Anti-pokies crusader Andrew Wilkie was staying schtum this morning after accusing his opponents of running a smear campaign against him and threatening his life.

“We’re saying nothing more. We’re just referring people to the press release,” Wilkie’s media adviser, Philippa Duncan, told Crikey this morning.

But how smart is that? To just throw the bomb, then stand well clear. And how good is it for Wilkie’s credibility?

The independent MP’s accusations were made in a media release posted on Wilkie’s website yesterday, in which he claimed:

“In the past two days, I’ve received a death threat, been threatened with the existence of compromising photos and am having my past as a cadet at Duntroon nearly 30 years ago trawled over.

“That some in the industry would stoop to a smear campaign against me is unsurprising…

“(It) shows that this industry, which profits enormously from human misery, will stop at absolutely nothing to prevent these historic poker machine reforms.”

But is there any evidence that the clubs who profit from pokies are behind any such campaign of intimidation? Well, no, or none that Wilkie is prepared to share. His staff will not give details of how the death threat was made — by phone, by letter, to his staff, to his office, to his home — or what it actually said. Nor will they reveal what evidence they have of people digging into his past and threatening him with “compromising photos”.

Presumably, Wilkie would not be stupid enough to point the finger so directly without something to back it up. But if he has evidence he needs to publish it pronto. In the meantime, his opponents get a free kick.

“To suggest the clubs industry is involved in a smear campaign against Mr Wilkie is utter garbage,” Jeremy Bath of Clubs Australia told The Age last night. Clubs Australia boss Anthony Ball chimed in on the ABC this morning: “I’m absolutely shocked if Andrew Wilkie is suggesting that me or my organisation has issued death threats — it’s absurd. We will not stoop to smear tactics, we will not issue death threats, that’s offensive to me and my organisation.”

But as Wilkie and his fellow anti-pokie campaigner, Nick Xenophon MP, point out, the clubs are already running a thoroughly dishonest scare campaign on YouTube about people needing a “licence to punt” should their pokie proposals become law.

So what might Wilkie’s enemies go searching for? In the following extract from his 2004 book, Axis of Deceit, Wilkie gives a hint of what a smear campaign might thrive on — some of which is rather topical given recent scandals in the Australian Defence Force:

“I readily acknowledge that I was a larrikin in my youth, particularly at Duntroon, where I set some sort of record by incurring 250 punishments, 175 of them on consecutive days. You name it and I probably got into trouble for it back then — including roughing up the anti-uranium protesters’ site outside Parliament House, souveniring flags for the cadets bar, giving junior cadets a hard time, smothering an instructor in shaving cream, and getting caught with a woman in the barracks. Eventually, though, I was deemed officer material and graduated as an infantry officer.”

Sounds like there might be potential for embarrassment at least, but as Wilkie points out, he did graduate and he was security cleared many times. And he withstood great pressure in 2003 when he was a whistleblower during the Iraq war.

Nick Xenophon told Crikey this morning that he wasn’t surprised the fight had turned vicious.

“It’s indicative that it’s going to be a long and nasty campaign, because billions of dollars are at stake,” he said. “I’m absolutely prepared to accept Clubs Australia know nothing about any of this but obviously he can’t be responsible for everyone in his industry.”

Xenophon was asked this morning whether there might be any compromising photographs of him in circulation. Wagging his finger at ABC Melbourne Mornings host Jon Faine he joked: “It was just one goat.”

Peter Fray

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