Flashpoint – an update

Thursday, 25 June 2009 

The Labor Party used to rejoice in leaks when they were in Opposition. They used to publish press releases when they … a couple of Cabinet documents fell into their hands and of course, the Labor Party’s view – someone who leaks to them is a heroic whistleblower. Somebody who leaks to the Liberals is a dangerous mole who should be persecuted. So the fact is we don’t comment on that actually any more than journalists.

Malcolm Turnbull The 7.30 Report

I tell you what, this is a Government which is using all the agencies of the State as a form of political coercion and intimidation.

Tony Abbott AM

Turnbull may think the difference between a mole and a whistle-blower just depends on which side of the political fence benefits from it. But in fact, things have changed. As the government itself intends to legislate at some time in the future, a whistleblower will be someone who leaks against the government for the public good and a mole will be someone who leaks for the benefit of one side of the political class. Quite how someone will be able to leak against the government without benefiting the opposition is not clear, but the implication is, the old political activity of opposition parties relying on leaks from friends in the public service is out.

The general support for this view in this anti-political climate, means that Turnbull has missed the point once again and his attempts to equate his relationship with his ‘source’ to a journalist’s will not work. But his savvier colleague has pursued a better line.

The government needs to tread carefully here. Let’s stand back from Turnbull’s fiasco for a minute and remember that only a few days ago, the future of a Prime Minister and a Treasurer, the two highest offices in the land, were in doubt because pretty well everyone was prepared to believe a Treasury official over them. The assumption was that the politicians had their own agenda, whereas the Treasury official, of course, did not and was simply trying, under his oppressive government minder, to tell the Senate the awful truth.

We now know that might not be true, but the anti-political climate that was prepared to see key offices in the government go down for the flimsiest of reasons on the flimsiest of evidence still exists. In reality, unless Turnbull sat down and wrote the e-mail himself, or knew it was a forgery, the reasons Turnbull is under pressure now are no more serious. Getting leaks from a public servant wasn’t seen as a problem in the past. However, the way Turnbull has so openly led the charge on this has politicised those leaks, and such political activity is no longer acceptable.

For a similar reason, the government needs to be careful how it relates to the AFP investigation. The idea that the government is driving the investigation for political purposes can do it damage and it was this that Abbott put his finger on yesterday. It will get especially tricky if the AFP insists on the Liberals opening their files and the government is seen to be behind it.

What we have seen in the last week is how destructive to both parties the current climate can be on the most minor of issues and from practices, like using a leak from a sympathetic mole or giving favours to a political donor, that would have been quite acceptable in the past. Labor may be best suited to such an anti-political climate but in the end it is healthy for neither party. Labor has got what it wanted, the heat off Swan and the coalition left hanging between a damaged leader and an old guard that doesn’t know how to get rid of him. The best thing for the government to do now is to follow Tanner’s appeal to the media on Lateline last night, and get away from this as quickly and as far as possible.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Thursday, 25 June 2009.

Filed under Tactics

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2 responses to “Flashpoint – an update”

  1. Thomas Paine on 25th June 2009 5:58 pm

    Turnbull has lost what he must have to ever be seen as an alternative PM, trust, which for him was already at a low level. He is effectively now unelectable, an unsafe pair of hands.

  2. Rx on 28th June 2009 7:18 am

    Come clean? These creeps? Come off it!

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