Kim Beazley’s former chief of staff Michael Costello was spot on when he wrote the following in The Australian on 30 June:

John Howard’s plans for a single national industrial relations system were overwhelmingly rejected last Sunday by the Liberal Party’s federal council. This occurred through a two-thirds vote in favour of a very strong resolution supporting states’ rights and the federal system, which the various speakers made clear was in fact a vote for or against Howard’s single national industrial relations system.

Now you might have thought the public humiliation of a prime minister by his party over the central idea of his political life might have generated a storm of damaging coverage for the government. If such a repudiation had happened to Kim Beazley, he and Labor would have had the living daylights kicked out of them for weeks on end.

Yet the little media coverage there was of this incident didn’t particularly reflect against the prime minister, and the story died within 24 hours.

It was therefore amusing to read Glenn Milne’s column in The Australian this morning as he finally cottoned on to the issue, but only after a briefing rumoured to have come from Julie Bishop which fitted up controversial WA Liberal power broker Noel Crichton-Browne with the whole embarrassing rebuff. Milne’s detail was interesting but apparently completely wrong, and NCB has fired off a letter to the paper demanding it be corrected and reserving his legal rights.

It was also a beat-up in the extent that it suggests NCB has the ability to deliver two-thirds of the Liberal Party’s federal council against the PM. What’s more, NCB claims to actually support the national IR legislation, something he told Milne last night when he belatedly called to check the story at 8pm.

Milne’s implication that NCB has suddenly re-emerged as a powerbroker is also superficial. The lad has never stopped playing the factional games in WA, as any reader of Crikey over the past five years would know.

NCB was close to Howard for many years, supporting him in all but one of the various leadership battles over the years. Milne’s claim that they fell out over retrospective tax legislation in 1982-83 was therefore bunkum. Truth be known, the breakdown occurred 13 years later in 1995 when NCB refused Howard’s demands to allow his former flatmate Alan Rocher, the independent MP for Curtin, back into the Liberal Party room unchallenged.

Peter Fray

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