All posts by Margo Kingston

The rat trap election


Why is John Howard spending precious campaign time campaigning in his own seat? Is it possible that there’s a risk he could lose it? And does Malcolm Turnbull need Howard to stay away from Wentworth?


Howard’s unprecedented political spamming of Bennelong voters was the first sign he was worried (PM pays his son to dish up spam). Today he took a street walk in the shopping precinct of Eastwood, the solidly middle class suburb in his electorate where former Liberal Party president John Valder launched his Not Happy John! campaign to unseat Howard last month. (I spoke at the launch, along with Valder, Brian Deegan – the independent challenging Alexander Downer in Mayo, and “Merlin” of Big Brother fame. For Sunday’sfeature on the campaign, see Not happy, John.)

Howard got a rip roaring reception at Eastwood, much of ithostile, particularly over greenhouse policy and the war on Iraq. He also ran into Andrew Wilkie, the bloke who exposed his lies on Iraq before the war and who’s now standing for The Greens to call him to account.


Across the harbour, Malcolm Turnbull is continuing his double-game to win Wentworth for the Liberals, while Valder is calling on Peter King to take the plunge and join the Not Happy, John crowd (see the Wentworth page of the NHJ campaign website).

Even after I published Bondi Beach resident Jonathan Nolan’s unhappy experiences with Turnbull in Inside Wentworth: Turnbull accuses Webdiarist of ‘mischievous dishonesty’ Jonathan reckons the scam goes on:

Without wanting to flog a dead horse, the Turnbull campaign workers are still at it in Bondi. Two young Liberals in Turnbull T-shirts this morning on the corner of Hall Street and Campbell Parade in Bondi were handing out leaflets. The EXACT words from one of them after I said, “No thanks, I like Malcolm but I don’t want to vote for John Howard”?

“Well, don’t tell anyone, but Peter Costello in two years.”

I’m beginning to think I should be wired up and record this line of argument. Is it how they have been briefed to get votes?! (See also Labor’s Costello wedge keeps Wentworth on the move.)

Last night’s Turnbull’s team takes gloves off: King is ‘low life’, which published an email from the President of Turnbull’s Wentworth Liberal Party branch Jason Falinski, adds weight to my belief that Howard faces a similar phenomenon to that of Labor in 2001. Howard has ignored the beliefs and values of part of his core constuency for so long that his safe Liberal seats are Not Happy! We saw big swings to the Greens in safe inner city Labor seats in 2001, and the signs are we’re seeing the same thing this time on John Howard’s now disenfranchised small “l” Liberal flank.

Is the Liberal Party splitting during the election campaign? Here’s yesterday’s Freudian slip from former moderate Helen Coonan, a Wentworth resident who joined Howard’s right wing to win his favour and a ministry:

MELBOURNE, Sept 3 AAP – Communications Minister Helen Coonan warned today that dumped Liberal MP Peter King’s decision to run as an independent would damage the party’s chances of retaining the blue ribbon Sydney seat of Wentworth.

But Senator Coonan slipped up when asked about the election, accidentally endorsing Mr King rather than Liberal candidate Malcolm Turnbull, before correcting herself.

Senator Coonan, who lives in Wentworth, said she hoped Mr King’s nomination had not fatally derailed Mr Turnbull’s chances of election to parliament. “I think it’s disappointing that Peter King has decided to stand as an independent,” she told a luncheon in Melbourne.

“However, I actually live in the electorate of Wentworth and I will be out there supporting Peter King … Peter, er … Malcolm Turnbull as the endorsed Liberal candidate.”

Here’s an idea from Kathleen McIntyre in Armidale:

“Did you happen to see John Howard being thrown a packet of cheese by a man in the Tweed Shire yesterday? It was a hoot. I didn’t catch all he said to Howard, it happened so quickly, but he did say, “You have passed your use-by date”. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all disaffected Liberal voters sent their representatives a packet of cheese! They could start a “cheesed off” movement.”

And here’s a prediction from a bloke who worked on Labor’s campaign in the Cunningham byelection at which The Greens trounded Labor in a boilover in 2002 (see Green steel). He needs to remain anonymous:

I handed out how-to-vote-cards and scrutineered one of the largest booths in Cunningham. There was no animosity from the constituents. They were all very polite, so I thought we should be OK.

We went inside at the end of the day and our candidate wasn’t polling well, but at a glance I thought we should get over the line on preferences. Then they started counting preferences and they were falling in favour of The Greens Michael Organ at a rate of – and I’m not exaggerating – about six to one!

One of our current Federal MPs walked over and whispered to me, “Pardon the expression, but I think we’re f…ed”! We were. One of the Green scrutineers who used to be Labor even apologised to me because I think it looked like I was about to cry.

Where I draw the comparison is there were a lot of old party faithful and people who had voted Labor all there life who deserted us that day because they felt that the powers that be were deciding who was going to represent them in Canberra and they were not going to have a bar of it.

The same is playing out in Wentworth.

The common defence is that Peter King lost fair and square in a pre-selection to Malcolm Turnbull. The fact is that he lost to one of the worst examples of branch stacking that I have ever seen. It makes some of the ALP past branch stacks look like Kindergarten play. Peter King’s supporters will remember this, and the results from the pre-selection will tell you that he has quite a few.

The party apparatchiks were behind his demise right the way up to the Rodent. The membership will not appreciate this one little bit and will punish them accordingly. And remember, because Turnbull stacked the branches, a lot of people that voted for him will not be your long time hardcore branch members that go out on polling day and hand out how to votes. Those will largely belong to Peter King.

I think Turnbull will be seen as an opportunist and a Johnny-come-lately, given his background. He will certainly be seen as being foisted on the constituency as their local member, just like – you guessed it – Cunningham.

In Cunningham every candidate preferenced the Green above the Labor candidate. In Wentworth, it will be the same scenario. Every candidate will preference Peter King above Malcolm Turnbull.

Pardon my expression, but I think he’s f…ed!


Here’s your take on Jason Falinski’s email.

Bradley Wilkinson

First, this election is too close to call. Second the mood in the Scoresby Corridor in Melbourne is very dark toward the ALP, and it could not just go backwards in marginal Liberal seats like Deakin, Dunkley, Aston and La Trobe but could lose up to 4 seats – Chisholm, Holt, Isaacs, and Bruce.

Wentworth? King or Turnbull will win, but a side note. When Tony Blair won the 1997 British Election he won several Wentworth type seats, so Howard had better be careful. Also, every State ALP Government has seats they have never won before. Most are Small l Liberal by nature.

Finally, I must reject your claim at the “Not Happy John” rally that if Howard won then Democracy is dead. I have to say that what you said was Silly if not Stupid.


Trevor Snape in McMahons Point, North Sydney

Jason Falinski, president of the Point Piper branch of the Liberal Party, refers to Peter King’s “sudden discovery of morality” in relation to refugees and children in detention. It looks as if Jason accepts that the moral position is that adopted by Peter King.

Will Jason and other Liberals follow Peter King and denounce the government’s immorality? Of course Peter King’s recent “conversion” reeks of hypocrisy, but as they say, better late than never.

The Howard government is the most despicable government I have ever experienced. Decent people should be repulsed by the lies, distortions, deviousness and sniveling kowtowing to Bush. I lived in the UK under Maggie Thatcher for a few years (I am a Pom) and she is a paragon of virtue and decency compared to Howard. For the sake of a civilised, tolerant society, Howard and his supporters must be thrown out.


Chris Munson

Jason, I just read your epistle in Margo’s Webdiary. Congratulations – a home goal! I hope that many libs take your direction and speak about as you have. Congrats for supporting the “Little man”. But surely, despite your protestations of past silence, isn’t Peter King now speaking out when no others dare? Jason, why silence an honest man’s voice where this election is about the future and TRUST and honesty.

Shit Jason, get your brains into gear.


Kay Kan in Cheltenham, NSW

Margo, I was astounded to read that the president of the Wentworth branch of the Liberal Party and contributor to Turnbull’s campaign said of Peter King that “at the last election he was all too happy to campaign on the Children Overboard issue and gain entry into federal parliament, playing to the worst fears of the electorate”. This was not Peter King’s policy, it was John Howard’s, and many Liberals were happy to accept this strategy as a price for victory. Presumably so too was Jason Falinski.

Stoking fears about a particular group of people has a name – call it racism, xenophobia or whatever – and the Liberal Party was happy to engage in it. But you cannot use it just a little bit and pretend it isn’t really racism or xenophobia. That is like losing a little bit of one’s virginity, or a little bit of one’s independence, or being just a little bit pregnant.

Jason Falinski is also doing what he accuses Peter King of doing.


Tom Kelsey

So here we have another ‘piece of wasted space’ adopting Howard’s hostage taking’ of anybody who dares to believe that they can hold a view about issues. Falinski appears to be his very own piece of low life who, like the other sycophants, blindly obeys and therefore believes the absolutely deceitful utterances of our so-called Prime Minister. Get a life, Jason, and do something useful in this world!

Turnbull’s team takes gloves off: King is ‘low life’

Giraffe talk. Image by Webdiary artist Martin Davies

Prepare for the dirtiest possible campaign in Wentworth, and maximum embarrassment for John Howard as both candidates reject his refugee policy and his cover-up of the SIEV-X tragedy. Webdiarist Mary Dagmar Davies wrote this letter of congratulations to King on his decision to stand in Wentworth, and posted it on a human rights website:


Dear Peter,

I congratulate you on your decision and your courage. Your rights and the rights of the people of Wentworth have been disregarded by the very people you had loyally served.

I wish you well in Wentworth now you are free to stand for all that is decent. I was delighted to read of your interest in SIEVX and invite you to visit the JANNAH SIEV-X MEMORIAL and place a condolence message there.

I feel so sorry for Liberal voters and silenced candidates who have seen a great political party damaged so badly by one small and vengeful man.

John Valder, by recognising the value of Margo Kingston’s NOT HAPPY, JOHN!, has renewed my belief in and hope for Australia.


It chills me that John Howard who was Australian Father of the Year in 1997, could lock up children and put policies in place based on lies which ultimately caused a situation that brought about the death of so many innocents.

I wish you a great victory in Wentworth.



Boom! Jason Falinski, the president of Wentworth’s Point Piper Branch of the Liberal Party : the branch which sponsored Turnbull’s branch stack to topple King and who is helping Turnbull’s campaign – fired back this email to Mary:


As someone who has supported your cause for sometime and believed in much that you have written I cannot tell you how angry your below email makes me.

Peter King is nothing more than a low life of the highest order who has had three years to argue the case for refugees within the Liberal Party and more importantly change government policy – and what has he done? Nothing!

What has he got to show us for all his well-hidden, but undoubtedly sincere, concern? Nothing! He was far too interested in applying for seven parliamentary overseas trips this year alone.

Furthermore, at the last election he was all too happy to campaign on the Children Overboard issue and gain entry into federal parliament, playing to the worst fears of the electorate.

And now he has been rejected by the Liberal Party he wants us to believe that he was on our side all along. This low life will say and do anything to get a vote, and I am afraid that your email might well assist him in this despicable piece of behaviour.

If we are to be consistent, we should strongly advocate a vote against Peter King and his ilk. I apologise for being heated in this email, but as you can guess I feel very strongly about this particular man and his sudden discovery of morality.

Jason Falinski


So it looks like both Turnbull and King think there’s something very amiss in the SIEV-X saga, and in Liberal refugee policy, while John Howard pretends everything is hunky dory on both matters.

This is going to be seriously wild.

PS: After publishing this story, Jason rang back: “This is a personal view which in no way relates to the position of the Liberal Party. My essential message was about the consistency of refugee activists.”

Counting the rodents: week one

Glass box. Image by Webdiary artist Martin Davies

“Into the street the Piper stept,


Smiling first a little smile,

As if he knew what magic slept

In his quiet pipe the while;

Then, like a musical adept,

To blow the pipe his lips he wrinkled,

And green and blue his sharp eyes twinkled

Like a candle flame where salt is sprinkled;

And ere three shrill notes the pipe uttered,

You heard as if an army muttered;

And the muttering grew to a grumbling;

And the grumbling grew to a mighty rumbling;

And out of the houses the rats came tumbling:

Great rats, small rats, lean rats, brawny rats,

Brown rats, black rats, grey rats, tawny rats,

Grave old plodders, gay young friskers,

Fathers, mothers, uncles, cousins,

Cocking tails and pricking whiskers,

Families by tens and dozens,

Brothers, sisters, husbands, wives —

Followed the Piper for their lives.

From street to street he piped, advancing,

And step for step, they followed, dancing,

Until they came to the River Weser


Wherein all plunged and perished. (FromThe Pied Piper of Hamelin by Robert Browning)

What a week! Howard was so desperate to wipe the slate clean on his honesty that he chose to go a week early rather than face the music in Parliament. He must have been twitching with dismay as he AND Latham welcomed the athletes home and sent off our troops to Iraq. Latham looked pretty good, like an alternative Prime Minister, in fact. Yuk!

Howard’s masterstroke in coopting the “trust” theme by making it connect with interest rates (Trusting Howard) fell over almost immediately. Senior Queensland Liberal Russell Galt deposed, in a statutory declaration no less, that Howard’s chief defender on children overboard, Senator Brandis, had called Howard “a lying rodent” on children overboard and that “We’ve got to go off and cover his arse again on this” (Poor George).

Brandis issued a counter statutory declaration, but was later forced to admit that he routinely called Howard “the rodent” (… but rats, Lib MP really did call Howard a rodent).

Then the Queensland Liberals began proceedings to expel Galt. For lying, or for telling the truth? I mean, either Brandis or Galt is lying, right?

At the same time, a National Party candidate in Queensland spruiked by Howard, one Nick Withycombe, admitted that his claim that he had served in the SAS was, you guessed it, a lie (Doubts on candidate’s war deeds).

Withycombe appears in full uniform with Howard in his campaign photo, and, you guessed it, he entered politics because of his admiration for the PM.

On Wednesday, whistleblower Mike Scrafton revealed that Howard adviser Miles Jordana had been told very early on in the 2001 election campaign that there were strong doubts about the children overboard claim (Scrafton’s credibility over calls questioned). Naturally Howard won’t let Jordana give evidence. Scrafton also painted an ugly picture of systemic bullying of public servants who dared try to give frank and fearless advice (The catharsis of Mike Scrafton).

Then Brandis, on Howard’s orders, sought to destroy Scrafton using untested evidence based on Howard’s word (Brandis self-destructs to save Howard). I’ve never seen such brutalisation of an ordinary person by a Prime Minister who has refused to make himself accountable on the same matter.

By week’s end, “the rodent” tag was threatening to derail Howard’s campaign as Peter King finally announced he would take on Malcolm Turnbull in a battle royal for Wentworth, Sydney’s blue ribbon seat in the easternsuburbs. And what does King want? Kids out of detention. Aged care reform. And the protection of old growth forests!

Along the way, Liberal marginal seat holder Trish Worth defended her simile of asylum seekers with dogs and cats by spruiking her credentials on trying to get refugees out of detention (MP hounded for refugee quarantine analogy). Um, so when did you cross the floor on conscience, Trish? Conscience votes are dead under Howard’s remade Liberal Party. He killed them.

Worth’s fellow “moderate” Amanda Vanstone then waxed lyrical on George Negus’s program about her core principle as a Liberal: “You want everybody to be able to realise their full potential if they want to. Everybody having the equality of opportunity, accepting that equality the outcome is not going to happen.”

So did she resign from the ministry or publicly protest when Howard systemically destroyed that principle in health and education? No way.

And talk about desperate: Ruddock claimed sombrely that The Coalition was more reliable on national security! (Ruddock under fire for exploiting hostage crisis.) Oh yeah? Is this the government which took us to war on Iraq on a lie, without our consent, despite knowing that it would make Australia, and the world, less safe? The government which issued misleading advice on the safety of Bali before the bombings? The government whose rampant outsourcing has seen cleaners steal computers and other sensitive material from government offices and sensitive government information lost when a private contractor threw the computer tape in the bin?

The more Howard carries on with stuff he thinks will play in the marginals he needs to hold, the more he’ll disgust Liberals in his heartland. Fascinating.

Who won the week? Labor. Who’ll win the election? I still think Howard is favourite, mainly because, as he showed in spades this week, he has no limits when it comes to retaining power. None.

The risk? Australians will begin to see the skull beneath and skin and may conclude that Howard and his tactics are, well, unAustralian. If they do, he and his rats will have nowhere to run and nowhere to hide.

Inside Wentworth: Turnbull accuses Webdiarist of ‘mischievous dishonesty’

Blue Ribbon Wentworth is emerging as the epicentre of an intense debate over Liberal values in the campaign, and the second front in Howard’s attempt to regain power. Wentworth voters are being individually targeted by Labor’s David Patch and the warring Liberals, preselected candidate Malcolm Turnbull and the current member, moderate Peter King.


John Howard is worried that King will stand in Wentworth as an independent Liberal and that Turnbull will lose the seat. Tonight, reader reports on the action.

It’s hand to hand combat in Wentworth if the experience of Webdiarist Jonathan Nolan in Bondi Beach is any guide. In Labor’s Costello wedge keeps Wentworth on the move I published Jonathan’s first email:

I don’t want John Howard as PM, but apparently being in Wentworth I can still vote Liberal and not worry. A worker for Malcolm Turnbull (outside Bondi Beach Post Office last Saturday) told me that a vote for Turnbull is NOT a vote for Howard. I was amused and slightly baffled so they got Malcolm himself to speak to me. After confirming this point he added two more reasons to give him my anti-Howard vote: 1. Get the Liberals back in and you’ll only have Howard for two years, and 2. He was only one to go up against Howard on the war in Iraq. He added that the monarchists would be rubbing their hands in glee if he doesn’t get in. Now I know that definitely includes John Howard. (And yes, I am willing to take a lie detector test.)


Here’s what happened next:

Margo – I am no writer but following your publishing of my letter I feel emboldened to write an update. I’ve had my first close-up taste of the dishonesty that is politics today and I don’t like it.

Margo flatteringly called me a Webdiarist in her Wentworth piece, but until I had a chat with Malcolm Turnbull last Saturday and a chat with a friend who encouraged me to send a letter to the SMH on Monday, the political urge hadn’t really kicked in.

However, the urge changed to anger when I received a phone call from Malcolm accusing me of being ‘mischievous and dishonest’. I was in a business meeting at the time and shouldn’t have taken the call, and I offered to call him back. That made him angrier. ‘So you have time to write letters but no time to speak to me!’ he shouted. I put down the phone feeling a little threatened and shaken. (Note to new political self: Never send a political email with your telephone details.)

An email followed:

Dear Jonathan,

As I said to you on the phone a moment ago, your email to various media outlets “recounting” a conversation with me and a campaign worker on Saturday is mischievous and dishonest (and unbelievable for that matter).

The only matter I recall your seeking to discuss with me, and our discussing, was the republic. You had, in your conversation with my friend, apparently expressed concern that I had sold out on the republic by being part of the Liberal Party. I pointed out to you that I remained a republican, that I was very upfront about that on my website (for example) and that the Liberal Party was a broad church with many republicans in it. I explained my position on the republic in terms which I won’t repeat here but which are set out on my website.

Regards, Malcolm Turnbull

The strange thing about this is that I only obliquely mentioned the republic in my original letter (” monarchists would be rubbing their hands in glee”). But the matters I raised seem to have jogged his memory about the rest of our conversation. It sort of proves he remembers me and the conversation. The “Howard will be gone in two years” grew out of the republic conversation, a ploy to get my anti-Howard, pro-republic vote.

Anyway, if this is the way politics works, count me out. I am not dishonest. I stand by my report of what I heard from Malcolm’s mouth last Saturday but can do without the abuse that such honestly brings. Mischievous? You can judge. But if a campaign worker is using the phrase “A vote for Malcolm is not a vote for Howard” to get me to stop and chat on the street, I think voters would like to know.

In some very, very small way I know now how Mike Scrafton must feel. He has enormous courage.


A Webdiarist involved in Liberal polling in Wentworth who needs to remain anonymous

I worked as one of the telephone interviewees on the polls into Wentworth recently. I don’t live in Wentworth and knew a tad more than zilch about Turnbull or King before I worked on the poll.

In the recent Peter King -v- Malcolm Turnbull poll I probably would have interviewed between 300 and 400 voters in Wentworth. The gender split was pretty much 50/50.

Whoever was responsible for the poll – I suspect Turnbull – placed no emphasis on quality control – in particular no attention was paid to classifying responses evenly across all eligible voting age groups. The poll’s outcome explains John Howard’s letter to members of the Liberal Party in Wentworth.

Who has got time to shoot the breeze on the phone for a few minutes and answer some dumb questions about their pet hates? Mostly the oldies. The majority from both sexes I interviewed would have been 50 plus, and the majority of that group would have been 65 plus.

I estimate the total size of the sample at 4000, and believe that the responses I received would have been indicative of those received by all the other interviewers on the team, of which there were about ten.

The feel I got for the situation on the ground was that if Peter King ran as an independent liberal he would literally kill it. Amongst the liberal voters King was perceived as having a very strong community presence and respect. He seemed to be in people’s faces for all the right reasons. He seemed to be a very involved with the community at a grass roots level.

Amongst Liberal voters Turnbull is generally hated for whatever it was exactly that he did. Labor support in general was very strong, and there seemed to be a strong swing to Labor by traditional Liberal voters. The Greens also polled strongly – The Greens seem to have become the “let’s keep the bastards honest” party.


A worried Wentworth voter and Webdiarist who wants to be anonymous

Your opus on Wentworth has really got me stirred up and I need to vent some ‘stuff’. My concern is with what to do about the “Not Happy, John!” campaign as it relates to Wentworth. I’m not sure it’s really the best thing if King stands under the NHJ umbrella. And I know nothing about party politics.

1. What am I angry about?

I’m angry about the lying rat crashing the country, and on so many levels. All these have been gone over and over, except I’m sick of hearing about the good economic management stuff.

The guts of good economic reform was done by Keating and Hawke. What we really have is a Government that has specialised in keeping people mortgaged to the hilt – home, school fees, private health, investment properties, any bloody feel-good thing you can think of – prodded along with hand outs and bonuses all coming from cuts to the public sector and sales of assets. Good economics? Good manipulation, good politics. Howard has created a generation dependent on interest rate stability (and therefore him as the spin goes).

And I’m angry with all the liberals who sat on their hands watching it all happen, like when Costello bowed before Howard and didn’t walk for reconciliation. Howard’s power has been given to him by his gutless team, so now Liberals are saying “Look what he’s done, Oh dear if we just get rid of him we’ll be alright again”.

Too late I reckon. And that’s the problem I’ve got with King. He was there, he was one of them. The Valder NHJ campaign makes sense to me when true independents like Wilkie are standing, but King?

2. What am I most worried about?

I’m worried about Abbott. I’m worried about Howard making sure Abbott gets the baton. That’s where I worry about Wentworth with King under the NHJ banner. Up until now a NHJ label in Wentworth probably meant Labour/Green/other/ and Turnbull wherever down the ballot. If NHJ campaigning in Wentworth means King, then does this mean risking the seat going to a liberal in whatever clothes? If the Libs do get reelected with King as an independent, what can he do to influence the next leadership round? But if the Libs get back with Turnbull, then he may represent some moderating influence in the party, against Abbott I mean.

So if Wentworth goes Labor then probably Latham is in. If Howard wins, and Wentworth goes to King (with NHJ help) then what good will that be? Crossing the floor? Maybe, but no party room influence. If Howard wins with Turnbull, then maybe there’s a moderating influence in the party room.

All very hard for a NHJ devotee.

3. What do I want to happen?

Throw the whole lot of them out. Make them look in the mirror of these black years and regroup. I agree with Renata Kaldor. To that end I think the best outcome for Wentworth would be a Labor win, (it’s unlikely to be Green!!). Therefore should I stop NHJ campaigning here? Or am I missing something really simple?

Margo: As long as King and Labor’s David Patch swap preferences, Turnbull is gone and Wentworth makes the strong statement that it is “Not Happy, John!” If I lived in Wentworth I’d vote Greens 1 – thus giving them my $2 in public funding and denying it to the big two until they clean up the disclosure of their private donations. I’d vote Labor 2 and King 3.

Don’t worry about what to do until the electionears, when hopefully Newspoll or the SMH will do a quality poll on the seat. And remember, King’s big chance to win Wentworth is as a NHJ candidate, and if he’s game to do that he will have to criticise Howard’s regime from a true Liberal perspective. This would create national news, force Howard to properly answer his critics within the Party, and perhaps even alert Liberal voters in other safe seats that they too could make their vote count through a protest vote against Howard’s regime (see the NHJ Campaign website for more info).

Webdiary columnist and Liberal Party member Noel Hadjimichael reckons the maths go like this:

“The only way that Mr Turnbull might be defeated in an environment where Labor gets no more than 5% swing in its favour nationally is to have the following scenario played out:

1. Labor’s candidate remain under 28% in primary vote (not hard),

2. Peter King gathers at least 18% primary vote,

3. The Greens and other minor candidates total less than 18% preference, and

4. King gets preferences 70:30 over others to give King an additional 13% flow.

This would leave the final play as Turnbull 38%, Labor 27%, King 18%, Greens/others 17%. After Greens ands others distribute second preferences we’d get Turnbull (say 40%), Labor (say 29%) King (31%).

After Labor preferences which split 75:25 split in favour of King, King gets up on 52%.

It is only if King finishes second after all but Labor preferences have been distributed that Turnbull can be stopped.

If Labor comes in second, the overwhelming majority (65%) of King’s conservative small l liberal base will return to Turnbull.

Labor can’t win Wentworth but it can stop Turnbull. The Greens can’t win Wentworth but they can punish the idea of the millionaire candidate.

Turnbull’s primary vote would have to crash to less than 25% before he did not finish up as one of the two last standing after preferences. His best tactic would be to stand a “stooge” monarchist/rabid right wing candidate who would preference him. Will the Monarchist League’s P Benwell be a candidate?


Exchange of Webdiarist emails on the Liberal backlash theory

Paul Somerville to Justin Whelan

Phew! Just read Margo’s piece on web diary – not “Poor George” flagged on the main site page, but the longer piece “Labor’s Costello wedge keeps Wentworth on the move”. It’s fascinating to watch the number of opposing trends that seem to be playing concurrently in this campaign – in particular the different interests of disaffected Liberals in safe Liberal seats (over issues like refugees and the war in Iraq) alongside the marginal mortgage belt’s concerns about interest rates. Turnbull’s comments to the Bondi voter in Margo’s piece are amazing.

Would be cool if Peter King runs in Wentworth. Have you seen the ABC’s electorate by electorate breakdown?


Justin to Paul

I know, it’s all happening! I do doubt Margo’s excitement about disaffected Liberals leaving in droves though. I think a more realistic assessment suggests they will do what disaffected Labor voters do, and put someone else No.1 but then preference the Libs. Labor has already adjusted itself to this phenomenon and still takes us for granted because they know that not enough people will defect to the Greens – especially if they think the Greens might actually win- and that ultimately, as Gerard Henderson wrote yesterday, you HAVE to vote for either the Coalition or Labor.

Peter King could make it interesting in the way that independent National mayors like Tony Windsor are beating the pre-selected National Party candidates. But Howard is safe in Bennelong – it’s not that small “l” liberal – and elsewhere. So probably only a seat or two max, and Peter King would quite possibly preference Turnbull anyway, so if he gets 3rd (likely) Turnbull wins after all.

Everyone knows Howard lied to parliament over the Children Overboard Affair. Robert Mannepointed out that there is a gap in the Westminster convention here if the PM decides to just ride out the wave of criticism, telling us accountability rests on events on polling day. He figures people won’t care by the time the election comes around. And then when the election does arrive, he wants us to “focus on the future” as if accountability for the past is not a fundamental part of any election – remember 1996 anyone? Watch the Letters pages – plenty of people are buying it.

This is an election in which the public is being asked to rank truth and accountability in government alongside mortgage interest rates and Medicare and the war on terrorism. Howard is actually appealing to voter apathy and cynicism, saying “you can trust me on the only thing you really care about: your mortgage.”

The irony with all the “death of democracy” talk among the left is that the public may actually vote for their own disenfranchisement. Now there’s the real shades of fascism.


Harry Heidelberg, Webdiary’s expat Liberal columnist, in Sydney on holiday

If I was in Wentworth, I would vote for King in an instant. No hesitation, no equivocation. Never, ever Turnbull and all this crap machine stuff.

Someone has to be the liberal, and bugger the lot of them.

I hope there is a HUGE backlash and I don’t even care if Labor wins that seat. I really don’t. Imagine the Labor or Greens member for Wentworth wandering the streets of Double Bay past the Rollers and the miscellaneous German marques. Then John Howard would get his wish. Someone would be looking at a Rolls Royce and would say that’s cool, or something. We are living in VERY strange times.

The Liberal Party has taken its own constituency for granted for way too long – piss all over the core and butter up the marginals. Appalling, appalling, appalling.

Brandis self-destructs to save Howard

Sly defensive. Image by Webdiary artist Martin Davies

The mirror cracked from side to side.


The intense strain on the two people in Senate Committee room 2S1 today, who had – by very difficult choice – propped up the credibility of a cowardly and bullying Prime Minister for nearly three years, was palpable. Yet still Howard’s point man on children overboard, George Brandis, whose own credibility has been questioned this week, put the boot into the truth teller, Mike Scrafton.

Yesterday’s resumed children overboard inquiry produced the most dramatic, and painful, human drama I have seen in Parliament or on the stage.

Consider this.

Mike Scrafton has turned his life upside down to have his very belated say (for his own account of how he came to the decision, and the never-before-heard perspective of the ethical public servant, see The catharsis of Mike Scrafton).

There’s never been commercial sponsorship for a whistleblower. He’s lost his very precious anonymity and privacy, and he knew his life would be trawled over by the man whose image he threatened and that anything would be used, completely out of context if necessary, to destroy his reputation to save the reputation of John Howard.


Mike Scrafton, after correcting the record, signed a statutory declaration swearing on oath that he was telling the truth, took the most credible lie detector test available, and submitted himself to scrutiny by the people of Australia through the resumed Senate children overboard inquiry. He knew that would mean brutal cross examination by Howard’s de facto barrister George Brandis, the most brilliant legal mind in the Parliament.

Queensland Senator George Brandis had yesterday been accused by a former senior Liberal Party official in that state, by statutory declaration, of calling Howard a “lying rodent” in relation to the children overboard scandal, and of complaining:

We’ve got to go off and cover his arse again on this.”

Last night, Brandis countered this with his own statutory declaration denying that he had said these or similar words on the occasion alleged or at all, either in public or private.

The significance of signing a statutory declaration is that you swear an oath that what you are saying is true. If it is not, then criminal charges can be brought against you. You are putting your personal integrity on the line.

Brandis did this in the knowledge that many people in Parliament House and beyond know that he does call Howard “the rodent” privately.

Brandis deliberately sought to destroy Scrafton’s reputation through the use of untested, unsworn assertions of fact based on “evidence” he insisted be kept confidential and the source for which he refused to reveal. He also refused to take the stand to be questioned as a witness.

And who was that source? The Prime Minister. And who backed his version? The four Howard political staffers who signed statements backing Howard’s denial of Scrafton’s claim, but all of whom followed the PM’s lead in NOT signing statutory declarations and all of whom refused to appear before the committee. Their motivations are, quite simply, blindingly obvious.

Thus, to get cheap headlines designed to destroy the reputation of the man in the dock – on behalf of the man who refused to subject himself to the same scrutiny yet triumphantly beamed on national TV tonight that Brandis must be telling the truth because he WAS prepared to sign a statutory declaration – Brandis stooped to the following:

He claimed, feigning shock that he might not be believed, that:

1. Howard was in the Lodge at all times on the night when Scrafton testified he told him there was no truth in the children overboard claims;

2. There were only eight phones at the Lodge – two landlines, Mr and Mrs Howard’s mobiles, and the four mobiles of the Howard “team”;

3. Phone records he happened to have before him but which he steadfastly refused to release, or to say from whom he got them, showed that Howard made two phone calls, not three as recollected by Scrafton, and that Scrafton could not possibly have communicated his advice on the veracity of the children overboard claims in the 51 seconds Brandis said the second call took.

This sounds complicated, I know, and I’ll try to put the full transcript up tomorrow. But consider this: Howard fled to the polls at least a week earlier than he had planned to avoid Question Time in the House of Representatives, the now inaptly named “People’s House.” This is proved by tonight’s TV news showing both Howard and Latham welcoming home our Olympic athletes and sending off new troops to Iraq. What a perfect pre-election schedule for Howard!

Australian has a long campaign, quite simply, because John Howard needed to avoid accountability for misleading the Australian people in the last week of the 2001 election. And George Brandis is abetting him with no regard for the “little person”, Mike Scrafton, who he has chosen to attempt to unfairly destroy to protect a man he despises, John Howard.

You could see from George Brandis’s face that today’s performance in Senate Committee room 2S1 was destroying him.

The question is why? Watch this space.

Poor George

Off with the mask. Image by Webdiary artist Martin Davies

Whew! I’d just published my opus on the seat of Wentworth when I saw Laurie Oakes break the sensational story that a former senior Queensland Liberal Party official had signed a statutory declaration that Senator George Brandis – Howard’s top public defender on children overboard – had privately called Howard a “lying rodent” on the matter. And the unpopular hard right Liberal member for the volatile Brisbane blue ribbon seat of Ryan (it fell to Labor briefly in 2001 before Howard did Tampa) had backed the good character of Brandis’s accuser!

Has Howard’s luck run out?

He’d stymied the “honesty” problem, at least in relation to the marginal seats he’s trying to hold or win, by associating the word “trust” with Labor’s old record on interest rates. Then one of his own throws the dead cat back in the ring, and Brandis has to, as usual, carry the can. (When you’re thinking about this story, remember to separate the motivation behind the allegation and the question of whether or not it is true. And watch this space.)


On the same day, Latham releases his blueprint for the return of “honest politics” to Australia. Poor George. He’s Howard’s attack dog on the committee which will hear from children overboard whistleblower Mike Scrafton at 9am tomorrow.

Here is Latham’s statement, which exposes to wider public attention another Howard lie – his promise in 1996 during a television debate with Paul Keating to appoint an independent Speaker (referee) to conduct meetings of the People’s House, the House of Representatives. Latham’s nicked that broken promise, but would he break it too if we voted him in? The best defence is to get a written undertaking from your Labor candidate that he or she would cross the floor if necessary to ensure this promise was kept.

See Machinery of Government: The Labor Approach for the 53 page text of Latham’s blueprint for cleaning up our democracy. What a strange name for a policy to bring back truth, duty and accountibility to Australian politics! Still, at least Latham, unlike Howard in 1996, put it in writing.



Labor is today releasing a policy document called “Machinery of Government: The Labor Approach”. It is the most comprehensive statement ever released by an Australian Opposition party detailing how it will conduct itself in government. Labor is ready to govern, and we will do so with high standards of integrity and accountability as our guiding principles.

We will also provide more open government, involving the Australian people in the decision-making process.

The document covers areas including ministerial and parliamentary standards, the size and structure of the ministry, Cabinet functions, budget processes, and the role of ministerial staff.

We are determined to improve the poor ministerial standards of the Howard Government, particularly when it comes to truth and integrity.

The Howard Government has had major failings in ministerial accountability and responsibility. If you can’t provide honesty in government, you don’t deserve to lead the nation. Labor will restore truth and integrity to our national parliament and the system of government.

Our plan includes the following initiatives:

  • A cap on the superannuation benefits of senior office holders, building on our reforms of the parliamentary superannuation scheme.
  • Stricter standards of ministerial accountability.
  • A ban on ministers from taking employment, for a period of 12 months after leaving office, with any company with which they had official dealings as a Minister in their last 12 months in office.
  • The registration of lobbyists.
  • An independent Speaker for the House of Representatives and improved Standing Orders.
  • Holding regular Community Cabinet meetings and forums around Australia.
  • Reform of the Freedom of Information Act to make it more open and democratic.
  • An Independent Auditor of Parliamentary Allowances and Entitlements.
  • Strict guidelines on government advertising to prevent it being used as political propaganda.
  • Restoring the independence and effectiveness of the public service.

Labor’s Costello wedge keeps Wentworth on the move


Eye of the storm. Image by Webdiary artist Martin Davies

I knew first hand that there was an election on when Tony Abbott – rubbing hands, big smile – strolled into the Sydney Morning Herald’s Canberra Bureau yesterday to ask anyone who cared to answer: “Now what can I do for you?”


The SMH is the preferred paper of Liberal voters in blue ribbon Liberal seats in Sydney’s North Shore and Eastern suburbs. These seats are also at the epicentre of ex Liberal Party President John Valder’s “Not Happy, John” campaign to unseat Howard in Bennelong.

So after the initial surprise of Abbott venturing into the den which led the way in exposing his deceit over his “honest politics trust”, it was no surprise that Abbott asked, “What do you think Peter King is going to do?”

I know what King – who is set to announce his candidacy as an independent Liberal in Wentworth late this week – HAS to do to give himself a chance to win the seat, and it’s not a pretty thought for the likes of Abbott.

I’ve had two types of Liberal Party polling spruiked to me recently. One is said to have polled Wentworth voters on who they’d vote for in a three horse race between the Liberal candidate Malcolm Turnbull, the current Liberal MP Peter King, and Labor’s David Patch. The result: Turnbull 35 percent, Patch 40 percent, King 25 percent.


In another poll, where the question was the big three, other and undecided, Patch was at 20 percent, and Turnbull and King level on 25 percent. That’s 30 percent of Wentworth voters who’ll give their first preference to the Greens or Democrats candidates, or who haven’t made up their minds.

What I take from this is that if King stands as an “in-house” loyal Liberal who just happens to be standing as an independent, he could deliver the seat to Patch or to Turnbull on King preferences.

I wrote about the state of play in the first issue of the new online magazine New Matilda:

The last thing Labor’s candidate for the blue ribbon inner Sydney seat of Wentworth wants is for the disendorsed Liberal Peter King to stand as the ‘Not happy, John!’ candidate. If he did, he might just take the seat from Malcolm Turnbull and cruel Labor’s ever-increasing chances of stealing the seat.

Labor polling shows the biggest swings against Howard’s regime are coming in some of its safest seats. It’s no accident that Turnbull recently told a community meeting that invading Iraq was ‘an unadulterated error’ just after King finally spoke out about Howard’s abandonment of two Australian citizens in Guantanamo Bay.

The Liberal heartland is at last in revolt. It’s in the heartland that the Government’s grotesque response to the call for truth in government by 43 retired senior public servants, diplomats and defence chiefs hurt most, as did the proof that Howard lied his way to power in 2001 over ‘children overboard’.

The people of Wentworth live in what’s close to being Australia’s richest seat, but lots of other people live there too, especially in Bondi. It’s a water-front based Eastern Suburbs seat. The people of Wentworth – who voted for a Republic, support reconciliation and their ABC, and think that invading Iraq was wrong-headed and that every Australian has fundamental rights as citizens – oppose Howard’s anti-democratic regime and did not like how Malcolm Turnbull beat King for pre-selection through an unprecedented branch-stack by his rich and powerful friends backed by paid radio advertising. It is a small “l” Liberal seat and small “l” Liberals have been progressively disenfranchised under John Howard. The fact that the only One Nation federal politician, Senator Len Harris, said this week that he hoped the Liberals won the election is a straw in that wind.

In my travels promoting my book “Not Happy John” I spoke to several Liberals in Wentworth, and several in the North Shore Liberal heartland too. Some were hostile to Howard and would prefer a Liberal Government without him, and all of these named Costello as the man they put their faith in to right the balance in the Party. The others had already decided to cast their vote against the Liberals. And on a recent Sunday program, a Sydney Liberal establishment figure involved with Australian refugee support groups, Renata Caldor, said of the choice between a Howard Liberal or Latham Labor Government at this election:

I would ideally like to have a Liberal government without John Howard as the leader. If you’re asking me the lesser of two evils, if I had my choice, I’ve got to say, after a lot of thought, I would prefer to have a Labor Party in power, at least for three years, and I think probably – perhaps – [that would] be enough. I think the damage perhaps that a Latham government would do to the country economically, to my mind, wouldn’t be quite as harmful as the damage to the social fabric that’s happened under the John Howard leadership.

The Iraq war and other so-called “elite” issues are hitting much harder in Liberal seats like Wentworth than in marginal Liberal seats. It is no accident that King recently protested against Howard’s abandonment of our citizens in Guantanamo Bay, quickly followed by Turnbull’s pronouncement at a community meeting at Bondi Beach that the war was “an unadulterated error”. The difference between the two is that Turnbull had to put out a statement denying his own statement, while King did not. King has since endorsed Tony Kevin’s book on SIEV-X as a thoughtful read raising questions the Government was obliged to answer (see Liberal voter rumblings mean second front for Howard).

Wentworth voters are suddenly and unexpectedly Australia’s equivalent of voters in the New Hampshire Primaries in the United States. They’re phoned constantly for their views and they’re accosted on street corners by the candidates. After living in a forever safe seat where politics was all but ignored during an election campaign, they’re now being asked – individually – to examine their values and make a very big decision about who they want to represent them in Canberra. And they’re being asked to make this decision in circumstances where they have a real choice – as Liberals.

I received this email from Webdiarist Jonathan Nolan in Bondi Beach yesterday:

I don’t want John Howard as PM, but apparently being in Wentworth I can still vote Liberal and not worry. A worker for Malcolm Turnbull (outside Bondi Beach Post Office last Saturday) told me that a vote for Turnbull is NOT a vote for Howard. I was amused and slightly baffled so they got Malcolm himself to speak to me. After confirming this point he added two more reasons to give him my anti-Howard vote: 1. Get the Liberals back in and you’ll only have Howard for two years, and 2. He was only one to go up against Howard on the war in Iraq. He added that the monarchists would be rubbing their hands in glee if he doesn’t get in. Now I know that definitely includes John Howard. (And yes, I am willing to take a lie detector test.)

This is where the Costello problem comes in. Many true Liberals blame John Howard personally for what’s gone wrong with the Government. They would like a Liberal Government led by Peter Costello. This means Labor has a wedge to insert. The swinging voters in marginal seats which Howard is trying to tie down don’t like Costello. That’s why Costello had to endure yet further humiliation from Howard yesterday by appearing with his tormentor to rule out challenging for the leadership at any time in the next term if Howard is re-elected.

The downside? This pledge removes the last remaining zone of comfort for disenfranchised small “l” Liberals. They cannot now pretend that a vote for the Liberal Party is OK because liberalism will be revived in the Liberal Party soon enough under a Costello leadership. Unless Howard pledges a handover at this election, he’ll be there until he gets his ideological soul mate Tony Abbott to take over the reins, perhaps after another term!

Coincidentally, voters in Wentworth have just received a letter from the Prime Minister telling them that if Peter King stands he will destroy the Liberal Party and Labor’s David Patch could win it. How desperate can he get here? It’s a last ditch stand to convince supporters of King and King himself to back down and thus deny Liberal voters in Wentworth a real choice. The truth is the opposite if King dares to stand as a “Not Happy, John” candidate, and that’s why Howard is scared stiff.

If King bites the bullet he’ll give himself a serious chance to win back the seat, and thus deny the bloke who knocked him off. But he would also be a serious national embarrassment to the Liberal Party’s election campaign. Like Hanson was in 1996, except from a totally different quarter.

Being a Not Happy, John! candidate means that King stands under John Valder’s Not Happy John banner as an independent true Liberal pledged to publicly stand up and argue for Liberalism. He would guarantee to support a minority Liberal government if required on condition that Howard resigned as leader – and to guarantee not to bring down the government by blocking supply. That has to be tempting to disaffected Liberals. It would be an extremely serious warning to Howard and the Party that they had to give voice to Liberalism, and obey its core principles, or they could have Labor’s “Greens” problem on their hands. It’s called making your vote count when it really matters to our nation’s future.

I’d like to keep a close eye on Wentworth during the campaign and to publish on-the-ground reports from voters in Wentworth.

This will be an election like no other. Every thinking voter knows the stakes are the highest they can be – the nature of Australia’s democracy and thus our very identity. So let’s settle in for a long and utterly fascinating campaign.

Trusting Howard

Savage man. Image by Webdiary artist Martin Davies.

Trust, eh? I haven’t heard anything so mind-boggling from a political leader since Treasurer Paul Keating, having helped win Labor the 1990 election by promising to avoid a recession, baldly announced that this was the recession we had to have.


That’s one way to wipe a slate clean. But it wasn’t clean, because in 1993 he told a bald-faced lie to get re-elected. L.A.W. tax cuts, no less; to prove that Australians really could have their cake and eat it through personal tax cuts without a GST. Upon winning on a disgraceful scare campaign, he then cancelled some of the L.A.W. cuts and raised a raft of indirect taxes, including on petrol. He was history from then on.

On the surface, Howard’s shock insistence that the election is about trust is ludicrous. After all, he’s running to an election to avoid scrutiny of the lies he told in the final week of the last election about children overboard. He’s even had the gall to let the Senate come back today and tomorrow, while not allowing the People’s House to question him on children overboard and revelations that contrary to his assertion that invading Iraq would make Australia safer, experts advised him the opposite was more likely.


Trust? Well, yes. Howard’s attempt to co-opt the issue that threatens to destroy him is just another aspect of the relationship with swinging voters in key seats he nurtured in 1996 and has been living off ever since. It’s the core promise thing, stupid.

Howard convinced many doubters in 1996 by promising to keep Medicare intact and increasing funding for the ABC, among other sops. Straight after, confronted with the budget black hole both sides knew was there before the election, he constructed the idea of the “core promise”. By this he meant hip pocket promises which had swung the key swingers in the key seats behind him. He kept faith with those people, while betraying the others. He’s been doing it ever since.

The “Trust” thing is a similar play. He’s talking over the heads of the chattering classes – and a political establishment now almost universally appalled by his bullying attacks on democratic norms – to tell swingerland that he’ll keep interest rates down to protect their mortgages and that Latham cannot be “trusted” to do so.

Don’t worry about the non-core lies, he’s saying, I’ll keep looking after your hip pockets. You KNOW you can trust me on that.

Values versus bribes. As the years have worn on, the objects of Howard’s “generosity” have been ever more narrowly focused on certain sectors in certain marginals, so that tax and concessions policy is now overtly unfair and non-merits based. He’s setting up a war of hip pocket winners and losers.

The risk, of course, is that his blue ribbon seats may squirm with distaste at his cooption of the trust theme despite running away from a Parliamentary test of his own trustworthiness. Howard has been forced to take his heartland for granted, yet again, at a time when they’re getting increasingly uncomfortable with him.

Let the games begin.

Liberal voter rumblings mean second front for Howard

Bitter Harvest. Image by Webdiary artist Martin Davies

G’day. What a time to be moving to Canberra, becoming self-employed and being stuck on the road promoting a book! Webdiary will return on September 6, with an updated system which will make Webdiary easier for you and me to work with. I’m book promoting for the rest of this week and taking next week off.


I have one comment on the children overboard scandal. Howard has prejudged the new Senate inquiry on the basis that it is biased because he doesn’t have the numbers. What’s he really saying here? A leader, faced with such strong evidence that he lied to the Australian people as part of his campaign to win office in 2001, would, if innocent, call an independent inquiry. Or, if he needed protection, he would call a House of Representatives inquiry, in which his team had the numbers.

By not doing so, he is effectively admitting he lied to the Australian people. If there are no consequences, then he will succeeded in being unaccountable to the people house, and therefore to his employers, the Australian people. If his employer’s condone such behaviour by returning him to office, Australian politics will be transformed.


To relive the last few days of the 2001 election, read most of the transcripts now shown to be full of lies, and track the end of the last unthrown children inquiry, go to Webdiary’s children overboard archive.

But there are rumblings in the heartland, and not only from John Valder. In the blue ribbon Sydney seat Wentworth, the possibility is growing that Peter King will stand as a “Not Happy John” candidate agains Malcolm Turnbull, who defeated King in a controversial pre-selction battle.

King has made two significant moves towards offering the people of Wentworth the choice of an independent true Liberal opposed to Howard’s way. First he critiqued Howard’s abandonment of our citizens in Guantanamo Bay. And he recently wrote this letter of support for a Wentworth launch of Tony Kevin’s book on the SIEV-X scandal:

I am sorry that I can’t be with you tonight at the launch of Tony Kevin’s book: “A Certain Maritime Incident.” Tony’s book is extraordinarily well researched and well written. It provides a perceptive insight into one of the great maritime mysteries of modern times.

Sadly, the core of that mystery may never be fully known because the tragedy of the Siev X resulted in the deaths of 353 asylum seekers only three years ago and the events leading up to its sinking remain somewhat confused to many.

While on its voyage, and after it had left Indonesian waters, but not yet reached Australian waters the ship became progressively unseaworthy – a prelude to the disaster that saw its demise.

In recent years, the political controversy of asylum seekers entering Australia has been a definitive issue. It has been an issue that has divided many people.

Be that as it may, it needs to be recorded that in this debate there has been conflicting evidence about whether Australian or Indonesian officials knew of the Siev X voyage and how much did they know.

Using his high-level research skills, investigative abilities and access to an amazing number of official and unofficial sources, Tony has shed a searchlight on what he believes happened before and after the Siev X sank. His views are well-argued and the evidence he presents, well-selected and well-documented.

As a person who has specialised in maritime law, I must say that his book raises many interesting questions – especially questions about whether aid could have been rendered “for those in peril on the sea” – which is the undisputed first law of humanitarianism in relation to sea-going.

This book will be controversial. It deserves to be. This book will attract critics of its facts. That is part and parcel of recording and interpreting history. If you don’t believe me, ask Keith Windschuttle.

Writing a book is no easy task. Writing a book about a controversial episode involving many complex incidents is a lot harder. Even harder is writing a book about an episode and related events which has caused political division within Australia – its target audience. That Tony has done this daunting task is to his credit.

The book deserves reading, careful study and discussion. Its style meets all three needs. I wish Tony well with the book and I thank him for contributing to our historiography with this book.


For more on the unfolding of the SIEV-X story, see Webdiary’s SIEV-X archive.

Not Happy, John! Reflections of a Webdiarist

Image by Webdiary artist Martin Davies

I delivered this speech to the Sydney Institute last night

The day after Mark Latham was elected ALP leader by a whisker, I had a coffee with a Liberal MP stunned by his ladder-of-opportunity victory speech. “We’re in trouble,” he said. “Latham has updated Menzies’ ‘Forgotten People’.”

I think this is the Menzies quote which so resonated with Latham’s metaphor of the ladder of opportunity, and which has been so thoroughly corrupted by the neo-liberal political philosophy which now commodifies and degrades us all:

When the war is won, for every hundred boys and girls who now pass into higher schools and universities there must be a thousand. Lack of money must be no impediment to bright minds. The almost diabolical skill of men’s hands in the last forty years must be supplemented by a celestial skill of men’s minds and a generosity of men’s hearts if we are not to be destroyed by the machines of our creation. In common with other members of Parliament, I must increasingly realise that my constituents are not seventy thousand votes, but seventy thousand men and women for whose welfare and growth I have some responsibility. To develop every human being to his fullest capacity for thought, for action, for sacrifice and for endurance is our major task; and no prejudice, stupidity, selfishness or vested interest must stand in the way. (“The task of democracy”)


I then read all of Menzies’ 1942Forgotten People talks on 2GB radio in the depths of World War 2, where he set out the political philosophy upon which the Liberal Party was later formed. I was moved to tears by some of what I read, both by its old fashioned idealism and its extraordinary relevance to today’s world. He devoted several talks to democracy – its nature, its sickness, its achievements and its tasks. He explained what he believed the values were that we were sacrificing so much for, and sought to inspire Australians and their leaders to live by and honour those values when the war was won to make the oceans of blood spilt worth it, for all of us.

Menzies saw democracy in almost spiritual terms, and its custodians, our elected representatives, as charged with a sacred duty to preserve and enhance it. He was a builder for the long term – of a frank and fearless public service and of a world class university system open to all Australians with the capacity to make use of it.

Early Liberalism, devoted to wresting absolute power from kings and Queens, wholly distrusted the State, and saw the rule of law as the citizens’ protection against its excesses and maximisation of human freedom from State interference as its defining goal. Later Social Liberalism, which Menzies’ quote epitomises, married individual rights with the belief that part of the State’s role was to maximise equality of opportunity, and thus substantive individual freedom. As he said in “Has Capitalism failed”:

In envisaging the future world after the war, we should not seek to destroy this driving progressive element which really represents one of the deep-seated instincts of man, but should seek to control and direct it in the interests of the people as a whole- We shall do much better if we keep the good elements of the capitalist system, while at the same time imposing upon capital the most stringent obligations to discharge its social and industrial duty. The old conservative doctrine that the function of the State was merely to keep the ring for the combatants has gone forever.

He was wrong. We never learn, do we? (See Muddying the waters between guardians and traders.)

Extracts from Menzies’ Forgotten People talks became embedded in my book Not happy, John! Defending our democracy”, as I sought to prove that far from being the torch bearer of Menzian Liberalism, John Howard has destroyed it from within, and in so doing has plunged our democracy into a crisis which only the people of Australia, working together, can now salvage.

I thought – wrongly as it turned out – that I would be asked in interviews to justify my belief in Menzies’ Liberal vision in the light of what many see as the indelible stain on his credentials as a champion of Australian liberal democracy – banning the Communist Party in 1950. After all, Menzies, a devotee of John Stuart Mill, said in “Freedom of speech and expression”:

The whole essence of freedom is that it is freedom for others as well as for ourselves: freedom for people who disagree with us as well as for our supporters; freedom for minorities as well as for majorities. Here we have a conception which is not born with us but which we must painfully acquire.

Why is this freedom of real importance to humanity? … What appears to be today’s truth is frequently tomorrow’s error. There is nothing absolute about the truth. It is elusive- If truth is to emerge and in the long run be triumphant, the process of free debate – the untrammelled clash of opinion – must go on.

There are fascist tendencies in all countries – a sort of latent tyranny … Suppression of attack, which is based upon suppression of really free thought, is the instinctive weapon of the vested interest … great groups which feel their power are at once subject to tremendous temptations to use that power so as to limit the freedom of others.

The easily forgotten truth (is) that the despotism of a majority may be just as bad as the despotism of one man. Fascism and the Nazi movement … elevate the all-powerful State and makes the rights of the individual not matters of inherent dignity, but matters merely of concession by the State. Each says to the ordinary citizen, “Your rights are not those you were born with, but those which of our kindness we allow you.”

Power is apt to produce a kind of drunkenness, and it needs the cold douche of the critic to correct it … The temptation towards suppression of thought and speech is greatest of all in time of war because at such a time people say, “Let us have strength!” – all too frequently meaning, by “strength”, suppression; whereas the truth is that it requires more strength of character to sustain adverse or bitter criticism than to say, with a grand gesture, “Off with the critic’s head!

Hmmm. I had a chat with Queensland Senator George Brandis, one of the seven true to label MPs in the Federal Liberal Party. He produced some fascinating research about Menzies’ attitude to banning the Communist Party, which, far from proving Menzies a hypocrite, proved the depth of his principles, and the extraordinary circumstances which saw him forgo them in the case of the CPA.

On 24 May 1940, the Menzies Government imposed a ban on some CPA publications, and later declared it an illegal organisation under wartime powers. The decision was uncontroversial, as the Soviet’s non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany had precipitated the war.

Yet Menzies had tenaciously resisted the ban, twice rejecting recommendations to Cabinet before finally signing off. The War Cabinet initially decided “it was inadvisable to declare the party an illegal organisation”, rejecting a joint recommendation from all three defence services. (Paul Hasluck, “The Government and the People 1939-1941”, Canberra, Australian War Memorial, 1952, pp 582-94.) Instead, Menzies established a committee of the defence services, the police and the Department of Information to re-examine the question. That committee also recommended a ban, but Menzies again said no. The Cabinet submission records that Menzies’ reluctance “in view of the danger of infringement of the rights and privileges of innocent persons should approval be given to principles without regard to the details and methods of implementing them and the provision of safeguards to prevent their abuse”.

Menzies insisted that a ministerial sub-committee “consider the course of action to be followed” before finally agreeing to the ban.

In 1942, after the Soviet Union joined the Allies, the Labor Government withdrew the ban, again without controversy. (Leicester Webb, “Communism and Democracy in Australia: A Survey of the 1951 Referendum”, Melbourne, Cheshire, 1954, pp. 6-7.) At the 1943 election, only the Country Party, led by Arthur Fadden, campaigned for a ban on the CPA. (Ulrich Ellis, “A History of the Australian Country Party”, Melbourne University Press, 1963, p. 274.)

The first Federal Platform of the Liberal Party, founded by Menzies in 1944, did not seek to ban the CPA, and at the 1946 election, again only the Country Party campaigned to do so.

Menzies made his attitude clear in a Parliamentary speech on May 15, 1947 on a motion that the Chifley government hold an inquiry into the CPA:

One reason why I have repeatedly expressed the view that these people should be dealt with in the open is that I have complete confidence in the basic sanity of our own people. If we deal with these people openly we shall defeat them; but we cannot deal with them openly unless their operations are known, unless they themselves are known. (House of Representatives Hansard 15 May 1947 pp. 2460-1.)

In contrast, the Country Party’s John McEwen demanded that members of the Communist Party be dealt with “as traitors”.

Menzies’ turnaround was forced upon him by domestic political necessity coupled with profound world events, including war-like actions by the Soviet Union. Domestically, his Coalition partner’s strident campaign to ban the CPA was joined by an internal rival, Richard Casey, who sought to take over the Liberal leadership by citing Menzies’ refusal to ban the CPA as a sign of weakness.

Fast forward to the rise of One Nation and the Government’s attempts to deregister it in the Courts through secret funding from big business while refusing to openly debate the merits of its policies (see Unmasked Howard gets amnesia on Hanson).

And then to John Howard’s post-Tampa legislation, drafted in his office, which sought to exempt all Commonwealth officials from the jurisdiction of our courts in relation to the boat people, even for murder (see A legal minefield). Only WA Liberal Judi Moylan abstained, citing Howard’s failure to allow any time to consider its ramifications. When Beazley said no, he was cursed with Howard’s accusation of weakness throughout the 2001 election campaign for forcing the PM to amend his plans, and the false claim that some boat people were terrorists.

Fast forward to Howard’s post election response to September 11, to rush through Parliament draconian limitations on fundamental civil rights of liberal democracy through anti-terrorism laws which defined political and industrial protests as “terrorist acts”, and allowed the Attorney-General to unilaterally ban political organisations without reference to Parliament. And to his ASIO laws, which allowed unlimited, secret detention and interrogation of people not suspected of terrorism without access to lawyers or even notice to their families.

Only desperate brinkmanship from the true Liberal remnants – Brandis, Moylan, Marise Payne, Petro Georgio, Brett Mason, Christopher Pyne and Bruce Baird forced Howard to water down his terrorism and ASIO laws. The only power which gave them the clout to outstare Howard was that he did not have the numbers in the Senate, and that Labor, under siege from Howard for standing up for fundamental liberal values and proper checks and balances on untrammelled executive power – was bolstered by leaked threats from dissident Liberals that they could cross the floor in the Senate. (See Webdiary reports Coming soon: too many terroristsToo many terrorists: Part twoCome in, Big BrotherTake em on, BeazleyLiberalism fights back on terror lawsMomentum against Terror AustralisCrisis of conscienceThird Way terrorPayne and gain and ASIO: Right beats might, again!.)

Howard then proposed that the Senate’s power to veto legislation be abolished, which would have ended the only effective Parliamentary review of executive government decisions, and the last leverage of true Liberals in the “Liberal” Party. (See Howard’s Senate strip: All power to him.)

And he’s still at it – just last week in a Senate report Payne and Mason joined with Labor to condemn proposed consorting with terrorists’ laws as potentially criminalising legitimate social and religious festivals, the giving of legal advice, and investigative journalism. They said the government had not even proved the case for any need for the new laws!

Howard has presided over the collapse of consensus in the political class that civil and human rights are not to be tools for party political gain, or to be torn away from citizens through cheap and cynical scare campaigns putting unbearable political pressure on a responsible opposition. This shaming of the Menzian Liberal tradition has included a pre-fascist fetish to attack minorities and feed the community’s fear of difference.

In this regard, I’d like to quote the 1942 Menzies talk I found the most inimical to John Howard’s idea of leadership in times of war. In “Hatred as an instrument of war policy”, Menzies protested against Government advertising urging Australians to despise the Japanese:

It appears to proceed from a belief – that the cultivation of the spirit of hatred among our own people is a proper instrument of war policy.

The real question is whether we should glorify such a natural human reaction into something which ought to be cultivated and made a sort of chronic state of mind. – In a Great War like this, bitter moments are the portion of many thousands of people, and one must respect that bitterness and its cause. But if we are to view war problems from a national point of view and – what is even better – from a world point of view, then we must inevitably conclude that if this war with all its tragedy breeds into us a deep-seated and enduring spirit of hatred, then the peace when it comes will be merely the prelude to disaster and not an end of it.

… Is it thought that Australian civilians are so lacking in the true spirit of citizenship that they need to be filled artificially with a spirit of hatred before they will do their duty to themselves and to those who are fighting for them?

… Peace may be all sorts of things – a real end of war, a mere exhaustion, an armed interlude before the next struggle. But it will only be by a profound stirring in the hearts of men that we shall reach goodwill.

… It does not mean that in some dreamy or philosophic fashion we are to forget that the salvation of mankind requires that this generation of ours should be ready to go through hell to defeat its devils. But it does mean that we should refuse to take the honest and natural and passing passions of the human heart and degrade them into sinister and bitter policy. We shall, in other words, do well if we leave the dignity and essential nobility of our cause unstained and get on urgently with the business of so working, so fighting, and so sacrificing ourselves that the cause emerges triumphant and the healing benefits of its success become available as a blessing not merely for us but for all mankind.

When did Menzies’ wisdom lose its force in the Liberal Party? When did his spirit die? And how do we revive it, for the sake of all Australians?

In the 1997 Menzies memorial lecture in London, Howard said:

Menzies had a deep respect for the political freedoms and personal liberties, the parliamentary democracy, the rule of law, and a free press that were Britain’s great gift to Australia. It is no exaggeration to say that these principles constitute the foundations on which Australia’s strengths as a nation are built.

I seek to prove in my book that Howard has betrayed all of these foundational principles to such an extent that he could, if he wins again, destroy them through his belief that the ends always justify the means. While he mouths these empty phrases to justify opposing a bill of rights for Australians, more and more true Liberals are now calling for one as the only protection left for our civil rights and freedoms.

The current weakness of our democracy is clearly shown in its failure to hold Howard to account for his misleading and deceptive conduct in taking Australia to its first war of aggression in Iraq against the wishes of the Australian people. The British and American parliaments and media have comprehensively shown us up.

My belief in strong democratic institutions, the rule of law, the separation of powers, and ethical in government were forged by my experience as a Queenslander, a police state under the rule of Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen. I am a small l Liberal, greatly distrustful of State power and extremely mindful of the need for legal protection against its abuse. It is no coincidence that some of the strongest advocates against Howard’s pre-fascist policies come from Queenslanders, including Senators Brandis and Mason and Tony Fitzgerald QC, a traditional liberal destined for the High Court until he did his duty as Royal Commissioner into Queensland police corruption. At the Sydney launch of my book, Tony said:

In a speech last year, the author Norman Mailer described democracy as ‘a state of grace that is attained only by those countries which have a host of individuals not only ready to enjoy freedom but to undergo the heavy labour of maintaining it’.

Australians generally accept that democracy is the best system of government, the market is the most efficient mechanism for economic activity and fair laws are the most powerful instrument for creating and maintaining a society that is free, rational and just. However, we are also collectively conscious that democracy is fragile, the market is amoral and law is an inadequate measure of responsibility. As former Chief Justice Warren of the United States Supreme Court explained: “Law “.. presupposes the existence of a broad area of human conduct controlled only by ethical norms.

Similarly, democracy in our tradition assumes that a broad range of political activity is controlled only by conventions of proper conduct. Especially because individual rights are not constitutionally guaranteed in this country, justice, equality and other fundamental community values in Australia are constantly vulnerable to the disregard of those conventions.

Mainstream political parties routinely shirk their duty of maintaining democracy in Australia. This is nowhere more obvious than in what passes for political debate, in which it is regarded as not only legitimate but clever to mislead. Although effective democracy depends on the participation of informed citizens, modern political discourse is corrupted by pervasive deception. It is a measure of the deep cynicism in our party political system that many of the political class deride those who support the evolution of Australia as a fair, tolerant, compassionate society and a good world citizen as an un-Australian, “bleeding-heart” elite, and that the current government inaccurately describes itself as conservative and liberal. It is neither.

It exhibits a radical disdain for both liberal thought and fundamental institutions and conventions. No institution is beyond stacking and no convention restrains the blatant advancement of ideology. The tit-for-tat attitude each side adopts means that the position will probably change little when the opposition gains power at some future time. A decline in standards will continue if we permit it.

Without ethical leadership, those of us who are comfortably insulated from the harsh realities of violence, disability, poverty and discrimination seem to have experienced a collective failure of imagination. Relentless change and perceptions of external threat make conformity and order attractive and incremental erosions of freedom tolerable to those who benefit from the status quo and are apprehensive of others who are different and therefore easily misunderstood.

(Yet) we are a community, not merely a collection of self-interested individuals. Justice, integrity and trust in fundamental institutions are essential social assets and social capital is as important as economic prosperity.

In order to perform our democratic function, we need, and are entitled to, the truth. Nothing is more important to the functioning of democracy than informed discussion and debate. Yet a universal aim of the power-hungry is to stifle dissent. Most of us are easily silenced, through a sense of futility if not personal concern.

My book is an attempt to persuade Australians that there comes a time when political disagreements must be put aside to fight together for the one thing we all agree on – a vibrant liberal democracy in which politicians represent the public interest, not their own or those of their donors and benefactors, and in which every Australian, through the People’s House, can have a say in the determination of our future.


Since the 2001 election, Webdiarists of most political inclinations – left, liberal, conservative and nationalist – have discussed the grave and growing threat to our democracy posed by the Howard regime. The rise of refugee activism has brought voters of many colours together in a campaign which, while reviled by the majority, has grown and strengthened and become more determined over time. The release last weekend of the plea from 43 of our top retired defence, diplomatic and public service leaders – Australian elders – calling for truth in politics and for Australia to put its national interest before subservience to the USA, is further proof of this trend towards Australians coming together to defend our democracy.


Since the launch of my book, I met Liberal Party elder John Valder, who has adopted the book’s title to convene a “Not happy, John!” campaign to rid the people of John Howard in Bennelong. He is the first establishment Liberal I’ve got to know well, and to our surprise we both like each other and have more in common than not when it comes to our values. We have appeared together at a public meeting called to discuss how Australians can reclaim our democracy.

In Not happy, John: angry outsiders take on Howard Michelle Grattan wrote of the extraordinary stands being made by Brian Deegan, Andrew Wilkie and John Valder in the lead up to this election, the most important in my voting lifetime. She quoted Bob Montgomery, professor of psychology at the University of Canberra, on why the unlikely trio have done so: -“They have in common, Montgomery says, the phenomenon one sees through history, -of people willing to take a stand that may be costly for them but satisfies their need for integrity.”

Since the book’s release, I have received dinner invitations from people I would never otherwise have met, in walks of life I have never encountered. The topic: how to join forces to fight for the Australian values which make us special and which are close to being lost forever.

Now is the time to begin that fight, together, and many Australians who’ve never before been involved in politics are looking around to spot others with defiance in their eyes also prepared to take the time and bear the cost of doing what they can to remove the Howard regime, give the Liberal Party the chance to rediscover the traditions and values which made it great, and create a mass movement to insist that liberal values are brought back into the mainstream of Australia’s faltering democracy.

For all its faults, and there are many, I believe the election of a Labor Government and a strong Senate will give the people a breathing space to mobilise to make the health of our democracy a crucial issue during the term of the next government and at the next election.

I’d like to end with a quote from Menzies and a quote from my book:

Menzies, 1942:

What, then, must democracy do if it is to be a real force in the new world? – It must recapture the vision of the good of man as the purpose of government. And it must restore the authority and prestige of Parliament as the supreme organic expression of self-government.

… The truth is that ever since the wise men gathered about the village tree in the Anglo-Saxon village of early England, the notion of free self-government has run like a thread through our history. The struggle for freedom led an English Parliament to make war on its King and execute him at the seat of government, confined the kingship itself to a parliamentary domain, established the cabinet system and responsibility, set in place the twin foundation stones of the sovereignty of Parliament and the rule of law on which our whole civil edifice is built.

The sovereignty of Parliament. That is a great phrase and a vital truth. If only we could all understand it to the full, what a change we would make! Sovereignty is the quality of kingship, and democracy brings it to the poor man’s door.

Not happy, John! Defending our democracy, Chapter 2, “Yours not to reason why”:

I visited a friend after Bush declared “mission accomplished” in Iraq, at a time when the lies, the spin and the psychological assaults inflicted by the Coalition of the Willing’s governments on any public servant who told the truth were becoming horribly clear.

My friend said, “Margo, we usually find out thirty years later that they lied to us to send us to war. What happens when we find out almost instantaneously? And what happens if nothing happens?”

I answered: “I guess it would mean that we don’t treasure our democracy any more, and that means it will die.”