NSW LIBERAL Senator Bill Heffernan finds himself in familiar territory this week embroiled in another major controversy.
But outside observers should be cautioned against leaping to any hard, fast conclusions about the Senator’s character by only consuming the initial sensationalised reporting on the issue.
Sunday’s news was over-loaded with inflammatory headlines and emotionally charged language describing allegations of bigotry, homophobia and bullying, in revealing that Senator Heffernan had been accused of assault and vilification by a Liberal staffer.
It was reported that at a Liberal branch meeting on the central coast on May 3, Senator Heffernan struck the staffer and later said to him when he was alone: “I didn't know you were a p---ter”.
In foreshadowing Monday’s long-awaited speech to the House of Representatives by embattled Labor MP and recently installed crossbencher Craig Thompson, offering excuses for the fraud allegations levelled at him, most coverage of Senator Heffernan’s woes drew strong parallels between the two issues or connected them in some way.
Given the constant tension and controversial mood plaguing this hung Federal parliament, that wasn’t difficult to achieve or unexpected.
In demanding the Liberal party apply a consistent set of principles in calling for Mr Thomson’s removal from Parliament, Federal Trade Minister Dr Craig Emerson came out publicly Sunday urging Opposition leader Tony Abbott to demand Senator Heffernan step down from committee duties or be dismissed from the Liberal Party.
But within a few hours of the Minister’s comments, Monday’s news told a vastly different story about the allegations surrounding Senator Heffernan.
It was revealed he could in fact be the victim of a revenge payback for exposing alleged breaches of electoral donation laws. Note the words alleged breaches of electoral donations.
Reports on the issue said Liberal employee Ray Carter was under investigation by a NSW Electoral Commission inquiry for breaching State campaign finance laws and Senator Heffernan had been blamed for dobbing him in.
Instead of establishing a murky connection between Senator Heffernan and Mr Thomson while firing blindly from the hip, some analysts would have been better served by actually phoning the Liberal Senator to see if anything critical was missing from the initial stories they told of the scandal.
The Liberal Party issued a statement on the matter striving for common sense, saying that the State President and State Director were both present at the Robertson Federal Electorate Conference meeting on May 3 and saw nothing untoward take place.
In the statement, Liberal Party State President Arthur Sinodinos said both the State President and the State Director had a clear view of the entire room and all attendees and did not witness any incident, assault or even a minor disturbance during or after the meeting.
“None of the attendees raised any complaints, or reported any incidents, to either the President or Director at the conclusion of the meeting or while attendees were leaving the venue,” he said.
“The Party has reviewed the material and information in relation to this matter that was provided nearly two weeks after the meeting and does not believe there is any substance to the allegations.
“In addition to the NSW Electoral Commission inquiry the Liberal Party is continuing to conduct its own inquiries into potential breaches of NSW campaign finance laws by Mr Carter.”
Senator Heffernan bunkered down early this week to keep his nose out of the spotlight and has refused to comment on the allegations.
He was conspicuous through his absence from Senate budget estimates hearings on Monday where he’d normally keep the media and crowds entertained with his quick wit and raw honesty, while firing typically pointed questions at already anxious bureaucrats.
Liberal sources this week said the Senator’s contact with the staffer may have been over-zealous at best but far from a vicious strike with the allegations possibly driven by internal warring factions.
But regardless, fears are also held that the legal system may itself produce an unexpected, over-zealous or unfair result, if any criminal charges are laid.
For those in the rural and farming sectors, this is now an opportunity to reflect on the potential loss of a fearless, hard working and dedicated politician who puts his shoulder to the wheel on their behalf.
The wheat and sheep farmer from Junee holds nothing back in tackling those causes with genuine energy, enthusiasm and raw honesty, which a few city-based politicians could do well to follow.
It’s no secret that his fearless and at times reckless qualities often leave some people scratching their heads in disbelief at the larrikin antics.
But in a world dominated by political correctness, Senator Heffernan’s presence would be severely missed in a Federal parliament that’s uptight at the best of times and overly concerned with gagging raw honesty merely to assist with preserving its own confused self-image.
Senator Heffernan also has a wealth of knowledge, experience and passion for the farming and rural sector which has an infectious impact on his colleagues and others in the Parliament.
While some government bureaucrats would fell less anxious turning up at Senate hearings in future to face his questions, it also be a huge loss for the farming and rural policy setting agenda if Senator Heffernan stepped down; given his efforts as Chairman of the Senate Rural and Regional Transport Affairs Committee and other key roles.
One Liberal MP summed it up best when they said Senator Heffernan was similar to another Liberal firebrand in Wilson Tuckey from the large farming and wheat growing electorate in O’Connor in WA who had a brash manner with the truth which attracted controversial headlines and a few enemies, making it easy to pain the picture of narrow minded politician, stuck living in another time and place.
But the outstanding, tireless work that he did for the country, his party and for his constituents – and often making them swallow a bitter pill of truth - was unfortunately over-shadowed by the proliferation of those controversial and not so memorable headlines driven by those hankering for political correctness, such as those from the weekend.
However, instead of moving fast to make brash, final judgements, people should be more concerned with weighing up a broader suite of evidence and digesting more pointed or balanced facts, to achieve greater understanding of the whole person.