Once again, scandal diverts from substance


Once again, scandal diverts from substance

Date January 31, 2013 – 4:02PM Category Opinion 464 reading now

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Lenore Taylor

Chief Political Correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald

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Federal MP Craig Thomson arrested

Federal MP Craig Thomson has been arrested at his electorate in NSW. He is set to face around 150 fraud charges.
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Day one of Julia Gillard’s “turn the torch on Tony” election year strategy was derailed by Labor’s continued Health Services Union trauma.

Craig Thomson sits on the crossbench and the HSU has disaffiliated from the ALP, but the former union official and Labor MP still casts a vote that the government regularly relies upon.

Mr Thomson’s lawyer says he will plead not guilty to all charges.

But Ms Gillard’s surprise announcement of the September 14 election date in her press club address on Wednesday was supposed to allow her to get on with governing in an atmosphere of certainty, to reset the debate from last year’s serial scandals and crises, to force Tony Abbott to reveal policy and answer questions.


As the Coalition leader’s Press Club address drew to an end today he had announced no new policy and refused to clearly answer a long list of questions.

There was no announcement of a new and significant spending cut – which an email leaked Thursday morning to the The Daily Telegraph revealed Mr Abbott’s advisers were counselling him against making. The Coalition has previously flagged its opposition to to Schoolkids Bonus.

Instead Mr Abbott reflected on the satisfaction he gets from patrolling with his local surf club and his local fire brigade, which the leaked email had already informed us were designed to make the media think “yes he is a good bloke, and yes he is more than fair dinkum”.

The rhetoric-rich strategy was starting to wear thin.

But then the extraordinary news broke that a sitting member faced 150 charges of fraud.

Mr Abbott got to deliver a well-practiced line.

“This isn’t just about what Craig Thomson may or may not have done…it has always been about the judgment of the Prime Minister.”

Mr Thomson would only be required to stand aside from his position if he was found guilty of a crime carrying a 12-month jail sentence and his court case is unlikely to have concluded before the September 14 poll. But he would also have to leave parliament if he became bankrupt due to the cost of running his defence.

And in two weeks Labor’s former speaker Peter Slipper is also facing court on three charges relating to misuse of travel entitlements.

Ms Gillard will try to keep the focus on policy distinctions.

But Labor’s new political year is also beginning as the old one ended – with scandal diverting from substance.

And the Coalition is making accusations about Ms Gillard’s judgment in standing by Mr Thomson for so long and asking whether her election announcement may have also been designed to help her argue against the need for any by-elections before September, should her numbers on the crossbench begin to look shaky.

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Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/politics/once-again-scandal-diverts-from-substance-20130131-2dmyy.html#ixzz2JWp7RudP

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