So, the chief drug dealer at British American Tobacco Australia, one David Crow, is threatening to flood the country with cut-price fags if the federal government brings in plain packaging for l&m cigarettes. That would mean “more people will smoke, more kids will smoke”, he said on Tuesday, oozing regret from every pore, as if he were helpless to prevent such wickedness.

“It’s driven by crime syndicates, it’s driven by the Triads, it’s driven by the underbelly of the smuggling world,” he added darkly. The tobacco companies would have to slash their prices to compete.

Golly. Do as we say or evil Chinese gangsters will snatch your kiddies. And to up the ante, he flagged suing for “billions of dollars” in compensation for lost profits.

As a corporate bully-boy attempt to browbeat a government, it doesn’t come more crude than that. The insolence is staggering.

Mr Crow will not like being called a drug dealer, I suspect. But that’s what he is, the bumptious twerp. The World Health Organisation recognises nicotine as a drug. That it is sold legally is neither here nor there. About 7500 Australians die of smoking-induced lung cancer each year, rather more than are killed by the illegal stuff. You wonder how the Crows of this world sleep at night.

Plainly, the tobacco companies are pulling out all the stops to campaign against this drab olive packaging. The Australian move is a world first, so they are tossing untold millions into the fight. Chinese criminals apart, the silliest furphy is that the government would be stealing their brands and their copyright. No it wouldn’t. The brand names would still be on the packs, but in plain black type.

As for the threat of el-cheapo cigarettes, the government can fix that with the stroke of a pen by shoving up the excise on tobacco by as much as the price is cut.

Happily, though, Big Tobacco has found a friend in no less than Tony Abbott, who is neatly in step with the ludicrous notion that plain packaging means more smoking.

”My anxiety with this is that it may end up being counterproductive in practice,” he waffled on Tuesday. Very public-spirited. Nothing at all to do with the fact that these merchants of death are huge donors to the Tories, then.

The latest figures from the Australian Electoral Commission show that British American Tobacco tipped in $145,035 to the Liberal and National parties last financial year. The No. 2 company, Philip Morris, handed over $129,885. That’s a whopping total of $274,920, the lion’s share of it to the Libs. Labor and the Greens don’t accept tobacco donations.

To dispel the stench of cash for comment, Abbott should tell the Liberal Party bagmen to send the money back. Don’t hold your breath.

By all accounts, Joe Hockey’s budget reply speech to the National Press Club on Wednesday was more hot air. No policies, no program for government, no alternative vision to offer the Australian people, just the same old mindless bash and slash.

This might not be entirely his fault. Joe is a nice man, an affable bloke to have a drink with, and a capable politician. But he is clearly on message, as the spin doctors like to say, and the opposition message du jour is to beat up the Gillard government at every chance. This is seen as an adequate substitute for the hard yakka of coming up with policy ideas.

Asked where he would cut Labor spending to bring the budget back to surplus, Joe could only drag out the moth-eaten $50 billion in savings the Coalition floated at the last election. Reminded by a hack that Treasury had found an $11 billion hole in that little number, he returned to the attack. The affability cracked. The government had written the journalist’s question, he snapped.

His leader sets the tone. Abbott’s budget speech in reply was no reply at all. It was nothing more than boilerplate election sloganeering, banging away at that tired mantra of stopping the boats, Labor incompetence, a great big tax on everything, blah blah. It demonstrated, yet again, that he is an empty pair of speedos, all smuggle and no budgie, unfit to be prime minister.

This nothingness is applauded by the opposition’s media toadies in commercial talk radio and at News Ltd, where any pretence of balanced reporting has been flung to the four winds. The Australian’s war on the national broadband network reaches new heights of hysteria each week. And that is on its news pages, not in the opinion columns.

Incidentally, my trawl through the Electoral Commission files turned up the interesting fact that Alan Jones’s private company, Belford Productions, donated $22,110 to the Liberals last year. How very generous. You would have thought they would be paying him.

And now for something completely different. Readers will know I like nothing better than a good sea story. One of the best notches up its 70th anniversary this month.

On this very day, May 21, 1941, the German battleship Bismarck and her consort, the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen, put to sea from a Norwegian fjord to hunt British convoys in the North Atlantic.

Bismarck was a folly of Nazi vanity, Hitler’s pride and joy. At 50,000 tonnes, she and her sister ship, Tirpitz, were two of the biggest and most beautiful battleships ever built.

The Royal Navy tracked her and brought her to battle in the foggy Denmark Strait, near Iceland. In one of the great naval disasters of World War II, a lucky German shot blew up and sank the darling of the British fleet, the battlecruiser HMS Hood. Only three of Hood’s crew of 1416 survived.

Winston Churchill gave one of the most famous naval orders of the war, just three words: ” Sink the Bismarck”.
Every available ship was hurled into the chase. On May 27, fleeing towards France, she was cornered, pounded to a burning wreck and eventually dispatched by torpedoes. Only 205 of her crew of 2200 were saved. I heard a rumour the other day that one of those survivors lives right here in Sydney. I’d love to meet you, kamerad.