Following the internal warfare inside the Liberal Party these days requires a GPS device, radar, a satellite dish, an asbestos suit, a pair of lead boots and a strong stomach.

The investigator has to traverse radioactive zones where the heat of personal hatreds, the fires of over-weaning ambition and the clash of mutant egos is overwhelming.

Let’s start with the Mosman Daily editorial on February 5: “Where has our State Opposition gone?”

Mosman, is the wall-to-wall Liberal parish on Sydney’s North Shore. It is plum in the federal electorate of North Sydney, held by shadow Finance Minister Joe Hockey, and the state electorate of North Shore held by shadow Health Minister Jillian Skinner.

In a bruising assault on Mrs Skinner and her leader Barry O’Farrell, the editorial said:

Where, oh where, is our State Opposition? Mrs Skinner has so far not returned calls from the Daily to discuss the State’s health funding woes.

And where is Opposition Leader Barry O’Farrell? Isn’t now the perfect time for Mrs Skinner and Mr O’Farrell to come out all guns blazing to demonstrate that we should vote them in as our next State Government?

In fact, Skinner and O’Farrell have been hammering the Labor Government’s dereliction of the hospital system on almost a daily basis. It may not be making the media’s headlines, but they have been relentlessly pursuing the health crisis.

So where does the editorial come from? In Canberra, restlessly and nervously watching the implosion of Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership of the Federal Coalition is Joe Hockey.

In the past he has been a combative Turnbull supporter and, as leader of the “wet” faction known as “The Group”, played a significant role in recruiting the merchant banker to federal parliament via a bloodstained pre-selection battle in Wentworth on the other side of Sydney Harbour.

But Hockey, if nothing else, is a numbers man. He has now calculated that the Coalition’s chances of winning in 2010 are almost impossible, under Turnbull or a born-again Peter Costello.

However, in NSW there is a better than 50 per cent chance that the Coalition will trounce the incumbent, discredited and disgraced Labor Government.

It’s no wonder that like any power junkie who has tasted ministerial office — he was Employment and Workplace Relations Minister in the last Howard Government — Hockey is now casting his beady eyes over Skinner’s seat.

At 64, Skinner, a former journalist and now deputy Liberal leader, is in no mood to step down or be bulldozed into early retirement by “The Group”.

So, if they can’t shift Skinner, what about Peter Debnam over in Vaucluse? Last weekend, Sydney’s Sunday Telegraph carried the article, “Big Mal planning to sack Debnam”, by the paper’s Canberra correspondent Sharri Markson.

The paper fingered Turnbull as the architect of a party plot to replace Debnam, the former NSW Opposition leader, and listed some names of possible candidates to take his place.

Turnbull has denied any part in the scheme but he hasn’t rushed to defend Debnam either. Like the get-Skinner editorial focused on the North Shore, the get-Debnam article on Vaucluse shows that some Federal MPs are hunting for prime seats in NSW and the premiership in 2011. People like the Liberal left Joe Hockey and the hard right’s Tony Abbott, for example. They must be causing sleepless nights for O’Farrell, while they’re giving the rest of us nightmares.

Peter Fray

Save 50% on a year of Crikey and The Atlantic.

The US election is in a little over a month. It seems that there’s a ridiculous twist in the story, almost every day.

Luckily for new Crikey subscribers, we’ve teamed up with one of America’s best publications, The Atlantic for the election race. Subscribe now to make sense of it all, and you’ll get a year of Crikey (usually $199) and a year’s digital subscription to The Atlantic (usually $70AUD), BOTH for just $129.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW