TONY EASTLEY: The Federal Opposition’s branded the Health Minister Nicola Roxon a hypocrite for seeking financial support from tobacco manufacturer Philip Morris in 2005, almost a year after her then leader Mark Latham had banned tobacco industry donations to the Labor Party.
Ms. Roxon says company representatives didn’t attend and didn’t donate any money but she has taken responsibility for the mistake.
The Opposition says her credibility has taken a hit. Health spokesman Peter Dutton says the Liberal Party itself may soon ban tobacco donations.
The issue comes at a bad time for Labor. The latest Newspoll has Julia Gillard’s personal support falling to a new low and has the Labor Party 10 points behind the Coalition on a two-party preferred basis.
From Canberra Alexandra Kirk reports.
ALEXANDRA KIRK: The Health Minister Nicola Roxon has accused tobacco companies of quote “playing the man and not the ball”, suggesting the industry is behind revelations that she once sought political donations from them.
The ABC’s obtained letters which show that in 2005 Ms Roxon wrote to executives from Philip Morris inviting them to a $1,500 a table fundraiser despite Labor’s ban on tobacco donations.
The minister’s admitted to making a mistake, saying the letters shouldn’t have been sent out, vowing she won’t be intimidated into backing away from plain packaging of Lady cigarettes.
She says the representatives didn’t attend and didn’t donate to her or her electorate.
Ms Roxon declined to be interviewed on AM but the Opposition’s health spokesman Peter Dutton says that’s not the end of the matter.
PETER DUTTON: Well the minister has been absolutely hypocritical on this matter, there’s no question about that, and I think she’s suffered a huge personal blow to her credibility.
And firstly the minister said this was a mistake by her office, then we found out that she had personally signed and Sellotaped the letter.
It turns out that she then tried to blame the big tobacco companies for a letter that she had personally written.
And then when all that didn’t work she came out with a meek apology and I just think it shows that the minister’s not sincere in her apology and I think the Australian public deserves to know whether or not any other member of the Australian Labor Party was writing to any of these companies at the same time as Ms Roxon was.
ALEXANDRA KIRK: The minister says that the letters came from a database. She signed a batch of a couple of hundred. In the end the tobacco industry representatives didn’t turn up to the fundraising event, didn’t make any donations.
As a politician you would sign thousands and thousands of letters. Are you sure that you wouldn’t necessarily have been in the same position and could have made the same mistake?
PETER DUTTON: Where I cross out the surname and write the individual’s Christian name and that Christian name and the surname appear in the address block with the company name, that being the name of a big tobacco company, I do know when I personally sign those letters.
There are occasions where letters go out and they have a printed block of your signature. That’s not the case here with Nicola Roxon and as I say that was her first excuse.
The second excuse was to somehow blame the big tobacco companies that they had made her write to them and it turns out that after Mark Latham, the then Labor leader had declared that they would receive no donations or solicit no donations from big tobacco.
ALEXANDRA KIRK: Labor still has one up on the Coalition doesn’t it in that it doesn’t accept any donations from the tobacco industry whereas the Coalition still does.
PETER DUTTON: We haven’t conducted ourselves in a deceitful way at all. We’ve been up front saying that we accepted donations from a legal company.
Now we may well review that policy into the future.
ALEXANDRA KIRK: Would you like to see it reviewed? Would you like to not accept money from the tobacco industry?
PETER DUTTON: Well Alex that’s an issue for others. All I’m saying is that we weren’t deceitful by telling the public one thing and then doing something completely the opposite behind the scenes.
That was the conduct of Nicola Roxon and I think she stands absolutely condemned and without credibility today.
ALEXANDRA KIRK: This latest problem for Labor adds to its woes at it struggles in the polls.
Today’s Newspoll has Labor’s primary vote remaining in the doldrums at 31 per cent, 15 points behind the Coalition and after preferences the Opposition has a commanding 10-point lead.
Julia Gillard’s voter satisfaction rating has slumped to a new record low of 30 per cent.
Pollster Martin O’Shannessy says the Government can still dig itself out of a hole but not for awhile yet.
MARTIN O’SHANNESSY: We’re here on our fifth negative Newspoll for Julia Gillard, the kind of numbers that Kevin Rudd accumulated four polls before he went.
Bad polling isn’t necessarily a sign that you will fail as Prime Minister.
Paul Keating who may be a parallel to Julia Gillard came in at minus 19 on his personal rating and peaked at minus 57 and of course he did win another election and John Howard had a similar rough track as we discussed last time we spoke.
So it is possible to come back. I think it’s important though that the Government is facing some tough things, and I think the fact that this particular fall in the Government’s rating and Julia Gillard’s rating came with the announcement of a carbon tax and that that is going to hang around as an issue for a long time is a problem for them.
It’s going to be an extended period of tough going I would say.