Friday, May 04, 2007

CRIKEY: Bill Heffernan & The NSW Right of the Liberal Party

The Oz reports today on how members of the PM’s faction, the NSW Right, have asked him to reign in the maverick Senator Bill Heffernan after his Julia Gillard comments.
THE political walls are closing in on Bill Heffernan, with his own faction, the powerful NSW Right, demanding John Howard drag the senator into line after his slur on Julia Gillard.

Senior faction members, furious over his clumsy handling of a row over the Liberal Party's NSW Senate ticket, are demanding the Prime Minister replace Senator Heffernan as his representative on the NSW state executive.

They claim his bully-boy tactics, pursued in the Prime Minister's name, are destabilising the party with a federal election imminent.

"There is a strong feeling that Bill ought to go back to the farm," a senior member of the faction said yesterday. The attacks came as Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd questioned Mr Howard's character because of his unwillingness to crack down on Senator Heffernan over his claim that Ms Gillard, the Labor deputy leader, was unfit to lead the nation because she was "deliberately barren" ...

The NSW branch also has been thrown into turmoil by Senator Heffernan's confrontational tactics and his attempts to block the party's country vice-president, Scott McDonald, from contesting for a spot on the Senate ticket. With the Right poised to challenge sitting senator Marise Payne with Mr McDonald, Senator Heffernan tried to scuttle the preselection process at state executive. The Right upped the ante against Senator Heffernan yesterday, threatening to block Senator Payne's endorsement when the 120-member preselection panel meets next month.

This must be a recent development. The NSW Right’s main number-cruncher, Nick Campbell, is a former Heffernan staffer and has been responsible for orchestrating the knifing of just about any and every Right member critical of Heffernan.

The Oz attributes the most recent anti-Heffernan push to his intervention over the preselection of the talented smal-"l" liberal Senator Marise Payne. The fact is that many in the Right still hate Payne more than they love Heffernan.

Indeed, many of us in the Right blamed Heffernan for Payne’s preselection in the first place. Payne’s main opponent in her successful 1997 preselection was conservative dentist and monarchist Abraham Constantin. Heffernan refused to back Constantin after he ran against Heffernan in an earlier preselection. On that occasion, Constantin supporters were receiving all kinds of threats from Nick Campbell over their refusal to support "Heffo".

Indeed, the anti-Constantin push was just one example of where Heffernan and his supporters have done deals with "the Left" against other members of the Right. She may have thanked him in her maiden speech, but current NSW Right Senator Connie Wells was opposed by "Heffo" in her many preselection attempts. This included her 1995 pitch for the federal seat of Lowe (where she was defeated by then-Strathfield State MP Paul Zammitt) and at least one pitch at the Senate.

"Heffo" is also believed to have been behind the rolling of popular Cook MP Stephen Mutch. In the 1996 election, Mutch scored the highest swing of any Federal MP in NSW. He later lost his preselection to now-retiring Bruce Baird.

Heffernan hasn’t had the best relationship with NSW powerbroker David Clarke, whose frequently refrain to me and others in the Right was ...
You just can’t trust that Heffernan fellow!

As the PM’s representative on State Executive, a major part of Heffernan’s role has been to rein in the Right when they look like opposing a decision of the PM which the Right will find unpalatable. If Marise Payne’s endorsement pitches Heffernan and Nick Campbell against Clarke, factional hell will break loose. Hardly what Howard needs on the eve of a federal election.

An edited version of this was first published in the Crikey daily alert for Friday 4 May 2007.

Words © 2007 Irfan Yusuf

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