The race for speaker of the House is on and as ever the mud is flying as the competition gets more fierce. See how the debate over favourite Bruce Barid has unfolded in Crikey subscriber only emails this week:

The campaign to bring down Bruce Baird

Crikey email – Wednesday 10 November (toned down version)

The anonymous emails are starting to fly to undermine the seemingly successful tilt at the Speaker’s job by moderate and former Greiner Government minister Bruce Baird. Here is an example of what is being put around but we don’t lend our good name to this material:

This man must be stopped. “Bruce baby” Baird simply cannot be speaker. I used to work for Bruce and he doesn’t have the patience for the job, and doesn’t know how to command or control an audience. He’s just doing it as his last chance of fame in the federal house.

Remember 2001? Bruce was always happy to boast since that he was offered the speaker role and refused it as too demeaning, that a ministry somewhere had his name on it.

Who’s desperately chasing it now? He’s not young and has often admitted that this is likely to be his last term anyway.

It’s funny that the short man is throwing his weight behind Baird, especially as Bruce Baby is just as angry at Howard for being overlooked as Bronny is. He hasn’t been afraid to make critical comments about the PM in private to members of the public and colleagues.

He’s been cranky every time he was overlooked for the front bench and is also known to have mood swings, despite once being a psychologist.

Don’t expect him to take the blame for a mistake – and the lad does keep a grudge. Staff relations have never been a strong point and turnover has been high.

Why Bruce Baird will make a great speaker

Crikey email – Thursday, 11 November

Australia needs a decisive speaker in the Federal Parliament to keep the boys and girls in Canberra in order and Crikey has quickly come to the view that Bruce Baird is the man for the job.

Bruce Baby rang on the Crikey mobile this morning and made two brief points:

• Everything we ran yesterday was rubbish
• If we do it again he’ll sue the pants off us (hence what is published above is substantially toned down)

Anyway, we’ve conducted a thorough investigation of Bruce’s fine record as a Minister in the Greiner Government and reckon he was unfairly maligned in yesterday’s missive. Many of Bruce’s political staff over the years remain friends and admirers of the man.

It is an interesting point that often comes up in terms of how Crikey operates. Political editor Christian Kerr has given a couple of speeches arguing that one of Crikey’s roles is to report on how power operates at the grass roots of political parties.

The proverbial smear campaign or “sh*t sheet” is often very influential in terms of internal party votes and Crikey has been used to change a number of outcomes over the years by publishing such material to our politically connected readers.

The most celebrated example is probably the 30,000 words we published from various Victorian ALP insiders in 2002 ahead of the state conference in which the Greg Sword-Left alliance took control from Labor Unity.

As one Bracks adviser said later, “That’s probably the first time in the world that a major political party power struggle has played out in public on an independent third party web site.”

A more specific example is probably this piece which was credited with defeating Paul Cronin’s campaign to be Liberal Party Deputy President in Western Australia last year.

Yesterday’s missive on Bruce Baird certainly falls into the “sh*t sheet” category and we accept it was unfair but the fact it is being circulated as part of a campaign to a shift a few Liberal Party room votes still makes it relevant.

Bruce Baird and Latham on Scary Spice

Crikey email – Thursday, 11 November

NSW Liberals’ deputy leader Barry O’Farrell writes:

I was pleased to see your further investigation into the claims of an alleged former staffer about Bruce Baird.

I worked for Bruce between 1988-92. However you want to measure it the bloke was both impressive and successful and he left State politics with considerable esteem and a reputation intact.

He has always been the professional and consummate politician and, in my view, was unlucky not to be elected leader when Nick Greiner resigned. The Baird I read about in yesterday’s report was unrecognisable to the one for which I worked.

Cheers, Barry

PS. Wouldn’t it be nice if print and electronic media were as swift and as self-critical in correcting misleading reports as you are?

Meanwhile, a former Coalition staffer writes:

While the former Bruce Baird staffer whose missive caused such a stir makes a number of important points about their former boss, I think they have missed the point about working in politics.

As a former Coalition staffer, who had a lot of contact with Baird’s electorate staff between 2001 and 2004, I can tell you from experience, it wasn’t all smooth sailing in his office and often he had frustrated staff and office tensions. I remember many coffees in Canberra where the bosses’ name was taken in vain. Undoubtedly this tension resulted in a pretty high turnover of staff who took better offers when they came up.

But this writer makes out as if angst in a political office is something out of the ordinary. Just like many other backbenchers, Bruce Baird was not always easy to work for and tensions might have boiled over in his office, but this is the cut and thrust of politics.

This is a gig where schedules are tight and priorities often have to shift day-to-day. Everybody in the office (the boss included) puts their neck on the chopping board every three years when they face the polls. There’s no doubt MPs can be demanding but they do it to ensure everybody has a pay cheque at the end of each term. It’s the nature of the beast – just ask half the patrons of Aussies on a Thursday before the house rises what they think of the boss – I doubt there’d be too many praises sung.

Another subscriber writes:

Bruce Baird is remembered by some in the Greiner and Fahey government as not being decisive enough. Many decisions involving him as Minister for Transport, including the legendary M2 motorway to Sydney’s north-west, were made after a telephone call to the Premier of the day to ask for advice about what he should do.

Later when he was the Chief Executive of the Tourism Council of Australia, its finances were not strengthened. This in turn ultimately led to him standing for the Federal seat of Cook. Since then he’s been trying to get a Ministerial berth and the probability of gaining the Speakership may well be his last huraah.

Given the way he performed in the NSW Parliament and his standard response of “wrong, wrong, wrong” whenever the Opposition targeted him during Question Time, I worry about how effective he would be as speaker.

Meanwhile Mark Latham has entered the debate, backing Baird over Bronwyn Bishop. reports that Latham said:

“Bronwyn scares me – but maybe that’s what the Liberal Party want,” he said today.

“They want Scary Spice in the chair to keep the leader of the opposition in line. Well, I’ve gotta say she scares me more than anyone else. So if you want someone who leaves the Opposition petrified, then Bronwyn’s the job, I think. But if you want someone who’s got the respect around the parliamentary chamber you’d probably go for Bruce Baird.”

Read the full report in here – Latham backs Baird, not ‘Scary Spice’

Baird looked for an easy answer to the NSW bus crash tragedies

A NSW subscriber writes:

Until now I have been staying out of the debate on the potential Speakers because I felt that I did not see any serious reason to support any of them or attack any of them – unfortunately it is almost Hobson’s choice!

However, when I read that Bruce Baird is threatening Crikey for publishing remarks of a former staffer regarding his performance as a NSW Minister I can no longer remain silent.

At the time Baird was in that position I was closely involved with the passenger transport industry on the East coast of Australia, being CEO of a major supplier company in the industry and a director of an Industry Association.

The most disgusting and hypocritical performance of any politician I can remember in my lifetime (since 1946) was Baird’s reaction to the horrifying express coach accidents at on the Pacific Highway at Kempsey and Grafton in 1989.

Baird’s appearance, and televised statement, at an RTA test of seats incorporating seat belts and his statement that he would insist that such seats be fitted to all coaches travelling through NSW sickened everyone who had any knowledge of these tragedies.

Firstly, (and I sincerely hope no relatives of the deceased read this) it was clear to everyone who viewed the destroyed vehicles that not a single life would have been saved by what he was proposing. It was the classic “be seen to do something” response of a politician. But in this case the horror of so many lives lost made his response repugnant and inhumane.

I have no idea whether he believed what he was saying but he appeared to care only about his position and political career. He certainly made no attempt to talk to people in the industry about the proposal and whether it would achieve a result. When someone questioned the feasibility of his statement he said (my paraphrase) “I will make them do it, if they want to bring their coaches into NSW they will have to meet our laws”.

The unfortunate and gruesome facts are: in one accident, the bus were literally cut in half by the semi-trailer which hit the coach, there is no safety device known to mankind which could have saved a single life; in the second, the majority of dead were killed when the coach turned on it’s side and scraped the fence which tore the side out of the coach along with the unfortunate passengers. Again, there was no technical answer to this.

The real answer, which everyone knew, was the upgrading of the highway to minimise the risk of such tragedies.

Baird avoided this issue and its associated funding questions and went for a quick publicity stunt while the issue was hot “I will fix it at no cost to the taxpayers!”

Ultimately, we have an Australian Design Rule which mandates the fitment of seat belts in long-distance coaches, albeit in quite a different form to Baird’s proposal; the company whose product he was promoting went broke within a year.

Although this ADR is a sound and worthwhile improvement to safety of these vehicles, the fact remains that not a single life would have been saved in the two terrible accidents which led to Baird’s grandstanding.

It is unfortunate enough that he will reap the rewards of his pension, having done little to improve either NSW or Australia in his career, but let us hope that he does not also enjoy the status and money of the position of Speaker.

Proud friend and colleague of Bruce Baird

I worked for Bruce Baird on his ministerial staff between 1992 and 1994, have had numerous professional and social contacts with him since then and am proud to call him a friend.

As a member of his senior staff I obviously had the opportunity to observe him in the crucible of the parliament and in complex and protracted negotiations. I found Bruce to be thoroughly professional with a unique capacity to retain a grasp on matters of complex detail I have not since seen matched. He also had a unique ability to grapple with complex issues and make clear, authoritative decisions.

Since my time working for Bruce I have attended numerous functions hosted on his behalf by the tourism industry and can categorically state that he is held in the highest regard by the industry who count him as a true friend.

I am prepared to go “on-the-record” with my views why doesn’t the phantom staffer put his/her name to the claims?

Geoff Fowlstone

Meanwhile, another supporter writes:

There’s been more than a little commentary on the speaker role – as a five year Bruce Baird employee (veteran), can I say from a position of experience that Bruce is one of the most thoughtful and astute individuals in the Parliament and holds his staff in the highest regard.

Bruce is a total professional, earns loyalty from his staff and has a wide range of relations across his party and the parliament that many others envy.

Every member of the Government aspires to serve in the Ministry (one would hope), Bruce is no different and he has worked to achieve those goals through been a strong voice in the party room, raising the standard of the committees he leads and achieving real outcomes for his electorate.

The Parliament would be well served to have a universally respected member like Bruce as Speaker.

Unlike some of your other commentators of late, I’m not too cowardly to put my name to these opinions. Readers should treat the anonymous carpet baggers for what they – irrelevant cowards.

Trent Mumford