darren.chester.mp@aph.gov.au 1300 131 785
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May 21, 2012

Former ACTU secretary Bill Kelty had some forthright advice for the Labor Party when he spoke at a conference last week.

“In a sense, I think we make politics just simply too hard. The truth will normally do.”

Kelty was talking about the Gillard Government’s poor showing in the opinion polls and he was trying to make some sense of the polls which have Labor tracking at less than a 30% primary vote. But his message had relevance to everyone in public life.

At a time when community respect for our elected leaders in Canberra is reaching the lowest level in my lifetime, we have an enormous job to restore faith in the honesty and integrity of MPs.

Perhaps I am naïve, but I believe that serving your community in Local, State or Federal Government as an elected representative, can be an honourable profession.

On both sides of the House in Canberra, I meet with MPs who are passionate about the future of our nation and are working in the interests of their communities. Apart from the charade of question time, the rest of the Parliamentary week can often involve constructive debate and a bipartisan committee process where we work cooperatively on important reforms.

While we may not always agree on specific policies, there is a mutual respect which allows our democracy to operate, even in the most trying circumstances of a minority government and the uncertainty that brings.

But that behind-the-scenes work will never compete with the headlines of the Craig Thomson and Peter Slipper scandals, not to mention the latest concerns about State MP Geoff Shaw and his alleged misuse of a Parliamentary vehicle.

The reporting of these allegations and the responses by the respective leaders – Julia Gillard and Ted Baillieu – will continue to undermine the public standing of MPs.

In standing by Thomson for months as the evidence continued to mount, Gillard showed poor judgement and demonstrated a ‘whatever it takes’ mentality. If the numbers weren’t so tight in the House of Representatives, does anyone believe that she would have been so adamant in her defence of Thomson?

By recruiting Slipper to the Speaker’s chair, despite repeated concerns about his use of Parliamentary entitlements, Gillard demonstrated the same poor judgement and ruthless desire to increase her numbers in the House – regardless of the cost in terms of integrity and respect for the office.

Now Baillieu has the same dilemma. How strongly does he defend the Frankston MP who has been accused by three whistleblowers of using his taxpayer-funded vehicle for commercial gain?

Again, the numbers are tight in State Parliament and Baillieu needs Shaw to maintain a clear majority in the Legislative Assembly. But the rules are clear and if a deliberate breach is uncovered, there should be serious ramifications.

The next steps by Gillard and Baillieu will be difficult but perhaps they should listen to the advice from Bill Kelty: “the truth will normally do”.

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