Crikey is awarding the gong for loopiest political column of the year to The Australian’s Ross Fitzgerald for reasons that Barry Bananas is only too happy to explain.

Ross Fitzgerald, ex-University of Queensland academic, Brisbane Lions tragic, and now columnist in The Australian has named his “dream team” to achieve “seminal change in national politics”.

The former professor believes the great hope of the Liberal Party lies in Education Minister, Brendan Nelson, and Senator Santo Santoro, the Queensland Liberal Party factional heavy who has a unique record of electoral failure.

Really? We kid you not, check it out here. Fitzgerald has in recent times become something of a Santoro supporter. It’s interesting that since his arm chair ride into the Senate last year his efforts at securing admirers in the press gallery have been spectacularly unsuccessful. His impact on his Liberal Party colleagues has been on a par with that.

Senator Santoro has been singled out by Fitzgerald alone as part of the Liberal’s dream team along with Brendan Nelson (just how he proposes to translate Santo to the House of Representatives is not explained in the article).

Fitzgerald either wrote the article to settle a wager with a friend, or to repay Santo for a long lunch. It cannot possibly have been written with a serious purpose in mind. Or perhaps Mark Latham or John Faulkner put him up to it?

Santo has controlled the Queensland Division of the Liberal Party since 1990, exclusing the period 1994-1997. In the 12 year long Santoro regime, the Liberal Party in Queensland has distinguished itself as easily the worst performing State Division – and has been close to financial collapse on more than one occasion.

In 1991, the Liberal Lord Mayor of Brisbane, Sally Anne Atkinson, lost an “unlosable” election after a campaign orchestrated by Santo’s team.

In 1995, the year after his team was defeated by the Bob Tucker-led group, the Liberal Party achieved its best State Election result since around 1980, when it won 14 seats (increased to 15 after a by-election) helping pave the way for the defeat of the Goss Labor government early in 1996.

By the 1998 State Poll, the Santo faction has regained control of the state division and embarked on its strategy of trying to “accommodate” Pauline Hanson’s One Nation by refusing to put One Nation last on its how to vote cards – a political “masterstroke” devised by Santo and his long time mate, Tony Abbott.

The ploy backfired massively, and the Liberal Party dropped from 15 to 9 – losing official party status once again, and government.

In 2001, with Santo still very much in control, the Liberals waffled again over One Nation – and dropped from 9 seats to 3. One of the losers was Santo himself, who lost the safe Liberal seat of Clayfield to Liddy Clark – the first time the seat had even been won by Labor.

This year, Santo threw his money and weight into two campaigns – Clayfield and Indooroopilly (also lost in 2001) where the Liberal candidate was Alan Pidgeon, a long time Santo acolyte. Both seats were reasonably comfortably held by the Labor incumbents – to their complete consternation.

Today Santo maintains his control over the rump-like Queensland Division, despite a spectacular falling out with one-time Patron, Bob Carroll, and Senator George Brandis, thanks to his alliance with Michael “Khemlani” Johnson.

In case you are wondering about Santo’s role in the upset victory by Campbell Newman in the Brisbane Lord Mayor election this year, then wonder no longer. He had no role at all. Indeed, so concerned was Newman about the Santo machine that he moved his campaign HQ from the Liberal Party Offices to nearby space he rented himself. He also did all his own fundraising.

But Santo did run the Council Wards campaign – picking up just one Ward. It should never have lost four years ago, a leaving the Labor Party with an overwhelming 17-10 majority.

With a record like that Mark Latham must be hoping, and maybe even praying, the Fitzgerald “dream team” becomes a reality. He is, as Fitzgerald points out “a long time Liberal powerbroker”, but he failed to add that he is a long time unsuccessful one as well!

If Brendan Nelson has formed an “alliance” with Santo then either the good Doctor is as politically naïve as most people think, or is planning a return to a lucrative medical career!

Peter Fray

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