The Liberal Party has made much of Kevin Rudd breaking bread with a convicted criminal, but not so long ago Tony Abbott was hobnobbing over porridge with his former campaign manager, the convicted solicitor Ian Harley Donald Macdonald.

Abbott became a regular visitor at Kirkconnell Prison where Macdonald was serving his five-and-a-half year sentence for embezzling more than $5 million from his clients.

Macdonald, who was once a prominent figure in the Liberal Party, was found guilty on June 29, 2001 of fraudulently omitting to account, making false statements and obtaining money by deception in relation to his clients’ affairs.

Macdonald was Abbott’s fundraiser and campaign manager for the 1994 and 1996 elections. He was formerly vice-president of the Liberal Manly branch and deputy mayor of Manly.

At one stage Macdonald was planning to stand as the Liberal Party candidate for the NSW seat of Manly in the 1999 election, in a bid to oust the then member, independent Dr Peter Macdonald.

At the time of Macdonald’s demise, Abbott stuck up for his mate, saying that “people shouldn’t leap to premature conclusions…Ian has been a great servant of the community”.

Later, he told the Sunday program that not only was the matter a tragedy for Macdonald, but also “a tragedy for the whole community”.

On at least one occasion in 2002, broadcaster Alan Jones accompanied Abbott to Kirkconnell to visit Macdonald.

In handing down its reasons for its decision to strike Macdonald from the roll, the Administrative Appeals Tribunal said Macdonald had “been guilty of behaviour that would reasonably be regarded as disgraceful and dishonourable by his professional brethren of good repute and competency”.

Macdonald was released for parole on June 21, 2004. His full sentence expired on December 12 last year.

Several Liberals have said that Rudd shouldn’t have met with Brian Burke because, among other reasons, he has a criminal record.

The Federal Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations Joe Hockey told Lateline last week: “… the test of character is whether you meet a convicted criminal and shady character on more than three occasions and then lay claim to become the prime minister of the country.”

Abbott, who is considered a possible future leader of the Liberal Party, is reported in today’s Sydney Morning Herald as saying there is nothing wrong with his continued friendship with Macdonald.