Sussex Street was forced to call on its renowned crisis management skills today when stories broke of American campaign consultant Vic Fingerhut’s role in the ALP campaign. According to today’s Daily Telegraph, Fingerhut, a US polling guru, was the author of Kevin Rudd’s “working families” campaign theme. Whilst Fingerhut’s campaign advice has been eagerly embraced by Kevin Rudd, ALP hard-heads are nervous that his role could be portrayed negatively by the media. Fingerhut has been careful to cover his tracks. He has played down his links to the ALP, though some are concerned that he has not been careful enough. In his most recent visit to Australia he indulged in some media self-promotion in which he gave away just a bit too much information about his role in the Labor campaign. Rudd’s office immediately tried to gag him and he quickly returned the US. They’ll be hoping he stays there.

I live in Wentworth and I was Galaxy Polled last night. Among the questions were: Who will you vote for?; Have interest rate increases changed your intention?; Who’s preferred PM etc. And then there were the following questions: John Howard has announced his intention to retire in the next term, do you think Malcolm Turnbull would make a good leader of the Liberal Party? Followed by; Who do you think would be a better Prime Minister (in this order) – Tony Abbott, Brendan Nelson, Peter Costello or Malcolm Turnbull? No Downer … Nelson … God help us!

The real possibility of change in government is unsettling for a few of the mandarins and jobs-for-the-boys crowd. Who will survive? Even be seen as a solid, valuable professional, and who will be seen as having been more than properly cosy with Team Howard? Howard and his office have taken more and more control over appointments, sometimes over-ruling ministers and sometimes leaving them with people they didn’t want. Especially in Communications. Like Alston had to stomach Flint, Helen Coonan was said to be seriously underwhelmed by over-confident ACMA chair Chris Chapman, and to have explored ways to undo the appointment. Chapman has not impressed – neither colleagues, nor industry, nor new secretary Patricia Scott, and is trying to find ways to get across to Conroy that he’s more than just a Howard flunky. If there’s a new team in town, they may not yet see the world in the strictly black and white them and us division that someone like Janette uses, but there’s a few mandarins (hello Jane) and Howard appointments whose advice might not be highly valued. Others whose personal sympathies were as strongly Labor as Max’s were Howard (hi Lisa) will wonder whether the favour they’ve had from the Libs has tainted them in the eyes of the team they really want to belong to. Howard’s team have explicitly described our system as Washminster. In this article Andrew Podger – who’s been there – points out that the head of PM and C likes to have top mandarin jobs settled at the same time as any new ministry is announced. Their manoeuvering has to be careful, but they can’t afford to wait. So be sure it’s happening. Rudd has walked the other side of the street and knows a bit of mandarin. Max was clearly more an unelected minister than an old-fashioned Westminster Humphrey. According to Podger he said he’d have resigned the moment Beazley won. What’s Peter Shergold’s answer to the same question?

I was on Qantas flight 957 from Brisbane on Wednesday which landed at Canberra at 5pm. As we taxied off the runway I could see another jet coming into land over Mt Majura – quite clearly visible and not too far off actually landing – maybe a minute or two… and then I saw a Qantas jet taxi onto the runway and head down the runway in the opposite direction to which the plane was landing (ie the pilots wouldn’t have seen it approaching) and I felt that rising panic one does when something clearly isn’t right.

PR flack John Connolly is going to find he is walking a very fine tight rope in coming months. A long-term adviser to both Xstrata and BHP Billiton, he has obviously turned the conflict radar off in regard to the bid for RIO. There is no love lost between Xstrata and BHPB, so one client will have to go.

Peter Boxall, the secretary of the Department of Workplace Relations, not only attended the Hockey/Gillard NPC debate, but it turned out he ended up attending the coalition policy launch. I wonder wether the Hockey staffers he was sitting with told him what was about to happen? So much for caretaker protocols.

The nickname “Black Rod” for the West African partner of our High Commissioner to NZ was coined by a wit, who shall remain nameless, who served with the happy couple in our mission in New York. This information is confirmed by the reference to the question in Richard Woolcott’s recent hilarious book.

A little known fact is that the last time Labor won with Hawke and before that Whitlam, the drought broke. Is this a coincidence or was it the deep down sense of country that the voters “go” for a Labor government after years of drought. Is Rudd going to herald in a change of fortune for the bush? Will the seven year drought break?

Returning to the theme of what people did in their past, some friends of mine attended Adelaide Uni in the late 80s/early 90s. At the time, one of the more active members of Resistance at that campus was none other than modern-day Murdoch attack-dog, David Penberthy. I think the world needs to know this. Or is the idea of a young lefty going all conservative in his middle age (tee hee) a bit passé now?

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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