Dear Christian: Please refresh my memory. What is the exact
nature of the PM’s relationship with the Manildra Group? I happen to
live in his electorate and the other day I saw a very long train
hauling wagons with that name plastered all over the side rumbling
through the local railway station. It brought to memory something I
remember hearing a couple of years ago.

Dear Mike: It
appears to be a deep and loving relationship, but I worry whether there
could be some distressing co-dependency issues involved here. Have a
look at the Electoral Commission’s Annual Returns
site , which details donations made to political parties – then search
through the Hansard records and media releases on the subject in the Parliamentary Library to see what they say on the topic and decide for yourself.
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Dear Christian: I have a question about Peter Garrett to be sung to the tune of an old Tom Lehrer song:

Whatever became of young Peter
We miss him so tell us please
Is he sad
Is he lost
Is he gathering moss
While he’s blamed for the loss
Of some seats
Does Beazley, while wishing himself ‘President for life’
Curse the tree hugging peacenik and sharpen his knife
Does he dream about staging a coup
Peter what happened to you?

Dear Bruce: Middle
aged bald blokes in suits are thirteen to the dozen in Canberra. When
you look along the Labor backbenches from the Gallery, the only way you
can tell the difference between Garrett and Duncan Kerr is that Dunc
has the sharper tailoring. How quickly high profile new MPs get
absorbed into the great amorphous mass when they lose their old
platforms.
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Dear Christian: Could anyone
coherently explain to me the benefits and weaknesses of these three
voting systems: first past the post; proportional and preferential? Not
that I don’t understand part of all, but I would like some informed,
unbiased mind to set out the 1,2,3 hierarchy of best to worst.

Dear Sandra: This is going to be grossly oversimplified, but here goes.

First past the post means you get a result simply, quickly and
directly. You nominate your choice and that’s it. It doesn’t really
reflect the percentage, though. Take the UK election results of a
fortnight ago. Labour won 356 out of 645 with just 32.5% of the vote.
The Liberal Democrats got just 66 seats on 22% of the vote. Yes, there
are boundary and vote distribution issues involved, but you get the
picture.

Australians
know the upsides and downsides of preferential voting. It’s
two-for-the-price-of-one voting. You can vote for a candidate who’s a
lost cause, but then go on to exercise a second preference. But filling
out all the boxes? Is that fair – particularly when applied to, say,
the Senate. Steve Fielding, the Family First Senator, is about to take
his seat thanks to preferences. What percentage of the primary vote did
his party score? Not even two – 1.88%.

Proportional
representation – like Tasmania’s Hare Clarke system – creates
multi-member electorates. It gives minor parties a much better chance
of being elected. It also leads to hung parliaments. Are sclerotic
parliaments democratic? Um.

Personally, I like optional
preferential. You vote for your preferred party – then as many other
options as you like – but don’t risk funnelling preferences to causes
you despise.
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Dear Christian: Who was
the last Federal Minister to get their marching orders? My political
history is hazy, but I think Amanda has as much chance of getting the
boot as Tiger Woods has of missing a one-foot putt.

Dear Paul:

We’re talking ancient history here, so it’s quite OK to be hazy. Browse
through the press releases in the Parliamentary Library’s collection here.
Go to the Prime Minister’s file for April 1996 and there you’ll find a
very pious document entitled “A guide on key elements of ministerial
responsibility” – better known as the Ministerial Code of Conduct. The
look up the file for September of the following year. There’s a
transcript of a presser the PM gave in the wake of the travel rorts
bloodbath on 26 September, after Peter McGauran walked.

In the
transcript John Howard uses what’s become a very familiar form of words
in the intervening years: “I knew absolutely nothing of these matters
until a few days ago.” Since September 1997 it appears that the Prime
Minister has known nothing to warrant any ministerial resignation.
Instead, his mind seems dominated by the knowledge that such events are
called giving a break to your opponents.

And, no, the
Ministerial Code of Conduct was released on April 2, not April 1 –
although we’re assured that the PM has a very good sense of humour.
————————————————
Dear Christian: What’s the Canberra equivalent of K Street, the Washington lobbyists’ row? And who are the best lobbyists in Canberra?

Dear Lucretia:
The geography part is easy. You’ll find most of our lobbyists, PR
firms, legal eagles and peak lobby groups in Kingston, Manuka and
Barton – handily located to Parliament House, the departments that
really matter, and to Canberra’s best restaurants.

Picking the
leading lobbyists is a different matter. I know who I’ve employed and
who I’ve been impressed by. Perhaps we should ask the Crikey
readership. Nominations, please, to [email protected]