THE federal Labor government’s campaign for re-election is off to a nightmarish start.
On Wednesday the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, announced a September election date, giving herself eight months to try to reverse Labor’s chronic unpopularity with voters.
But by yesterday that goal was looking more elusive than ever, with one of her party’s star liabilities, the beleaguered Dobell MP Craig Thomson, arrested and charged with fraud.
It scarcely matters that Mr Thomson is no longer an ALP member. His fate is inextricably linked with that of the government, a fact that the opposition hammered home remorselessly.
Accused of using trade union funds for his own benefit and now facing both civil and criminal courts, Mr Thomson has continued to insist he is blameless. As his government supporters reminded the public yesterday, the embattled MP is entitled to the presumption of innocence.
In doing so they also effectively reminded voters how great a stake the Gillard government has in seeing that presumption preserved. Governing on wafer-thin numbers, at the whim of independents who would probably abandon the ALP at the first hint of any admission of guilt, Labor needs Mr Thomson.
Yesterday Mr Thomson’s lawyer said there was ‘‘a huge relationship’’ between the hung Federal Parliament and his client’s predicament. It was also noted that Mr Thomson remains entitled to his seat in Parliament so long as he is not convicted of any charge that carries a penalty of a year or more in jail.
Fortunately for the government, it seems likely to continue to enjoy his mostly supportive presence in Parliament for the rest of its term.
If the allegations against Mr Thomson carry a bad odour for Labor and its trade union fellow travellers, the ICAC hearings in NSW over alleged corruption in the awarding of coal exploration licences aren’t helping clear the air.
Whatever the eventual outcome of those hearings, the lurid evidence is powerfully underscoring the long-held public perception that Labor in the Premier State had fallen into discreditable shape.
The political brand, it seems, is in danger.
It’s extraordinary to consider that Labor has only been in power federally since 2007, having replaced a tired and unpopular Coalition government.
That the ALP has been able to descend so rapidly in the public’s esteem is a matter that ought to be exercising the party’s analysts and strategists night and day.