Not even Christmas can slow down Crikey’s prolific political columnist Hillary Bray.

Leadership speculation surrounds the Prime Miniature following the departure of Max the Axe. It’s about the only chink in the Government’s armour the opposition can probe that has any real resonance with voters – and it’s all the Short Man’s fault. He must wish and wish again that he’d never been so cocky in that interview.

All he wants for Christmas…

The final polls for the year are in, and what would Sime like for Christmas? A visit from Dr Nitschke?

Wheeled off the battlefield

Poor old Gerry Wheeler, going down to former chief minister Gary Humphries 147 votes to 191 in the race to replace La Stupenda as the ACT Liberal Senate representative. Possibly literally poor Gerry. One source has estimated the cost of his unsuccessful campaign – drinks functions and hospitality plus a full colour booklet and promo video to all preselectors – at at least $30,000.

This may well have been Gerry’s one chance. The Libs hold just one of the four Senate and Reps seats in the Territory. La Stupenda was there for more than 20 years, and Humphries has a way to go before he claims his old age pension.

Despite the wider opportunities that exists for preselection in the states, Gerry chose to make his powerbase in the ACT. He may have wasted the one shot in his locker.

While Ho Chi Minchin, the Monk, Erica, “Aden” Santoro and other nasties of the right will be gnashing their teeth at Saturday’s result, one Senator must have a great big smile on her dial – the Incredible Bulk, Amanda Vanstone.

Humphries is an old staffer of hers. That other one-time Bulk familiar, the Teenage Toecutter Christopher Pyne, is a little too independent minded and in the wrong chamber. Looks like she’s got herself a minion.

The Victorian Liberals rebuild…

Michael Kroger and his acolytes have turned to new horizons since their dual campaigns to make Michael Ronaldson Victorian Liberal President and Kroger himself Federal President collapsed last week.

The Kroger forces are now backing Fahey for Federal President while they scratch around for a new Victorian presidential candidate. The name heard in Kew and Malvern backyard barbeques is Kroger’s ex wife Helen, at the head of a vice-presidents ticket of Michael Ronaldson, Margaret Kirby, just defeated MLC Peter Katsambanis and Lyn Bowden, with former Senator Karen Synon as Womens Section Chairman, and Doyle as Leader, thereby giving them seven of the eight Victorian Federal Council delegates for the Fahey push.

With Doyle’s leadership now terminal after omitting Environment and the key support base of Small Business from the Shadow Cabinet the likelihood of him making it to Federal Council is about as likely as Kroger’s crew being elected to run the Party.

Meanwhile Peter Costello has washed his hands of the whole mess and is privately reminding people that Kroger had his chance to face the grind of Federal politics when Andrew Peacock retired. He reckons he can achieve the leadership without Kroger’s hamfisted attempts to help him. The Treas believes he no longer owes Kroger and he doesn’t need him trying to prove he does.

…as Labor returns to business as usual

Dozens of newly elected Victorian MP’s and their staffers will not have access to any computers or IT facilities until the third week of January at the earliest due to a bungle by Hymie’s minions.

The former IT contract has expired, ran well over budget and the contractor has decreed that under no circumstances will they connect any new account holders until well after the New Year.

At the same time, Ian Insect, Crikey’s fly on the wall, reports that at the induction session for the newly elected MPs, many of the toilers’ friends seemed more concerned learning the specifics of their new perks, as opposed to the finer points of tabling petitions or raising points of order.

Malthus the macho man

It’s has been fascinating to watch the transformation of the Malthus of Maroubra, Bob Carr, from a bookish nerd to macho fighter in the war on terror. But despite Bob’s belligerence, spin beats security.

The New South Wales police had been working on two mock terrorist drills, named Operation Apollo, for close to three months. The drills had been designed to test police, hospital, traffic co-ordination, media crisis response, emergency services, telecommunications and other services.

The key to the operation was secrecy – but last week the whole thing was been turned into a PR stunt. Half a million dollars had been invested in the exercise, but police sources suspect the head of Police Media and former Malthus staffer, Ross Neilson, decided that the money would be better spent improving the Premier’s image than security skills.

Media reports previewed the exercise and revealed the two locations – along with the exciting news that Malthus himself would “oversee the operation at the State Crisis Centre”.

Meanwhile, a second similar exercise scheduled for next March has been cancelled. As it would have occurred during the caretaker period during the election campaign, Malthus’s minders were concerned that J-Bro would have to be asked along as well.

Gad, the heat!

Adelaide sweltered in a heat wave last week, and particularly affected were the thirsty State Enterprises Minister Pat Conlon and the equally frequently parched opposition leader Rob Kerin.

After already making what appeared to have been a concentrated search for refreshment, the unlikely pair made their way to the boho Exeter Hotel in Adelaide’s Rundle Street nightclub strip, where after more of the chilled article they performed a most unusual floorshow.

Watermelon time

Summer is always a good time for watermelon – so no doubt that’s why the Communist Party of Australia’s limp organ The Guardian has decided to run an interview with Senator Kerry Nettle in it’s last issue for the year.

She’s just the way they like ’em at the CPA – green on the outside, red on the inside.

Outdated – or prescient?

An anonymous e-mail tip suggested that Hillary have a peek at the Queensland Young Liberals’ website here, as it looks as if it hasn’t been updated for a while.

True, it lists Kim Beazley as the leader of the opposition – but does this mean that they’re prescient, rather than out of date?

Democrat review hits a pothole…

Yet another Democrat heavy has resigned – this time Michele Adair, the prime mover on the party’s much vaunted review.

Her departure has only added to the air of unreality surrounding the party. Andrew Bartlett is failing to inspire members, missing in the media and seems unable to even assemble a staff team.

The Gang of Four Senators have indicated that their future in the party depends on the outcomes of the review. It is still due to be launched at the party’s national conference next month – but now seems even less likely to restore the Dems’ flagging fortunes.

…as succession plans stumble

Dramas and division are unfolding in the South Australian Democrats as the party seeks to find a replacement for former leader Mike Elliott, who left parliament last week.

Eight contenders for the vacancy emerged, but four of these were knocked back by the candidate assessment panel – including one Cathy Tucker-Lee, the current state president and staffer to the loopy deputy and interim leader, Sandra “Pert Breasts” Kanck.

As tough decisions never go down well at the bottom of garden, the Dems rulebook allows for a reassessment. This happened last weekend, but the outcome was repeated.

Now, however, it appears that the whole process of finding a replacement for Elliott has been suspended with Kanck appealing against the exclusions – but particularly Tucker-Lee’s.

Tucker-Lee is being promoted furiously by Kanck, who views the other contenders for the vacancy as potential leadership rivals.

A former national president, John McClaren, has been approved as a candidate, along with Ted Dexter, who was seen as having a good chance of winning the Hills seat of Heysen before the Democrat vote collapsed. There’s talk that if either of these fill the vacancy, they will immediately challenge for the leadership. Either would stand a good chance of beating Kanck, or at least passing enough preferences through to former leader Ian Gilfillan, who is also said to be considering another tilt, to push him over the line.

The Kanck forces – not without clout in the state division – are claiming that the anti Tucker-Lee push is all the work of Britney (remember her?) fans, but the reality is much simpler than that. Instead, it’s more to do with Tucker-Lee’s legendary demeanour. Rude, arrogant and dismissive are just a few of the milder adjectives that have been associated with her name.

Then there’s the question of why anyone would even want the job. Whoever serves out the three odd years left of Elliott’s term will face an uphill battle getting re-elected, as Democrat polling has collapsed even in their heartland of South Australia.

The position will be fairly isolated, too. With Mystic Meg gone and Britney too busy representing chic little wine bars in Melbourne’s Middle Park, the South Australian Dems have completely lost their connection with the federal scene.

Still, it’s an excuse for a fight – and that’s the one thing the Democrats can still do well.

Eternal optimists

No-one might be prepared to vote for them – but does that stop the New South Wales Democrats as they approach the March election. Talk about eternal optimists:

From: “Australian Democrats, NSW Division”

To:

Subject: NSW Campaign Update 17 Dec

Date: Tue, 17 Dec 2002

Campaign Update 17 Dec 2002

You will probably have seen or heard the latest Newspoll results today. It showed the Democrats at 1 per cent.

This is what expert political pundits call a “bad poll result” and reflects that the Democrats have had a bad year Federally. But before wailing, gnashing of teeth and giving in to despair, remember these things:

1. Polls go down, polls go up. The Greens have hit 1-2% before. They would have felt justified in giving up. What utter fools they’d have been in retrospect.

2. Polls go down, polls go up. We’ve had some shocking results over the years. Who can remember 1993 when we were on a fast downward slide to political oblivion? Then in 1996 we were triumphant.

3. This is a Federal House of Representatives Poll. It is NOT a NSW Upper House Poll. Our House of Reps results are always much lower, generally half the Senate result. Voters have shown they understand the difference between Federal and State. Which leads to:

4. We have a good track record in NSW. As your MLC Dr Arthur Chesterfield-Evans has delivered the goods for the last 4 years and is respected. As the lone Democrat MP he ‘punches well above his weight’ and is known to a significant number of NSW voters.

5. Senators and National Executive have been working as a team for the second half of the year and all have pledged to maintain this. Senators have got on with the job and stood up to the Government, unlike the confused so-called “Opposition”. The effects are beginning to be noticed internally and by media but not yet by the public. By March this will have had time to filter through to members and to the voters who want to support us.

6. At the National Conference we will have the first results from the National Review. This promises to be helpful in boosting our campaign.

7. Our State election campaign will be hard hitting, energetic and relentless. We will focus on our federal and state track records on key issues like planning, open government, healthcare, communities strength, Iraq, civil liberties and the need to stand firm on them in the light of the ubiquitous War on Terrorism that Labor and the Coalition are using to allow all sorts of knee-jerk law enforcement measures.

So this is not the time to throw in towel and give up on progressive politics. This is the time to take a stand and restore the Democrats’ fortunes. Getting one Democrat elected to the NSW Upper House is achievable in March. Once that is done the Democrats in NSW Parliament will more than double in influence, and the Democrats will be regarded as back in business.

If you have any concerns, ideas or want to be involved in the campaign please contact us. Please reply to mailto:[email protected]

In short, ignore polls, doomsayers and defeatists – having a strong Australian Democrats has never been more important to NSW and to the Nation.

Without us, the Liberals and ALP will undermine the principles of compassion, fairness, equity and freedom – all Democrat ideals.

JOIN US NOW AND BE PART OF THE SUCCESS

James Lantry

Arthur Chesterfield-Evans

SA Libs squabble over the purse strings

The South Australian Libs are spoiling for yet another fight – this time over the board of the company that controls the party’s assets, the Liberal Club Limited.

When the party split in the early 1970s and Steele Halls Liberal Movement made off with the loot, the party conservatives set up a separate company, Liberal Club Limited, to prevent something similar occurring. It has remained under their control ever since, with the party state council electing a trustee each year to vote their shareholding.

Now, party president Rosemary Craddock wants to move on the board and win control. She has two candidates lined up, former Legislative Council leader and party president Martin Cameron and businessman Ross Adler.

Both sides are brandishing differing legal opinions over what can be done with the party’s holding in the company – and in true South Australian Liberal style this one should run and run.

Hillary Bray can be contacted at [email protected]

Peter Fray

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