03 December 2015
by Laura Tingle

Mal Brough affair shattering into myriad dangerous shards for Malcolm Turnbull

As so often happens with such political controversies, the problem for Malcolm Turnbull in the Brough affair is that it is rapidly shattering from one unpleasant political problem into a collection of equally dangerous shards.

Should Mal Brough stand down from his job as Special Minister of State while he is investigated by the Australian Federal Police? Of course he should. And for that matter, Wyatt Roy should probably do the same thing.

They are being investigated by the coppers, for goodness sake. Brough's house has been raided.

But nobody seems to believe in the simple idea of standing aside these days. It is a question of staying or going altogether, of sticking with your minister or casting them utterly adrift.

As a result, the controversy is rapidly embroiling the Prime Minister – fresh off the plane from Europe – in some major problems.

The most immediate, conspicuous and technical problem for Mal Brough – and thus the Prime Minister – is that his Special Minister of State quite clearly misled the Parliament on Tuesday.

His clarifying statement did nothing to address this point. But it muddied the water a little.

Unfortunately, this only means that the more basic questions of what on earth Brough was doing tied up in this sordid affair come back into focus.

The Slipper stitch-up
The minister's statements about his involvement in trying to stitch up Peter Slipper, in effectively stealing his diaries to prove it, have been contradictory.

Some of these statements are apparently what finally provoked the AFP to investigate further.

In Question Time on Wednesday, he gave exactly the opposite answer to the question he had been asked on 60 minutes -did you ask James Ashby to procure copies of Peter Slipper's diary for you?

'No', he told the House - having told 60 Minutes 'yes'.

More significantly though, at no point has Brough denied – and in some cases has proudly asserted – the central fact that he was in the thick of this.

Labor's obvious interest is in trying to find something, anything, which will start to undercut public confidence in Malcolm Turnbull and his judgment.

The questions for Turnbull now are how he manoeuvres through this in a way which minimises the damage. In Question Time on Wednesday, he was taking the hard line, arguing that nothing new had yet emerge about the entire affair.

The question of whether Brough should have ever been appointed as special minister of state in the first place has always been right out there, so that is nothing new.

Equally, this long running saga has been going on for so long that most people with any interest in politics would all be readily acquainted with most of its pointy twists and turns.

The Roy situation
The problem the Prime Minister has now is that if Brough goes, it immediately opens the question of why Wyatt Roy is not also vulnerable.

Making all this even more venomous and dangerous of course is that Tony Abbott and his bunch of "political climate" change deniers are escalating the mischief-making against the Prime Minister and can be relied on to try to capitalise on the government's political discomfort over this issue just as much as Labor.

(We will leave aside the irony of this, given that the Tony Abbott-led opposition was supposed to be the political beneficiary of Slipper's demise)

There is always the temptation in politics to hope that you can just ride out the storm until the Parliament rises and the attacks in the House can't continue.

But if the unfortunate episode of Bronwyn Bishop and choppergate proved anything, it is that the 24-hour media cycle means that stories keep kicking over every time anybody has to front a media conference. Whether Parliament is sitting or not sitting is almost irrelevant.

The more important question for a Prime Minister who says he is trying to restore proper process is that he should ask at least Brough – and possibly Roy – to stand aside while the matter is investigated.