In the interests of balancing all the puerile moral outrage that has poured forth about Senator Ross Lightfoot’s allegedly inconsistent-stories-that-don’t-quite-entirely-add-up, I think that the least Crikey reporter Hugo Kelly can do is make sure he gets his own facts straight first before he starts criticising others for the same thing.

Hugo claims (‘Why Howard will cling to Lightfoot’, 18 March) that the sole reason John Howard is standing behind Senator Lightfoot is because he needs his Senate seat to protect his Senate majority with everything he’s got after 1 July. This claim is patently absurd and makes Hugo look just plain silly.

It is a rudimentary political fact that if a senator such as Ross Lightfoot were to resign, be sacked or (touch wood) die in office – then that casual Senate vacancy would automatically be filled by a new senator nominated by the very same party who won the seat at the previous election. In this case, that would mean that were he to fall under the proverbial political bus, Liberal senator Ross Lightfoot would simply be replaced by another Liberal senator. Not really the stuff of which great political dramas are made? And certainly not likely to be the kind of scenario that would be keeping the Prime Minister awake at night.

Let’s just hope that we’re not going to see the same mistake and hysteria trotted out by Hugo Kelly in Crikey every time any Liberal Senator does something vaguely controversial with cries of Howard’s on the verge of losing control of the Senate! That’s just not how it works, boys and girls.

Hugo Kelly replies.

God forbid any politician would die in office, but our correspondent misses the point. The danger for Howard is that Lightfoot does a Mal Coulston and declares himself an independent, shifting to the cross-benches and becoming a maverick with enormous power. Privately, Lightfoot has been threatening to jump ship on and off for years. This breaches no consititutional convention and must be increasingly tempting for an operator like Lightfoot as he ponders his political legacy towards the end of his unorthodox career: Just another barmy backbencher, or a powerbroker?

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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