Friends in high places show Palmer how it’s done

Hot on the heels of news that Clive Palmer’s federal election campaign flop cost the mining billionaire all up about comes the intriguing claim that a group of old farts playing around on Facebook had more impact on the poll than Palmer’s big bucks.

Richard Whitington, a former staffer for Gough Whitlam and retired consultant, mobilised some well-connected friends frustrated with the state of Australian democracy to get behind a campaign called 1in50 to fight back against the Morrison government.

Supporters included inaugural ICAC commissioner Ian Temby, QC, playwright David Williamson, ex-Wallaby and anti-Apartheid activist Anthony Abrahams, historians Judith Brett and Jenny Hocking (of The Palace Letters fame), former diplomat and Governor of Tasmania Richard Butler, Hobart-based silk and Julian Assange campaigner Greg Barns, SC, and legal affairs writer Richard Ackland.

It was from a bunch of old farts with respect to all of them, Whitington said of the lineup which included four AMs, two ACs and an AO.

Fundraising was disappointing, Whitington concedes, and with only about $20,000 donated, the group had to spend their money wisely and plumped for a targeted Facebook ad in 22 marginal seats, – 14 Coalition, 8 Labor – focused on a standard suite of anti-Morrison talking points – climate, integrity and treatment of women in politics.

The ad was a hit, drawing engagement numbers of about 700,000 over the six weeks, and as Whitington points out, seven of the targeted government seats fell on election night.

I don’t want to be seen to be drawing a long bow, but there’s clear evidence that the Liberal primary vote was down significantly more in the 22 seats that we targeted compared with the average fall in the rest of the respective seats, he told CBD.

Perhaps Clive could take a few lessons from the chardonnay set.

Liberal moderates gear up for new fight

After their electoral evisceration, Liberal moderates in NSW are pushing to overhaul party rules, hoping to stop a repeat of a recent civil war which led to court battles, preselection delays and widespread disgruntlement with former prime minister Scott Morrison’s controversial captain’s pick candidates.

Senator Andrew Bragg, one of the Coalition’s few remaining moderates, along with barrister Jane Buncle (once considered a frontrunner to challenge Zali Steggall in Warringah) wrote to members following the election proposing reforms to the party’s constitution which would give the rank and file a greater say in preselections.

Yesterday, Bragg and Buncle met with Northern Beaches councillor Rory Amon, who chairs the NSW division’s constitutional standing committee, about advancing those amendments. The Sydney Rules, as the proposal is being termed, is set to be put to the Sydney Federal Electorate Conference, before heading to the party’s state council by the end of July.

CBD hears those amendments will probably get support from both moderates and conservatives in the party, although it’s less clear whether the centre right faction, led by Morrison’s old numbers man Alex Hawke will back them.

But with recriminations flying post-election, we reckon we’re in for plenty more shenanigans from the NSW Liberals.

Roll out the Cubans

Regular Herald readers will remember that long before CBD became the go-to daily column for political gossip and intrigue, there was a previous iteration known as Stay In Touch. Veteran editor of that column, and Sydney’s most colourful Cuban, Luis M. Garcia, left print media in 1998 to become spin doctor-in-chief for then-NSW Liberal Opposition Leader Kerry Chikarovski.

After Chikarovski was defeated by the ALP’s Bob Carr in the 1999 election and by John Brogden by one vote for the party leadership, Garcia left Macquarie Street in 2002. Today, he celebrates 20 years at Cannings, one of the early corporate finance/media relations companies founded by Graham Canning in 1998, where he is now CEO. Tonight, his old boss Chika, the ABC’s Peter Ryan and Stephen Hutcheon, the Australian Financial Review’s Mark Coultan, Nine’s head of content Adrian Swift and Gladys Berejiklian’s former chief of staff Neil Harley will join him in firing up the Cuban cigars at Clarence Street’s artisan steakhouse Firegrill to toast that two-decade tenure.

Life after Johns

CBD brought word last Friday that the outgoing government’s Charities Commissioner Gary Johns was probably not long for his job. In the aftermath of Johns’ resignation, new assistant minister for charities Andrew Leigh is losing no time letting the sector know it is under new management.

In a speech to a group of religious charities on Wednesday, Leigh is expected to take the opportunity to throw a little more shade on his opponents and their departing commissioner, who Leigh repeatedly accused of silencing charities and non-profits.

They tried to scrap the charities commission, and when they couldn’t get the repeal through parliament, they appointed a charity critic as its head, the new minister is expected to tell his audience.

The Coalition’s approach to charities is that they should be ‘seen and not heard’.

An Albanese government welcomes the voices of charities in the public debate. That’s true when you agree with us, and when you disagree with us.

Sounds great. Let’s hope it lasts.

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