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Take a leaf out of the Beattie manual

By Graham Young - posted Tuesday, 30 August 2011


Could Julia Gillard actually turn back Tony Abbott's advance using the Craig Thomson debacle? Unlikely as it sounds it is possible.

In 2001 Peter Beattie achieved something similar when he used corruption within the Queensland Labor Party as a successful argument for voters to reelect his Labor government.

Beattie had also only just won his first election, forming a minority government with the support of independent Peter Wellington (although a win in a by-election late in 1998 improved his position).

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Then in 2000 Labor candidate Karen Ehrmann was jailed for electoral fraud amidst evidence that it was widespread in Labor. That led to the establishment of the Shepherdson Inuqiry which found three MPs - Deputy Premier Jim Elder, former State Secretary Mike Kaiser and backbencher Grant Musgrove - guilty of various offences.

Within weeks all three had been forced to resign from the party and sit as independents and Labor's first preference vote dropped by 6 points to 43%.

Nevertheless in January the next year Beattie called an early election which he won with 48.9% of the primary vote and a record 66 out of 89 seats.

I'm not suggesting that Gillard could achieve the same result. Beattie started from a much stronger position and he got a lot of help from the Opposition who were divided and distracted by One Nation.

But if Gillard continues as she is her next election result will probably be the worst in Labor's modern federal history, on a par with the recent NSW state result, or Queensland Labor in 1974.

For Labor the next election is about salvaging a respectable loss.

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The first lesson Gillard can learn from Beattie is to be open to the possibility that wrong-doing has occurred and not to condone it in anyway, irrespective of whether the culprit is one of the tribe or not.

As Beattie said at the time "the Labor Party that I joined and I love does not support crooks" and one of the victims of his purge was his own deputy, Jim Elder. In other words, you define yourself out of the tribe if you act contrary to its mores.

While the evidence against Craig Thomson may never lead to a successful criminal conviction, politically it is compelling to the stage where he obviously has very serious questions to answer.

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This article was first published in The Australian on August 29, 2011.



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About the Author

Graham Young is chief editor and the publisher of On Line Opinion. He is executive director of the Australian Institute for Progress, an Australian think tank based in Brisbane, and the publisher of On Line Opinion.

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