Debnam knows Hawkesbury MP Steve Pringle was spot-on when he spoke of his conversations with preselectors installed by the hard-Right. Pringle told one paper:
I rang a large number of preselectors and they had absolutely no idea what I was talking about. They had no idea about the preselection, no idea about the Liberal Party.Four Corners viewers will recall the delightful Betty Habkouk’s conversation with Janine Cohen:
JANINE COHEN: Does anyone know what branch stacking is?The hard-Right have saturated branches with people with no interest in campaigning. During their long reign over the NSW Liberals, the Group also engaged in branch stacking. The difference was that Group stackers generally had some interest in politics and were happy stuffing letterboxes and handing out on polling day.
BETTY HABKOUK: I beg your pardon.
JANINE COHEN: Branch stacking. Never heard of it?
BETTY HABKOUK: No.
JANINE COHEN: Branch stacking is when people are encouraged to join the party but they never go to meetings.
BETTY HABKOUK: Oh, that sounds like us. We do that. We joined, but we don't go.
The Group were a formidable campaigning machine who helped any candidate regardless of factional affiliation. I witnessed the Young Liberal “flying squad” providing essential support in numerous campaigns – from Ross Cameron in Parramatta to Jackie Kelly in Lindsay (including her often nail-biting 1996 by-election). When editing the Young Right’s pro-Action magazine, I said and wrote nasty things over the years about the Group. That didn’t stop Senator Marise Payne’s office joining Tony Abbott’s Warringah Federal conference offering much needed assistance during my 2001 campaign in the Federal seat of Reid.
The current Young Libs are largely disinterested in campaigning. The old "flying squad" has been all but dismantled. The Communications Director spends much of his time defending Opus Dei and attacking non-Christian religions on the ozlibs e-mail group.
It’s one thing to be conservative. It’s another to be loopy. When factional hacks can only offer Peter Debnam with stackers ignorant and/or disinterested in politics, he can look forward to plenty more repeats of Pittwater.
Words © 2006 Irfan Yusuf