Hanging Out Your Dirty Linen and Squeezing Your Donors Dry

I’m publishing this under my name, as I’m ninety-nine point nine repeater percent certain that Mr Philip Higginson would not relish appearing at The Pub as a Guest Author. However, his letter is now very much in the public domain. As Leroy suggested earlier this evening, it is an explosive piece, for a whole host of reasons, most of which probably escaped the author. (Please note: I transcribed the letter and proof-read my transcription carefully, resisting almost none of you will realise how much the urge to subedit – except for a few tiny changes . . . Please let me know if I have made any egregrious errors.)

Over to you, Phil!

(Image Credit: General Photographic Agency/Getty Images)

To My Fellow Members of the Federal Executive

It is with great despondency that I wish to advise I am prematurely foreshadowing my future resignation as Honorary Federal Treasurer (HFT) of the Liberal Party of Australia prior to the June 26/27 Federal Council.

I do this with great reluctance as a result of my concern with the direction the party is heading.

This has come sooner than I would have liked having devoted countless hours over the last four years and one month in developing a wide range of very substantial relationships with the Party’s donors in all of the major states. I have also participated fully in the creation of record levels of income particularly in the crucial years of 2012/13 and 2013/14. Asking people for large sums of money is difficult in direct proportion to the amount. I can now quite confidently ask individuals and their advisors for a donation of a million dollars, and even more recently confidently request a million pounds Sterling without vacillating. I was planning to increase that ask to several tens of millions of US dollars within the USA and had laid out my plans to the PM for approval in principal. I believe it is still possible. Asking is one thing of course, procuring it another, but if you don’t ask you won’t receive.

I am reliably informed that the new Federal President, Richard Alston AO wants a new Treasurer, and that’s the bottom line. I place equal emphasis and importance on collegiality and teamwork and ethical behaviour, and see absolutely no benefit in a workplace devoid, even partly, of such virtues. I have earlier today now laid out In my report accompanying the signing of the accounts, eleven areas for Governance (Financial & Organisational) improvement to the Federal Secretariat and suspect it will take significant organisational change within the totality of the Party to deal with it enthusiastically and with vigour. Time however is not on our side.

I have deliberately divorced these comments from my Treasurer’s Report into the 2013/14 Financial Report lest it be attempted, by advocates of the status quo to remain, to be conflated as a political document, thereby attempting to weaken the need for improved financial & organisational governance.

Some of you may well ask why I don’t stay and contest an ill-considered and rushed judgement by, in appearance, one person. There is currently no vacancy on the Federal Executive and the HFT is elected by the delegates at Federal Council, not the Federal President. I believe with only a few exceptions I have made a good number of friends from virtually a zero start on both sides of the political divide in this Party and would stand a good chance to win a contest should one be necessary, if the criteria were donor relationship development, fundraising performance and governance vigilance, and personal ethical virtue. Obviously Richard has a different set of KPI’s and measurement criteria. There has never been a contest for the position of the HFT, and being a conservative traditionalist I am very reluctant to contribute to making history by encouraging a contest.

I have always treated the Liberal Party as one family and tried my very best to be absolutely respectful of differing views, and never personalising them. As late as last Saturday in the pre-selection for Ku-ring-gai I was comprehensively reminded of the respect that I am blessed to be afforded from both sides of our divide.

Many of you will not know my full record of involvement with the party. I’d like to take this opportunity to mention it. I would never have joined the LPA, (although several generations of our immediate family have never voted anything else), had Tony Abbott not thrown across a coffee table a ‘How to Join the form during a business meeting in the early 2000’s in Sydney’s CPO. As chairman of Employment National Limited I had come to see him about a small DEWR matter. I had first met Tony in 1992 when we had agreed a small business engagement together which thrust me to the Chairmanship of the Salvation Army Red Shield Appeal for Sydney, and an advisory board member that was to last 15 years. At that time he was out of work and I was the senior commercial representative of ICI Australia in NSW, viz, Manager for NSW. In short order after joining the LPA I was elected an Office Bearer of Mosman Branch, and a short time later elected an Office Bearer of the Warringah FEC for many years, later still founded the very successful Warringah Forum (not to be confused with the Warringah Club which had a completely different agenda) as I believed back then Tony needed improved and wider relationships with the senior business community and influence leaders other than those within whatever portfolio he managed at the time if he was to be one day considered for the leadership of the party. I had little doubt he would.

In my home in December 2010, a few days before Christmas having a quiet little drink with Debbie, and our four sons with Tony & Margie, Tony mentioned to the gathering eight or nine household names he had unsuccessfully approached for the HFT role following my good friend, and Debbie’s cousin, Michael Yabsley’s resignation following the August 2010 narrow election loss. All said NO to him. No targets on their backs were for them – none of them wanted any part of it. I knew them all very well. All still profess to be close friends of Tony’s today, and may well be.

I felt particularly unhappy for him as he was still suffering mild unhappiness (as we all were) following the close loss of the Aug 2010 election due to two treacherous Independents, and consequently I decided then and there with little forethought that I couldn’t just sit by and let a friend down by not offering my services, so I volunteered for the role. Someone he had known then for 18 years, someone he could trust implicitly, someone he could count on, someone who would never let him or the Party down ethically and someone who enjoyed a “rolled-gold reputation” in the Australian business community (see Piers Akerman Daily Telegraph July 29, 2008).

Trust between two entities is a gate that must swing both ways.

I had no idea what I was volunteering for, and had I known then what I know now I wouldn’t have offered my pro bono services. have no doubt when my name was mentioned within the Party for the HFT role, it would have been a case of “Philip who?” I am delighted to have proved any doubting Thomases wrong, and given encouragement to others who just were not so sure I could actually do it, particularly with so very few resources. Literally, financially we were heading towards insolvency – we had overspent during the 2010 campaign by a significant number, donation pledges did not materialise particularly after we had lost the election, and had the States not contributed significantly and had Alan Stockdale not put in a strong effort we would have been in more serious financial trouble – when first saw the numbers we were only $200,000 above the red line (and cash-burning that monthly) – this red line is an arbitrary line where we need to inform our auditors that the costs of closure equal our remaining bank balance. I have been in non-executive board director search and selection since the mid 90’s and no director I know would ever consider joining a company with a Balance Sheet so precariously teetering on the edge of an abyss, putting their good name and reputation at risk. Beware one that would.

I had blind faith in Tony, since 1992, and saw through his character well, and I am enormously grateful to him for this opportunity over the last 4.1 years of representing the Party as one of six Office Bearers of the Federal Executive in an important and very meaningful role, and to have played just a small part in defeating Australia’s worst ever government.

I am extremely surprised by Richard’s demand mainly because of the damage it will probably do to the Party’s finances and the damage it will do to a number of very puzzled donors – particularly if they suspect any further malfeasance as we encountered in some other jurisdictions within the Party, or any hint of lack of good governance with their money. It is a most unwise person who would judge that with only eighteen months or less out from an election with precious little working capital left in the till (but still just above our 2014/15 budget), that it’s somehow OK to change your key fundraiser.

Why would one consider that it’s wise to throw away over four years of relationship development with donors in the middle of a contest of any type, and throw away the knowledge of what it takes (financially) to find the funds to win an election. In American Football coach parlance having won the Super Bowl it is termed, “going to the end and knowing what the end looks like“. It is a tremendous advantage.

Richard’s position just doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. Unfortunately today’s Australian and next Monday’s edition will further tarnish our brand, and further affect poorly our fundraising for the election.

It was many years before I found my feet in this very difficult role. I am also proud to have been the first HFT in Party history to have spent the entire month in a city not mine during the 2013 Election Campaign. I could not have done that without the able assistance of my wife Debbie and the Party may not have realised it at the time but they were getting two fundraisers for the price of one ($0.00/head). This sort of inexplicable decision-making may explain why the polls are where they are today. However I am sure the polls will change for the better soon.

I wonder in silence how many prospective candidates will need to be asked this time. This time at play are different dynamics, much diminished brand, much poorer economy, leadership travails, lack of trust within our own major-donor base (>$100,000), many observers predicting further challenges, and many commentators predicting ultimate defeat in 2016. Nervous backbenchers will hardly be enthused and encouraged with the Presidency of the Organisational Wing bringing about such a significant change so close to the next election, I suspect just to protect an individual’s private fiefdom. However, you never know, perhaps Richard will pull a rabbit out of the hat.

However I will one day leave the role extremely satisfied, extremely pleased with my financial and collegiate performance (other than with those who would question and try to avoid good governance), my head held high, and hopeful that the LPA will be re-elected in 2016, but I will forecast now unless there is significant change to encourage and pacify donor concerns, it will not be through the benefit of the significant degree of TV advertising that we could liberally afford from early 2013 right through to Sept 2013.

During my term of office to date I have full-time actively participated in and overseen the raising of almost $70 million dollars. Importantly have been there 365 days per year for the full three year term when it is always difficult to raise money, especially in the first two and a half years and not just appear a month or two out from the election campaign when supporters and donors passions are high and it is much more easy to collect ‘cheques’. When the low hanging fruit is much more easily plucked.

I have attempted at times without a great deal of success to maintain a close watch on where the money went due to stonewalling and obfuscation by management. Adoption of my suggested reforms will only benefit the party in all manner of ways (confidence from donors, confidence of party members, confidence of party voters, and confidence of pro-bono party Office Bearers, and State Presidents and State Directors who do so much unpaid toil for this Party), that the Federal Organisational Wing is in good hands.

The Combined Party’s Most Serious Current Dilemma – Both Wings

Conflict of Interest is a serious problem between the Federal Secretariat (responsible to the Organisational Wing) and the PMO (responsible to the Parliamentary Wing who is Governing) and I find the situation if it weren’t so serious almost amusing. How this Party ever let a husband and wife team into those two key roles where collegiate competitive tension is mandatory and private consultations between colleagues to see that each side is served well, is a complete mystery. Conflicts of Interests only have to be perceived to be frowned upon and to be highly damaging. They don’t actually have to occur. The persons in our Party’s history that allowed it to occur should hang their collective heads in shame. The Federal Director has a fiduciary duty to act in the best interests of the organisation at all times, repeat, at all times. How can this possibly happen when the COS to the PM is his wife? It immediately brings about cessation of open communication to the Federal Director, contributes to wooden and unreliable communication, and a reluctance towards open and trusting lines of communication, and dare I say it, retribution.

In corporate Australia the Chairman of the board would never allow his EA to be the wife of the Managing Director, or the Managing Director would never allow his EA to be the wife of the Chairman. Why do we think we are somehow different human souls?

Rectify the Problem

When as a party overall are we going to grow the necessary knowledge of good governance practice and develop the necessary courage to tackle this serious problem that is deleterioust affecting both sides of this party and in particular the relationships on a very, very wide front: Personal, Business, Family, Colleagues of both Wings and Coalition Partners, Media, International Media, Voters, Donors, Supporters, you name it. I am overwhelmed daily by the sheer vitriol, and pent up animosities, and enmities that exist, and we are all who are personally affected by it and contributing to it, the longer the conflict of interest exists. I haven’t worked pro bono for over four years in this role and over ten for my good friend to see him brought down this way. We all need to do our bit to encourage him to see what is so plain for all to see.

It is only through unity and harmonious team work that we will be a successful competent organisation.


I partly cease my fundraising efforts and governance stewardship on the transmission of this letter. I leave tomorrow to NYC to see my new grandson, and see a few in Industry and Government to perhaps rattle the can for the last time. I will be away 3½ weeks.

This has been a lengthy letter, but I do hope the recipients will respect my privacy and treat the letter with the utmost confidentiality, and debate it only internally. It will serve little purpose to hang out our dirty linen.

Yours sincerely,

Philip Higginson
Honorary Federal Treasurer

22nd February 2015

(Image Credit: Cas’glu Tlysau)

446 thoughts on “Hanging Out Your Dirty Linen and Squeezing Your Donors Dry

  1. Day 11 – or maybe 12 – or maybe -10 – of Good Government.

    Tony Abbott’s attack on Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs reignites leadership questions

    MPs question PM’s attack on Triggs

    PRIME Minister Tony Abbott’s sustained attacks on one of the country’s top legal minds has once again placed his leadership on shaky ground.

    Leadership tensions have been reignited this week, with Malcolm Turnbull openly contradicting statements by Mr Abbott and Labor launching a stinging new attack painting the PM as an aggressive bully.

    Mr Abbott’s latest headache comes down to his political judgment over one issue: His incendiary comments about the Human Rights Commission president, Professor Gillian Triggs


  2. Ducky,

    Of course Ms Bishop The Younger wouldn’t recognise an inducement if it bit her on the . . . erm, maybe I shouldn’t go there . . .

    That would look like poaching on Mr Truzz’s territory . . .

  3. 2gravel

    Eden Park be da place where the Wallabies have lost every game since 1986 🙂 Also the place where the first NZ vs Aust cricket 1 day game post the under arm bowl was played.

    I was a proud member that day of the rabble baying for blood in what was a very good game. As (I think)
    Rod Marsh said re crowd control ” The crowd had the police under complete control” 🙂 . I think Australia let NZ win, what was a match that swung both ways many times, out of survival instinct .

  4. Heh, that was a laugh, Newman unable to find a publisher for his biography. Well, he could always self-publish, just put up an ebook on Amazon and sell it to the few hundred people who want to know what was going through his mind when he was being a vicious little git.

    Interesting to hear that apparently Turnbull has the numbers, but I don’t know if he has the political nous to use them properly.

  5. Kaffee

    Thanks for that bit of history, everyone remembers the underarm bowling, even people like me who don’t particularly like cricket. As I said, grandkids were asking, so I thought I’d ask here, as someone always has an answer to a question I ask.

  6. Click to access draft_legislation_programme_week3_02mar.pdf

    Click to access Draft_legislation_programme_Senate_Autumn_2015.pdf


    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/economics/11435649/Greece-to-stop-privatisations-as-Syriza-faces-backlash-on-deal.html Ambrose Evans-Pritchard is a good one to follow on twitter by the way, sort of a UK Peter Martin. Business writer, politically centrist, pro renewable energy, generally sensible reporter.


  7. This little black duck

    That’s the one. So packed that we were up to the boundary rope.

    Memory No.1 of the day ? Our group offered Lenny Pascoe a beer as a joke . He took the can , had a swig and back to the game. Pascoe stunned everyone in the area with that and received a heroes welcome every time he returned.

  8. 2gravel

    It was huge in NZ and truth be told it is now part of the national memory. The next day outside a famous shop in central Auckland a sign read “Prices Lower than Chappell”. Rod Marsh’s reaction at the time endeared to many a kiwi.

    This comment by Piggy Muldoon even made Newsweek and Time back in the day
    Robert Muldoon, “it was an act of true cowardice and I consider it appropriate that the Australian team were wearing yellow”.

  9. Kaffeeklatscher,

    It was a day of shame that should never be expunged from Australian cricket’s collective memory.

    Sadly, by now, it probably has been.

  10. Fiona

    Not to worry it lives on in NZ. On the bright side it is all directed at 1 chap (Greg) rather than the whole team. Even back in the day there was very little ,if any , blame directed at Trevor the bowler. He had just done what his bro told him to.

    The amazing thing was that the guy that faced the ball was involved in two of the most controversial NZ sporting moments , All Blacks and Black Caps. Brian McKechnie was at best a reserve reserve but ended up taking the field at the end of each game and was at the centre of each incident.

    For the AB’s he kicked the winning goal against Wales v NZ in 1978. Check out this vid from 4:30

  11. Kaffeeklatscher,

    I have often wondered about Greg C’s status as second of three sons – trying to carve out a bit of history for himself and doing so in the worst possible way.

    To be honest, I feel very sorry for him.

    Given abbott doesn’t have the same birth order, I have no compunction at all about despising him.

  12. I was in the US on work business when the underarm bowling thing happened, and didn’t know anything about the matter until I was in some city in Texas (Dallas I think) and as I was booking into my hotel was attacked verbally by a Kiwi couple. I was stunned and nonplussed all at once, which they eventually recognised and so they gave me a quick explanation. The man eventually bought me a beer in the bar and we talked rugby for a while.

  13. Just looking at a bit of history of the “under arm” game and it reminded me of another reason Kiwis hated Greg Chappell after that game.

    This match was already controversial: in the Australian innings, Martin Snedden took a low outfield catch off the batting of Greg Chappell when Chappell was on 52.It was disallowed by the umpires, although TV replays clearly showed it was a clean catch. Some commentators believed that Chappell should have taken Snedden’s word that the catch was good. Chappell went on to score 90,

  14. Kaffeeklatscher,

    Chappell, G, as a player, could never admit to any mistake.

    Chappell, G, as captain. maintained that form.

    I have zero respect for Chappell, G, as a cricketer.

  15. Kambah Mick,

    I’m glad you escaped unscathed.

    Although . . . I was told you were large – just how tall are you?

  16. Kambah Mick,

    Thank you.

    Definitely in OH’s and his “little” bros’ territory!

    (Note to other Pubsters: don’t misbehave in Kambah Mick’s presence . . . )

  17. The night of the underarm bowling incident I was having a drink in the beer garden of a Coogee pub.

    3 guys in cricket whites jumped the wall and underarmed bowled across it.

    Havoc broke out.

    It took all of the pubs security staff to suppress the brawling.

  18. Andrew Bolt getting behind the Scott Morrison momentum


    Turnbull knows his last best hope to become Prime Minister is to destroy Abbott by Tuesday
    Andrew Bolt
    February 26 2015 (10:28pm)

    Why have Malcolm Turnbull and his allies suddenly stepped up their campaign to destroy Tony Abbott, tonight telling journalists Turnbull now has the numbers to replace Abbott next week?

    Why have they leaked and briefed and heckled and done everything possible to wreck Abbott’s comeback in the two weeks since they lost the spill motion?

    Because next week is Turnbull’s last best chance to be Prime Minister.

    Time has suddenly become his enemy.

    Tony Abbott has performed well these past couple of weeks. He is changing as critics claimed he wouldn’t. His poll numbers are recovering. it is now clear he could indeed beat Bill Shorten if he were given a loyal team, rather than one undermined by the likes of Laming, Roy and Sinodinos.

    That’s one pressure on Turnbull.

    Another is Scott Morrison. Morrison has performed brilliantly as Social Services Minister. The man who stopped the boat now charms the votes. He looks genial and constructive. His presentation of the problems with rising welfare payments this week was masterly. His media presentation skills are of a high order, and he now commands the respect of most interviewers. More importantly, unlike Turnbull he has not offended the party’s conservative base, despite not being a conservative himself, and will not split the party if made leader. He is the classic compromise candidate, and will only grown stronger with every passing week.

    Julie Bishop, too, can no longer be relied upon by Turnbull. Indeed, an unnamed supporter was cited on Channel 7 saying that she would stand against Turnbull in any spill.

    As time passes, Turnbull is likely to grow weaker and Morrison and Abbott stronger, with Bishop’s crucial support up for grabs.

    So Turnbull needs to call on another showdown as soon as possible. He needs to destroy Abbott, not wait in hope for him to fail.

    He needs to be a wrecker, and wrecking is now what you see. The time is fast approaching where he faces two options – to knife Abbott or be sacked as a snake.

  19. Perhaps the army deployment to Iraq was another Captains call – and he is retrospectively consulting cabinet.

  20. Good morning Dawn Patrollers.

    PM on the brink as ministers sharpen their knives. From the Herald-Sun.
    Mark Kenny asks what a PM Turnbull would do and he draws parallels between the Coalition’s woes and those of Labor in the past.
    As the bullying gets worse Triggs denies having asked for a job,
    And Mesma made it worse for Abbott and Brandis with an admission in parliament.
    The Guardian tells us of the cracks that are appearing within the Coalition over the Triggs issue. Hurst gives the “junkyard dogs of the Murdoch press” a good serve too.
    Triggs was attacked for defending the powerless and one day a future PM will apologise for it.
    “View from the Street” opines on the apparently tenuous relationship between the Libs and the Nats.
    Abbott’s bloodletting will surely continue – if he stays, that is. It’s the ideology, stupid!
    Julian Burnside accuses Abbott and Bolt of stirring up Islamophobia and says it is a bigger threat to us than terrorism.
    Bully boys in parliament simply can’t stand smart women. A good read.

  21. Section 2 . . .

    Ben Eltham – another own goal from this government.
    Shooting the messenger – forgetting the children.
    $650000 of desperation money to be wasted by Hockey on the next budget.
    Glen Lazarus really lets fly in the Senate calling the Abbott government dysfunctional and unable to set up a coherent legislative program for the Senate.
    Why we should be concerned about metadata retention and what Turnbull and Brandis can do to fix it.
    Abbott backflips on food labelling and uses the Hep A outbreak as a reason – but the Nanny’s berries were clearly labelled as a product of China or Chile.
    An op-ed from David Hicks says he can hold his head up high, but asks can his torturers?
    The 37 worst things the Liberals did yesterday.
    Daniel Andrews outs Abbott’s secret plan to slash penalty rates.
    Yeah – piss off Max!

  22. Section 3 . . .

    Hockey and Turnbull avoid each other at a book launch.
    Yesterday at the Royal Commission hearing into Knox Gramma. It gets worse and worse!
    This Knox Grammar teacher has done a runner from the Royal Commission.
    Capital expenditure in Australia is collapsing.
    How a retirement party split the Australian cricket team in two.
    “The Abbott government is cynically moving to de-legitimise certain institutions that perform vital roles in the democratic life of this nation”.

  23. Section 4 . . .

    Liberal heartworms? Andrew Dyson.

    A nice juxtaposition of problems from Ron Tandberg.

    Cathy Wilcox leaks Abbott’s proposed new labelling standards.

    Andrew Dyson with the real Liberal apparel.

    Andrew Dyson with a style change for the floundering Abbott.

    Ron Tandberg nails Abbott again!

    Mark Knight takes us the Alan Joyce’s profit announcement.

    David Pope ties Hockey up in knots.

    At the breakfast table with the Libs. David Rowe at his best.

    Alan Moir introduces some new emojis.

  24. BK
    That Rowe is a bloody Saint.always gets it right. Just read the ingredients!
    Artists like Rowe,Tanberg etc always say it better than the thousand words.

  25. jaycee@jaycee ‏@trulyjaycee now

    @lynlinking LNP. political courage always a battle between two realities…: “brass in pocket” and “shit in pants” !
    0 replies 0 retweets 0 favorites

  26. Before I leave for the day I’ll put this question on the table –
    Which ministers will Turnbull chop or significantly demote?

  27. Oh crap –

    Broomhilda will be visiting Port Macquarie next week. She will be presenting an award at some local business-womens do. This hugely important non-event will be held not at on of our excellent restaurants or function places but at the local Academy for the Children of the Bunyip Aristocracy, a school to which I would not send a mongrel dog, let alone a child. No doubt the spolit brats will be lined up to present flowers to Her Broominess. Yuck!

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