On Sunday, Cabinet Secretary Arthur Sinodinos was sent out to set up the political week for the Turnbull government. Along the way he took a leaf straight out of the Donald Trump playbook.
Whatever the merits of taking on the “lawless thugs” of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) as the Prime Minister calls them, Senator Sinodinos had a “Crooked Hillary” moment. That’s what Republican presidential candidate Trump calls his Democrat opponent Hillary Clinton.
Senator Sinodinos sought to smear Bill Shorten by attacking his choice for the Victorian senate vacancy, Kimberley Kitching.
“She’s someone who was referred by the Heydon Royal Commission for further investigation and someone who’s clearly close to Mr Shorten,” he said.
Ms Kitching was a member of the Hospital Services Union in Victoria and actually took on the allegedly corrupt Kathy Jackson. Ms Jackson, who was hailed as a courageous whistleblower by the Liberals, is now facing 70 theft and deception charges to the tune of millions of dollars.
You would think Senator Sinodinos would be more careful. He stood down from the ministry while the Independent Commission against Crime and Corruption investigated his time as New South Wales Liberal Party treasurer.
Labor’s Brendan O’Connor accused the senator of “selective amnesia” and the “last person who gets to make a character assessment of any future senator”.
When pulled up on Radio National for the fact that Senator Sinodinos was neither charged nor convicted with anything, his retort was swift.
“There’s no follow-up conviction of Senator Kitching and yet he [Senator Sinodinos] wants to make these allegations against her,” Mr O’Connor said.
The Leader of the House Christopher Pyne conveniently ignored these facts to repeat the calumny in parliament. All that was lacking were the chants of “lock her up” from the backbench.
The two union-busting bills that are coming back into the parliament owe much to the hard-ball political style of former prime minister Tony Abbott.
His Heydon royal commission was specifically tailored for his political opponents. Indeed, his pursuit of Julia Gillard was every bit as manic and distorted as Mr Trump’s on Mrs Clinton.
The current target is Mr Shorten. The Commission made no adverse findings about him, but along the way managed to paint him as someone who was prepared to sell out the workers he represented. Something he strenuously denies and Dyson Heyden didn’t finally get around to concluding.
Facts are never as important as stirring emotions and playing to prejudices. But you can overdo it as Mr Trump is finding in America. It is playing with a fire that can consume you.
One of Australia’s more prominent Trump admirers, One Nation’s Pauline Hanson, so far hasn’t been singed. Newspoll has found her support has increased to six per cent up from 1.3 per cent at the election. It has hit 10 percent in Queensland.
Thankfully she is not leading a major political party and her anti-Muslim diatribes have faced pushback from the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader.
But the LNP in Queensland is worried. One of its more outspoken MPs George Christensen thinks the way to deal with Ms Hanson is to embrace her approach.
Two of his state colleagues, senators O’Sullivan and Ian Macdonald, took more of a leaf out of Trump’s attack manual. At the inquiry probing whether Attorney-General George Brandis had misled the Senate, they resorted to bullying rudeness toward Solicitor-General Justin Gleeson.
His crime: he produced compelling evidence substantiating the charge. Trashing the reputation of a statutory officer was a small price to pay in the pursuit of political dominance.
Just ask Donald.
Paul Bongiorno AM is a veteran of the Canberra Press Gallery, with 40 years’ experience covering Australian politics. He tweets at @PaulBongiorno