A question of confidence. Words have a way of coming back to haunt politicians so keep this exchange from question time in the House of Representatives yesterday in your memory bank:

The Fairfax papers, having been unsuccessfully sued by the Labor member for Dobell Craig Thomson over a story about the use of a trade union credit card in his name to pay a brothel, are sure to continue to follow his career with interest.

The Murdoch tabloids are interested enough already and the news.com.au website carries the news this morning that “embattled federal Labor MP Craig Thomson is in further strife after breaching strict parliamentary rules relating to his financial and pecuniary interests.”

The Government MP last night updated his register of pecuniary interests, notifying the House about a $90,000 legal bill paid for by the Australian Labor Party in May of this year.

But Mr Thomson – who is alleged to have misused union funds to pay for prostitutes – breached the rules requiring him to update his register within 28 days.

“In May 2011 the Australian Labor Party (New South Wales Branch) paid a sum of money in settlement of a legal matter to which I was party,” Mr Thomson wrote, in his letter to David Elder, Register of Members Interests.

News Limited can reveal Mr Thomson only updated his register after being alerted by Daily Telegraph reporter Andrew Clennell to a forthcoming story on the ALP payment.

When you are clinging to office by one vote I suppose it is understandable that a Prime Minister has complete confidence in all her members. And when bankrupts are prevented from sitting in parliament, lending a few dollars to an MP in a spot of financial bother makes sense to even a cash-strapped Labor Party branch.

It just makes it even more important, though, to choose the words of endorsement carefully and to ensure that all the necessary paper work is done properly and on time. This issue is not going away in a hurry.

The ethics in a management culture. Politicians are masters at answering a different question to the one asked and, while she might have slipped up a little when referring to the member for Dobell, normally no one does it better than our trained-lawyer Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

She shows all the skills honed by chasing ambulances in pursuit of a dollar as she verbally steps around things like a promise not to introduce a carbon tax. And she was at it again in the Labor Party parliamentary caucus this week as she sought to play down calls for an enquiry into the ownership of Australian media.

Declaring News Limited as hacking free might sound reassuring but I’m unaware of any suggestion that the practice prevalent in the British outpost of the Murdoch empire has ever been used in Australia. That is not the point of those within the Labor Party and the Greens who are keen to examine the consequences of so much of the media in this country being in so few hands.

When it comes to the relevance of the continuing exposure of improper practices and cover-ups in London the point is what they say about the ethical standards overall of  the world’s biggest media empire.

The law needs to find new ways. For evidence that the internet has made a mockery of some of the traditional ways of the legal system we need look no further than the pictures and stories on the web this morning.

In NSW, where the accused hoax collar bomb man will face trial if and when extradited from the United States, the Murdoch tabloid has dutifully jumbled the pixels on the photo of his face.

In Victoria, where the jurisdiction of the criminal justice system with its rules on contempt of court does not reach, the undistorted face is displayed all over page one. And on the net we can see them both.

It was the same thing earlier in the week with the arrest in Queensland of a man for a child’s murder and a month or so ago with that South Australian MP on child p-rnography charges. The old ways designed to ensure fair trials no longer work and are never likely to again.

I’ve always thought that they were unnecessary in most cases anyway and that properly instructed jurors are capable of putting media stories out of their mind when considering their verdicts. One only has to look at the low regard in which the press is held by most people to realise that its influence is easy to exaggerate.

In those rare cases where identification is a key issue then surely the solution is to abandon jury trials and let a judge alone determine the outcome.

Why do they go? So a Canberra butcher did not want to star in this morning’s Tony Abbott photo opportunity. The amazing thing about this story is that there was actually a journalist on hand to find out.

Surely these gimmick appearances to keep repeating the mantra that a carbon tax will increase the price of everything are no longer newsworthy.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey