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Morgan poll shows growing public support for the Liberal Party and Dr Hewson but within the party signs of uneasiness remain with Dr Hewson's leadership

PETER THOMPSON: John Hewson's fortunes may be changing for the better. The latest Morgan poll shows growing support for both the Liberal Party and its leader. The figures show Labor's support dropping from 48 per cent to 45.5 per cent, and support for the Liberals growing from 41 to 44 per cent. The figures follow John Hewson's announcement that the Liberal Party would re-examine its commitment to a constitutional monarchy. However, while there may be public support for constitutional change, there's little evidence of corresponding support inside the Liberal Party. With senior parliamentary figures such as John Howard, Peter Costello and Ian McLachlan all prepared to defend the party's present platform supporting the monarchy, John Hewson's leadership will face its toughest test when the Liberals debate the issue at their federal council meeting in August. And as our chief political correspondent, Maxine McKew, reports, John Hewson has been offending one of the party's most senior and successful figures.

MAXINE McKEW: It was a case of guess who's not coming to dinner. Last Friday week, John Hewson and Malcolm Fraser had planned to meet over dinner, but at the last minute John Hewson stood up the former Prime Minister. The planned get-together had been organised by Sir John Atwell, a former federal president of the party. He invited Dr Hewson and his wife Carolyn and Malcolm and Tammie Fraser to a dinner at a chic Sydney restaurant. With a critical Liberal council meeting coming up in August and with Mr Fraser making it clear he would be available to serve as president, if the party wanted him, Sir John had decided that the two men would benefit from a joint discussion about the direction of the party.

But as Mr Fraser and his wife were flying into Sydney, late in the afternoon, John Hewson was phoning Sir John, to cancel. Why? It seems Dr Hewson was furious with some comments that Malcolm Fraser had made on Melbourne radio that morning. Mr Fraser had been asked by the ABC's Ranald McDonald to comment on Dr Hewson's future as leader. In reply Mr Fraser had stressed the need for strong leadership, and had repeated his criticism of economic rationalist policies. He certainly didn't repeat his less-than flattering post-election comments about John Hewson. But that wasn't good enough for Dr Hewson. He wasn't going to dine with anyone who, when pressed, hadn't given a glowing endorsement of his leadership - a tactic which could see Dr Hewson somewhat short of dinner companions and one which is totally at odds with his stated commitment to listen to party members.

If Malcolm Fraser as a three-time election winner can't get a hearing, one might ask who can? Needless to say, Malcolm Fraser was furious as he explained privately to some of the participants at the Young Liberals Election Review, the next day. Dr Hewson may yet have to deal with Malcolm Fraser. If Mr Fraser is elected president and if the two men can't achieve some sort of an accommodation, it will make for an uneasy alliance with Mr Fraser acting as a lightning rod for all the anti-Hewson discontent in the party. In spite of the latest polls which show increased support for the Liberal Party and for Dr Hewson in the wake of the decision to review the party's support for the constitutional monarchy, the party may not be in a mood to budge.

John Howard, Peter Costello, and Ian McLachlan have all made it clear that they're prepared to defend the status quo, and in this they speak for many in the party. The argument is along these lines: It's not just a case of holding onto tradition. There's a political edge. Why should the Liberal Party help Paul Keating proclaim himself the father of the republic.

This morning in the Australian newspaper, a former staffer of Dr Hewson's, Tony Abbott, has weighed in. As Mr Abbott has said, the Liberal Party is considering ditching an article of faith because Paul Keating has Hewson bluffed. And at a time when Paul Keating is patronising John Hewson to within an inch of his life, by telling him to take his time to think about the republic, Dr Hewson looks like a leader whose major support is coming from the Government. If John Hewson had broken bread with Malcolm Fraser, the former PM might have been able to pass on a few tips about how to handle all of this. We'll never know.

PETER THOMPSON: Maxine McKew.