For Libs, The Writing Is On The Toilet Door


Success in politics requires many different skills. One of these is an ability to use dunny doors to get your message across.

At one point during my undergraduate days a civil war had been brewing between Serbs, Croats, Greeks and Macedonians on the doors of the Macquarie University library toilets. A mate of mine crossed out the "Macedonia is Greek", "Smrt Jugoslavia" and related slogans with his thick black pen and wrote in huge letters: "MACEDONIA, SERBIA, CROATIA AND GREECE REMAIN OTTOMAN TURKISH!!" (And in case you’re wondering, my mate was of Irish Catholic stock.)

Now it seems the dark art of dunny door scribbling has spread from campus libraries to hallowed parliamentary chambers. Just ask National Party Senator Barnaby Joyce.

Recently I questioned just how we should respond to a certain Glenn Milne story in The Australian about the Liberal Party. The story reported that a leaked document (known in polite political parlance as a "shit-sheet") claimed that corporate donors were threatening to withhold donations unless a gang of 14 "dead-wood" MPs were dumped. I wondered whether this was a real story or yet another attempt by the Costello camp to destabilise Turnbull’s leadership.

Where does Barnaby Joyce fit into all of this? Well, Joyce responded to Milne’s report by angrily comparing the corporate shit-sheet with the work of "the school child who writes on the back of a public toilet door". Joyce, mixing his metaphor somewhat, also described the mysterious source as a "Delphic oracle" whose revelations were related to and penned by "mystic channeller Glenn Milne".

Now it’s become clear that the shit-sheet has hit raw nerves with other people too. In the days that followed, talkback radio ran the story hard. The Oz and Fairfax reported responses from Coalition MPs named on the list. The dead wood is very much alive and kicking.

Bronwyn Bishop defiantly chanted her typically fanciful NSW Right ideological mantras about how corporate donors won’t respond to the removal of dead-wood MPs but rather to "standing up for Liberal principles on issues such as asylum seekers and carbon trading". Bishop doesn’t define these "Liberal principles", but given her past form one can only guess she believes business will only support Howard government policies that proved so popular with the electorate in November 2007.

Bishop is one of the NSW Right’s veteran campaigners. Ian Hancock’s The Liberals: The NSW Division 1945–2000 notes that Bishop’s elevation to the presidency of the NSW Liberal Party in 1985 was a major victory for a far-Right faction known as the "Uglies". The faction, led by the late Lyenko Urbanchich, claimed to have "delivered a significant bloc of votes which took her so far over the line". Bishop denied any links with the faction, though they did assist her in various pre-selection campaigns for the Senate and later in the seat of Mackellar on Sydney’s northern beaches.

But will the Uglies be able to save her from the power of Glenn Milne’s Delphic oracles? Bishop certainly appears terrified that she could face a challenge in an internal party ballot for her own seat. It’s hard to find some other explanation for her recent attack on her leader Malcolm Turnbull. Though Bishop’s calls for Turnbull to harden up make her sound more like Chopper Reid than a member of a future Turnbull government.

Plenty of candidates on both sides of the factional divide would be happy to challenge her. Among them is former NSW opposition leader John Brogden, regarded by many as the victim of a smear campaign by the NSW Right including, allegedly, by Bishop ally and current Mitchell MP Alex Hawke. Brogden would no doubt see knocking off Bishop as sweet revenge upon his former factional opponents.

Also a possible contender is former Brendan Nelson staffer and former opinion editor of the Australian Tom Switzer. Milne could barely hide his enthusiasm for his former colleague, describing Switzer as a "young Liberal gun" who is "circling, ready and willing to take over".

Equally desperate and incoherent is Alby Schultz, the outspoken member for Hume, a seat located between Sydney and Canberra. Schultz was also unhappy at being named in the shit-sheet. He angrily declared that it "is the rank-and-file branch membership [who]will select the candidates for Liberal seats, not business people, nor indeed Liberal leaders or media people".

There’s just one problem. Schultz’s loyal branch members won’t have any say in the forthcoming redistribution of federal electorates in NSW that’s likely to render him seatless. His own party’s submission to the Electoral Commission supports the seat’s abolition.

Strangely enough, Schultz’s homepage and profile still show him standing with former leader Brendan Nelson, who had no hesitation in leaving when his time was up.

There is, however, one person who won’t be going anywhere and who will surely benefit from all this kerfuffle from the troublesome "gang of 14". Glenn Milne will make sure of that.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.