Monday, May 04, 2009

CRIKEY: Trouble is that Turnbull's dead wood is right ...

Malcolm Turnbull didn’t become a multimillionaire by being a stranger to big business. This former merchant banker, lawyer, internet entrepreneur and corporate wheeler-and-dealer knows his Party’s relationship with sections of the business community is the closest financial and institutional equivalent it has to the ALP’s more formalised relationship with the trade union movement.

So when business donors threaten to turn the financial tap off if Turnbull doesn’t ...
... personally driv[e] a large scale renewal of MPs in the parliamentary party ...

... as reported in The Australian today, Turnbull will listen carefully.

There’s just one problem. The 14 MP’s listed as dead wood by these business donors include powerful forces in the NSW Right. While business donors may hold the purse strings of the NSW Party, the Right Wing holds the Party’s t-sticles.

Among those on the corporate hit list is NSW Senator Bill Heffernan. "Farmer Bill" (as the former President of Junee Shire Council is known in urban Party circles) was elected to the Senate some months after the Howard government was swept to power in March 1996. Heffernan employed a rightwing Young Liberal powerbroker named Nicholas Campbell. The NSW Right were at that time weak in both the Young Libs and the Big Libs, but their star was rising.

Today Mr Campbell is President of a NSW Liberal Party firmly controlled by the Right. Campbell is likely to use his considerable Machiavellian skills to protect his old employer’s position ... unless Campbell himself is Heffernan’s likely replacement.

The Right will also do anything to protect Bronwyn Bishop, whose electorate of Mackellar takes in the NSW State electorate of Pittwater currently held by 34 year old Rob Stokes.

A former environmental lawyer, Stokes served as electorate officer (read branch stacker) to former NSW Opposition Leader (and Liberal Left powerbroker) John Brogden. Together, they actively stacked local branches with lots of small-‘l’ liberals, to the extent that the Left almost had the numbers to challenge Mrs Bishop in a preselection.

Bishop was paranoid of Brogden and she wouldn’t exactly be stoked by the young Stokes. Her departure will almost certainly see a small "l" liberal be the next MP for the blue ribbon Liberal seat of Mackellar. A Left MP will employ Left staff with time and resources for factional work such as stacking the nearby branches of Tong Abbott in the adjoining seat.

So Turnbull is in a Catch-22. On the one hand, his Party may find its biggest donors withdrawing their financial support unless he brings in new talent. On the other hand, this could involve going to war against powerful rightwing warhorses in his home state. Watch this space.

Then again, my entire analysis might just be dismissed on the basis that the report in The Oz is just a case of Glenn Milne reproducing what he’s learned from Mr Costello’s office. In which case, nless Costello is again setting the scene for a possible challenge that is unlikely to eventuate, ignore this space.

First published in Crikey on Monday 4 May 2009.