Kim Beazley must have been onto something with his selection of retired SAS officer Peter Tinley to run for Stirling.

In Estimates hearings on Monday, John Faulkner did what he does best – probed hapless Defence bureaucrats to uncover some political skulduggery.

After May’s budget, Defence printed 5000 copies of a booklet summarising its budget, and sent a few copies each to individual MPs and Senators’ offices. A typical piece of government public relations, one would assume. Initial copies were sent to RSL Clubs and others on the Department’s mailing list. Faulkner’s questions revealed otherwise.

Subsequently, 63,000 copies were printed for Members and Senators. Defence claims not to know who asked for them. They were distributed directly by the printer according to a list provided by Nelson’s office.

But it turns out that fully 37,000 copies of the full colour 16 page A5 publication were distributed to households in the electorate of Stirling. They were paid for by Senator Chris Ellison’s postage allowance.

Defence officials claimed it was not a partisan document. However, through further questioning, it was revealed that the words: “Written and authorised by the honourable Dr Brendan Nelson MP, Minister for Defence, Parliament House, Canberra ACT” and a printer’s imprint were added to the second print run, on the grounds that it was being distributed through MPs’ offices. So Defence claims it wasn’t partisan, but then admitted that they added a printed and authorised because they knew that it would appear political. Which it was.

Sources in Western Australia say that Liberal Party polling shows the one term member for Stirling, Michael Keenan, has poor name recognition and that his chances of re-election aren’t looking flash. Billboards appearing around the electorate in recent months suggest that these sources are right, and the Liberal Party is spending up big.

But so apparently is the public purse.

It would seem logical that the Liberals’ polling is also picking up national security as a weakness in marginal electorates like Stirling. Defence is being used to defend the seat. Keenan has previously tried the brilliant tactic of politicising Anzac Day with a glossy brochure distributed in the electorate featuring his Leader’s photo.

Kim Beazley might have rendered his final service to the ALP in his own state with the clever selection of a decorated former Army Officer to contest the poll against Keenan.

Peter Fray

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