The Oz reports today on how members of the PM’s faction, the NSW Right, have asked him to reign in the maverick Senator Bill Heffernan after his Julia Gillard comments.
This must be a recent development. The NSW Right’s main number-cruncher, Nick Campbell, is a former Heffernan staffer and has been responsible for orchestrating the knifing of just about any and every Right member critical of Heffernan.
The Oz attributes the most recent anti-Heffernan push to his intervention over the preselection of moderate Senator Marise Payne. The fact is that many in the Right still hate Payne more than they love Heffernan.
Indeed, many of us in the Right blamed Heffernan for Payne’s preselection in the first place. Payne’s main opponent in her successful 1997 preselection was conservative dentist and monarchist Abraham Constantin. Heffernan refused to back Constantin after he ran against Heffernan in an earlier preselection. On that occasion, Constantin supporters were receiving all kinds of threats from Nick Campbell over their refusal to support “Heffo”.
Indeed, the anti-Constantin push was just one example of where Heffernan and his supporters have done deals with “the Left” against other members of the Right. She may have thanked him in her maiden speech, but current NSW Right Senator Connie Wells was opposed by “Heffo” in her many preselection attempts. This included her 1995 pitch for the federal seat of Lowe (where she was defeated by then-Strathfield State MP Paul Zammitt and at least one pitch at the Senate.
“Heffo” is also believed to have been behind the rolling of popular Cook MP Stephen Mutch (who lost his preselection to now-retiring Bruce Baird. He hasn’t had the best relationship with NSW powerbroker David Clarke, whose frequently refrain to me and others in the Right was: “You just can’t trust that Heffernan fellow!”
As the PM’s representative on State Executive, a major part of Heffernan’s role has been to rein in the Right when they look like opposing a decision of the PM which the Right will find unpalatable. If Marise Payne’s endorsement pitches Heffernan and Nick Campbell against Clarke, factional hell will break loose. Hardly what Howard needs on the eve of a federal election.