Dear Christian: Why is little-known Belgian Mathias Corman still the Senior Vice President of the WA Liberal Party? – Steve

Dear Steve: Rule number-one of politics says that if you’ve got the numbers, there’s no need for any other rule. Or justification.

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Dear Christian: Peter Costello says interest rate rises are the fault of the Reserve Bank and petrol prices the fault of big oil. But what is an “economy” if it is not the force that dictates interest rates and petrol prices? Is the man who runs that doublespeaking? – Jasmine

Dear Jasmine: This is an age-old question. Malcolm Muggeridge, the rather too smug altogether British journalist and public moralist, used to like quoting his father, one of that odd early twentieth century non-conformist chapel types of Labour MPs. His set piece speech even back then used to go: “Isn’t it extraordinary that we have His Majesty’s Army, and His Majesty’s Navy, and even His Majesty’s Air Force, but we have the National Debt”.

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Dear Christian: Who would you rate as the most perveable of our political leaders if they were, say, cavorting at Bondi Beach in their swimmers? (You can add Matt Price if you like). – Natalie

Dear Natalie: I think your question is unfair. Bondi counts out the pollie who we seem to see the most getting his kit off, Tony Abbott. He might have “ripped a hamstring off the pelvis by taking a surfboard out in a surf that was far too big for me at the end of January”, and needed a visit to hospital this week for repair work, but I can’t imagine him staying away from the water – but surely only the Northern Beaches in his own electorate.

Otherwise, the last party leader I recall at a beach in their swimmers was Natasha Stott-Despoja during the 2001 campaign – and that’s where the Democrats began to disintegrate. They lost Vickie Bourne from NSW. Paul Keating’s visit to the Mambo factory in 1996 is seen as Captain Whacky-dom at its worst. Battlers don’t go for ironic surfwear. Cottesloe Beach is associated with John Curtin’s darkest days. And do I need to remind you of what happened to a Prime Minister at Portsea?

I think Australian politicians and beaches just don’t mix. Still, if some ever lined up for a swimwear parade, it would be interesting to see where they looked for their beach iconography – the photography of Max Dupain or William Wang?

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Dear Christian: Two questions:

1. Stephen Smith has for some time appeared to me the most effective public speaker and presenter of policy in the shadow cabinet. I have read as well that he was considered to be in the soft end of Keating’s office, a Labor ‘traditionalist’ rather than a ‘moderniser’ (unlike the oh-so-successful vote-winning ‘new politics’ man, Latham). Do you know if that remains a fair description of his general position (when he’s not repeating focus groups verbatim, obviously)?

2. If Beazley loses the next election, what are the chances of caucus ignoring that git Rudd and installing the far less irritating Smith as leader? – Leo (not leaping)

Dear Leo: Be fair. Labor leadership speculation now? It’s Budget time – and that means we’re all obliged to ask how many more Peter Costello has left in him. Once the Budget is handed down, once the inevitable John Howard retirement speculation is over, once we know if the Bomber’s taken off, flying straight or running into turbulence, that’s when we can look at the next generation of Labor leaders. Only the cognoscenti know Smith at the moment. He’s a very public work in progress. His biggest concern at this stage is that he stands out – and it’s up to him to make sure he’s not just a smudge amongst the shadows. He’s got sexy portfolios – industry, infrastructure and industrial relations. The first two give him huge scope. The second’s going to be topical, too. That will really let him demonstrate if he is leadership material – how he can bridge the gap between Labor “tradition” that is stuck in the 1890s and the reality of employment in the twenty first century.

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Dear Christian: Last week’s Medicare safety net announcement was an obvious attempt to get bad news on health spending out of the way before the Budget, to somehow decouple it from whatever goodies the government has in store for us. Are they actually fooling anyone? – Larissa

Dear Larissa: The Government has a little helper here – the media, and its attention span. Huge sound and fury and then it’s onto something new. The Medicare safety net backflip will be forgotten by the time the Budget wraps are being written. The only people who will bring it up are other politicians – in a desperate competition for airtime with very little scope for detail – and the Alan Ramseys of the world, who we all know are nothing but curmudgeonly old farts who would refer back to an old story we’ve all moved on from and… do you see why they do it?

Peter Fray

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