Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Time for a change I think

Abbott let off the leash to attack 'Madam Blow-In'

JOHN Howard has unleashed his parliamentary attack dogs on the candidacy of former television presenter Maxine McKew, with federal Health Minister Tony Abbott labelling her "Madam Blow-In".

As the star ALP recruit posed for the cameras in Canberra yesterday with Labor leader Kevin Rudd, the Prime Minister was adopting a humble approach to the challenge in his Sydney seat of Bennelong, vowing to work even harder for his constituents.

However, Mr Abbott attacked Ms McKew as a celebrity. "John Howard is Mr Bennelong and I think Maxine will be Madam Blow-In as far as Bennelong voters will be concerned," he said.

Mr Abbott said the Prime Minister, who has not lived in his electorate since he became Prime Minister nearly 11 years ago and moved to Kirribilli, was still there most Fridays, seeing constituents.

"I think Maxine will find out she's up against a formidable grassroots campaigner and all of the A-list celebrity skills that she's got are not necessarily going to help her in Bennelong," he said.

Ms McKew, an award-winning ABC journalist who is married to ALP heavyweight Bob Hogg, struggled with her first press conference, confessing she was "a novice" and not yet across all the local issues in the electorate. She was unaware of Mr Abbott's attack but noted he too was a former journalist.

Ms McKew rejected speculation that she may be forced to quit her new role as a special adviser to Mr Rudd on strategy to ensure she did not breach Section 44 of the constitution which bans public servants from running for parliament.

"No, I'm employed by the Labor Party so there are no conflicts that arise there. I'll be campaigning as soon as I put those mountain boots on," she said.

"The reaction has been tremendously positive. But look, we're getting ahead of ourselves a little bit, I mean I have at this stage announced my intention to nominate for preselection. I'm putting myself before a rank-and-file ballot."

Mr Rudd also dismissed suggestions that the Labor strike on Bennelong suggested cockiness. "Maxine put this proposal to me weeks ago - it was her idea and we're up against the cleverest politician that Australia has," he said.

Earlier, Nationals senator Barnaby Joyce accused Mr Rudd of playing Hannibal Lecter to the Prime Minister's Clarice Starling in his bid to "play with the Prime Minister's mind".

WA Liberal Don Randall, who once described another star Labor recruit, Cheryl Kernot, as having the "morals of an alley cat on heat" said Ms McKew's candidacy confirmed the bias of the ABC.

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