Hillary Bray scored 9.5 per cent for the Greens in the Victorian upper house seat of Chelsea on Saturday and shook off a hangover to put together this excellent column.

Here’s one happy thought for all you unhappy Victorian Liberals out there. You could be the Australian “0.1 per cent” Democrats.

He believes in Father Christmas

Why shouldn’t the Prime Miniature believe in Santa. After all, even if all his Christmases came at once, things couldn’t be much better than they are at the moment.

Parliament House has become the centre of a cult of sycophancy that not even David Barnett nor Christopher Pearson could have ever imagined in their wildest dreams. And, as the pollies come back for the last two sitting weeks of the year, it’s time for some brave predictions.

If Sime and Co are looking at Victoria today and thinking happy thoughts, they should get over it. They might get a gig at the Melbourne Comedy Festival – but that’s all that federal Labor can hope for out of the state.

Bob McMullan is running a pretty good line about the Howard Government being Australia’s highest taxing – it was interesting to see that the Short Man felt he had to tackle that on the Sunday program – but no-one believes Labor is a party of low taxes and the PM can pin that on his loyal deputy. Speaking of whom…

John Howard is firmly settled in the top job. It’s been interesting to look at some of the pundits over the past couple of weeks. Geoff Kitney has come back to Canberra in a bad mood – he rather liked Germany – and has let loose at Peter Costello for not challenging.

Over in the Oz, Dennis Shannahan come out with a column saying the Treasurer is happy with his lot and can’t think of anything he’d rather do than play second fiddle to the Rodent. As if! You’ve got one guess who did the briefing there – but what’s poor Petey to do.

Here’s a prediction. There’s going to be an election next year – an election that will let the Prime Miniature hang round to the end of 2004 if he wants to beat Hawkie before he hands the leadership over.

There are a couple of variables that could affect the timing – La Nina swinging round and the drought breaking, for example, or war in Iraq.

That last one, however, may be less of an issue than people think. While going to war hasn’t been popular, the withdrawal of the SAS from Afghanistan suggests that the Prime Miniature realised that after Bali, the punters feel that security, like charity, begins at home – not surprising, really, given the way he pandered to Hansonism in 98 and xenophobia at the last election. The issue may well be neutralised.

It will be a DD. Labor is hinting that it will do everything it can to frustrate the passage of legislation, but not actually block it. So what? DD triggers are already there on IR and prescription medicines. Yes, they’re nasties – but the Government will be fighting on a much wider battlefield of matters of its choosing.

Labor, of course, will be creamed, and if Iron Mark hasn’t been locked away by then he and the Queensland boys will battle it out for the leadership.

It looks as if the drought won’t knock too big a hole in the economy. If J-Bro does a Phil Doyle, there may be some nervous backbenchers – but, hey, what backbenches aren’t. The only thing that can really go wrong is a terrorist attack at home that can clearly be pinned home to the Government.

That got you all smiling?

Begging letter sparks panic

They may have had $3 mil to renovate the secretariat, but in the middle of last week Victorian Liberal Party president Ian Carson startled – and worried – the faithful when he sent round an e-mail pleading for donations. Why was he asking for money three days out from a poll? It didn’t look good.

If the finances are as bad as the result, God help them. There won’t even be money to pay for the funeral.

Sime does the dusting

Sime released Labor’s plan to introduce a coastguard last week – and didn’t it look just like the proposal former shadow immigration minister Con Sciacca and his then colleague in the shadow customs portfolio, Duncan Kerr, promised last year. All that seems to have changed is the money – up from $220 million to $500 million.

Policy formulation must be very easy when all you have to do is get the old one, dust it down and add a new cover.

Workers of the world unite – Liberal style

Do Liberals get IR? Not if this missive from a would be shop steward on the Government Staff Committee is anything to go by. Backbench staff have felt hard done by for many years – their conditions are enough to make HR Nichols Society types become Doug Cameron fans – and don’t want a comedian to renegotiate their salary:

“Greetings fellow political people”

“I face many difficult decisions in my life.”

“Whether to stop at 6 glasses of chardonnay at the Grail or have just that one more.”

“Whether to write a standard [form letter for use with constituents] on Iraq or just hope the situation resolves itself nicely.”

“Whether to press Reply All to Nikki’s pleas or go through the Global Directory and compile my own.”

“But luckily for you, you have an easy decision – vote 1 for PAUL EDWARDS”

“Now I could go on ad nauseam about my legal qualifications and practise in industrial relations, my five years working as an electorate officer and catching the deadly red-eyes, but it would be a load of twaddle. Obviously, I fit the bill or I would not be running for the position.”

“I am a man of the people – and as anyone who has seen me at the Holy Grail can attest – this is undoubtedly true.”

“What I will bring to this Committee is an understanding of the CA process along with a good dose of humour and a willingness to listen to and convey your thoughts and grievances.”

“Our bosses and their Departments are getting huge increases in their base salaries and productivity gains and I will commit myself to getting the best results for you.”

“Thank you for your consideration of my nomination.”

“Paul Edwards
Assistant Adviser
Senator the Hon Robert Hill”

Bartlett’s leader – and everything’s sweet?

Call it the eye of the storm, the Indian summer, but peace and harmony reign in the Dems – for now. When the party review results are handed down, all bets will be off.

Despite appearances, however, some Dems are getting bemused at his manoeuvrings on the Government’s regressive sugar levy.

The Government hopes to get the regulation gazetted when Parliament sits this weak – and the National Party has been wooing the Queensland Dem leader.

The neanderthal Nats have been warned by the departments involved – let alone the pundits – that the measure is a stinker. Despite this, they are keen to give Australia’s sugar producers yet another $150 million on top of the $250 million from the transfer of shares of Sugar Terminals Limited in 2000 and $60 million in 2001 – even if the canegrowers and the likes of Bob Katter aren’t being that gracious about it.

Labor and the minor parties in the Senate – with the obvious exception of One Nation – seems likely to oppose the measure and have suggested that industry adjustment funds come from consolidate revenue. This means that the Dems have power of life and death over the proposal.

Bartlett has already revised his views on the matter, after originally suggesting that the Dems would oppose the measure.

Far north Queensland is scarcely Democrat territory – but Cherry has hinted that the Dems might do a deal if environmental outcomes are linked to the sugar handout. Canegrowers have much the same reputation as Agent Orange when it comes to environmental management – as reflected in the Hildebrand Report on the sugar industry and the recent Productivity Commission report on the impact of land management practices on the Great Barrier Reef – but they have angrily rejected this idea.

Panicky Nats have convinced the Cabinet that canegrowers need mollycoddling, so if there are any environmental measures in the package, they’re likely to be window dressing.

It’s all got some Dems asking why they are seriously considering giving a helping hand to the Nats and a leg up to environmentally-nasty cane growers – and what Bartlett is doing.

Reform in the Tasmanian Libs? You’re kidding?

Is Tasmania’s new Liberal leader, Rene Hidding, crazy brave, brave or just crazy? The jury is out – but his announcement that he wants to rid the party of factionalism has got the local warlords up in arms.

Particularly angry is our old friend Erica Betz. He and the God-bothering Senator Guy Barnett are not at all impressed by Hidding’s plan to open up Senate preselections to the party rank and file, rather than a 61 members preselection committee.

Erica is working the phones like a man possessed, and he and Barnett have come out this week saying that Barnett has more important things to do than modernising the Tasmanian party.

Any independent observer will tell you that the Tassie Libs are looking dilapidated – to say the least. The division is desperate need of reform, as their woeful recent state election performance showed – but when Erica’s preselection is under threat, the normal rules just don’t apply.

Wannabe pitches for the redneck vote

Would-be South Australian Liberal leader Mark Brindal wants God on his side – or Fred Nile, anyway, as he pitches for the redneck vote. In a torturous soliloquy on local ABC radio last week he warned against a “scramble for political correctness” that had been “unfair to Fred Nile”, calling for further debate on whether Muslim women in Australia should be able to wear the chador.

Still, Brindal is a reasonable man. Despite the terrorist threat we now face, he finished off with the useful concession “I’m not suggesting bringing back compulsory wearing of mini-skirts and making all men wear shorts”. Funny. We never knew mini-skirts were compulsory.

Louise Staley’s new horizons

Crikey favourite and would be Victorian Liberal Party powerbroker Louise Staley is causing a stir in Big Mal’s old seat of Wannon.

Louise moved in next door to another prominent Lib wannabe, Joy Howley, in the seat earlier this year. The two have kept themselves busy making jams and preserves – but, as if the Victorian Libs didn’t have enough problems, Louise is now getting the preselection itch.

Wannon has been held by David Hawker ever since Mal quit after his election loss in 1983, but other than a gig as a shadow minister under Hewie, he has little to show for almost 20 years in the job.

He also seems to have little in the way of numbers. Wannon may well be where Louise finally strikes lucky.

More woes for the SA Dems

The South Australian Democrats have just lost a leader who gave them much-needed credibility, and now they have lost a long-serving state executive member.

The branch is already riven by disputes between Mystic Meg and Britney loyalists. Finding a new leader, a new MLC plus filling a spot on the executive will only exacerbate matters.

Why was he never elected?

Steve Bracks’ star new recruit, skier Kirstie Marshall, happily admitted that she knew nothing about anything, so why was she elected to the seat of Forest Hill? Just look at the brilliant issues Liberal Vasan Srinivasan ran with.

Last week, the Indian Voice – Victoria’s first and Australia’s leading Indian Community Newspaper, as it tells readers – told of Srinivasan’s plans to take up the case of an Indian Moslem taxi driver if elected.

It appears an Urdu speaking taxi driver wanted to use the gents at a Shell petrol station in Moorabbin. An attendant, named Peter, is said to have refused, on the grounds that Shell’s policy is not to provide keys to their toilets to Muslims. He was alleged to have said “Muslims don’t know how to use toilets. They stand on the toilet seat rather than sit on it” – although he denied this to Indian Voice and instead claimed that the toilets were closed.

Forest Hill, you don’t know what you missed out on.

Hillary Bray can be contacted at [email protected]

Peter Fray

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