Abbott has his own slushy history
"Misleading the ABC is not quite the same as misleading the Parliament" ... Tony Abbott. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
MANY readers will recall Margo Kingston, a deft hand at
investigative reporting and a pioneer of interactive journalism through
her Webdiary. Margo left the trade a while ago and is studying nursing,
interested in specialising in palliative care.
But last week, watching from afar the AWU affair unfolding,
she leapt back into the fray with an online article. She remembered what
many of us, in the heat of this slush fund battle, had forgotten. Tony
Abbott has had his own slush fund experience, not all of it happy.
Not that Abbott was keen on the term ''slush fund''. In 1998,
he was collecting financial backing for his crusade to encourage legal
action against Pauline Hanson. She was later jailed over a technical
breach of the electoral law, something even many of her political
Kingston - author of a book on Hanson, with whom she had a
love-hate relationship - pursued Abbott like a terrier about the fund;
she details the saga in Still Not Happy, John! (Penguin 2007).
It's worth a read, as the debate drags on about Julia Gillard's role in
helping set up the AWU Workplace Reform Association, which two corrupt
union officials, one of them her then boyfriend, used to steal large
amounts of money.
In 1998 Abbott gave a signed personal guarantee to Terry
Sharples, who'd fallen out with One Nation, that he would not be out of
pocket for legal action to stop One Nation receiving $500,000 in public
Soon after, Abbott denied to the ABC that funds had been offered to Sharples.
Abbott, about to become a minister, then set up the
Australians for Honest Politics Trust. He responded to the Australian
Electoral Commission's request for disclosure by writing: ''I spoke
with one of Australia's leading electoral lawyers who assured me that
the trust would not be covered by disclosure provisions''. The
commission accepted that.
But later Abbott told Kingston he had only sought the legal
advice after being queried by the AEC. When the discrepancy was put to
him, he said he had had more than one conversation with the lawyer.
Despite claiming he'd be happy to disclose donors if the AEC
wanted him to do so, after the AEC took a new position in 2004, seeking
the information, Abbott maintained he should not have to provide it
after so long and did not give it over.
In a 2003 interview with Kerry O'Brien, Abbott was confronted
with a 1998 untruth, when he had told Tony Jones that he had not
promised Sharples any money. His rationalisation was Jesuit-ical.
''There is a difference between telling someone he won't be out of
pocket and telling someone that you're going to have to pay him money''.
In an earlier newspaper interview. Abbott had said: ''Misleading the
ABC is not quite the same as misleading the Parliament.''.
Should we be surprised that Abbott calls on the PM to tell
all, but was reticent himself? Not really. It's that old story of the
boot being on the other foot.
Obviously, there were clear differences between Abbott's
slush fund, which was aimed at a broad political purpose (the
destruction of Hanson and One Nation) and the limited self-serving
objectives of the AWA body, let alone the vehicle for illegal behaviour
that it became. But the point is, Abbott does not bring an unblemished
record to the argument.