Despite Kevin Rudd effectively calling time on the political career of troubled Labor backbencher Belinda Neal, it appears the truth is yet to dawn on party activists in Neal’s Robertson fiefdom. As reported last week, the PM will almost certainly use a five-man hit squad to unseat the troubled local member, famously snared in the “Iguanagate” scandal, but Crikey has unearthed a series of documents that suggest Neal and her circle of acolytes have failed to cotton on.
A small coterie of Neal’s backers have been running an unofficial “re-elect Belinda” campaign for the last few months, utilising federal stationary, her husband John Della Bosca’s staffers and taxpayer-funded office time to convince local members to pour in cash for a revitalised 2010 tilt.
As the gloom descends, Neal’s inner circle, which includes Della loyalist Helen Myers and electorate officer Dez Karlsson, have kept up the barrage through something called the “Robertson 2010 Campaign”. The duo has even enlisted former PM Paul Keating in Neal’s lost cause, holding a DVD screening of Keating! The Musical on 2 July at Woy Woy’s Cinema Paradiso, with tickets a steal at $25. It is unknown whether Keating, whom Della Bosca helped send to the Lodge, is aware of the blockbuster event.
In emails spruiking the screening, Myers uses a Hotmail address but includes Neal’s electorate office address, post office box, and fax number. Interestingly, the Paradiso complex is owned by Alta Vista who have a long relationship with Della as backers of the “Fast Ferry” project that tried to secure State Government money for a commuter service from Brisbane Waters to Sydney. Crikey understands a further campaign strategy meeting was held late last week at Neal’s Gosford HQ.
Other events in the pipeline include a trivia night and boot camps on “face to face campaigning” and “blogging”, which apparently involves writing pro-Neal comments on mainstream media news sites, rather than actual blogging. Acolytes are also urged to hit the talkback airwaves to spread the word.
Dissidents say the last ditch campaign lacks both official FEC and party approval and should be interpreted as a desperate attempt to salvage something from a sinking ship weighed down by “Iguanagate” and the more recent “Marinergate” scandals. Neal’s attempt to demonstrate her Rudd rank-and-file support is tenuous at best, with dissent reaching a tipping point, according to insiders.
There is also evidence Neal is preparing a succession plan to be activated when she is inevitably forced to hang up her soccer boots. At the recent Robertson FEC AGM, Neal intervened to install underling Katie Smith as president. Smith, who replaced former Bishop and failed Gosford Council candidate Craig Munnings, is said to be eager to get the nod in Robertson ahead of rank-and-file favourite Trish Moran, who triumphed over Neal and Della Bosca in bitter pre-selection battles in 2001 and 2004. But the PM and other factional heavies including Mark Arbib are said to be keen to sever the link with the central coast power couple for good, with several cleanskins believed to be dusting off their credentials.
The irony is delicious — Neal was, of course, personally installed by Rudd in 2007 against the then wishes of the FEC. But she has now become a laughing stock, with locals said to cringe every time she pops up in public. For both the local ALP and the long-suffering voters of the Central Coast, it seems the new intervention can’t come soon enough.