The Treasurer goes bush, the PM avoids the law of the jungle in PNG and the Democrats remain lost in the wilderness as Hillary Bray explains.

Dear Treas

When you’re going to a working class area, do you wear tight jeans and ugg boots with an Accadacca t-shirt and stick a pack of Winnie blues up the sleeve? No? So can we ALL drop the fancy dress when we go bush.

Love and kisses

Hillary

Off air and off-message

The Treasurer almost went off-message as he conducted his laying-on of hands amongst hapless bushies last week along with the rest of his circus, the travelling meeja and about 28,000 Queenslanders.

Just as everything was going swimmingly, almost the whole of south-western Queensland lost their communications not just phone and fax lines, but also ATMs, EFTPOS and Internet access.

It wasn’t Telstra’s fault. It appears a crew working for Queensland Rail somewhere west of Toowoomba had been detailed to get rid of a large quantity of rubbish, and simply dug a large hole to bury it all and managed to sever one of Telstra’s major optical fibre runs serving south western Queensland.

The Queensland Rail crew really should have known better. Apart from Telstra, Optus, Nextgen and QR itself operate optical fibre cables on railway corridors and there’s major gas, electricity and oil networks also located on railway land.

The crew would probably have had several days’ notice of the work, and could and should have called the Dial Before You Dig service and organised plans for all the nearby networks free of charge. Given the importance of the cables, Telstra would most likely have also sent one of their patrol foremen to oversee the work.

Still, Telstra weren’t going to take any chances. With telecommunications a key part of the Treasurer’s trek and the T3 foreplay hotting up, they couldn’t afford to.

Repair of the damage was made absolute tip-top priority.

Don’t mention the present

The PM’s popular press secretary Tony O’Dreary, Hillary hears, may soon be off to South Africa to do some advance work on a couple of Boer War sites as they’re the only battlegrounds where our brave diggers gave their lives etc, etc that the Short Man hasn’t visited yet.

Well might the Prime Miniature concentrate on such important photo ops sorry, places of national significance because his lack of any sense of policy engagement was more than obvious when he visited Papua New Guinea last week.

Here is a country that is on the verge of meeting the criteria of a failed state. Law and order has collapsed in the cities and never carried much writ outside them. The economy is disintegrating and there is scarcely a private sector. The army is mutinous. The police are impotent. Mercenaries have been called in. The recent elections were marred by violence and deaths. It would be euphemistic to call the results irregular.

But all the Rodent wanted to concentrate on was the events of 1942. No wonder. It was a hell of a lot less chaotic back then.

Hello? Is there anybody there?

Yet another inquiry into Telstra services in RARAland has been announced by Richard “Milhous” Alston but why should things stop there? People in Broken Hill live in New South Wales, but find it hard to get to Bondi Beach for the afternoon when the weather is hot. Gross discrimination. They play Aussie Rules in Western Australia, but fans in the Pilbarra can’t catch a tram to the MCG. Unfair.

If only we had a Minister or a Telstra boss with the guts to tell the cockies that one of the reasons people have chosen to live in cities since Ur was founded has been because the infrastructure and services and just the sheer range of things on offer are better.

Oil on troubled waters

Australian Democrats’ national president Liz Osama sure knows how to quieten down a flap as this response to Andrew Murray’s op-ed in the Oz last Thursday shows:

From: “Oss-Emer”

Date: Thu Aug 15, 2002 8:49 pm

Subject: response to AM in Aust

I would encourage all members to write letters to the ed that explain, defend and otherwise accurately reflect the Democrats we know and love.

My understanding is that permission to speak as a Democrat would need to be obtained via the usual process in place in each Division. But letters can be just as effective, sometimes more so, if they’re just from members of the public. A more thorough response to AM’s article of today will hopefully be published on Mon or Tuesday.

Liz

Why, with a little practice she’ll be as good as Britney.

This week’s leaks

Australian Democrats material has continued to roll in, including 109 pages count ’em of postings on the ADnet in response to Andrew Murray’s piece in the Australian in one go. It’s all too much to cover in this column, but Hillary has kindly edited up some of the highlights and the Mayne Man has published them for your perusal here.

Dem dollars doomed?

Crikey has already asked how the Democrat’ woes will affect the party’s fundraising and now an ominous answer has come from their stronghold state, South Australia. We’ve packaged up some of last week’s sealed sections on the Dems into another separate yarn on the site which includes the details of their cancelled fundraiser. To check it out click here.

Lex the lifesaver

Foreign Minister Lex “I wanna be an Airborne Ranger/I wanna live a life of danger” Loser is demonstrating his political skills once again. As Britney desperately gasps for breath before going under for a third and final time, his embarrassing tub thumping on Iraq may well provide the Democrat leader with much needed oxygen if she can play it right in Parliament this week.

What a clever boy he is!

Testing time

So, farewell then, Stephen Martin, best known for never becoming a minister despite being a good boy with the banking inquiry.

All the focus has been on what the by-election will mean for Simey and the bruvvers but what about the Democrats and the Greens? The Dems didn’t do badly in Cunningham last time around, scoring 5,307 votes or 7.17 per cent of the first preferences, but the Greens were close behind with 4,914 votes or 6.64 per cent of the ballot.

The Short Man said on Sunday today that the Libs weren’t sure if they will even run a candidate when the by-election comes the PM milked the redneck vote dry at the last election and its in the Liberal Party’s interests to have as few distractions as possible before the New South Wales state election.

If they don’t run it will be a fillip for the Dems. Britney must be hoping.

The big issue in Victorian politics

Crikey prides itself on being first with the news on the big issues so here it is. Steve Bracks is Jewish, according to a correspondent:

“I have it on very good authority from a friend who is close to the Flinders Lane brethren that Steve, who claims to be a Lebanese Christian, is in fact claimed by the brethren as one of their own. It is further understood that he is a close blood relative of a prominent member of the rag-trade who, unlike Steve, does not hide his Jewishness and that it was the power wielded by the Flinders Lane clique that pushed Steve up the political totem pole so quickly.”

Shock! Horror! The election will surely be delayed until next year now.

Minor issues in Victorian politics

It’s Doyle.

The Premier State

While the action is happening in Melbourne, the New South Wales Liberal scene keeps bubbling along.

The word from Hawkesbury is that veteran MP Kevin Rozzoli is history but that Stephen Pringle my be pipped by either the excitingly named Bart Bassett or Kacky Jelly’s close friend, spunk and RAAF fly-boy Boyd Faulkner.

In the Hills, sitting MP Michael Richardson seems safe enough, despite all his similarities with Frank Spencer of Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em fame, but Kacky’s old staffer turned PR whiz Nick Berman has started the black campaign with a fascinating sheet on how low the Liberal vote has dropped in the region since Richardson became the MP. Even Tony Packard consistently scored a higher personal vote.

Davidson remains critical. Andrew Humpherson (Smithers to Chris Hartcher’s Mr Burns) is so worried his office has told residents wanting appointments that the earliest he can see people is after the preselection . Humph squared off with challenger Mark Darras at a Bradfield FEC fundraiser last week but came armed. Hartcher was by his side all night.

Meanwhile, the exciting newly-selected Liberal candidate for Coogee David McBride may have his work cut out dealing with an elderly opponent like Ernie Page.

McBride may well be the least effective SAS hunter/killer ever. Last Sunday’s Sun Herald made mention of a British television show in which he starred in 1996 called “Wanted”. He never made it to the 1997 series.

The idea behind the show was that a group of “trackers” had a limited time to locate and capture a group of “runners”. McBride being a member of the SAS should have been quite good at this. Trouble is, he was useless.

His coup de grace came when two lady pensioners of limited mobility managed to stay out of his way for the allotted time and claim the show’s prize. He became the laughing stock of both British television and the army.

If history is any guide Ernie Page should be able to avoid McBride’s quite easily.

To lose two judgements looks like carelessness

Another week, and another embarrassing refugee case lost by the Cadaver and his henchmen. After all, when someone isn’t allowed back into their own country, it’s perfectly reasonable and humane to lock them up, isn’t it specially when they’re a raghead.

http://www.crikey.com.au/cartoons/politics-court11082002.png

You cannot possibly be serious

Has the winter recess gone on too long? Corridor talk had it last week that the Prime Miniature would like to see Dan Vale in the Cabinet.

The battle of the psephologists

The cobweb covered Malcolm McKerras and the ABC’s election night munchkin Antony Green are on different sides in the South Australian Court of Disputed Returns as the challenge to the election of the state’s certifiable Speaker and independent MP Peter Lewis gets under way.

The Liberal Party has taken the action despite advice to the contrary from the Prime Miniature down and thanks to a deep-pocketed donor claiming the Independent MP misled voters by saying he would not support a minority Labor Government during the election campaign and then acting to the contrary.

Mackerras, who has covered elections since the first New South Wales Parliament was voted on in 1856, appeared for the Liberal candidate, Barry Featherstone, on Friday. Green, who is set to appear later this week, has been a more reluctant witness. It has taken a supeona from Lewis’ team to get him into court. Given Lewis’ reputation and behaviour, he’s probably as scared as a duck in a log.

Madam President and friends

The plain vanilla media finally reported last week that Senate President Margaret Reid is under threat from her own side, just two months after the story first ran in Crikey. The Age carried the yarn on Wednesday that Senators Calvert and Ferguson are gunning for the perk-a-plenty job and that Reid is likely to quit the Senate if dumped.

The Age’s list of possible replacements Pru Goward, ACT Liberal leader Garry Humphries and staffer Gerry Wheeler will also be familiar to Crikey readers, but the excitement of seeing their name in print seems to have sparked off a new round of jostling.

The slight problem of Goward’s residency has been raised she lives in New South Wales. But that’s nothing compared to what’s said about Wheeler.

Wheeler has long been a faithful servant of the hard right of the Liberal Party in ALSF, as a Bronweenine and in the Prime Miniature’s office. This is portrayed as problem number one the sort of Liberal the ACT like is Kate Carnell, not Atilla the Hun. Then there’s the links with the Short Man, the PM who won’t live in Canberra, who took CHOGM away from the city and is guilty of a thousand other slights real and imagined in the eyes of the cardie clad classes.

In short, the talk goes that if Wheeler is preselected, the Territory would elect two Labor Senators rather than the current one-all split, or a Labor Senator and a Dem or a Green.

As for Humphries well, the rumour mill over the past few days has been strangely silent. Hmm.

Buttocks’ blast

Buttocks’ blasts are ignored in polite company and that’s exactly what the Tasmanian Liberal Party’s new leaders did when Bob Cheek gave them a loud serve when he returned from his period of post-election exile in Queensland.

And, before you ask, yes, he got back only to discover that the pool at the gym was still freezing.

Failed Liberals Tassie rort

John Howard has reached a new low in hypocrisy this time over political staff. The Tasmanian ABC broke the yarn on Thursday so we might as use their words:

“The Prime Minister has bolstered his deflated Tasmanian branch by providing senior Liberal Senator Eric Abetz with an extra staff member.

“The move comes as the seven member Parliamentary Liberal Party returns from a three day meeting on King Island.

“The Tasmanian Liberal Party’s crippling defeat in last month’s state election, came on top of its failure to secure any House of Representatives seats at last year’s Federal election.

“In an apparent effort to reverse the poor showing, the Prime Minister, John Howard has agreed to give Senator Abetz an extra staff member to focus on Tasmanian matters.

“Independent Senator Brian Harradine’s former chief of Staff, John Shaw will take on the job, aiming to strengthen Party relationships with business and the community.”

Let’s forget the inherent dishonesty in all of this creating a taxpayer funded position for political purposes to compensate for the incompetence of the PM’s Tasmanian colleagues and concentrate on the other elements.

Tasmania’s population is 472,931. As one of the original Federation states, they get a full quota of 12 Senators. Running on the base number of three staffers for to each Senator before ministerial and other special staff positions are added, that means that there is one Senate staffer to each 13,137 Tasmanians compared to a ratio of 1:183,519 in New South Wales. Spot the difference?

Comparisons can also be made to the ACT. Its population isn’t all that much less than the Apple Isle’s at 321,680 but it only has two Senators with six basic staff members, same as the Northern Territory and its 200,019 people.

However you do the figures, Tasmanian residents already have the greatest ratio of Senate staffers ready to assist them. If they’re not up to the job, why doesn’t the Prime Miniature just get his Liberal colleagues to sack the people they’ve already got.

The job has been created and promptly given to a staff member to retiring Tassie independent Brian Harradine a self proclaimed honest broker. He has been diminished by the dodgy process.

There can be no doubt Mr Shaw is well qualified to fill the new position, but a shameless deal seems to have been done here. All of Harradine’s votes from now until the day he goes will be under a cloud. The entire matter affair is a disgrace.

Roll on Question Time next week and, why not, a special sitting of Estimates. Erica and the Runt deserve to sweat.

The Pope’s legions

Will there be much interest in the news that Liberal Party treasurer Malcolm Turnbull has gone over to Rome? Surely the Hyacinths of the world will see it as a natural corollary of republicanism.

Only fools and horses

The e-mails have flooded in asking just who are the shonks in the Victorian ALP who run the Labor Renewal Betting rort. Everyone seems to have a mental picture of them based on the more pathetic characters from British series of the 70s Steptoe, Lonely in Callan, minor grasses in The Sweeney (you get the drift).

The beneficiary of the scam is Nazih El Asmar, a former Mayor of Darebin and a leading operator in Mar’n Ferguson’s Batman electorate. Rumours are thick in the area that ABC leftie and ministerial incompetent Mary Delahunty may bail out, and Nazih hopes to get lucky and get her seat of Northcote.

Most sources however say that the rumours are just rumours, with no real basis in fact. They go on to add that while El Asmar would be the front runner if Delahunty went, he would still face stiff competition, even from Lebanese members of his own Right-aligned Labor Renewal faction, which very likely will soon become part of Labor Unity.

If the seat does fall vacant there will be some sort of deal, so El Asmar wants to be in a strong negotiating position. Delahunty will need to make up her mind soon, as the Bracks government seems set to go to the polls at the earliest possible moment, encouraged by private polling showing it well in front.

Crikey, of course, hopes the Labor Party organisation moves even quicker and, in the spirit of reform, expels these bottom feeders who treat the rule book with contempt well before the state election is called.

There’ll be more money in the brown paper bags envelopes for the seedy band again this week. They made another profit on the punt on Saturday from the latest recommendations, according to Crikey’s man at the track:

Melbourne Race 6 – TAB No. 2 (Rubitano) Last.

Melbourne Race 7 – TAB No. 12 (Bidaily) Won: $10.60/$3.60

Sydney Race 6 – TAB No. 5 (Sportsbrat) 6th.

Brisbane Race 6 – TAB No. 6 (Close To Danger) Fourth.

Adelaide Race 1 – TAB No. 2 (Miss Revic) Nowhere

Invested: $100

Return: $142

Return: 42%

(Returns based on $10 each way for each horse).

Important issues

The gee-gee boys aren’t the only interesting political figures in their area. In an amazing coincidence, Darebin Council is also the stamping ground of our friend Melissa Salata, the 19 year old frog fancier.

Readers will be pleased to know that young Melissa is continuing to champion the frog population of Reservoir’s Edwardes Lake. The frogs, perhaps as much as our heroine herself, anxiously await a decision by Victoria’s Municipal Electoral Tribunal to decide whether or not she remains a member of Darebin Council, as unsuccessful council candidate Gaetano Greco, a former assistant to an Elvis impersonator, continues to challenge the legality of her election.

Melissa has continued to demand a full report into the total number and breeding numbers of frogs in the Reservoir lake, but the Council, at its meeting last week, leap-frogged her demands. Instead, an amphibian expert will address Council on, well, frogs.

At a previous meeting Councillor Chris Kelly, a former Mayor, was called to order by Mayor Vince Fontana when she laughed during a debate on the subject. Indeed, not all Councillors yet see that the subject is a serious matter of concern. Mayor Fontana has had to say he wants all the Councillors to turn up when the expert speaks.

Peter Fray

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