The biggest blow to Peter Costello didn’t come in Question Time yesterday. It came with the claim
that Rob Gerard’s tax problems were known within the Liberal Party –
that he was approached about taking on the role of Party treasurer but
rejected it due to his stoush with the ATO .

The Treasurer released this terse little statement early last night after Laurie Oakes broke the yarn on National Nine News:


I have never heard the suggestion that Mr Gerard was considered for
federal Treasurer of the Liberal Party. I have never heard any
suggestion that he rejected such a job or was considered unsuitable for
such a job. These allegations are a complete surprise to me and I have
no reason to believe they are true.

5 December 2005

Which is interesting. Or amazing, maybe. I let my Liberal Party
membership lapse back in 1995 – yet I remember hearing the Gerard
story. Perhaps it was a South Australian thing.

Former Liberal treasurer Ron Walker has issued a statement this morning saying Gerard was approached about taking over as Liberal Party treasurer – but declined without giving a reason.

Less than a fortnight ago, the Treasurer said
that “lazy” Liberal MPs should leave the party. But federal deputy
leaders shouldn’t ignore the party machine – which seems to be what the
Treasurer has done if his statement is accurate.

Melbourne University academic Sally Young published a fascinating feature in The Age back in July called “Power without people”. She wrote:

Political participation seems to be either dead or dying in Australia.

Instead of being driven by citizens, politics has become the domain of
party hacks and hired guns, driven by big money and big business. It is
an exclusive club, controlled by cadres and career politicians, riddled
with factions, dirty tricks and nasty power struggles…

The parties are reluctant to reveal the state of their membership bases
but we know that they have decayed. The ALP had an active membership of
around 370,000 members in the 1940s but by 1990, had just 55,000
fee-paying members. Only five years after it was officially launched,
in 1950, the Liberal Party had grown to a membership of 198,000 but by
1990, this had dropped to 69,000.

She’s right. The Liberal Party in particular, as the party in power,
effectively uses – or abuses – the resources of its parliamentarians’
offices to stay in power. It has created the ultimate taxpayer funded
political campaign unit, the Government Members Secretariat.

The branches don’t matter. The membership is moribund. Marginalised. Many MPs simply don’t care about the rank and file.

But the federal deputy leader should be aware of fund-raising
activities. They’re vital. His party can’t rort all its campaign costs,
after all. He should know what’s going on – particularly if he wants to
move on himself.

There mightn’t be many of them, but you need the support of the loyal foot soldiers of the party if you want to become leader.

Peter Costello has got a long way on being the junior counsel in a key
court case two decades ago, but that won’t carry him thought the gates
of The Lodge.

What was that yarn by George Megalogenis over the weekend about? Didn’t it mention the word “lazy”?