NSW Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan has been identified as the mystery politician who rang independent MP Rob Oakeshott and claimed to be “the devil”.
It was a standard joke Senator Heffernan makes when he rings people.
The trouble was that Mr Oakeshott’s wife answered the phone, thought it was a kook and hung up.
Mr Oakeshott had no idea who it was and has accused the Coalition of dirty tactics after receiving what he called a “Rambo-style” phone call from a senior Liberal.
He said he had spoken on the phone to Opposition Leader Tony Abbott today following the rogue call and Mr Abbott assured him he was acting in good faith.
“It is a confidence test of him [Mr Abbott] whether he is going to be able to manage his troops for the next three years,” he told reporters.
Mr Oakeshott said Mr Abbott had assured him he did not want this to derail the process.
“This cannot be the way business is done for the next three years if people such as me, [and other independents] Bob Katter and Tony Windsor are going to back them,” Mr Oakeshott said.
He also alluded to a wider campaign of smear and destabilisation.
“If these are Rambo-style phone calls that I’m receiving from loose cannons, that’s fine,” Mr Oakeshott told ABC Radio.
“But what is of deeper concern is … is this a strategic move to try and destabilise this whole process?
“If that is the game, that needs to be flushed out early.
“I would hope, whether they are rogue elements within the ranks or whether this is a strategic decision by the Coalition, that that can get clarified today so that they can come to the table this week,” he said.
“They are a legitimate players in this. They are close to getting government. I wouldn’t have thought this is the smartest strategy by them.”
Senator Heffernan, who is a touch eccentric, often jokes around when he rings people he knows. He introduces himself variously as “the devil” and “Australia’s most disgraced senator”.
When Senator Heffernan realised that his “devil” introduction to Mrs Oakeshott might not have been regarded as a joke, he tried to ring back – but, like the rest of the political establishment, is having trouble getting through to the independent.
So he sent a text message.
Senator Heffernan had rung Mr Oakeshott wanting to talk to him about broadband and what he feels are flaws in Labor’s policy.
Before Senator Heffernan was identified as the caller, the Nationals had been busy denying they were responsible for the nasty calls.
The party’s Senate leader Barnaby Joyce said: “I can assure you it’s not anybody from the National Party.
“I would never call someone’s personal house and nor would I call their office nor have I called their office.”
Liberal senator Mitch Fifield said it was important parliamentary colleagues treated each other right during this delicate time.
He denied the Coalition was unravelling under as the pressure mounts.
“I don’t think we are tearing ourselves apart on the coalition side of politics; it’s clearly Labor that is doing that,” Senator Fifield told Sky News.
“You’ve got people running around with meataxes looking for Karl Bitar,” he told Sky News today.
“You’ve got Senator Mark Arbib, who is in witness protection program at the moment, being pulled off the Q&A television program.
“Labor are in absolute disarray.”
But Labor MP Mark Butler said it was natural the party’s campaign would be questioned after both sides failed to win an absolute majority.
The Nationals will meet for the first time since the election in Canberra, with newly elected West Australian MP Tony Crook joining the party room for the first time.
Mr Crook, who ousted veteran Liberal MP Wilson Tuckey, has said he was not keen to join the Coalition party room, initially entertaining the idea of siding with Labor until Prime Minister Julia Gillard refused to rule out the mining tax.
Last week, Liberal Alby Schultz labelled senior Nationals as stupid for arguing with independents on election night.
Nationals leader Warren Truss and Senator Joyce traded barbed comments with independents Tony Windsor and Bob Katter on the night.
“It’s abject stupidity for people like Barnaby Joyce and Warren Truss to be making negative comments to or about these fine MPs in an environment where we’re facing a hung parliament and will need their assistance,” Mr Schultz said.