Branch stackers, conspiracy theorists, incompetents and philanderers. Hillary Bray’s get ’em all.

Bacon is sizzling, the Libs have had a caning on the Buttocks and Tassie hasn’t seen so much action since since since, er, something big happened down there. There’s too much to run in this column, so we’ve put all the details here.

Departures?

Rumours swirl around Parliament House: the head of PM&C Max Moore-Wilton has got an offer and will be moving on – sometime. And if Max the Axe is going, will a certain short man be far behind?

Threat to democracy

How ghastly! How unthinkable! The father of the two boys at the centre of the asylum row is trying to mould public opinion, according to the Cadaver. What a threat to our democracy.

The Dems disintegration continues

Crikey subscribers got another Democrats bombshell last week the pouty e-mail from the Impossible Princess to the national executive from 30 May, the day Senator Lees initially made her Telstra comments that sparked off the now famous exchange of letters that have bought so much joy to Crikey readers.

The leak is significant because it shows that Princess Tash sicked the national executive onto Lees. Not specifically, of course, but the e-mail’s closing lines “Today has hurt us. We were all set to capitalise on Bob’s [Brown’s] back flip. One person changed that We promised NOT TO SELL TELSTRA. I hope NE will reinforce this position.” made the message pretty damned clear.

Compare and contrast that with the saintly Stott Despoja that featured in last Monday’s column by the Black Dwarf, Glenn Milne, who “offered to resign as leader of the Australian Democrats and make way for a compromise candidate” if Senators “believed that was in the best interests of the party”.

The difference is fairly stark or is it?

Have a look at coverage of the resignation offer from last week. This is what the Australian had to say on Tuesday:

“Sources close to Senator Stott Despoja insisted yesterday this was true, although whether the resignation offer was genuine was a matter of conjecture.

“One insider told The Australian the senator had raised her possible resignation ‘several’ times with individual colleagues, and once at a partyroom meeting.

“Another said she probably spoke more out of frustration. ‘It was more a rhetorical question from Natasha you know, ‘If I went, would things improve?”

“But if Senator Stott Despoja made the offer to quit for the sake of the party, Senator Lees has not heard about it.

“‘None of the senators I’ve spoken to, and I’ve spoken to four, have any idea about it,’ Senator Lees said yesterday.

“West Australian senator Andrew Murray, who is sympathetic to Senator Lees, was also dumbfounded. ‘I do not recall any instance in which Natasha has made that remark,’ he said.

“Queenslander Andrew Bartlett, Senator Stott Despoja’s closest ally in parliament, was uncertain. ‘I couldn’t be sure if she has or she hasn’t (offered to resign),’ he said.

“The remaining Democrat senators Aden Ridgeway, Brian Greig, Lyn Allison and John Cherry either could not be contacted yesterday or would not comment on the resignation claim.

“Nor would Senator Stott Despoja, although her office said she was not resigning.”

The national executive e-mail is clearly something written in the heat of the moment, something a mature and confident political leader might dash off in the heat of the moment but would not send.

And Milne’s article is clearly the result of a briefing from either Stott Despoja, her staff, or someone very close to her. However, not even her closest ally in the Parliamentary Party, Andrew Bartlett let alone any other Senator is prepared to say that it is a true and accurate account.

Both are cack-handed efforts to shore up Stott-Despoja’s leadership that have done nothing to help her.

The Democrats are in chaos. On Tuesday, writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, Michelle Grattan and Mike Seccombe opined that the Democrat Party Room “normally leaks like a sieve”.

Now, the national executive is leaking too. Crikey received Stott Despoja’s e-mail on Monday. That morning, AM said that the ABC also received a copy. How many other media outlets got it?

Something’s got to give or someone’s got to go.

Keeping a lid on it all

Meanwhile, yet another Democrat e-mail has made its way to Crikey this time talking about the extraordinary measures former Democrat MP Heather Southcott resorted to at a meeting in South Australia to squash debate.

“Meg and NSD turned up and Heather S as the chair tried to do everything to stop and then limit the discussion over what happened. Finally she snapped and used he chairing powers to stop us from talking and order a raffle to be drawn.”

Never underestimate the power of a raffle.

Cogitate, don’t litigate

Which Federal Parliamentary Secretary and Labor Premier’s press sec are taking their mutual interest in politics to new degrees?

War on terror latest

So Adam Hart, the latest Aussie Taliban, only had fake ID to get round US licensing laws that prevent alcohol from being served to under-21s. One prominent Texan might even sympathise. His daughters certainly would.

Collins and Chika’s revenge

So, Peter Collins, the man best known for lying on the floor of his home with Lord Blackadder to play with his model soldiers, is stepping down. Chalk up one to Chika.

It has been well-known for some time that Collins was keeping an open mind over his future plans. It has even been rumoured that he had discussed future employment and been in touch with former long-serving staffer Carissa Hayhurst.

What seems to have really forced Collins hand is the momentum building up in his seat of Willoughby behind local mayor Pat Reilly. Crikey readers will remember that Chika’s clan, the Bartels, have thrown their weight behind Reilly – and Collins appears to have done the numbers and discovered that living in Potts Point does not go down well with Nor Shore types.

The Liberals are in a huge dilemma. No one appears to believe that Reilly will be the best candidate or best future member. However, they are in fear of his strong local profile, the Bartels’ clout and his loud threat to run as an independent if the Liberals do not endorse him.

In fact, it is believed that this might hold back a number of more talented candidates including Robert Webster, Gladys Berejiklian and David Elliott – making the next two weeks interesting indeed.

The return of the Vertical Corgi?

An informed source tells Hillary Peter Collins is pushing the case for Michael Photios to take Willoughby. Can this possibly be true? Has the world gone mad?

Chika’s revenge: Part II

Peter Collins’ resignation has already put a grin on Chika’s face. Now, with nominations closed in 15 Liberal held seats, another one of the key figures behind her dumping is facing a preselection challenge.

Andrew Humpherson will have to fight off former MP Phillip Smiles forced to resign in 1992 over tax charges in Davidson. Lane Cove Councillor Steven Bowers is also thought to have thrown his hat in the ring, after nearly pulling off the impossible last time round.

Bowers has spent the last four years working the branches and his efforts might just pay off.

Mastered his briefs

Peter Duncan the former South Australian and Federal Minister (not to mention one time partner in the law firm that is suing Crikey on behalf of Labor Senator Nick Bolkus) gone AWOL in Indonesia in the wake of business, er, difficulties must be under no illusions regarding his position.

He is, after all, a one time Minister for Corporate Affairs and member of the Joint Standing Committee on the National Crime Authority.

More less majeste

Our old pal Michael “Khemlani” Johnson didn’t really respond to a question on branch stacking at the ALSF conference by saying it was “rife within the Liberal Party from the PM down”, did he?

Not a very nice thing to say about one’s boss.

Help yourself

New Labor Senator Linda Kirk may have only been in the job since the first of July but she has certainly already made her mark.

Last week, she managed to e-mail her American Express card details to the entire Senate. Her next statement may well be interesting.

More on the frog obsessive

Melissa Salata, the young frog fancying Victorian councillor, is in the news again this time over her party status.

Unsuccessful Darebin Council candidate Gaetano Greco referred the matter to the Municipal Electoral Tribunal claiming Salata won the ward position after she “misled or deceived electors into believing she was a member of the ALP when she was not”.

The appeal was heard last week and all the big names of the Victorian ALP were there. David Feeney gave evidence, while Peter Holding, son of Clyde and a bigwig in the Socialist Left, accused Ms Salata’s boyfriend and her campaign manager of bignoting himself. A whole range of cases were cited as precedent, including one featuring our old friend Noel Crichton-Browne.

And not a single word on frogs.

Didn’t they drive a stake through their heart

The Victorian Liberal rumour mill is running hot with claims that state party president Ian Carson thinks former Fed Ken Aldred would make an excellent Member for LaTrobe, currently held by hard-working local member Bob Charles.

The plot supposedly centres on the Berwick Young Liberal Branch, where Aldred’s daughter, Mary, has been busy. The Branch membership recently tried to remove her from the presidency, but fell short of the required two thirds majority by one vote, and the result ahs been attributed to work by P-plate powerbroker Conrad Xanthos, party VP Charles Gillies, Carson and Ken Aldred himself.

In a less that subtle display, Mary Aldred has called a branch meeting to be held in Wadonga somewhat odd for an electorate centred around Melbourne’s outer west so as to control the numbers and sign up members of her father’s pony club, as the Wadonga meeting coincides with a Victorian Equestrian Centre (VEC) meeting. The VEC is owned by interests associated with Ken Aldred.

These are just some of the ways Ken Aldred has distinguished himself:

* Claiming in 1986 that the Collins Class Submarine project had been infiltrated by the KGB, in spite of opposite opinions from ASIO and ASIS, The Department of Defence, Navy and other intelligence sources.

* Using parliamentary privilege from 1991 to 1993 to accuse Mark Leibler of taxation avoidance, despite clear evidence to the contrary

* Attempting to link the Smorgon family to organised crime in 1992 and 1993 Aldred.

* Accused the Secretary of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs, Michael Costello, in 1995 of conspiring with Melbourne Solicitor Mark Leibler, the small South American state of Surinam, Libya, Cuba, the Mafia, Mossad and various drug organisations to bribe Australian politicians.

* Approached the Sporting Shooters Association in the wake of these claims, requesting $8,000 for a trip to Germany to prove that his documents (supposedly from South America) were in fact not forgeries.

* Accused Frank Lowy of sinister connections in 1995, claiming a tax bill was paid for Lowy by “unknown international connections”

* Making treason claims against Paul Keating, John Howard and Bob Hawke in 1999, saying that they were being bribed by Indonesia.

The Citizens Electoral Councils have spoken highly of Aldred in the past. After all the Bill Heffernan embarrassment, senior Liberals should be aware of the damage believers in peculiar conspiracy theories can inflict.

Carson’s mistake of backing Adrian Jackson as a one off could be excused as a lapse of judgment. His intervention on behalf of Aldred is inexcusable and seems to be part of a pattern of disturbing behaviour. A branch-stack perniciously called hundreds of kilometres away from Berwick should be enough for him to act. The fact that this will deliver critical votes to Ken Aldred in his attempt to unseat Bob Charles is an outrage.

Best West

The Tasmanian election means that Hillary has to miss Australia’s premier sado-masochistic event, the WA Liberal state conference and on the occasion when, for the first time in living memory, it was actually interesting.

Firstly amazingly the Prime Miniature seemed to make a direct intervention. Then Lord Voldemort and his Death Eaters (AKA the NCB Right) were seen off well and truly. Finally, there was the startling declaration of war by Colin “Boonce” Barnett.

Howard plugged presidential candidate Kim Keogh twice on the trip first at a business lunch and then during his speech to the conference where he praised his “tremendous leadership over the last twelve months”. Observers were amazed. It must have been the entourage. Liberal federal VP Bruce Macdonald had accompanied the Short Man on his trip to the West and Thumper is known to be handy with his fists.

Keogh didn’t just win the election. He won convincingly and then the vice-presidential vote cemented the centre-right’s dominance.

Graham Keirath wasn’t helped in his cause by a last minute letter of praise to branch secretaries from corporal punishment enthusiast Ross Lightfoot. Many delegates agreed that Keirath was perhaps a better candidate but they were not prepared to back someone possibly influenced by Lightfoot and his mob of loonies.

Endless theories abound all weekend as to why Lightfoot fired a missile into his candidate’s campaign. Everything from the likely answer of Lightfoot being plain stupid through to some confused Voldemort Crichton-Browne tactic through to the letter being a fake, was considered by delegates.

The other surprising antic was the declaration of war over preselections issued by Colin Barnett. Barnett urged the conference not to return candidates and members who lost at the last election to Parliament a clear jab at Graham Keirath, Dodgy Doug Shave and NCB’s pet hyena Greg Smyth.

The Death Eaters have been busy in the southern areas of Perth as they seek to build up a beach head where they can install their leaders when and if the supreme court reallocates the electoral boundaries. With self-claimed future leader and fifth generation goldfielder, Matt Birney set to move to Applecross or Alfred Cove, Keirath based in the Riverton area, failed MP Monica Holmes making life interesting for Dazzling Darryl Williams and Dodgy Doug gunning for his old haunt of Alfred Cove or a South Metro upper house seat, the region is increasingly the last bastion of the Death Eaters in the Perth metropolitan area.

Barnett is willing to tolerate the behaviour of Birney and his other mates who already sit in Parliament but he will not tolerate any additional “old friends”. It will be interesting to see if the Party follows Barnett’s correct advice to give the appalling Shave and his friends the flick.

Movement in the Queensland Libs

Hillary hears reports from the north that Bill Hartigan, the secretary of State Leader Bob Quinn’s electorate committee, has his eye on Michael Caltabiano’s job as president of the Queensland Liberal Party. Hartigan, a previously failed candidate for executive, is said to have been approached by none other than the aspiring heir to the Tucker faction, Employment Services Minister Mal Brough. Brough figures he can cash in some of Quinn’s cachet and make it a public fight between Caltabiano and Quinn.

Debt of ingratitude

Brough has declared his intention to reform and sort out the Queensland Division. Indeed, he seems to have has plenty of money to pay for party wide mailouts on Party Reforms out of his campaign fund yet his electorate council has not been able to pay its outstanding debts to the Division for the state campaigns held in February 2001. His FEC is responsible for the Glasshouse and Pumicestone campaigns, which owe $9,414 and $3,700 to the party.

What’s wrong with this picture

Queensland State Liberal Leader Bob Quinn has recently been very publicly outraged by branch stacking but while Bob has been off working hard in the media to stop branch stacking, things on the local front have not been as clean.

Aaron Debatista, who works part time for Quinn in his Robina electorate office, has been busy recruiting for the local Robina branch, in Quinn’s electorate. He has signed up his grandparents, Beryl and Neville, who live some 300 kilometres away in Maroochydore.

Hillary Bray can be contacted at [email protected]

Peter Fray

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