A blast from the past

A blast from the past

“This way,” Mile said after he opened the lift door, indicating with a slight bow. He looked like a bellhop, but at least he was more helpful than the other languid-looking fellow who had been wandering around the building.

104 Exhibition Street had been built at the height of Melbourne’s rise out of the depression. The art deco building had since gone slumming with a rather sad interior of muted carpet and glass walls.

Raucous laughter came out of the Admin room.

“The training committee,” explained Mile.

I nodded, looking in through a sliver of glass, for an instant I saw Jane Hume and a few other older women.

“Jane must be out,” Mile said.

“The other Jane,” I said, realising he meant Mr Mantach’s Executive Assistant.

He knocked tentatively on the State Director’s office door.

Mr Mantach had been expecting me. I’d shown the surly-faced man lingering on the other level a print out of my email.

Damien was a quiet man who sat at his desk clasping hammy hands together like he held immense power.

Mile retreated courteously as Damien bid me to a seat.

We made some small talk about champion fundraiser Margaret Kirby for a minute and Donna Bauer’s prospects in the upcoming election in Carrum. I settled in my seat. Mr Mantach gave me an unwavering look.

“What can we do for you?” he asked.

“It’s about that preselection,” I said.

“Which one?” he asked monotonously.

I told him which one.

“When do you think you would be selecting the random delegates?” I asked respectfully.

“Oh,” he said, thinking a moment.

“The list of names of people who have been randomly drawn …”

“Say no more,” said Damien. He opened a drawer and pulled out several sheets of paper and passed one over to me. It was a list of names.

“Randomly selected,” I said. “From the drawer?”

Damien didn’t flinch, though I interpreted that to mean yes.

In a discussion about results in voting, we discussed the Mornington Shire Council.

“The question you should ask is why Woodman or Stanley didn’t get elected,” he said.

I processed what he was saying.

“You mean it is not just helping who wins, but also ensuring who does not win?” I asked tentatively.

Damien didn’t blink. I assumed yes.

“So young Dixon being elected is an outcome of others not being elected?” I sounded naïve.

Again Damien said nothing.

I was a little curious, so I asked, “How?”

“We set up a Local Government Steering Committee,” Mr Mantach explained. “Obviously with access to a variety of packages and resources. Printing and coreflutes all can be organised centrally. Funding can also be sourced for preferred candidates.”

He went on to explain how there was a way around GST where a “printer” (a company set up by the Liberal Party) outsourced work to a certain printer who was instructed to charge extra GST, and which they would actually keep 10% of the inflated price, while the Liberal Party entity would then not pay GST, because of it being exempt, and so kept another slice of 10% off the price.”

I didn’t quite follow it all, but from the explanation, it all sounded like it worked in our interest.

“I see,” I said. I knew about the steering committee, but didn’t know just how deeply it was involved with practicalities in local government elections.

“We have a digital printer down in the basement,” he said. “We can do our own mailouts and DLs. We also do negative campaigning.”

“You mean against the ALP and The Greens?”

Mr Mantach looked at me like a cheshire cat. “Let’s just say when several members of the Liberal Party run for the same seat.”

I let that sink in for a moment.

Damien’s phone rang. “I have a conference call with Canberra,” he said.

“That’s alright, I’ve got to get something to eat,” I said looking at the time.

“Have you had lunch?”

“No.”

“Here, my shout,” Damien said. He handed be over a card. “Just drop it back to me after.”

“Are you sure?” I said doubtfully.

“Take it, get what you want,” he said.

We shook hands and I walked out.

It was a credit card, it said LIBERAL PARTY OF AUSTRALIA, VICTORIAN DIVISION.

I toyed with it idly in my hand, and headed to the lift, went down and bought some Subway.

When I went back, I could only get out at level 4, so a boy with buck teeth took me down to level 3.

I remember walking down the corridor to Mr Mantach’s office. A red haired woman with freckles was on hand holding a packet of cigarettes.

She spied the credit card in my hand.

“I’m just returning this,” I explained.

But she seemed to already know, and took it like it happened every day.

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