Australia’s smallest parliament – in the ACT with just 17 members –
plays its politics as hard as anyone else. Currently, with the first
majority government in the 15 years of self-government, Labor (nine
members) is untroubled by any lurking combination of the opposition
Liberals (seven) and the sole Green. But the real action is on the
opposition side where former Federal MP Brendan Smyth is fighting for
his political life with a challenge expected any day from newcomer
Richard Mulcahy, the former Australian Hotels Association CEO.

Smyth is not only fighting the charge of irrelevance, but also a local
political scandal which last week claimed the head of the ACT Liberals’
finance director, wine merchant Jim Murphy. Murphy, who heads the ACT
Liberals’ fund-raising arm, the 250 Club, and is credited with having
rescued the division from near bankruptcy, ran foul of the party
hierarchy over his preferential bankrolling of moderate candidates in
last year’s election, and now faces expulsion from the party.

Murphy is very close to former ACT chief minister Kate Carnell whom
Smyth supported for Senate endorsement when the former Senator Margaret
Reid retired two years ago against his then leader, now Senator Gary
Humphries.

Carnell never came close, having finished an ignominious third in the
race behind Humphries and then-Howard staffer Gerry Wheeler. But her
desire to repay Smyth (and keep her hand in locally) saw Carnell and
Murphy colluding to try to stop Mulcahy’s election in the seven-member
central seat of Molonglo, knowing full well that he would, sooner or
later, challenge Smyth.

Last week, intrepid Canberra Times assembly reporter Ben Doherty sought
to talk to Smyth about the Murphy affair and its implications, but Smyth
avoided him by, according to party sources, hiding in the toilets when
Doherty came to his office.

Observers of the ACT scene say Smyth plans to hit back this week by
punishing Mulcahy and his supporters with ritual humiliation and
demotion, which might just backfire.

Peter Fray

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