Down on Macquarie Street the hacks call new NSW Premier Morris Iemma and his ministers “The B-Team”.

One of the more unpopular players is Roads Minister Joe Tripodi – yet
for some bizarre reason the independent candidate for this weekend’s
Pittwater by-election Alex McTaggart turned up for a pic op with him

Paul Mullins is a veteran of the NSW parliamentary press gallery and
has a long record of enticing exclusives out of governments. But the
story last night on 10 which looked like a puff piece on the Pittwater
by-election must have left Liberals whooping with joy, a few Labor
advisers shaking their heads, and a few neutral observers wondering
where Tripodi and McTaggart get their political advice. The C-Team?

Pittwater is the Liberal Party’s second safest seat, and following the
retirement of John Brogden, the by-election battle was always going to
be tough against Pittwater Mayor McTaggart, with Deputy Mayor Patricia
Giles running for the Christian Democrats. Making life harder for the
Liberals, Giles is directing preferences to McTaggart, breaking the
Liberals usual hold on Pentecostal preferences.

With no Labor candidate, the Liberals had always wanted to defend the
seat by painting McTaggart as a Labor-stooge. Instead, leaked stories
about the Liberal right wooing McTaggart only worked to highlight their
factional fissures.

Of the six Independent in the NSW lower house, five hold ultra-safe
Coalition seats. All of these Independents have received the assistance
of Labor to hold on to their fiefdoms, with a stream of capital works
and directed spending announcements to make the Independent MPs look
like they are delivering for their constituents.

All have managed to avoid doing a Meg Lees. They’ve been able to accept government largesse without getting too close to Labor.

So, what possessed McTaggart to appear with Tripodi? The Liberals want
to paint McTaggart as a Labor stooge, and he gives them priceless
evidence by tripping gaily up Mona Vale Road with probably the least
popular Minister in the government. All this at a time when Liberals
are already reminding locals of the Carr government’s habit of putting
toll roads to Liberal parts of Sydney and freeways to Labor parts – and
just after a week when the road access to Sydney’s northern beaches was
highlighted by a bus crash on the infamous Spit Bridge choke point.

Who is advising Tripodi? Doesn’t he realise what a dumb move it was,
five days before an election, to appear with the Independent candidate?

Crikey hears other Ministers have met the Independents, but advisers
were wise enough not to let the cameras anywhere within cooee. Help the
independent sure, but sometimes sticking the minister’s mug in the shot
as well is just dumb politics.

No doubt they were popping champagne corks at Liberal headquarters last
night, while the only sound to emanate from the government was the
grinding of teeth amongst advisers to other ministers. Once again,
Tripodi has managed to raise serious questions about his political