Hillary Bray = Australia’s best political gossip. Nuff said.

Monday: Liberal leader Bob “Buttocks” Cheek’s gym continues to create chaos as the Tassie poll proceeds. Yes, the water in the pool is still too cold for most users – and complaints to Buttocks’ wife Stephanie appear to be of no avail.

The long suffering – or shivering – members are now wondering if they should complain to the leading local Liberal heavy, Erica Betz, about the problem. They’ve noticed that Buttocks responds to Erica’s requests on the double.

Letter of the week

Dear Hillary

Paul Keating got it right all those years ago. In times like these it always pays to consult the yellow banana shaped “Paul Keating’s Book of Insults”. There it is, on page 69: ‘Laurie Oakes is a cane toad’.

Cheers, Name withheld

Post mortem the Sphere

Hillary didn’t dub Laurie Oakes “The Sphere of Influence” for nothing. By finally publishing a rumour everyone in Parliament House had heard almost five years ago, he has sparked off a six day wonder. Now, it’s a good time to sit back and take stock of where we are.

First, we should look at the Sphere himself. He’s reinforced his position as the definitive political reporter but a story like this is very different from his other biggies.

Take last year’s smash the memo Liberal party president “Sharon” Stone intelligently produced spelling out just what was wrong with the party. Chezza luvs Gazza is a story of an entirely other kind.

Was the Sphere right to report the story? Hard to say. Pants stories have been largely off limits in Australia. Prurience disguised as public interest is particularly nauseating.

Was he right to report it in the way he did? This is easier to answer with a resounding “no”.

As Crikey spelled out last week, the day before the Bulletin item appeared, the little-read mag put out a press release talking up the big story but when it appeared, all it did was set up a situation. It left it unresolved. As we said “Oakes plays the political prick tease. He engages in intercourse with his readers, but won’t go all the way”.

Nothing happened until that evening. The Sphere spelt it out on the Nine evening news, telling of the e-mail proving everything, gave more details and a justification on A Current Affair and after that it was on for young and old alike. Why the intrigue? Why the delay? What interest was served?

If if the Sphere wanted to give Kernot a chance to come clean, he was doing it while holding a gun to her head.

Post mortem the leak

The Sphere sparked off feverish finger pointing with the Sharon Stone memo and the Chezza luvs Gazza e-mail seems set to do the same. Who is the source?

John Cherry, the one time Labor rorter who joined the Dems and was working for Kernot at the time of her defection, is a favourite, along with the mysterious “Rebecca”, a former Sphere researcher working with Chez when she jumped. The Sphere’s lunch last Monday with Michael Costello, Beazley’s old chief of staff, has got people talking, too.

The first two suspects don’t stack up at all. Timing makes it impossible. The e-mail must have come from someone with access to Labor e-mail systems and that creates plenty of people with motives

Many senior Labor people let alone their staff and their backers must have been miffed enough when an outsider with a limited track record was given the red-carpet treatment. This must go some way to explaining the lack of support which Chezza received from her colleagues.

At the same time, they must have heard the rumours back in 97. They must have noticed Chez and Gaz both spit the dummy on election night in 98. If they got proof the two of them were an item, how would they have reacted? It couldn’t explain how the Sphere got some of his leaks, could it?

Post mortem Gaz

Chez and Gaz were a disastrous couple the Sid and Nancy of Australian politics. Chezza was in many people’s sights from the moment she jumped but Gazza escaped criticism until it became clear he was floundering in Opposition and the Lower House. But how good was he?

Hillary fondly remembers a particularly rambling discussion on the Sunday program at the start of the 1984 election campaign. Sunday assembled a collection of political sages in a pleasant park by a lake with some good bottles of red, Hillary seems to recall to examine the legacy of the first Hawke government.

Although the vision has been clouded by the years, Hillary seeing the likes of Max Walsh, Peter Bowers, Robert Haupt, and perhaps Laurie Oakes and Paul Kelly. They all spoke about the many good things about the first term of the Hawke government, floating the dollar, controlling public spending, Medicare, etc.

But when asked to nominate the most disappointing aspect of the Hawke government, they spoke in unison: “Attorney-General Gareth Evans”. Lots of promise in opposition, but bumbling and fumbling in office they said. It all began with the Franklin Dam spy flights which led to his famous nickname, Senator Biggles. (Hillary was also fond of another nickname at the time, Senator Perrier Mason.).

In the end, never quite achieving what you expected of him sort of summed up Gareth Evans. It certainly blighted his time in the House of Representatives as Labor’s deputy leader.

Until now, his performance on election night 1998 has been seen as the clearest display of this. Now, it will be lying to the Parliament to cover up an affair a remarkably shoddy legacy.

Post mortem Chez

Hillary is pleased to be able to tell readers that Chezza herself seems to be completely unaffected by the events of the last week. Just look at this media report:

“A deeply hurt but resigned Ms Kernot has told friends she has moved beyond this week’s events and needs time alone to patch up her life.

” ‘I don’t care much any more,’ she told the Sunday Herald Sun through a close friend yesterday.

” ‘What more can they do to me? They’ve taken my job, my family.’ ”

Yes. She’s still a deeply unpleasant self-obsessive happy to blame everyone but herself for her troubles. Isn’t that nice?

And before we leave this issue

Ground control to Alan Ramsey Who was writing on Wednesday:

“Her political career is in pieces. So, too, is her marriage. She is a political rat to the Democrats she abandoned and a self-obsessed whinger to the Labor Party she embraced

“Yet despite all the ‘sport’ Kernot’s defection to Labor (and the reasons for it) provided her political enemies and the media, it is her husband, Gavin, for whom I feel sorriest. He stayed in Queensland all those years of Kernot’s political career, looking after their daughter, Sian, while her four years with Labor, whatever it was doing to her, just about destroyed him He phoned one night, absolutely distraught, soon after his wife’s election defeat last November, and poured out his bitterness and pure hatred for what politics and the press had done to her and to their life. So now her book is published and she’s had her say, as she sees it

“On Monday night, from her phone call, she sounded liberated. I hope she thinks it worth it. I don’t. I think she will truly regret the scab was ever lifted. So will others.”

No, it wasn’t the Sphere. It was Ramsey, the Lounge Bar Bore of the Gallery. He had enough to say on the matter in his Saturday column, too:

“Laurie Oakes galloped out of the press gallery three days ago to rescue “the truth” and save Kim Beazley. Galloped? As someone named ‘Jack’ said on talkback radio next day: ‘Laurie said he broke the story because he couldn’t conceal it by sitting on it. I’m sure Laurie could conceal anything by sitting on it.’

“A cheap shot, yes. But politics this week seems to have been little else but cheap shots. And Oakes’s “agonising” decision to tell the world that Cheryl and Gareth used to ‘do it’ for what he asserts was five years had to be the cheapest, grubbiest cheap shot of all

“Oakes flayed Cheryl Kernot’s book, Speaking for Myself Again, which he felt should have been called Making Excuses for Myself Again because ‘everything is the fault of the media, the Labor Party, and – mostly – poor old Beazley’.

“Poor old Beazley, indeed. You see, “poor old Beazley” apparently is incapable of speaking in his own defence, certainly unwilling, for when Kernot’s book was formally released the very day Oakes wrote his column, the former Labor leader took the high road and declined all approaches for comment. Thus Oakes, in the interests of fairness, obviously felt someone should defend ‘poor old Beazley’, and who better than himself. In the process Oakes took Bulletin readers, tantalisingly, to the bedroom door without telling them who was behind it or, even, that the bedroom beckoned when really it was the lavatory.

“What, supposedly, most upset Oakes was that Kernot’s book did not confess to what he called ‘the biggest secret in Kernot’s life’ which, ‘if made public, would cause a lot of people to view her defection from the Democrats to Labor [in October 1997] in a different light’.

“Really? And that secret was? Well, for another 48 hours, it was still too secret for Oakes to say. But he thundered in his column: ‘While it is one thing for journalists to stay away from such a [secret] matter, it is quite another for Kernot herself to pretend it does not exist when she pens what purports to be her ill-fated change of party allegiance. An honest book would have included it …’

“An honest column, even if a grubby, sanctimonious one, would have included it, too. It did not. Twenty-four hours later, early Tuesday evening, The Bulletin in Sydney faxed the major newspaper bureaus in the Canberra gallery with a press release and a copy of Oakes’s article. Nobody I’m aware of took it up, though they all knew instantly what cat Oakes was belling. Next day, with the column’s publication, Oakes sought to defend 1) his ‘revelation’ of a secret secret, and 2) his coyness in not disclosing the secret, given he had argued it was such a significant omission from Kernot’s book. Yet, apart from the grubbiness of what he was doing, the rank hypocrisy of a press gallery journalist throwing such dangerous stones, albeit one as venerable as Oakes, seemed not to dawn on him”

And so it continued. So, Alan, while where talking about honest columns, what about your effort on Wednesday? You played the prick tease as much as Laurie but said nothing on Saturday.

That’s because if we’re being honest it was nothing but an attempt to spike Oakes’ guns.

More Demorats?

Is there any truth in the rumour that a number of disgruntled Democrats and other are meeting soon to discuss the formation of a new political party? We’ll know come Thursday.

Big issues won’t go away

The big issues in the Tasmanian poll just got bigger as the week unfolded Bob “Buttocks” Cheek’s gym.

Not only was the water in the pool too cold for some users, but then the spa wasn’t working. The pressure on the Liberal leader has been unrelenting!

At the same time, word is out that a number of state Liberal MPs have approached Greg Barns asking him to reconsider his decision to join the Australian Democrats and run for the Senate, rather than running now as an independent Lib. They want to get in early and have a leader ready to replace Buttocks when the inevitable electoral disaster happens.

At the same time, Crikey’s sealed section recently carried some comments Buttocks made at Hobart’s posh Athenaeum Club in Hobart. The Club’s newsletter came out on Wednesday, with the following item:

“Important Notice to All Members from the Committee

“Members of your Committee were dismayed very recently to find on a popular Web Site a paragraph which purported to relate to – and comment upon – part of a clearly private conversation expressly said to have been overheard in the Club.

“It is entirely unacceptable and in clear breach of longstanding Club protocol of which all Members should be well aware that anything heard within the Club should be repeated outside – much less in the manner referred to above.”

It’s great to see that Crikey is compulsory reading for Hobart’s top people.

Last week’s other book launch

As one of their number, Hillary is privy to the strange thinking of spin doctors – but is beginning to wonder if publicists are a completely different breed.

If you’re launching a book about serious police corruption and political lies and intrigue, why on earth would anyone choose a comedian? But that’s what the Penguin Books publishers of Peter Ryan – The Inside Story did. And not just any comedian. They chose Tim Ferguson, who everyone agrees has stopped being funny but just turned into a joke since the Doug Anthony Allstars disbanded.

Ryan has thoroughly legitimate gripes about the way he was treated – gripes that indicate that patronage and corruption are just as well established at a the highest levels of politics in New South Wales as they are in the police force.

Penguin, however, is doing a better job than the Parrot and Miranda Devine put together of destroying his credibility.

Leaving on another jet plane

The Rodent’s away and left his brand new Boeing 737 VIP jet behind. The meeja have been shown the outside and you can learn all about it at Boeing’s own site here.

Things not all right in the West

As the Western Australian Liberal Party AGM looms, it seems that the chances of Lord Voldemort and his Death Eaters (AKA the Noel Crichton-Browne right) winning the presidency have dimmed significantly.

Despite picking up some support in moderate circles, it appears as if the defeated Court Government minister Graham Keirath, best known for his industrial relations jihad, will not be elected.

Keirath has begun desperately trying to get his hands on delegate lists by phoning, mailing and e-mailing everyone he can find in a futile attempt to start nobbling Centre Right delegates. However, most of the factional Pooh-Bahs are keeping their lists very close to their chests. Keirath has tried to play the media but to no avail – and all this has lead to claims that he has been too over-confident.

Keirath has also been seen around town meeting with all sorts – left, right and loony right but unless some unforeseen event takes place, he seems set to go down to the Centre Right and splintered moderate numbers.

Cogitate, don’t litigate

Which former TV figure has taken out an injunction to prevent his child being taken out of the country by his on-paper wife?

Sharpening knifes in Adelaide

When the Liberal federal exec met 10 days ago, the Prime Miniature ventured the view expressed by Crikey that the South Australian division’s decision to take loopy state Speaker Peter Lewis to the Court of Disputed returns could prove to be an expensive error.

The only people from South Australia there were right wingers, Senator Jeannie Ferris, federal VP Bruce “Thumper” McDonald and his state counterpart, Tim Keanes people who could be expected to back opposition leader Rob Kerin but news of the PM’s qualms leaked anyway.

Things got moving on Wednesday when conservative state opposition front bencher Mark Brindall suddenly spouting spontaneous and completely unasked “I support the leader” lines on Adelaide radio.

This was followed on Thursday in the midst of all the Chezza luvs Gareth row of a concentrated round of radio appearances by Ferris, Brindall and Kerin himself. By Friday, ABC radio was reporting how the right’s golden boy, Iain Evans, had lost weight, bought some new suits and got a haircut.

By Saturday the inevitable had happened. Even the Adelaide Advertiser had worked out that some serious counting of numbers was going on with Kerin’s nominal pals in the right the source of the trouble.

Model gent

What do you do when Crikey has made your life very difficult for the last week or so? Call in [email protected] like Pricey (or consult him like we hear Mr & Mrs Smith did) or the Adelaide bargain basement Slater & Gordon, Duncan Basheer Hannon, like Senator Nick Bolkus is doing?

If you’re Democrat Senator Andrew Murray, the answer’s very different. We noticed in May that we had missed a March reference to Crikey in the Senate by Murray. An apologetic – and thoroughly cheeky – e-mail was dispatched with the offer of a free sub under our Subs For Mentions Scandal.

The Senator was kind enough to reply with the suggestion that he donate the cost of the subscription to a charity of our choice. Given Crikey’s interest in media and politics, we suggested that Amnesty International would be a good cause – and that was the last we heard of it.

We then happily implicated the good Senator in the Democrats’ letters affair and suggested he had had a hands on involvement in the preparation of Meg Lees’ response to the national executive – and how has he responded?

Well, we got this e-mail early last week: “Just to confirm my end of the bargain! Amnesty receipt received – No 9971920 15 June 2002 for $55 membership and $50 donation.”

Senator, you’re a real gent!

First Latham, now Egan

How tragic. The New South Wales Labor Party appears to be losing some of its greatest talents to insanity. Just look at this letter from Treasurer Michael Egan responding to a Today Tonight request for information about the pay and superannuation of politicians:

Mr Howard Gipps

Supervising Producer,

‘Today Tonight’

Channel 7 Sydney

Television Centre

Mobbs Lane

Epping NSW 2121

Dear Mr Gipps,

I am gravely concerned by suggestions that a number of people in protected industries, such as television, are receiving remuneration far in excess of that received by the Prime Minister of Australia or the State Premier.

As an elected representative of the people, I am currently examining whether these excessive remuneration levels are in any way connected with the exercise of oligopolistic power created by restricted access to the public air waves.

I am also enquiring into whether there should be a requirement that salary and superannuation arrangements for television executives and personnel should be publicly disclosed in the same way that they are for public office holders.

Could you please furnish me with a copy of your current contract with Channel 7 and remuneration details of all staff working with Today Tonight.

I would also be grateful if you could provide me with the names and income levels of all those associated with Channel 7 and the Seven Network who earn more than the Prime Minister of the Premier of New South Wales.

Yours Sincerely

Michael Egan

PS It may also be of interest to you that a major Australian soft drink manufacturer – Coca Cola Amatil – has twenty five executives who are paid more than the Prime Minister and Premiers – and seven who each get paid between three and ten times more than the Prime Minister and Premiers.

Isn’t it sad? No recognition of the burdens traditionally borne by those who choose a life of public service (or the parliamentary pensions and allowances) and implicit threats that must stem from an ever progressing paranoia. Soon he will be reduced to a tragic idiot savant, capable of incredibly complicated but sadly bodgie accounting.

Speaking of insane

One kind reader has already submitted their re-working of the Colonel Bogey march to us. Can someone tighten it up so we can really push poor old “Iron Mark” Latham over the edge:

“Latham has only got one ball

Swan and Smith have two but very small

Kevin Rudd has something similar

And poor old Simon has no balls at all.”

More on the big issues

The dramas continued through the week at Bob “Buttocks” Cheek’s gym in Hobart as the Tassie election looks worse and worse for the uninspiring Liberal leader.

The spa stayed out of action, the pool was freezing and by the end of week reports claimed angry patrons were drawing the attention of the manager, Mrs Buttocks, to the Crikey updates of the situation in the hopes that it might spur the Liberal leader into action.

Loans affair latest

More information seeps out on the Ryan federal electorate council AGM, including one very important but well concealed piece of information.

Crikey reported earlier this year on the uproar within Ryan when it became known that Michael “Khemlani” made certain claims over what money in the campaign account had been donated by him and what was merely leant.

It was thought that the loans affair had come to an end when the campaign committee resolved unanimously that the money had been donated as per a preselection pledge by a certain M Johnson.

Each monthly meeting since has seen the familiar question from the floor: “has the money been returned?” responded to much ducking and weaving by Johnson acolytes, in particular the campaign treasurer, now FEC Chairman and Moggill MP wannabe, Russell Galt.

To the surprise of everybody, the question was not asked at the AGM on Sunday, but a close reading of the financial accounts presented to the meeting showed that the money had been finally repaid (days before the meeting to head off another brawl).

However, not everyone is happy with some local Libs claiming a thorough reading of the accounts reveals the source was not Khemlani but a fundraiser held six weeks ago starring the odd couple of the Parrot and Sallyanne Atkinson. They say the poor buggers who attended and paid $100 each to the Michael Johnson Re-election Fund were only paying out the money he said he’d put in to get elected the first time round.

Little Libs get all the big names

The biggest names of national politics are heading to Brisbane and the annual conference of the ALSF, the provisional wing of the Liberal Party so long as they don’t have to drive for more than 15 minutes. Here’s the exciting guest list:

The Hon Mr Gary Hardgrave MP (Former kids TV host he may bring along Aggro to entertain the little Libs and recently appointed, Brisbane based junior minister. Yawn.)

Mr Chris Pearce MP (Gosh! Someone’s coming up from Victoria. Backbencher who won the Aston by-election last year but given the amount of money and personnel the Federal Secretariat put into the campaign, so what.)

Mr Michael Johnson MP (Khemlani! Local MP elected last year. Best known for being stupid enough to stack out Ryan with people from as far away as Hong Kong without remembering to renounce his dual citizenship. Freak show attraction.)

Ms Theresa Gambaro MP (Yet another local backbencher. Wake me up when it’s over)

Mr Steven Ciobo MP (Local backbencher elected just over six months ago. Must have a huge amount of wisdom to share.)

Mr Lynton Crosby (Finally, a reason to get out of bed)

The Hon Mr Mal Brough (Recently appointed junior minister and yes another Queenslander.)

The Hon Sen Mr Eric Abetz (Erica! Junior minister and Fagin to the ALSF. Finding him there is as surprising as finding flies in the desert.)

Compare and contrast

The yoof wing of the Democrats are holding their annual shindig in a few weeks, too, down in Melbourne. At the moment, all the Senate team is booked in to appear bar one.

Hillary Bray can be contacted at [email protected]