The danger of relying on the sleazy behaviour of a government as a way of winning an election was shown yet again at the weekend when the West Australian Labor Government had the rare distinction of increasing its vote at a by-election.

After weeks of hearings by an anti-corruption body about the improper influence of former Premier Brian Burke, a man once jailed for his actions in office, Labor Minister Norm Marlborough was forced out of the ministry and quit the parliament.

Yet despite the scandal the ALP looks like securing a 1% swing to it after the Liberal Party primary vote fell on Saturday by five percentage points.

That it takes more than a little publicity about impropriety to unsettle an incumbent government has been demonstrated many times in Australian politics and never more dramatically when Labor won the WA State election immediately after Burke was forced out after the exposure of the original WA Inc rorts.

It took a second election for enough of the mud to stick to Labor to give the Liberals victory and there was a similarly long gestation period before continual allegations about police and political corruption in New South Wales saw Labor ousted in 1988.

But my own favourite examples of the difficulties of making impropriety a way of gaining office are from Tasmania. Sir Robert Cosgrove was a humble Mr who had served as Premier for eight years before he stepped down for Edward Brooker in 1947 to face corruption and bribery charges. He was back in the Premier’s office the next year after being found not guilty and continued in that office for the another decade.

He still has the title of Tasmania’s longest serving leader and I recall seeing him regularly on a Saturday night at the dinner dance at Wrest Point Hotel with his wife Dame Gertrude and, after her death, with one of his daughters.

My father told me that the old fellow never paid for these evenings out as a token of appreciation from the management for help given to Hobart businessman and hotelier Arthur Drysdale in establishing the hotel on the site of what used to be the home of one of Tasmania’s wealthiest women, Mrs G. Minette Lucas, of Cressy.

Dr Reginald John David (Spot) Turnbull was the other Tasmanian Labor politician who did not suffer electorally from allegations of corruption. Dr Spot faced court in 1959 over allegations involving an application for a casino licence and was forced out as the Treasurer in a Labor Government.

Like Cosgrove before him he beat the charges but he was not readmitted to the Cabinet. He stood instead at the election of 2 May 1959 as an independent and polled as many votes on his own as the whole of the Labor Party team in the seven member electorate of Bass.

When being a backbencher failed to appeal Dr Turnbull turned his sights to the Senate where he romped in as an independent and served until 1974.

Peter Fray

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