Hillary Bray = great political gossip. Nuff said.

Former chief United Nations weapons inspector Richard Butler has told the Sunday program that is little doubt Iraq is close to having a nuclear capability. Yet this is a man Hillary once saw in Sussex Street wearing brown shoes with a blue suit. Can we really trust his judgement in crucial matters?

Hell no, a scientific sample won’t go

Both the Fairfax and the News Limited Sundays lead with polls showing Australians are far from convinced about taking part in action against Iraq without the blessing of the United Nations.

The Prime Miniature and Lex must be more grateful by the day for all the legwork with Tony Blair put in with Dubya last weekend. They hopelessly misread the public mood but the concessions Blair won to help in his own battle with his backbench over the UN have saved the trigger-happy pair from complete embarrassment.

Terror latest

In this age of heightened tension, it is good to see that the authorities are not over-reacting. All Australians would agree that it was only appropriate to get sniffer dogs to check a Virgin flight from Sydney to Melbourne for bombs after a drunk was thrown off it for refusing to switch off his mobile.

Unloved man in uniform

The Fairfax chipwrappers carried items last week on Our Boys fighting the raghead menace in the wilds of Towelheadistan and the visit by Brigadier Gary Bornholt, “the man who is advising the Prime Minister, John Howard, on whether Australia should join in any attack on Iraq”.

Bornholt, known in the ranks as “Yobbo”, is a courageous choice in the Yes, Minister sense of the word. Crikey’s squarebashing sources are firmly unimpressed.

Tax reform

There was fascinating news on the weekend in the wake of the sugar bailout the revelation from the Taxpayers Association that we are now paying more than $1 billion a year in new levies imposed by the Government to fund ad hoc spending measures.

Is that what they meant by a switch to indirect taxation?

The only chance

J-Bro’s spin team did a fine job with the piece they planted in last week’s Sun-Herald about the cross factional band of elders swinging in behind their lad Tex, Yabba Dabba Doo, Wokka, Kermit, Robb, Webster et al.

The story has been the subject of much discussion throughout the week by political hacks around the country. Why are all these people coming together? Easy-peasy. New South Wales is the only state the Libs feel they have any hope no matter how remote of winning.

The full Nelson

Murmurs out of Canberra say that a full deregulation higher education funding model has won out over the other proposals put forward by Education Minister Brendan Nelson and will be put forward.

Such a move will horrify tenured old lefties and whiny student types who think they’re owed a living and divide the opposition from the Vice-Chancellors by splitting the Great Eight unis away from the rest. Indeed, if it succeeds, it will be a huge victory for a tyro minister in a testing and trying portfolio.

Ministers still wake in a cold sweat and pray they never suffer a similar fate when they think of how Count Yorgu was cut loose when his plans for something similar backfired.

Yet another trip for La Stupenda?

Margaret Reid loved nothing better than overseas trips when she was Senate President, and now that she’s been dumped on the backbench she wants another one over the Tasman to New Zealand as High Commissioner as part of a retirement package.

The Short Man is said to be underwhelmed by her request.

The waiting game

In the meantime, the list of would-be successors to La Stupenda gets longer and longer and she hasn’t even announced her retirement yet.

The Prime Miniature’s office stung by Alan Ramsey’s Sermon from the Barstool on John Herron have asked La Stupenda to clarify her intentions, but their approaches have been greeted with a regal silence.

The dead-cert contenders for any vacancy are standard bearer of the right and Prime Ministerial adviser Gerry Wheeler and ACT Liberal leader Gary Humphries.

Former ACT Chief Minister Kate Carnell’s intentions are less certain. There’s every chance she will run but she may choose to go up against Annette Ellis for the Reps seat of Canberra. After all, while Carnell has been chased through the pages of Crikey by an axe-wielding maniac, it’s got to be remembered that she not only managed to pull off two Liberal election wins in the Territory, but did so as the ACT was suffering from the ravages of Rodentism.

The recent tensions in the ACT Liberals over new comer Helen Cross’ decision to support a Labor bill to decriminalise abortion in the ACT are just a side-show (even though Cross was taken to hospital in an ambulance last week after her big meeting with Humphries) to the main game but ACT politics may cruel Humphries’ and Carnell’s chances.

Unlike Carnell and Humphries, Wheeler was not part of the Liberal government thrown out by ACT electors last October.

With Carnell’s reputation for recklessness working against her, Gary Humphries has been trying to prove his responsible, mild mannered credentials and distance himself from the scandals of Carnell’s period as Chief Minister despite having been her loyal deputy.

However, the party infighting over Cross is reflecting badly on his leadership. He has shown that not only is he unable to make a sustained attack on Labor’s lacklustre Chief Minister, Jon Stanhope, but he can’t even stop leaks from his own office. This has left many in the party wondering if he has what it takes.

Indeed, Humphries’ own chief of staff, Amalia Matheson, an unsuccessful candidate in the ACT election, is said to favour young Gerard and have a significant block of votes at her disposal.

And what of the rest of the field? There are the much tipped contenders who will prove to be non-starters New South Wales resident Pru Goward and the ACT Liberal leader in waiting, Brendan Smyth and then there’s a real motley crew they are. Here’s our guide:

David Kibbey President of the Central Electorate Branch, retired Colonel, former deputy director of Defence Intelligence. None too bright and considered too close to the erratic Helen Cross as her only supporter on the 13-member management committee.

Bill Hanlon Serving military officer, ran as number two on the Senate ticket last year. Just been promoted and given a command in Darwin but has told anyone and everyone he will be back if the opportunity arises. Bright in a military sort of way.

Bill Stefaniak Serving MLA, former Attorney-General. Lazy and has delusions of becoming not only Senator but also Defence Minister. Look out Robert Hill (not).

Illona Fraser Reid staffer, candidate in ACT elections and new president of Northern Electorate Branch. La Stupenda’s understudy.

Brian Nye Former ACT Liberal president who ended a Naval career by running a boat aground.

Mark Baker Former Howard staffer, now at the Liberal federal secretariat. Not widely known but looks like a candidate from central casting bright, personable, photogenic, charming, helps little old ladies across the road

Lyn Alison writes

They’re have been slim pickings on the ADnet of late. One Dem has had the temerity to complain “unfortunately, as everything on ADnet is being fed to Stephen Mayne and his gossip shop, I can’t be as candid as I would like”. Still, there’s the odd speck of gold dust like the message to the Demo rank and file from Victorian Senator Lyn Allison that appeared last week.

Allison, like Aden Ridgeway last week, isn’t happy and it shows. Here are some key quotes:

* “I think mistakes were made in the running of the campaign at the national level that have led to ongoing dissatisfaction”;

* “`Change Politics’ was itself confusing”;

* “The National Campaign Strategy team complained that they were isolated from the Leader”;

* “Some members of National Exec have at times lacked the maturity and experience to do its job of managing the party and have too often been captive of partisan groups more interested in power plays than the well-being of the Party”;

* “Party officials were drawn into unprecedented interference in matters that have always been dealt with in Party Room. The move to discipline Meg Lees triggered a kind of tribal warfare that has put us in the current mess”;

* “I don’t believe our Party rules effectively deal with conflict of this sort. Furthermore, they have been used in a way that does not allow all sides to be put and this too had the effect of encouraging a very public expression of frustration”;

* “I am not part of any `gang’ but I will insist that we tackle our management and tactical weaknesses – if not, our decline will continue”; and

* “I will not put my hat in the ring for leader but I do hope you will choose a candidate who demonstrates a preparedness to deal with the current problems and an ability to unite the Party.”

In other words, we screwed up the last election campaign, we need change and a leader who can shut the fundis up and deliver reform.

Will it be too bigger an ask?

From the western front

To lose one president is unfortunate, to lose two Yes, civil war continues unabated in the Western Australian branch of the Australian Democrats and another casualty of the fighting is being mourned.

A couple of weeks back, Britney fan Tracy Chaloner threw in the towel and resigned as president. She was automatically replaced under the constitution by another member of the Britney fan club, Damian Meyer.

Now, Meyer is gone after a disagreement over the provisions of the relevant clause and alleging a purge by Andrew Murray supporters. This one will run and run.

Meanwhile, another WA Dems sans a life, Collin Mullane, has given Britney a radical promotion in the pantheon in one of his many postings:

“My pledge is to bring the Party home to the members again.”
— Senator Natasha Stott-Despoja, 21 August 2002

“True peace is not the absence of conflict, but the presence of justice.”
— Dr Martin Luther King Jr

Fan mail

And while we’re talking about the ADnet, one of it’s big beasts is back.

“Honeylog” posted “poll slide since resignation: thanks, Gang” last week Honeylog being Britney’s mum Shirley Stott Despoja.

With a little help from his friends

Queensland Liberal Feds are still shell-shocked after their state conference the idea of a world without branch-stacking is very strange but news is slowly seeping out from behind the scenes.

The stunned survivors are asking if Queensland Liberal Leader Bob Quinn got his anti-branch stacking package through the party state conference on the weekend with a little help from on high? Rumours won’t go away that the Prime Miniature, embarrassed by the locals’ constant antics, smoothed its passage with a little side deal.

And what might that be, you ask? Just a simple little unwritten pact that in exchange for giving up their fiefdoms, federal MPs will not be challenged in the next round of preselections and to stop anything upsetting flowing through the system, a similar guarantee to state MPs and Brisbane City Council hacks.

PS Was it the PM? Some sources say that a proxy worked on his behalf none other than would-be powerbroker and Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane. Does this mean he’s finally graduated to the big league?

PPS Another version says George Washington Brandis was responsible, pointing to the fact that Senate preselections are unchanged. One variation says that this is all a nasty story got up by Employment Services Minister Mal Brough, another says that Young Libs who have gone cold on Washington are spreading the yarn.

PPPS Others still say Santo Santoro did the deal given that no nasty rule changes midstream are making things much easier as he desperately chases the vacancy created by John Herron’s retirement.

PPPPS Has it become clear by now just how hopelessly divided the Queensland Liberal Party is?

Hillary’s mailbag

Ever since this column remarked on the resemblance between Winnie the Pooh and the Democrats interim leader Brian Greig, mail has been flooding in on the subject. Here are just two letters:

“Is it me or is Joe Hockey beginning to sound more like Officer Barbrady off South Park each day? All he needs is the sunglasses and doughnut and he would be perfect.”

“As an investigative journalist I think it falls to you to investigate this serious matter. Ho Chi Minchin is obviously Mr Burns from the Simpsons and tell me that Christopher Pyne is not modelled on Gladstone Gander. To what degree do our political leaders model themselves on cartoon characters?”

A moot point.

Hillary Bray can be contacted at [email protected]