Federal Politics

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Government response comes far too late in the day

THE measures Bill Shorten has outlined to make union officials more accountable, punish wrong doing and shake up the sclerotic Fair Work Australia are all good. But the government would be in a much better position if it had unveiled them long ago, when it became clear how appalling things were in the HSU. Just as Julia Gillard would be on stronger ground if she had banished Craig Thomson to the crossbenches much earlier.

The Thomson affair has been allowed to take a huge toll because Labor thought tactically, rather than strategically. The hung parliament meant it was afraid it might lose his vote if it suspended him. As was shown when Gillard did act, in fact he's stuck like a leech.

Now the opposition is ramping up its call for Labor not to accept this ''tainted'' vote and Shorten was forced back to arguing ''the presumption of innocence'' defence to reject the call.

The government hopes that now it is seen to be doing something to reform the law and Fair Work, it might neutralise some of the damage from this hair-raising report. But inevitably it has been deeply harmed by the smell of corruption in a benighted union - and that will linger.

It is a metaphor for the government's broader mismanagement that this affair is now taking attention from a budget of vital importance for Gillard's leadership. It let this scandal run out of its control. Gillard yesterday told caucus the government would ''conquer'' the political pressure. Not unless it learns the art of the pre-emptive strike to deal with problems.

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