South Australia’s first political
corruption trial began in the District Court in Adelaide yesterday,
with former senior adviser to South Australian Premier Mike Rann,
Randall Ashbourne, facing charges of misusing his position.

prosecution alleges “Scandal,” as he is known after a colourful career
in journalism and at the go-go end of spin, attempted to cut a deal
with dumped and disgraced former Labor deputy leader Ralph Clark in
2002 to drop legal action against Attorney-General Michael Atkinson.
Ashbourne is alleged to have offered Clark a position on a number of
government boards, and has pleaded not guilty. He has simultaneously
lodged unfair dismissal action against the state government.

case is not only unprecedented, but it has significant potential to
damage the spin-obsessed Rann nine months out from an election.
Ashbourne struck the deal with Independent MP Peter Lewis that gave
Rann the numbers to form a government after the 2002 state election
resulted in a hung parliament.

Rann and his deputy and the
acting premier at the time, Kevin Foley, could both be summonsed over
Ashbourne’s summary dismissal. The affair could not only embarrass the
Premier and Foley, but it could end Rann’s career if either judgment –
the court case or the unfair dismissal case – goes Ashbourne’s way.

is a dogged journo with a taste for Canadian Club who is unafraid of
controversy, likes playing the markets and has a fondness for classic
cars (his Rolls-Royce was famously keyed outside a Labor Party
meeting). His political reporting for Channel 7 was hard hitting, which
is important in a town like Adelaide where the only daily paper, The Advertiser, lives off a drip feed of rip-and-read “exclusives” carefully packaged up for it by the government of the day.

as hard hitting was his work for former Lord Mayor of Adelaide, Henry
Ninio, who despite his Jewish background proposed a South Australian
trade mission to Libya. Ninio’s council also granted considerable
leeway to a controversial outdoor restaurant proposal by former Dunstan
attorney general and Labor federal front bencher Peter Duncan that
collapsed within weeks. Duncan is now effectively a fugitive in
Indonesia. Ashbourne appeared to have learned his spin techniques from

Premier Mike Rann is a leader without any real
factional base. Foley is unsubtle and ambitious. Minority governments
have been the rule rather than the exception in South Australia for
over 20 years now. This trial could have wide implications for who
governs the state – which party and which person.