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Campaign diary: between a wok and a hard place

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Be careful want you wish for, former Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer warned today.

Downer’s been around the political game all of his life and he cast his experienced eye over the state election campaign this morning on FIVEaa’s “On The Hustings”.

His warning summed up the sticky situation the ALP has found itself in the wake of its fierce attack  a week ago on the Liberal candidate for Ramsay, Anthony Antoniadis.

Antoniadis, who runs a newsagency at Salisbury, had been sprung for writing Facebook comments criticising the hygiene and work ethic of some people living in the area.

Labor called for Liberal Leader Steven Marshall to sack Antoniadis from the seat as a “test of his leadership”.

“It is not good enough for a leader to stand by and watch his hand-picked candidate say these things about the people he chooses to represent,” Labor fontbencher Tom Koutsantonis said.

Today he would be breathing a sigh of relief that Marshall didn’t sack the candidate.

As so often happens in politics, the mud came flying back with revelations that Labor’s candidate in Giles (based in and around Whyalla), Eddie Hughes, had an old conviction from 1983 for assaulting police.

The Liberal Party’s attack dog, Rob Lucas, made the obvious play today when he told FIVEaa that “if the Facebook saga was a test of leadership, then what’s this?”

Lucas pushed the line that it wasn’t so much a case of a 1983 conviction, it was more a case of whether or not the candidate had deliberately kept his party in the dark when he signed on as a candidate earlier this year.

There is a side story to the Eddie Hughes yarn – it should never have seen the light of day.

Back in 2009 both sides of politics agreed to the passage of the South Australian Spent Convictions Act. This law makes it an offence to release information regarding the convictions of a person if those convictions are deemed to be ‘spent’.

The logic was that people should be forever condemned by their past.

A spent conviction cannot be disclosed or taken into consideration for any purpose.

Convictions become spent after 10-year offence-free period, unless the conviction was for a sex offence or involved more than 12 months jail.

So how is it that the conviction ended up on the front page of The Advertiser?

InDaily understands the paper wasn’t going to publish Eddie’s name – just the story that a Labor candidate had a past conviction for assaulting a police officer.

Senior Labor people believe that would have been worse – so Eddie, stuck between a rock and hard place – put his hand up.

The Hughes yarn topped off a week that’s been over-run by the nastier edge of politics with the Facebook story being followed by Labor’s kite-flying effort on Steven Marshall’s shareholding in a Wokinabox food franchise (before he entered politics), and then the Eddie Hughes story.

While Downer summed up the week as one of the dirtiest he’s seen, his sparring partner at “On The Hustings”, Labor’s former tough guy on the floor of state parliament, Pat Conlon, decided it was all a joke.

“Steven Marshall’s in difficulty here – he’s between a wok and a hard place,” he said dissolving into laughter.

Radio host Mark Aiston immediately declared Conlon’s post-politics career would involve being a headline act at the Edinburgh Comedy Festival.

Over on ABC Radio’s Spin Cycle, political reporter Nick Harmsen summed it up best when he declared the muddy week a nil-all draw.

“Both sides have descended into the gutter. You despair a bit. Labor tries to take some bark off Steven Marshall because he’s ahead. Liberals hit back with fire on fire … it all cancels each other out and no one is the better for it.”

And so the campaign bus rolls on, with just one week to go before South Australians decide who gets the gig.

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