Well the good old boys of the National Party just can’t help themselves, can they?

With Vaile of Arabia wandering around Dubai on behalf of the Coalition’s good mate Alf Moufarrige – not merely a contributor to the Liberal Party’s coffers, but a Downer appointee to the Council for Australian-Arab Relations – it seems that the National Party’s contempt for basic standards of political decency lives on even in Opposition.

Vaile’s record in Government consisted pretty much of agreeing with whatever the Liberals wanted, as long as he and his colleagues could shamelessly shower money on their mates in the bush. From Pork Barrel Central in the Canberra Bus Interchange (AKA the Department of Transport and Regional Services), Vaile and his fellow Nats doled out taxpayers’ money by the truckload to their electorates with scant regard for anything approaching proper administrative process. And when the ANAO blew the whistle on them shortly before the election last year, his instinctive reaction was to blame the auditors and demand that they be silenced.

But even under the Howard Government, ex-Ministers like Michael Wooldridge, Peter Reith and Larry Anthony waited until they’d left Parliament before exploiting their contacts and experience to secure a lucrative gig with the sector they had previously regulated or overseen. Vaile hasn’t even had the good grace to give up his day job before representing a mate and former stakeholder from his Trade portfolio days.

Perhaps he is taking his cue from John Howard, who moonlighted as an IR consultant to noted document shredders Clayton Utz while in Opposition in the 1980s. As Christopher Pyne pointed out, however, at least that didn’t take him out of the country.

But Brendan Nelson’s handling of this is the more substantial problem. In a painful interview on Sky News this morning, he said he thought Vaile should be back here doing his job. But when pressed on whether Vaile should quit if he wasn’t prepared to make the call, he insisted that it was Vaile’s decision and employed the Downer Defence, that the former Deputy Prime Minister had worked jolly hard for his constituents and deserved to be cut some slack.

“Had he consulted me about this before he had gone I most certainly would have advised him in the strongest possible terms that it wasn’t appropriate,” Nelson said. Clearly, then, Vaile didn’t bother to consult him.

No wonder polling shows that Nelson is perceived as weak. If his own backbenchers think they can happily ignore him, why would the rest of us think differently?

Peter Fray

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