Screaming tabloid headlines saying ‘COPS RAID LABOR’ have elevated the cost blowout and slow rollout of the National Broadband Network into a major election issue.
The Australian Federal Police raids on the offices of former Labor Communications Minister Senator Stephen Conroy and the homes and offices of staffers on Thursday night triggered a fierce war of words.
The raids related to leaks from within the NBNco, published by Fairfax Media last year, showed a cost blowout delay in the rollout of the NBN.
In the face of an angry reaction from Labor’s Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull denied any prior knowledge of the AFP raids, saying he had not authorised them. He attacked Labor for questioning the integrity of the AFP.
“That is a shameful thing to do. The police are doing their job. They’re doing it independently, they’re doing it with integrity.”
Even AFP Commissioner Andrew Colvin waded into the fray, denying that political interference led to the raids and saying they were justified and lawful.
Labor leader Bill Shorten came out swinging however, protesting that the complainant, NBNco, was a ‘creature’ or agency of the government which appointed its board, including two government ministers as owner-stakeholders.
The board and therefore the government would have known of the NBN’s complaint to police, he said.
“He (Turnbull) is going after whistleblowers and he’s smearing his political opponents.”
Mr Shorten appears to have successfully used the exchange to put the issue squarely in the public eye, meaning the performance of the NBN now can be expected to prevail as a major election issue.
Commissioner Colvin said the documents seized in the raids had been sealed as they were subject to a parliamentary privilege claim. Their status and future admissibility as police evidence will now be determined by the Senate privileges committee after the election.
PEFO confirms deficit discipline is crucial
“Should Australia experience a significant negative economic shock or increased interest rates or debt levels above current projections over the medium term, the debt burden will impose an increasingly significant cost on the fiscal and economic outlook,” the Pre Election Fiscal Outlook confirmed on Friday.
“It is crucial for Australia to maintain its top credit rating to ensure the Commonwealth’s borrowing costs, and those across the economy more generally, are kept as low as possible,” the under secretaries of Treasury and Finance said.
The warning confirms fears that whoever forms government after July 2 will have to maintain deficit discipline.
PEFO confirmed the budget deficit forecast of $37.1 billion for 2016/17 remained.
Although its increase to this level has occurred under the Abbott-Turnbull government neither party can claim to have reduced the deficit in real terms.
Liberal candidate falls on his ‘politically incorrect’ sword
The Liberal candidate for Fremantle Sherry Sufi has resigned over negative publicity over his controversial social views.
An endorsed Liberal candidate who is also chairman of the party’s policy committee, Mr Sufi said: “I am doing this in light of continued focus on events from my history.”
Among other transgressions Mr Sufi mocked and mimicked the South African accent of the WA parliament’s speaker.
“I apologise if my words and actions have caused offence to anyone. This was never my intent. I want to avoid further distraction from the good work being done by the Prime Minister and his Liberal team.”
Mr Sufi received negative publicity over reports that he once forecast that same sex marriage would lead to polygamy. He also rejected constitutional recognition for Indigenous Australians as ‘a move to divide the country’.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has publicly repudiated these views.
The Liberal Party is expected to announce a replacement endorsement candidate early next week.
Fremantle was in the news last week when Labor’s candidate, former union official Chris Brown, was disendorsed by the party’s national executive over claims he had failed to disclose a 30 year old expunged assault conviction.
Di Natale’s no to nanny state at home
Greens leader Senator Richard Di Natale has denied having underpaid au pairs – or live-in nannies – employed to look after his children.
They were paid $150 for 25 hours work, but the total package was worth $500 a week when rent and food were taken into consideration.
On Thursday Dr Di Natale was also attacked with claims he had not properly disclosed his family farm on the register of pecuniary interests.
He denied the claims, saying his farm had been declared at the start of his parliamentary career.
Quentin Dempster is political editor of The New Daily. He has more than 40 years’ experience in print and television (The Sun Herald,The Sydney Morning Herald, ABC TV) and is the author of three critically acclaimed books and a documentary on institutionalised corruption. He also has a Walkley Award and an Order of Australia for an ‘outstanding contribution to journalism’.