge of honour amongst journalists. The lengths Nicholls was prepared to go to to get information, however, came under the scrutiny of the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs. Its report "Off the Record: Shield Laws for Journalists" reported how Nicholls "resorted to intrusive subterfuge", including "meeting a daughter of a NCA officer at her school under the pretext of urgency and proceeding to question her about her father".

He was certainly treating Chapman's Parliamentary entitlements dishonestly while on his staff. When the late Peter Wreath's Telecard troubles became public, news leaked out that Nicholls was facing charges for just the same offence charges on which he was convicted.

Claims made in the Queensland Parliament that he carried out dirt digging for the National Party during Rob Borbidge's time as Premier paid for through his father-in-law's consultancy company IBC Research are yet to be fully examined. With this record, it will be intriguing to see just what Nicholls has to say in the dock.

Old versus new

More fun for the Queensland Nats, with one-time premier Russell Cooper announcing that he plans to run against Terry Bolger for the presidency at the upcoming party conference.

Cooper says he's running because of the party's poor performance under Bolger. This, apparently, in Nat speak means "Darling Downs squattocracy does a better job than new money from Townsville".

PS The Deputy Nat Leader, Lawrence Springboard, comes from the Darling Downs too. Mike Horan's seat might be based around Toowoomba but how much that would count for when push comes to shove is under debate.

Fostering democracy

The Queensland ALP has been taking time out from bullying staff to heavy potential donors in the lead up to the Brisbane mayoral poll.

Fundraiser Graham Stark is employing a unique style as he works on behalf of Labor's candidate, Tim Quinn in Brisbane. Hillary hears how one potential donor was approached by Stark with a somewhat perplexing pitch that he had the power to make Tim Quinn jump and it would be in their best interests to help him become Brisbane's new Mayor.

And to think that everyone thought that nice Mr Beattie had cleaned the show up

Just a little case of history repeating itself

Wasn't it interesting to see a former New South Wales health minister claiming he had no knowledge of a 1983 report about health risks from residential development in Botany.

Radio National's Background Bias sorry, Briefing has detailed how the Planning Department found the risk of death to residents living near the industrial area in Sydney's south was 50 times the accepted risk level, that residential development of the area should be stopped and 1,000 homes adjacent to several hazardous oil and chemical industries be demolished. However, the local state member and health minister at the time claims he was never told about the report and it should not have been kept secret from the public.

And who might this figure be? None other than Laurie Brereton who seems to find Botany nothing but trouble.

Senate shenanigans

A new Senate takes its place on the red leather benches come July 1 - and if Ho Chi Minchin has his way there will be a new President, too. The bouffant-headed Margaret Reid, the sole Liberal fed from the ACT, has held the job since 1996.

Unlike the bearpit of the Reps, the Senate likes to think that it conducts its affairs in a more civilized way. To a certain extent this is true mainly because the Government doesn't have the numbers on the floor, leading to a greater degree of accountability and Reid has contributed to the situation.

Reid has exercised her position impartially if a little smugly so Ho thinks it would be better if a puppet presided over the show. He has the perfect person in mind fellow South Australian right winger Alan Fergusson. Fergie, a former and undistinguished president of Ho's home division of the party, is a country conservative and loyal lackey of the right perfect for the job.

There is sound reasoning behind Ho's push. If he gets Fergie up the Government will have a more complacent President and Ho's position in the Senate Party Room will be shored up no end vital since he has fallen from the PM's favour.

Ho has been talking up his numbers and should be able to scare off the only other Coalition contender, Tasmanian Lib Paul Calvert. Still, the final vote may be interesting. Traditionally, a Government Senator becomes President and the Opposition takes the Deputy's spot. However, the Government broke with this when it used its numbers to get the repulsive rorter Mal Colston elected. Will Labor, the Dems, the Greens and Harradine and co want to see Fergusson in the Chair?

All bad news

Ho has designs on Margaret Reid's job and a growing number of her colleagues in the ACT Liberal Party have designs on her Senate spot itself and are losing patience.

It's been clear for a long, long time that Reid's Senate position will be hotly contested when she goes. Now, if she loses the Presidency, some ACT Libs feel that the time will have come to push her out.

Former chief minister and Liberal Assembly leader Gary Humphries has already expressed an interest in the job, and is finding opposition dull. There is also speculation that his deputy, the short-lived Member for Canberra Brendan Smyth, would like to return to the house on the hill.

Humphries has a further big spur other than the tedium of opposition in a toytown parliament to egg him on. There are leadership rumblings in the Assembly and murmurings that new boy Steve Pratt, the former aid worker held prisoner in Serbia, would offer a clean start. For Humphries, a switch to the big league couldn't come at a better time.

Poll performance

A new Morgan poll shows the Victorian Libs lagging 18.5 per cent behind the Labor Party and news reaches Crikey that might explain their poor performance.

Back in those radical seventies, Hillary hears, one wild suburban lad who is now a voice of rectitude in the Parliamentary Libs discovered the joys of solvent abuse better known to locals as chroming. It may well have robbed him of his reason.

Home and dry

Labor Member Denise Allen is looking better and better in Benalla, the old seat of former Victorian National Party leader Pat Macnamara.

The www.alpinenews.com.au site, edited by one time Nat preselection candidate Michael Gorey, says two candidates are lining up for National preselection and neither offer much hope.

Bill Sykes, the candidate who lost to Allen, wants to come back for another go. Since he didn't get the message first time around, locals believe that if he is the candidate the voters will simply spell it out again. The second contender is Roz Parisotto, an unimpressive Wangaratta councilor who lives outside the electorate but has demonstrated her political skills by graciously agreeing to move to Benalla if she wins.

All in all, the Nat manoeuvres offer yet another reason why Louise Asher should spend even more time thinking about how she will decorate the opposition leader's office.

Disguises

Barry Haase, the Liberal Member for the seat of Kalgoorlie, has suddenly started sporting an enticing Kojak do. This has got the locals wondering if he is trying to disguise himself as a certain Senator goes on the war-path about getting some repayment for all those stamps he was given quite against guidelines to help his campaign.

Urban cowboys

Now that the laws requiring New South Wales political parties to have more than 750 members are in force, Hillary has been flicking through the returns of what remains.

They provide some fascinating insight. Where, for example, would you expect to find the Horse Riders Party to be registered? Somewhere in the high country? Parkes? Or the 4WD Party? Funnily enough, they're both based at Bondi.



Hillary has always wondered why Campbell Parade is always thick with Range Rovers with horse floats battling with the lowered Celicas for parking spaces. Indeed, the Parrot's pal Michael Costa may have introduced those new laws banning loud car stereos so that they wouldn't frighten the horses.

Return of the living dead

They thought they put a stake through her heart when she was dropped from the ministry but Brunhilde's many enemies are quaking at the news that a ghastly apparition has been seen walking the darker streets and alleys of Mackellar after dark.

Could it have anything, they ask, to do with with the establishment of the new Cromer branch of the Liberal Party and how does it fit into the rumours that a move is on to unseat Brad Hazzard as the member for Wakehurst?

Loopy but liquid

If anyone out there is surprised that the lunar right LaRouchists at the Citizens Electoral Councils could afford to take out their full page ad in the Oz last week, don't be.

According to the Australian Electoral Commission latest returns, the CEC's national office received $1,065,512.29 in 2000-01. That compares with $783,207 in the same time for the Dems.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Hillary Bray can be contacted at [email protected]