The fundamental liberal principles of equality before the law and the right to justice were under seige with the mandatory sentencing debate raging last week, but where were the ministers of conscience?

A Difference Of Opinion

Sydney Morning Herald Canberra correspondent Margot Kingston writes with more passion, more soul and more sincerity than half the rest of the gallery put together. What she can lack, alas, is detachment. All too often, stories just aren’t stories for Margot. Instead, they become crusades.

Margot – alone amongst Gallery commentators – read the last rites for the moderate faction of the Liberal Party then preached a pointed panegyric in a comment piece on March 14:

“Liberal moderates have a long tradition of crossing the floor to protect human rights…

“Last week, they were threatening to do it on the mandatory sentencing of children, to protect that most fundamental principle of liberalism, equality before the law, the right to a justice system where the punishment fits the crime, and the right not to be discriminated against on racial grounds…

“Sadly for black boys in the deep north, the moderate faction of the Liberal Party withered in the 1980s…

“Now the remnant moderates either keep their heads down and hope that by schmoozing to the dries they’ll get the odd good job or gather to drink red wine, bag John Howard, and remember the good old days…

“They briefly came to life last week, plotting to cross the floor to vote for a bill to strike down the mandatory sentencing of children. Yesterday, the last gasp became a whimper.

“The moderates escaped their consciences – and the public disclosure of how few of them are left – with a ‘Yes, but not today’ strategy. They may drink to their cleverness in standing for something while not having to vote for it. They should also drink to the death of liberalism in the Liberal Party.”

What did her SMH Canberra colleague Alan Ramsey have to say the following day?

“(Danna Vale) made mugs of those pundits already writing, in ignorance, that the Government’s moderates had folded their tents and would not confront Howard’s resolute opposition to any Commonwealth action against mandatory sentencing in either the NT or the West.”

There must be fascinating discussions in the Herald bureau.

Impossible Princess

Democrats are supposed to be touchy-feely, but Deputy Leader Natasha Stott-Despoja is just plain touchy – as this selfless statement showed during the mandatory sentencing bill debate:

“But I also acknowledge, too, that if those senators were to cross the floor – and I do urge them to cross the floor – they would probably get vilified by the Sydney Morning Herald. Knowing its past record on matters of conscience voting, they would probably be condemned for their individualist and petulant actions – certainly that is what it did in my case.”

Poor Natty. Perhaps MPs should stick to really, really tough media – like Good News Week.

The Mystery Of The Missing Moderates

Right wingers Danna Vale and Bob Katter raised doubts about mandatory sentencing – but where were the ministerial moderates?

Where was Robert Hill? Phillip Ruddock? Amanda Vanstone? Joe Hockey? Michael Wooldridge? John Fahey?

The chairs in the Cabinet Room must be more comfortable than Hillary recalls.

Something Carmen Does Remember

One may have expected Carmen Lawrence, as a former Western Australian premier, to have been active supporting her leader in the debate over mandatory sentencing in their home state and the Northern Territory.

Alas, Carmen introduced the measure – rushed in in the dying days of her government in an attempt to placate the loathsome shock jock Howard Sattler.

First Amongst Equals?

Tony Abbott hasn’t really told Canberra freelancer and author Tracey Aubin that he’ll be the next leader of the Liberal Party, has he?

The subject of her last book would probably beg to differ – Treasurer Peter Costello.

The Offspring

It has been interesting to see that the existence of Mad Monk Abbott’s child from a youthful test of faith is finally getting reported.

However, there are strong suggestions that Abbott is not alone among Parliament’s righteous in this. Persistent rumors claim another of the chosen also has a child born in sin – from time spent in, um, a missionary position.

Power Lunching

Amazement in Adelaide over reports of a lunch between Howard right hand man, minister, faction boss and former state Liberal director Senator Nick Minchin and local Labor opposition leader Mike Rann.

Minchin is technically an ally of embattled Premier John Olsen, but talk of late hints that many party conservatives have given up on Olsen and are swinging their support behind faction scion Ian Evans – gossip given added impetus when Olsen demoted Evans in a recent Cabinet reshuffle – or supporting putting in deputy premier Rod Kerin a la Barry Unsworth to go down at the next poll.

South Australia, of course, is famous for its bizarre sex crimes – and the political talk coming out of there is pretty weird, too. At the same time, the state Liberal Party has more feuds and factions that the Balkans, so news of the Minchin-Rann lunch has the rumour mill turning at a hyperactive rate.

One of the earlier decisions of the Howard Government was to appoint the PM’s long term ally Senator Michael Baume to the cushy job of Consul-General in New York. Now, remarkable yarns from Adelaide say that Baume might be followed by another equally experienced diplomat – Olsen himself. Foreign Minister Alexander Downer and the SA Premier do both have seats in the Hills area of Adelaide – but it all sounds very odd.

Strangely enough, no mention of the Minchin-Rann meeting has been made in the Adelaide Advertiser, although it’s said to be common knowledge at the paper. One reason the story hasn’t appeared may be that Tizer chief political correspondent Greg Kelton was best man at the wedding of Olsen’s key number cruncher, Joan Hall. Another might be that Kelton’s number two, Hugh Morgan, is married to an Olsen media minder.

University By Proxy

Are Colston family habits catching? Rumors are circulating that an electorate staffer to a senior Senate Minister asked the Parliamentary Library to prepare an assignment for his law studies. Developing…