As a part of their service to clients, many lobbyists prepare briefing notes on the state of political play. They’re well-placed to do so. Top lobbyists hear more scuttlebutt, share more secrets and know more about who’s doing what to whom across both sides of politics than anyone but politicians themselves — and politicians don’t have much idea what’s going on with their opponents.

And good lobbyists are very good at reading the political wind both on individual issues and more broadly. Many in-house lobbyists prepare similar notes for their own executives.

Endeavour Consulting is a very well-connected Canberra lobbying outfit. Paul Whalan was a senior adviser in the Hawke years and briefly Labor deputy chief minister in the ACT. Jeff Townsend also worked at the very highest levels of the Hawke Government. Mark Baker was a senior Howard adviser and speechwriter. That’s the fashion these days — the best lobbying firms have former politicians or advisers from both sides. Alan Ramsey gave an insight into Endeavour’s activities last year.

Endeavour’s “Political Developments in Australia — July 2009” briefing note shows the political nous of veteran lobbyists. A tour d’horizon of Federal and state politics, it calls the political races in each jurisdiction, analyses redistributions and spots key issues which may not even be on the political radar yet.

The paper warns, for example, that analog switchoff and the re-assignment of broadcast spectrum is potentially problematic for the Government. “The scope for disinformation and political hyperbole is vast,” the document concludes. And it notes that the NT intervention has fractured traditional Top End politics, something which the daily drama of the Henderson Government confirms.

Very smart analysis from well-connected and highly-experienced players.

Or it would be, except there’s something else. The briefing goes beyond general analysis and offers some judgments on individual politicians.

As one senior lobbyist noted to Crikey, that’s a serious error. It’s one thing to regard individuals poorly and even reflect on them verbally to clients. In fact it is necessary for a lobbyist. But lobbyists can’t lobby effectively if the individual politicians they may be attempting to influence know they regard them with contempt. In fact, clients may themselves wonder about the judgment of those representing their case in committing to print personal observations likely to undermine their effectiveness.

But as an insight into the views of a senior Canberra lobbying outfit, they’re priceless and very informative of what well-placed insiders think of key players in Canberra.

Malcolm Turnbull: “Turnbull’s primary advantage — apart from the supreme self-confidence of a person who has succeeded throughout his life at every challenge he has faced — is that there is no clear alternative.”

Julie Bishop: “Deputy Leader, Julie Bishop, has no credibility.”

Joe Hockey: “Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey is basically a buffoon with a career habit of speaking without thinking.”

“Joe Hockey’s constant harping that the stimulus package should be wound back would clearly not be supported by major elements of the banking and commercial property sector, a traditional source of political support and campaign funding for the Coalition.”

Tony Abbott: “The Party veteran, Tony Abbott, has a range of conservative views on social issues which are massively out of touch with broad community opinion.”

Peter Costello: “Self-indulgent antics.”

Peter Dutton: “Younger MPs such as Peter Dutton are totally untried.”

Penny Wong: “Climate Change Minister, Penny Wong, was the least impressive Ministerial attendee [at the ALP National Conference], managing both to lose her temper during debate on her portfolio issue and generally to make it very clear that she wished she was somewhere, anywhere else.”

Anna Bligh: “Her behaviour and statements over recent days reveal an atmosphere of panic, and maybe a personal conviction that all is not well.”

Colin Barnett: “He continues to demonstrate a capacity to surprise his colleagues with unexpected and peremptory policy statements and demonstrations of headstrong leadership… continuing reports of tensions between the Premier and Treasurer Troy Buswell over control of Budgetary policy… the Premier appears unconcerned at any political offence which the Treasurer and former party Leader, Troy Buswell, may incur.”

NSW: “ALP sources in NSW suggest that there are significant signs of political recovery for the Rees Government — albeit off a low base. The NSW Liberal Party is also indulging in another round of factional strife over pre-selection arrangements, suggesting it may be once again capable of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.”

Indigenous housing and the defection of Alison Anderson: “Anderson’s position is, of course, completely spurious. The delays in delivering the housing package essentially demonstrates the Commonwealth’s ongoing incompetence in delivering any social programs in the NT… These developments demonstrate the continuing poisoning of NT indigenous affairs and politics by the NT indigenous intervention, which has caused the breaking up of political alliances and divisions within the Aboriginal leadership group. The negative effects of this have been reinforced by the misleading and eccentric coverage of NT issues in News Ltd publications.”

Not everyone cops a serve. The “meticulous” Peter Garrett is singled out for praise: “In general, we understand that companies who have dealt with Garrett on these matters regard his performance as exemplary. He also enjoys considerable respect from his Ministerial colleagues.”

Endeavour’s Jeff Townsend told Crikey he “didn’t recall the note” and “wouldn’t be able to help” in response to Crikey’s questions.

“You can do whatever you like with it,” he added before hanging up.

Peter Fray

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