With a state election in NSW less than 20 weeks away, it appears the battle is becoming a question of who can score the least own goals. What are worse – bible bashers or… ? Well, that’s getting filled in.

In the wake of the charging and dismissal of minister Milton Orkopoulos, rumours are raging that another Labor MP may yet face prosecution.

But it’s who-knew-what-when issues that are causing the most immediate pain for Premier Maurice Iemma.

It appears that Police Minister John Watkins was told of possible arrests on Monday.

His chief of staff, Mike Kaiser – already a political Lazarus – was reportedly also told on Monday that Orkopoulos could be charged “in the near future”.

The Government claims, however, that the Premier himself was not informed of the matter until Tuesday evening.

That may well be the case. Iemma attended the water summit in Canberra on Tuesday – and was also preoccupied with what to do about Local Government Minister Kerry Hickey’s speeding offences.

More worrying are the reports that Labor figures were aware much earlier of allegations against Orkopoulos.

The Orkopoulos case could well become the biggest NSW Labor scandal since former corrective services minister Rex Jackson was jailed in 1987 after accepting bribes to release prisoners. That struck on the eve of an election, too.

Piers Akerman opines in his Daily Telegraph blog today:

Former Premier Bob Carr thought his Cabinet colleagues were second-raters, according to his diary entries, the evidence suggests Carr wasn’t wrong.

[The] question is whether Opposition leader Peter Debnam has established himself as a credible leader and can win next March’s state election?

Will the March NSW election be a matter of who can score the least own goals?

Labor appears to be flailing. It appears to be short on talent. This explains the failure to move over Hickey – and, if it emerges that the boys in the backroom were aware of allegations over Orkopoulos, a failure to act there.

However, to win in its own right, the Coalition needs a swing of 12%. As the Sydney Morning Herald editorialises today, “an increasing stench of decay hangs about the Iemma Government”. Yet, so far, this stench has not produced independents in Labor seats.

In 1988, Labor losses to independents guaranteed the defeat of the Unsworth government.

In the lead up to March 24, internal Liberal rows are threatening the party’s grasp on its own seats. It needs to win electorates from Labor – not lose its own.

Peter Fray

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