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Labor witch-hunt backfires

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The week may have commenced with the opposition feeling chuffed about having brought down Bronwyn Bishop, but by week’s end Labor was becoming increasingly anxious about the media witch-hunt it had unleashed.

Bronwyn Bishop
It began with an attack on Bronwyn Bishop, but the political expenses saga has become unwieldy for Labor. Photo: AAP

Bishop’s partisan behaviour was particularly galling for the opposition after recent Labor speakers Harry Jenkins and Anna Burke distanced themselves from the party – at some personal cost – to uphold the perceived impartiality of the speakership.

But Jenkins and Burke were the exception, not the rule, and Labor’s attempts to put pressure on Bishop were not getting traction.

So it’s perhaps understandable that Labor jumped on the anti-entitlements bandwagon when the tabloids went after the former Speaker.

ALP strategists may have even thought their MPs were safe from retaliation from the government because both sides have dirt on each other. But Labor clearly didn’t take into consideration that community outrage over MPs’ entitlements has no political boundaries.

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The subject also happens to be excellent clickbait. So even if the government refrained from throwing stones at the opposition for extravagant travel expenditure, the media has no such compunction.

This has resulted in any and all MPs being considered fair game, with exposes hitting the headlines on the travel expenses of Treasurer Joe Hockey, potential candidates to become the new speaker, and also the man who led the opposition’s campaign against Mrs Bishop, Tony Burke.

We saw what you did there, Tony Burke

Tony Burke says he’s confident that flying his family business class on a trip to the Top End was “within the rules”, but admits it was “beyond community expectations”. Photo: AAP

When the string of revelations about Mr Burke’s travel expenses became a little too inconvenient this week, and the former Labor minister finally realised there was no point arguing they were “within entitlement”, Mr Burke reverted to the half-apology uttered by Mrs Bishop to concede his taxpayer-funded business-class family trip to Uluru was excessive.

“While I am completely confident that the questions … have been 100 per cent within the rules,” said Mr Burke, “they have also been completely beyond community expectations”.

Citizen activism

Labor’s campaign to oust Mrs Bishop has not only exponentially increased media scrutiny of MPs travel and other expenditure, but motivated a clutch of citizen activists to crunch the data or trawl social media to catch any MPs who might not be using their entitlements appropriately.

Online news sites have obliged with links to entitlements information, but the standout citizen activism tools are ExpenseAus and @DisclosureBot.

Now Labor has cranked up the outrage machine, and voters have ready access to information on MPs’ expenses, there’s no way to stop the revelations (even if MPs are trying to). Or to stop the heads from rolling, now that Mrs Bishop’s demise has set the precedent.

Check your calendars please

Six months after Tony Abbott’s political near-death experience, there are leadership rumblings once more. Photo: AAP

This weekend marks half a year since Prime Minister Tony Abbott stared down his unhappy colleagues and asked for six months to turn the government’s fortunes around. Mr Abbott proceeded to toss unpopular policies overboard and convinced the Treasurer to bring down a magic pudding budget to placate the voters.

For a short while, it seemed the PM’s revival plan was working (with a little help from the royal commission into union corruption). The government closed in on Labor in the opinion polls and Mr Abbott regained the lead over Labor leader Bill Shorten as the voters’ preferred prime minister.

But thanks to three weeks of prevarication over “choppergate”, the government’s opinion poll resurgence seems to have evaporated. And according to at least one media outlet, leadership talk has recommenced.

Look at me!

At this point, it’s difficult to tell whether Liberal leadership wannabe Malcolm Turnbull’s public transport antics last week have helped or hindered his prospects.

In the meantime former border protection hard-man, Scott Morrison, put his softer side on show for a profile in the Australian Womens’ Weekly.

Not to be outdone in the “remember me” stakes, Kevin-from-Queensland, who as we all know is “here to help” popped up in Labor’s favourite newspaper to criticise the party’s “factional warlords and union ­bosses for refusing to cede power to rank-and-file members at last month’s national conference”.

Mr Rudd would have known that, without the help of those factional warlords and unions bosses, Bill Shorten faced being defeated on a number of key votes at the Labor conference. No doubt the Labor leader is grateful for Kevin’s “help”.

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