Saturday, November 18, 2006

Extreamists take over the NSW Liberal Party

By Paola Totaro, Robert Wainwright and Andrew Clennell
SMH September 3, 2005

Barry O'Farrell was ensconced in his 10th-floor parliamentary office, the balcony windows open to the breeze but doors closed to the political maelstrom raging outside. Less than 36 hours had passed since the NSW Liberals' youngest leader, John Brogden, had fallen on his sword and his deputy - a natural successor and himself a veteran party strategist - had begun to test the notion of a leadership bid with some of his 28 parliamentary colleagues.

The phones and stream of visitors had not stopped when O'Farrell took a moment to return a call from a senior Sydney journalist. In the space of minutes - just like his young colleague a few days before - the affable, straight-shooting MP was faced with a scandalous, deeply damaging allegation: that pornography had been found in his office about 12 years ago.

At the time, O'Farrell was state director of the Liberal Party and the material had apparently been turned in to Bill Heffernan, then the party's state president.

O'Farrell assured the journalist unequivocally that the pornographic magazine - if it ever existed - was not his and that he only found out about the allegation three years after the supposed event. At that point, rightly, the story died.

Howver, an investigation of the origins and nature of the claim, and the way it was fanned, circulated and re-circulated internally within the Liberal Party, shines a light on the brutal - and tawdry - nature of conservative factional warfare in NSW.

Heffernan, now a senator and vocal morals campaigner, yesterday confirmed "an incident involving a publication", saying it had occurred during a time of internal staff problems.

Asked why he did not raise the allegation with O'Farrell at the time - allowing a sword of Damocles to hang over his colleague's head - Heffernan said he thought it had been a "set-up". He did not see "any need for action at the time and I certainly don't see any need for action now".

For O'Farrell, however, the ugly however re-emerged on the very day he was considering a bid for the NSW Liberal leadership. Worse still, the Herald has confirmed that at least one other Liberal MP was telephoned and asked to confirm the rumour - and that unnamed sources informed many more Liberal MPs and potential O'Farrell supporters of the story.

O'Farrell says his decision not to stand for the leadership was shaped solely by his sadness over Brogden's breakdown and the nature of the factional divisions in the party.

However, the ugly nature of the rumours hurt deeply. "The fact that I was not confronted with this allegation at the time is what gives me the most anger and frustration. What was not dealt with face-to-face at the time 12 years ago is now virtually impossible to deal with satisfactorily today," O'Farrell told the Herald yesterday.

"This is just another part of the scale and type of campaign being run this week to undermine the Liberal leadership team. It is a continuation of the Brogden tactics - something regrettably aided and abetted by a media culture which is prepared to publish anything, regardless of truth or otherwise.

"From time to time, the story made its way back to me in different shapes and forms but what remained consistent is that it is false and I was never given the chance to prove that at the time."

Few would argue that Brogden had anyone but himself to blame for his racist jibe at Bob and Helena Carr and his boorish, beer-fuelled banter in a Sydney bar. But like O'Farrell, he, too, was the quarry of a vicious right-wing whisper campaign that began when he was a frontbencher making a mark for his moderate views on social policy, including the Sydney injecting room and the age of homosexual consent.

This is made clear in the autobiography of Kerry Chikarovski, the leader Brogden deposed in 2002. In her book, Chika, Chikarovski describes her shock at an attack on Brogden by the Carr Government during Question Time in November 2002 over his extraparliamentary consultancy work. "A year earlier, while I was Opposition Leader, I had a visit from two of my senior Liberal colleagues, who said they had some incriminating evidence on John Brogden.

The evidence was invoices for work conducted by John for PricewaterhouseCoopers. "My visitors said the consultancy work was unacceptable, unethical and in breach of Liberal Party rules. I was told I had no choice but to discipline John - at least by dropping him from the shadow cabinet. But they were demanding more. They argued forcefully that I should move to have John expelled from Parliament for breaching the pecuniary disclosure rules. I looked at the evidence put before me and decided on that basis … John had not acted improperly.

"Now, a year later, the same material had found its way into Labor hands. Who was behind this? Surely not a Liberal?"

The Herald asked right-wing MPs Chris Hartcher, Mike Gallacher and Charlie Lynn if they were the ones who brought the dossier to Chikarovski. Hartcher and Gallacher denied they had anything to do with it. Gallacher said he had even discussed the "lie" with Brogden, who accepted his denial. Lynn said he "saw the information" and had been shown it by a colleague, but could not remember who. He said he "didn't believe" he had gone to Chikarovski but he "couldn't recall .. I had a lot of meetings with Chika in those days".

Later he contacted the Herald to say he could categorically deny he was one of the MPs.

It is significant that the tactics that exploded so dramatically this week were used during the very period when the Liberal moderates known as the Group - who had long been in the ascendancy both organisationally and at parliamentary level - came under a sustained assault from the right. In May, the arch-right in NSW wrested a 75 per cent majority of all senior party positions on the executive.

The Group has been fearing a preselection slaughter for months, and that issue was part of the leadership discussions.

On Tuesday night, a group that included Hartcher, Lynn and fellow right-winger David Clarke met in the party room with moderate MPs Don Harwin,
John Ryan, Gladys Berejiklian and Andrew Constance. The moderates wanted the right to leave alone the preselections of at least four MPs in the lower and upper houses. The right wanted no contest in Cronulla.

A Brogden staffer interrupted the meeting to tell them Brogden had been rushed to hospital. A prayer followed, then the meeting resumed. But the two camps could not reach agreement. Shortly after this, a meeting in Harwin's office decided that a group of eight moderates were to support O'Farrell.

But O'Farrell had made up his own mind at the Royal North Shore Hospital. To the dismay of the moderates, who were already upset at losing one leader, O'Farrell went on Alan Jones's radio show and announced he was pulling out of the leadership race just after 7am on Wednesday.

One Group MP said of O'Farrell's predicament: "In his assessment, if he got across the line, he would have had a hell of a time from Hartcher and Clarke. He got spooked out of it."

Peter Debnam's elevation to the leadership culminated the right's dominance - they had already taken state executive, the women's council and the Young Liberals.

According to some MPs, Debnam and O'Farrell promised to support moderate Jillian Skinner to keep the Group happy, but even that deal fell over when Debnam endorsed O'Farrell as his deputy.

Said a Liberal insider: "The brutal annihilation of John Brogden means there are no longer any rules, brakes or limits left to protect our integrity. We are no longer in the business of fighting the battle of ideas - it's about breaking people mentally and emotionally until they are utterly destroyed.

"It's more than a question of rebuilding our political leadership. We have to rebuild our shattered faith and sense of purpose as Liberals.


Liberal Candidate for Epping Greg Smith defends actions as Deputy DPP

The World Today ABC - Tuesday, 19 September , 2006 12:34:00
Reporter: Annie Guest

ELEANOR HALL: Just days after winning a highly publicised Liberal pre-selection battle for a safe New South Wales seat, the State's Deputy Public Prosecutor Greg Smith has been forced to defend his actions in the case of a colleague who has been charged with possession of child pornography.

Mr Smith told the colleague that a pornographic video had been found on his computer, and only reported it to police afterwards. Mr Smith says he acted properly and under instruction from his Director, Nicholas Cowdery.

But the Opposition leader Peter Debnam has been forced to defend his new star candidate over the allegations, as Annie Guest reports.

ANNIE GUEST: The Department of Public Prosecution's actions surrounding child pornography allegations against one of its officers has loomed as a political football since the story surfaced three months ago.Now a newspaper headline screaming "Libs in DPP Porn Crisis" has prompted the Deputy DPP, Greg Smith, and new Liberal candidate for Epping, to confirm it was he who told his colleague Patrick Power about the allegations before telling police.Greg Smith won't take questions, saying he's a witness in the matter, which soon goes to court. But he's read a statement saying the story has been leaked to damage the Liberal Party and he's rejected any impropriety.

GREG SMITH: I reject that totally and say it's grossly defamatory and a breach of responsibility in the highest order.

ANNIE GUEST: Greg Smith says he handled the matter while his boss was interstate.

GREG SMITH: The events surrounding Mr Patrick Power were carried out in a correct and proper way in accordance with instructions from and after discussion with the News South Wales Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions, Nicholas Cowdery QC.

ANNIE GUEST: Greg Smith says he then followed Nicholas Cowdery's instructions and rang Patrick Power.

GREG SMITH: It was within minutes of Mr Power leaving my office, that I spoke with Police Commissioner Maroney's Chief of Staff, who is a Detective Chief Superintendent, and asked for police to investigate the matter. I insured Mr Power's computer was secured in an alarmed room.

ANNIE GUEST: The Minister responsible for the Office of Public Prosecutions, Attorney-General Bob Debus, hasn't answered questions about the appropriateness or otherwise of Greg Smith's actions.

The ABC has requested an interview with the Attorney-General and sent a list of questions to his media advisor which are yet to be answered. But both he and the Premier, Morris Iemma, are keen to make mileage out of the incident involving the Liberal candidate.

MORRIS IEMMA: It's becoming increasingly apparent that he can't do both - be a political candidate and maintain the independence of the Office of the DPP.

ANNIE GUEST: Mr Iemma wouldn't say whether he thought it was appropriate for a DPP officer to tell a colleague about allegations against him before informing police. But he's dismissed Opposition allegations that the Government leaked the story, suggesting it was Greg Smith's own party.

MORRIS IEMMA: Look no further than the people who brought down Mr Brodgen, have sidelined Mr O'Farrell, forced out Patricia Forsyth, Andrew Tink, and they've got Richardson, and Pringle, and others in their sights.

ANNIE GUEST: The Opposition leader Peter Debnam has defended his new candidate.

PETER DEBNAM: I think the allegations that are being thrown at Greg Smith this morning are nothing more than an orchestrated character assassination.

ANNIE GUEST: If Greg Smith was acting properly and under instruction from the Director of Public Prosecutions, do you believe this is an appropriate procedure?

PETER DEBNAM: Well, I think you'll have to put that to the DPP. They're the ones who are operating under the law.

ANNIE GUEST: Nicholas Cowdery is overseas and his office hasn't returned calls.

ELEANOR HALL: Annie Guest with that report.


The Politics of Personal Destruction (Liberal-style)

The John Brogden tragedy has shown that the culture on the other side of politics is just as bad. Even after he had resigned the Liberal Party leadership, Brogden's enemies inside the Party were still trying to destroy him. Then they moved on to spreading rumours about a leadership contender, Barry O'Farrell, with claims about a magazine supposedly found in his office twelve years ago. More sick puppies in the sick world of Australian politics. No one should be surprised about this part of the Liberal Party. Any organisation that has Bill Heffernan in a senior position-the right-hand-man to the Prime Minister, no less-is obviously comfortable with the politics of personal destruction.

As John Hewson has written, "Howard has used Heffernan to distribute dirt and to run his agenda against individuals for almost as long as I have known him". Given that Hewson has known Howard for more than twenty-five years, this behaviour is well entrenched. After his disgusting campaign against Justice Michael Kirby, Heffernan's papers should have been stamped 'never to tour again'. To see him reinvented in the media these days as some kind of romantic, rough-riding Australian original is appalling. For me, Heffernan's perverted obsessions with sex are the antithesis of what Australian male culture should be about. Increasingly, normal people, especially those with young families, will steer clear of a political system dominated by the likes of Howard and Heffernan. The political class in this country is narrowing into two types of characters: the flint-hearted machine men who are happy to do whatever it takes, and the freaks and weirdos of the Religious Right, with their sexual hang-ups and policy obsessions. This is happening on both sides of politics in varying degrees.

Excerpt from former ALP leader Mark Lathams' essay 'Ten reasons why young people should forget about organised politics'




NSW Legislative Assembly Hansard, 12 May 2004, Pages 71 -, article 32. Page 8916

Mr ALAN ASHTON (East Hills) [5.37 p.m.]: Tonight I wish to comment on an astounding event that took place in the city of Bankstown last Wednesday night. It was brought to my attention by concerned citizens in my electorate, by police, by the local media, and by local councillors. The events made page 1 of the Sydney Morning Herald and were reported on page 3 of today's Bankstown Canterbury Torch. The inaugural meeting of a new Liberal party branch was held last Wednesday night at the Punchbowl Croatian Club. Normally, the formation of a political party's branch would create total disinterest in the wider community. However, so desperate are the New South Wales Liberals to attract any type of publicity, the inaugural meeting erupted into what witnesses called a night of violence, bloodshed, tears, and destruction that brings shame on all who were involved. Whatever possessed Liberal luminaries, such as the Hon. David Clarke, MLC, to be armed with at least a copy of Gregory's Sydney Street Directory and to venture into Punchbowl? I do not know, but as one Liberal member of Parliament said later, "It was a straight branch stacking that went wrong."Reports indicate that nearly 250 people turned up for the meeting, but I am sure that most of them will never be back. The hard right of the New South Wales Liberals is seeking to eliminate any progressive voices that remain in the Liberal Party. Approximately 80 of the so-called uglies—aptly titled—created this new branch to obtain advantage at Liberal headquarters in choosing candidates for New South Wales State and Federal electorates. They were outstacked by over 150 moderates and lost control of the branch. They then resorted to violence and thuggery to get the more moderate, and by now frightened, new members to leave. Up to six police cars attended the brawl and more than a dozen police were needed to restore peace. A radio report suggested that 20—Mr Thomas George: Point of order: My point of order is relevance. A private member's statements should relate to one's own electorate or activities within one's electorate.

Mr ACTING-SPEAKER (Mr Paul Lynch): Order! I rule against the point of order and direct the attention of the honourable member for Lismore to the ruling of Speaker Rozzoli in 1990 that members may refer to matters outside their electorates if the matters were brought to their attention by constituents. If the honourable member for Lismore had been listening he would have heard the honourable member for East Hills preface his comments by saying precisely that.

Mr ALAN ASHTON: That is exactly the case. Up to six police cars attended the brawl and a radio report on the Stan Zemanek radio show indicated that a person rang in and suggested that 20 police cars may have attended. I am led to believe that the meeting had to be called off, or that move-on powers introduced for police by the Government were used and arrests made. I am particularly displeased that police resources had to be wasted on this Liberal Party meeting, which is more typical of the political violence we associate with many other parts of the world. There has to be a sinister motive for the creation of a new Bankstown branch of the Liberal Party.

No Liberal councillor on Bankstown City Council was told of the meeting, and I encourage them to not lend their name to this violence and treachery. It might be worth pointing out to the Liberals opposite and in the other House that the seat of Bankstown is the third-safest seat held by the Labor Party. While I encourage the Liberals to waste their time by creating branches in safe Labor electorates, such as Bankstown and my electorate of East Hills, I assure them that through the hard work of Labor members those electorates will continue to remain safe. I call on the Leader of the Opposition to show some leadership in disciplining the thugs in his party who use violence to create new branches. I am advised that the Liberals will not create any new branches until after the Federal election. The Liberals in my electorate of East Hills are usually respected people whose main fault is that they constantly shift between being true Independents and Liberals.

To date I have not noticed them shifting from orthodox to southpaw boxing stances.I understand that police inquiries are continuing and I urge the Liberal Party of New South Wales to co-operate with police if any investigation leads to charges being laid. I also call on any members of the public who can assist to come forward and contact either Bankstown or Campsie police commands. Next time local residents notice so many Mercedes, Bentleys and Range Rovers heading to Bankstown, perhaps they should lock their doors immediately and call police. I am sorry that the Croatian Club of Punchbowl was dragged into this unseemly debacle. Today the Hon. John Ryan was quoted in the Bankstown-Canterbury Torch as saying:It was not our best moment. The memberships collected on the night are in the hands of our State Director, Scott Morrison.I have met John Ryan, MLC, on many occasions in the Bankstown area representing the Leader of the Opposition. I find it ironic that he has been sent in to put the best spin on an atrocious political exercise, seemingly set up by one of his colleagues, although a factional opponent, David Clarke, MLC, his family and political friends.

I have always found John Ryan to be a decent, hard-working, and friendly parliamentarian. It is no wonder that the Liberals are struggling in this place when one of their members of Parliament can absent himself from Parliament, while allegedly serving the people of New South Wales, only to serve himself and his factional hacks in Liberal branch stacking. I have been advised also that David Clarke may have the active support of Charlie Lynn, MLC, the honourable member for Lane Cove, Anthony Roberts; the honourable member for Gosford, Chris Hartcher; the honourable member for Vaucluse, Peter Debnam; and the honourable member for The Hills, Michael Richardson. If that is the case, I expect better behaviour from those members.Mr Daryl Maguire: Point of order: When a point of order is raised, the member who is speaking should sit down. When a member wishes to make a personal attack on another member in this place—

Mr ALAN ASHTON: Point of order—Mr ACTING-SPEAKER (Mr Paul Lynch): Order! The honourable member for East Hills will allow the honourable member for Wagga Wagga to complete his point of order.Mr Daryl Maguire: In this place there are procedures that must be adhered to. Clearly the honourable member for East Hills is attacking members of this House. I ask him to withdraw those remarks.

Mr ALAN ASHTON: This is a public domain.

Mr ACTING-SPEAKER (Mr Paul Lynch): Order! I do not need to hear further from the honourable member for East Hills. Given that his speaking time has expired, the point is now irrelevant. However, I would have ruled against the point of order because the remarks of the honourable member for East Hills do not transgress earlier rulings. Earlier an inappropriate point of order was taken by the honourable member for Lismore, who ought to know better. Recently, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition made a private member's statement about Israel, which had even less to do with his electorate than anything the honourable member for East Hills has said, but the content of his speech was valid because the matter had been raised by constituents.

Another Moderate N.S.W Liberal M.P deselected by Liberal Right Wing Power broker David "The Godfather" Clark M.L.C

Dumped MP blames right-wing Godfather
Andrew Clennell 18th Oct 2006 SMH

The Hawkesbury MP Steven Pringle has accused the Liberals' right-wing powerbroker David Clarke of being a Godfather in the party. Mr Pringle's comment came in a speech to Parliament during which he announced he was defecting to the cross-bench as an independent.

Mr Pringle, who lost his endorsement on Saturday to the right-wing candidate Ray Williams, said a phone call from the Liberal leader, Peter Debnam, asking for his support during Mr Debnam's leadership candidacy last year had come from Mr Clarke's phone.

Mr Pringle said he would seek re-election as an independent in March.Later yesterday Mr Debnam urged reporters to focus on him, not on Mr Clarke, when it came to whatever failings they saw in the party. He denied that Mr Clarke had any control over him and also denied that he had made any calls from Mr Clarke's phone.

He described Mr Pringle's speech as sad after he had backed Mr Pringle during the preselection. Mr Pringle said his preselection dumping, which he attributed to branch-stacking, "was condoned by Peter Debnam and had the grubby marks of David Clarke all over it".

"Despite my service to the Liberal Party and the community, I was hunted down by a pack of rent-a-crowd preselectors marauding in caravans from electorate to electorate to take control."Mr Pringle said the right-wing-dominated state executive of the party had been elected by "dubious methods", as shown on the ABC's Four Corners.He said extremists were running the party, and pointed to his demise, that of the former leader John Brogden, the upper house MP Patricia Forsythe and the looming possible demise of another upper house MP, John Ryan.He also quoted Mr Williams, a Baulkham Hills councillor, as telling Saturday's preselection meeting that a developer, HomeWorld, would be funding his campaign to the tune of $100,000."
Not only has the party surged to the right, now it's for sale to the highest bidder," Mr Pringle said. Mr Debnam said later he would ensure that donation did not occur. It was not the case that Mr Clarke had more control over preselections than he did, Mr Debnam said. "That was one preselection I didn't win; I have won all the others."Mr Debnam said that to call Mr Clarke an extremist was "just wrong". He said that he encouraged different points of view in the party.Mr Debnam accused the Government of conspiring with Mr Pringle to ensure his resignation speech got maximum coverage after it moved he be heard before question time at 2.15pm.

He confirmed that the state council of the party was considering passing anti-branch-stacking measures this Saturday but the party nevertheless had a good preselection process. Mr Williams did not return calls yesterday.


Ah, the tears of crocodiles

By Mike Carlton

September 3, 2005

An article "Ah, the tears of crocodiles" in the weekend edition of September 3-4 should not have described Alex Hawke, the national president of the Young Liberals, as a "Jensenite Anglican". Mr Hawke is not an Anglican and attends Hillsong Church.

- September 13

"I want to say to Lucy, the thoughts of the Liberal family are very much with her and her husband," said the Prime Minister on Wednesday, all worried concern, doing his best to cheer up the Brogdens post facto.

The Liberal family? The way it's ripping into itself at the moment you would feel safer picnicking with the Milats in the Belanglo State Forest.

John Brogden's leadership got the final shove when Howard hung him out to twist in the wind on Monday morning, telling Channel Nine that "his position and his future is in his hands and that [sic] of his parliamentary colleagues". It sounded innocuous enough, but it was an invitation to jump or be pushed if ever I saw one. Had Howard wanted Brogden to stay, he would have mouthed some banalities along the lines of "John's apologised, now let's put this episode behind us and move on". Pointedly, he did not. Moreover, it was a not-so-coded message to the ayatollahs of the NSW Liberals' religious right that they now had the green light to take off Brogden's head if he did not resign.

This is the gang aptly known as the Uglies. Out on the howling mad Taliban wing of the party, they have been gunning for the young MP for Pittwater ever since he won the leadership in 2002, in a righteous frenzy over what they loathed as his leftie stance on gays, drugs, the Kings Cross heroin injecting room and the like.

Brogden's roistering Irish boyo behaviour - and that's all it was - at the now infamous Hilton Hotel party handed them the weapon they were looking for. After some weeks, when the journalists there that night had not written the story, the Uglies leaked the gory details to others who would: unprincipled hacks who would go for the jugular, like the pit bulls of The Daily Telegraph.

It was brutal treachery, with the horrible result we have seen.

Curiously, the Uglies are thin on the ground in State Parliament. Their best known hanger-on is Chris Hartcher, the plodding MP for Gosford, never to be forgotten for lavishing $623,000 of taxpayers' money on a new office for himself when he was John Fahey's environment minister in 1993.

The chief Ugly is the little-known David Clarke, an upper house MP since 2003. This is not the genial David Clarke, Liberal Party moneybags, vigneron, rugby fan and chairman of the Macquarie Bank. It is the grimly ascetic David Clarke, lawyer, devout convert to Catholicism and an ardent supporter of the secretive Opus Dei sect sometimes thought of as the church in jackboots. An astute number cruncher, Clarke has quietly engineered the Uglies' takeover of the Liberal Party NSW state machine, bent on meshing its gears with the crankshaft of the religious far right.

His maiden speech two years ago was a rant against the usual obsessions of the god-botherers - abortion, stem cell research, euthanasia, gay marriage, republicanism, refugees, and the like - and a paean of praise to the likes of the Reverend Fred Nile, Keith Windschuttle, David Flint and the late B.A. Santamaria. Plus some assiduous brown-nosing of the ratbag commentariat, including Piers Akerman ("rare is the occasion when I find myself in disagreement with him") and Alan Jones ("king of radio").

Clarke's sidekick - on the public payroll as his researcher - is one Alex Hawke, 27, a self-basting urger who, with equal effrontery, has snatched control of the Young Liberal movement as its new national president. Also deeply religious (but a Jensenite Anglican, I understand), Hawke recently delivered a fiery speech calling for another wicked leftie, Malcolm Fraser, to be expelled from the Liberal Party.

It is these factional soldiers for God who stymied the able, decent but moderate member for Ku-ring-gai Barry O'Farrell, in his run for the leadership. They demanded and got Peter Debnam as their puppet. Other MPs, terrified of losing their preselections for 2007, were not game to take them on.

The admixture of religion and politics has been the greatest cause of human misery down the centuries. I have never forgotten an Auschwitz survivor telling me she heard the SS guards singing carols - Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht - on Christmas Day before they resumed the slaughter on the 26th.

In Afghanistan, the Taliban kept things humming along with a Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice. Its goons would race around Kabul arresting or stoning apostates whenever they felt like it, or chopping off the ears of people caught with cassette tape recorders and other instruments of Satan.

The way things are going, I expect we will have a similar ministry here soon enough, dedicated to the preservation of Aussie values. The ideal minister would be Sophie Panopoulos, the excitable Victorian Liberal MP who was barking the other day that Muslim girls should be prohibited from wearing the hijab to school. She has also called Barnaby Joyce a political terrorist.

I have never met Panopoulos, but there was something oddly familiar when I saw her barging around on television this week. She reminded me of Margaret Thatcher, which is to say bum in the air and chest thrust forward, like a constipated duck being taught to march by a drill sergeant.



Stateline ABC Broadcast: 02/09/2005

Reporter: Quentin Dempster

QUENTIN DEMPSTER: Welcome to Stateline NSW. I'm Quentin Dempster. Dirt files have often been used in politics to undermine, coerce or even blackmail individuals in the battle for political influence and power. The apparent suicide attempt of John Brogden on Tuesday night - the day after his resignation as leader of the Opposition and State Parliamentary Liberal Party - has raised serious questions about the use of dirt files - or adverse information reflecting on character - in John Brogden's political destruction and personal despair. Journalists have been asking why it took four weeks for the detail of Mr Brogden's now-admitted inappropriate behaviour and racist remark about the former premier's wife to be published. David Penberthy, editor of the 'Daily Telegraph', under attack this week, has said that his paper's stories about Mr Brogden's behaviour, quote: "Wouldn't be appearing, if there weren't people inside the Liberal Party who were trying to get them out," unquote. Who were these people inside the Liberal Party?

Journalists protect their sources, so we'll probably never know for sure. Just who's behind the political destruction of John Brogden and the extent to which journalists have allowed themselves to be used in that process - they're the main issues to emerge from this dramatic week. And tonight a serving Liberal Party MP, Patricia Forsythe, MLC, says extremists and zealots of the religious right are taking over the party. Later we'll be talking to the new leader of the Opposition, Peter Debnam, but first - the character assassination of John Brogden and the exposure of factional forces within the NSW Liberal Party.

JOHN BROGDEN, FORMER OPPOSITION LEADER: I'd like to start again by restating my absolute and unreserved apology to Helena Carr and to Bob Carr. The comments I made were absolutely and completely inappropriate. They're not true and I apologise for them fulsomely and genuinely.

QUENTIN DEMPSTER: Faced with damning headlines arising from his public admission of inappropriate behaviour and a racist remark at a social function on July 29, on Monday at 11am opposition and Liberal leader John Brogden resigned.

JOHN BROGDEN: The majority of my colleagues have urged me to stay and their loyalty this morning has been absolutely outstanding. That's exactly why I am resigning. Their loyalty to me must be returned by my loyalty to the Liberal Party.

QUENTIN DEMPSTER: It was a humiliating end to the 36-year-old's leadership. But through his oft-repeated and abject apologies about his behaviour, which had occurred one month before, Mr John Brogden's suspicions about Liberal Party back room machinations emerged in this context.

REPORTER: Are you prepared to say now that there was no-one in the Liberal Party working against you on this story?

JOHN BROGDEN: I think that's pretty clear that that was the case.

REPORTER: That no-one in the Liberal Party...

JOHN BROGDEN: No, that they were. REPORTER: That they were spreading?

JOHN BROGDEN: I think that's pretty clear. One of them has been named in today's media - the Federal President of the Young Liberal Movement, Alex Hawke - has been named as pushing it. He needs to take a long hard look at himself.

QUENTIN DEMPSTER: In a statement that day, Alexander Hawke, Federal President of the Young Liberal Movement of Australia, issued a blanket denial of any involvement the media reports that led to the exposure of John Brogden's behaviour.

STATEMENT BY ALEXANDER HAWKE, 29 AUGUST 2005: The allegations that I in any way pushed this or assisted this affair are false. I have not spoken to a single journalist, on or off the record about this matter."

QUENTIN DEMPSTER: Alex Hawke works for Liberal Party Upper House member David Clarke. Former State, now Federal Liberal Bruce Baird has confirmed now-widespread reporting that Mr Clarke and Mr Hawke have been organising for an emerging right faction within the parliamentary and organisational wings of the State Liberal Party. In May, the faction won a narrow majority on the party's 20-member state executive. Events this week have confirmed that the power of the moderate parliamentary faction known as "The Group" has now been eclipsed. Both Mr Hawke and Mr Clarke have declined Stateline's request for interviews. Like Mr Hawke, Mr Clarke has denied any involvement in the exposure of Mr Brogden's behaviour. David Clarke entered the Upper House on the Liberal ticket at the 2003 State election. In his maiden speech he declared himself to be a strong Christian, a conservative, a constitutional monarchist, opposed to institutionalising homosexual concepts, such as same-sex marriage, and unchangeable opposition to the culture of abortion and human embryo stem cell research and compulsory student unionism.

David Clarke, 58, a devotee of the Catholic Church's Opus Dei order has been a life-long member of the Liberal Party. It's not the first time he's been involved in controversy. In the late 1970s, he was on the Liberal's ethnic council and was pictured in a 1989 book which covered the political activism of Lyenko Urbanchich and his organisational work to develop an extreme right-wing network in Australia. There have been mutterings about the increasing influence of Clarke and Hawke in the NSW Liberal organisational and parliamentary wing for months now.
Stateline has no evidence and is not suggesting any link between the newspaper exposure of John Brogden's indiscretions and the activities of Mr Clarke and Mr Hawke, but we would like to question them about their political and organisational agenda, particularly after the events which followed the apparent suicide attempt of John Brogden at his Mona Vale electorate office on Tuesday night. As fellow Liberals hurried to Royal North Shore Hospital to offer their personal support for Mr Brogden, the man considered likely to replace him as leader, Barry O'Farrell, says he decided only then to withdraw from the contest. Colleagues have told Stateline, Mr O'Farrell had the numbers to take the leadership by 19 votes to 10.

BARRY O'FARRELL, DEPUTY LIBERAL LEADER: I have to say to you that the events of last night have put all of this into perspective for me. I made the decision last night. I told one of my colleagues at the hospital I think it's the right decision for the party.

QUENTIN DEMPSTER: In spite of having the numbers, in spite of losing more than 50kg in an exhausting diet and exercise regime to prepare himself to fulfil his ambition to lead his party, Mr O'Farrell was telling us he was handing the leap to Peter Debnam because he couldn't guarantee party unity, meaning presumably he feared elements within his party would immediately try to white-ant his leadership.

BARRY O'FARRELL: The point is what's right for the party, what's ultimately right for NSW, is having a united alternative government which is able to hold the Government to account which is able to present alternative policies. You can't do that as leader. You can't do that as alternative premier if you are looking over your shoulder.

QUENTIN DEMPSTER: What's he mean, "Looking over your shoulder"? In an interview with the '7:30 Report's Deborah Cornwall on Wednesday, Liberal Upper House moderate John Ryan, whose preselection may soon be under challenge, gave us this in sight into what seems to be an underlying fear within the parliamentary party.

DEBORAH CORNWALL: It was a surprise that Barry O'Farrell stood aside, I guess. The reason for that hasn't been answered with any clarity.

JOHN RYAN, LIBERAL MLC: No, it hasn't, and the only person that can answer that question with any clarity is Barry himself, and he's not explained that to me so I'm not going to try to speculate. But maybe, maybe the sight of what happened to John Brogden may have been something that crossed his mind as to whether he wouldn't be in a similar position if he exposed his family without complete party unity behind him as to whether he might not be facing, if not suicide, certainly dragging his family into an area that he didn't want them to go.

QUENTIN DEMPSTER: Tonight on Stateline, another Liberal Upper House member, Patricia Forsythe, also likely to be under preselection threat within the next few months, publicly expresses her fears about extremism and factionalism developing within her party. Patricia Forsythe has been a Liberal for 37 years - 10 years on State Executive, 14 an Upper House MP, 8 a frontbencher. She's been a Kerry Chikarovski supporter and has been Parliamentary Secretary to John Brogden.

QUENTIN DEMPSTER: Patricia Forsythe, what are your concerns about what's been happening within your party?

PARTICIA FORSYTHE: Quentin, on Wednesday night I went home from Parliament House sickened by what was taking place. I'd been part of it for 36 hours but I couldn't face the...what was emerging. I phoned a colleague yesterday and said I didn't want my selection to be part of any factional deal. I'll face my selection by going out to the ordinary members of the Liberal Party. My preselection will be a few weeks away and I think the people in the area that I have got to appeal to won't have a bar of what I think has emerged. What I've seen for the first time is the emergence of a formalised factional system inside our parliamentary party. That's not the Liberal Party that I know, that's not the Liberal Party that I've been part of. I certainly don't want to be beholden to anybody, least of all the extremists in the party, for my position. Because if it's my position today, if it's my preselection, what will it be tomorrow? Do I have to be beholden to their extremist agenda? That's what's at the heart of my concerns.

QUENTIN DEMPSTER: So there were factional intermediaries negotiating within the offices of the Parliamentary Liberal Party for the first time in your 14-year experience?

PATRICIA FORSYTHE: Absolutely. For the first time ever people were sitting down to cut a deal about a whole range of things - from preselections through to organisational matters of the party. Quite frankly, for all my years in the party, that is just absolutely unprecedented. It's not the way I think the ordinary members of the party would want us to behave and I just had to step away and so yesterday probably at great cost for me to some very close friendships, I've just said I couldn't be part of that particular process.

QUENTIN DEMPSTER: You sound fearful of reprisals.

PATRICIA FORSYTHE: Look, I think in this game at the moment, I think a lot of people are playing by a different set of rules than most of us understand. In this day and age in my view you don't even, in my view, even have to have skeletons in your cupboard - people will just go and invent them.

QUENTIN DEMPSTER: To knock you off, so it's an ideological struggle to get positions.

PATRICIA FORSYTHE: There are extremists and zealots who have got extreme - who have got a lot of power inside the Liberal Party at the moment. And ordinary members and ordinary people standing up for their position, standing up for the policies that they think are important are quite capable of being swept aside. And merit - a candidate just standing on their merit is not necessarily the basis on which these people will make a choice.

QUENTIN DEMPSTER: When you say extremists and zealots, are you prepared to name the extremists and zealots?

PATRICIA FORSYTHE: Look, I'm prepared to say that within the parliamentary party I am very fearful of the power of David Clarke.


PATRICIA FORSYTHE: Because he has around him a significant group of people who are absolutely fixated on their agenda, and a very narrow agenda. When I talk of extremism and I talk of zealots, I'm talking about a group of people who in my view seem to lack a focus on normal human decency of tolerance, and the sort of compassion that most of us see is at the heart of the liberalism. It's the basis upon which we operate, as individuals standing up for the rights of individuals - that's not what these people are about. They're trying to shift the agenda of the Liberal Party. I've been in the Liberal Party all my adult life. I believe my policies are grounded in good liberal principles. And I don't see that in many of these people.

QUENTIN DEMPSTER: It's a hard right agenda. It usually goes to social issues like abortion, same sex marriage, euthanasia, homosexuality, things like that. It's the religious right. Is that what you're talking about?

PATRICIA FORSYTHE: Yes, at the heart of it is a religious right, but it seems to be an extreme religious right, because people are invoking religion and yet my understanding of religion is also one of tolerance and compassion. What is lacking in this agenda is any sense of tolerance and compassion. You are either with them on all of those policies or they want to take you out. Most people in the Liberal Party, most ordinary members have a genuine sense of compassion and tolerance. They don't want to be part of this and some of the specific policies - I know that they think they have a whole lot of people in the party who back them - but I've had people come to me who they would regard as being part of their, sort of, right wing, and say to me they are terrified with some of the agendas. Most particularly, wanting to narrow the rules around abortion in this State. And I can say that that alone will be the one issue that will drive some of the people that David Clarke thinks he has on his side clearly and firmly back to the middle ground. The middle ground is where the Liberal Party has always been. The middle ground is the only way forward. The mainstream of the community of NSW and Australia wants us to reflect them. They want broad, middle-of-the-road policies. There is no place for extremism. That goes to the left as well. So I've just said I want to step back from that. I'm prepared, I'm going to run, I want to win my preselection, but I'm going to win it on my terms, not beholden to any group, any faction.

QUENTIN DEMPSTER: So, you didn't enter into negotiation with the factional intermediaries, so you don't know what they were going to say, whether they were going to threaten you, coerce you, induce you on some agenda or what?

PATRICIA FORSYTHE: Look, my name was on the table to get support. I went to bed on Wednesday night and I thought, "What on earth am I doing?" This just goes against everything I stood for in the Liberal Party. I stand for individual merit. I'm not going to lend my name to be part of a deal, so I made it very clear yesterday morning that I was out of any deal. As I said, that might cause me to lose some friends, but frankly I'll stand on my principles and I'll face the Liberal Party membership being able to say that I am not beholden to anybody. They will take me on my merit, so it's me facing my selectors with no group standing behind me.

QUENTIN DEMPSTER: Do you suspect that this right-wing group is responsible for the character assassination of John Brogden?

PATRICIA FORSYTHE: Look, I don't have evidence. I haven't been talking to journalists. If you listen to the scuttle bug around Parliament House, if you listen to what people are saying, yes, there is a genuine sense that this was about bringing down John Brogden, that he stood for something that other people didn't. 15 minutes before John gave his press conference, one of the members of the right-wing sent around a - what I read, I read into it - a gloating email that said, "John Brogden is about to resign". Now, at that stage parliamentary members hadn't even been told. This came from somebody in the organisation, I obviously was just on his email list and I just had a sense that this was a group of people gloating.

QUENTIN DEMPSTER: So they were highly organised. Is what you're saying is they were completely networked, instantaneously networked?

PATRICIA FORSYTHE: Well, the fact that 15 minutes before any of us were told the basis of the press conference, you've got one of their number sending around an email. Look, there is a suggestion, but I don't have the evidence.

QUENTIN DEMPSTER: Given these concerns, should there be some sort of inquiry into the circumstances leading up to John Brogden's resignation and the consequent events with a view to clearing the air?

PATRICIA FORSYTHE: Oh, look, for John and Lucy's sake, I just think it's done, we've just got to put it behind us. Anything that involves dragging it through for the sake of John and Lucy at the moment, that's not the way forward. I think the fact that I'm now saying that there was definitely a an attempt during this week to organise, to sit down groups of people, to plan people's futures through, who's in and who's out and preselections, other items in on the agenda. I think they are the sort of things that some people in the Liberal Party at every level are going to be horrified about. Most of us are here because we are loyal to the Liberal Party. I'm always loyal to the Liberal leader. Peter Debnam hasn't been part of what's been going on, let me make that very clear. For John and Lucy's sake, we can't go on dragging this through. But I think we've got to learn some lessons from it. Someone yesterday said we had peace in our time. Quite frankly, as someone who has a degree in history, those words just rang very hollow for me.


Post a Comment

<< Home

free counter