Last Friday Crikey’s favourite tabloid, the NT News, published this piece by Nigel Adlam on Leo Abbott, the Country Liberal Party (the CLP) candidate for the safe Labor lower house seat of Lingiari, which covers all of the NT apart from Darwin, where Labor’s Damian Hale is fighting for his fledgling political life against a strong Country Liberal candidate in Natasha Griggs, who will most likely overrun Hale’s 0.2% majority.
Adlam claimed that prior to his preselection by the CLP earlier this year, Leo Abbott had been charged with 22 breaches of a Domestic Violence Order. Adlam said that Abbott had entered a guilty plea to one charge and been subsequently convicted of breaching a domestic violence order against his then partner. He quoted Abbott as saying that the NT’s Domestic and Family Violence Act was biased in favour of women and that “It does just cut one way in favour of women.”
Apart from some minor errors of fact — Abbott was charged with 21 breaches, not 22, and more importantly no conviction was recorded and Abbott was placed on a good behaviour bond for a period of two years — Adlam got it right.
But the charges against Abbott, which were first mentioned at the Alice Springs Magistrate Court in October 2009, and his subsequent guilty plea to one of those charges on 15 December 2009, had been an open secret in the small world of Alice Springs media circles — and in all likelihood beyond — for months.
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Crikey had considered reporting on them as recently as a week ago, but after close consultation with our conscience and colleagues at other NT media outlets, it was decided that, notwithstanding the gravity of the charges, unless or until Abbott raised domestic violence as an issue in his campaign, that it would be inappropriate to run as a story.
Adlam obviously thought otherwise.
And the CLP — whose idea of political crisis management is to lurch from hapless confusion to hopeless infighting — did its best to shore up its reputation as political amateurs with a series of statements that look very much like a political party that is eating itself alive.
Last Friday the Coalition’s Indigenous Affairs spokesperson, Nigel Scullion, who sits in the Senate as the CLP’s representative and somehow also gets a gig as the National Party’s Deputy Leader, launched the Coalition’s Indigenous Affairs policy in Alice Springs.
In an election campaign where Indigenous affairs has been relegated to somewhere far beyond the backburner, it was the one big opportunity for Scullion, the CLP and Leo Abbott to grab some headlines.
But Leo Abbott didn’t front at the launch, instead going down to the ABC studios in Alice Springs to spend an hour or so justifying his position.
Early that afternoon the ABC’s Kirsty Nancarrow reported that Abbott had told her that he “did not feel the need to disclose that he had breached a domestic violence order because it was a personal matter”, and that he didn’t see it as a “skeleton in [his] closet.” Leo Abbott also told Nancarrow that his breaches had been as a result of telephone and text messages and that he had “used no violence or force” against his ex-partner.
Later that evening Nancarrow had Nigel Scullion as saying that Leo Abbott had disclosed his domestic violence record to the CLP and that in Scullion’s opinion Leo Abbott was an “absolutely fantastic candidate”, a view that was obviously not shared by the leader of the parliamentary wing of the CLP, NT Opposition leader Terry Mills.
On Saturday morning the NT News reported that Mills was calling for Leo Abbott’s dumping in no uncertain terms.
By early Sunday the other Abbott in this election, Coalition leader Tony Abbott weighed in with his two bob’s worth, calling for Leo Abbott to be dumped: “…I want to say that there’s absolutely – or there should be – absolutely no place in the Parliament for people who are involved in domestic violence,” he said.
Things went downhill rapidly for the CLP from there, with a Executive Council meeting on Sunday afternoon deciding that Leo Abbott should remain on the ticket as endorsed candidate for Lingiari.
Acting CLP president Richard Teo issued a statement, saying that “While the CLP does not condone any form of domestic violence, it is our belief that Leo’s offences were of a non-violent nature and that he should remain our candidate for Lingiari.”
Which is certainly at odds with the view from the parliamentary wing, with Opposition Leader Terry Mills and candidate for Solomon Natasha Griggs issuing statements on Sunday to opposite effect and maintaining their call for Leo Abbott’s endorsement to be withdrawn.
Mills said “I’m surprised the [CLP’s] management committee has shown it is prepared to condone domestic violence and was prepared to be misled. I would have thought that the opinion of myself, my party Room and the Leader of the Federal Coalition would have been supported by the management committee.”
Crikey spoke with the CLP’s Acting President, Richard Teo earlier today.
“Very simply we are a fair-go political party and we listen to everybody’s needs and wants and we make sure that we investigate thoroughly any kind of allegation towards a candidate [Leo Abbott] who is probably one of the better candidates ever fielded in Lingiari. We gave him a fair go and he was interviewed by the Party, including the Leader of the Parliamentary wing [Terry Mills] and we listened to everything and looked at all the documents that were produced and we found that there was absolutely no domestic violence at all.”
Crikey also spoke with Leo Abbott’s ex-partner this morning. Understandably in the circumstances she wishes to remain anonymous but is scathing about the actions of the CLP.
She told Crikey that:
“Look, it is typical of a domestic violence offender to minimise the violence he has committed. For the CLP to make a judgement — separate to the Court — and that disregards the decision of the Court, well I think that is highly dangerous. “
“To me it seems that the CLP, in continuing to endorse him as candidate, thinks that conduct that is not legally acceptable is in their eyes now socially acceptable. While it is up to the voters of Lingiari to decide whether Leo Abbott should represent them, it is also up to the people of the Northern Territory to decide if the CLP’s conduct is appropriate.”