Hugo Kelly reports Labor has gone fishing for an issue, but is Bomber Beazley still a ponderous windbag?

Kim Beazley dumped Cornelia Rau quick smart today and turned his attention in Question Time to a brazen piece of pork barrelling in an
obscure creek on the NSW central coast.

First, some background: Tumbi Creek is a quiet backwater the local Wyong Shire council wanted to turn into something bigger and better.
They applied for a $1.5 million federal grant to dredge the creek mouth and allow a nice healthy environment for fishermen and tourists.

Now the thing about Tumbi Creek is that it’s in the middle of one of the nation’s most marginal seats, Dobell. And all this action was
taking place in the lead-up to the last election.

Naturally, the sitting federal Liberal member for Dobell, Ken Ticehurst, was keen to get the money flowing for the locals. So keen,
he announced the Governemnt had awarded the shire $1.5 million to drege the creek – 24 hours, it turns out, before the local
bureaucrats got around to actually applying to the feds for the grant.

We know this because some mischievous soul leaked some very inciriminating paperwork it to the ALP. Kim Beazley used it in
parliament this afternoon to dump all over the relevant minister, Jim Lloyd, who was then the subject of a Labor censure motion for
misleading the parliament and “defrauding the commonwealth”.

The trouble began with a big downpour last year that opened up the mouth of the Tumbi Creek and reduced the cost of the dredging works. When the Wyong Shire reported this to the governemnt, and requested a re-allocation of funds for some more worthy projetcs, they ran into trouble.

According to the email trail, Minister Lloyd’s chief of staff told them to take the money for the project – or lose it.

Beazley told Lloyd: “Your office was told an official to cover it up; any change would result in a reduction in Commonwealth funds. Wyong
officials were told to keep their counsel.”

This, concluded Beazley, meant Lloyd’s office: “enganged in an conspiracy to mislead about the true state of the Tumbi Creek and
defraud the Commonwealth.”

Tony Abbott’s defence during the censure motion was, err, inventive: “All I’ve read in the emails is evidence that this government keeps
its commitments!”

A delicious skewering, but will Jim Lloyd be disciplined under the John Howard’s Ministerial Code of Conduct? Come on!

Rating the Bomber – windbag or cutting through?

Bomber Beazley was in fine form today, leading an attack on the government for another grant under the regional rorts program. This time it’s money for dredging a creek in a marginal seat that was announced before the local council had applied for it, and then was persevered with even after Mother Nature had cleared the creek of her own accord.

It was stirring stuff for the ALP. It sounds as if Beazley had remembered to take his angry pills: “This is kleptomania dressed up in the guise of public policy on infrastructure.” It sounds as if Beazley had remembered to take his angry pills. For more, see the ABC News Online report from this afternoon.

The opposition may not have enjoyed a big bounce in the polls, but the Bomber has now given enough interviews and speeches for the Crikey army to make an assessment.

Is the windbaggery gone as promised? Or is the big bloke still waffling on till your eyes glaze over?

Beazley opened his victory press conference with the line “Firstly you will be pleased to know I intend to be brief,” but sadly such sentiment seems to have been shortlived.

Last night’s interview with Tony Jones on Lateline certainly featured a number of occasions when the Bomber was banging on for too long about Iraq and had to be interrupted by the man who did not interrupt his holidays for the tsunami. Check out the transcript here.

Out of 21 answers Bomber gave to Jones on Lateline last night, 17 ran to four lines or more. Too long, Kim!

And during yesterday’s opening statements to parliament dealing with the South Australian bushfires and the deaths of Adam Dunning in the Solomons and Paul Pardoel in Iraq, John Howard’s comments were a concise 535 words while the Bomber blew out to 845 words.

Of the interviews that Beazley’s done since his return, the first – for PMon 28 January – was easily the most concise. Two days later on Sunday Sunrisehe was already letting it go a bit, particularly when it came to explaining his position on Iraq. Now he’s getting right back to his old habits.

You won’t hear Howard saying it, but he could do worse than to steal this line from former British PM Benjamin Disraeli, who said of William Gladstone: “He is a sophisticated rhetorician, inhebriated by the exuberance of his own verbosity.”

Bomber should take heed: grog is not the only intoxicant politicians should swear off.