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Labor at risk of political overkill

JULIA Gillard distanced herself from Peter Slipper and the HSU-connected Craig Thomson just in time. As it was, yesterday's federal police confirmation that Slipper's Cabcharges will be investigated and the New South Wales police raid on the HSU were difficult enough for the embattled government.

Of course, the government is not responsible for what happens in the HSU. But it is intertwined with that notorious union in most unfortunate ways - through MP Thomson and union chief Michael Williamson, a former ALP national president who yesterday allegedly tried to slip a suitcase of documents past the raid.

On the Slipper front, things have got more serious.

Previously, the police were deciding whether to launch a full-scale investigation; now they have done so. Last week, after Slipper released taxi dockets, minister Anthony Albanese pre-emptively declared they showed ''that the criminal allegation is a fabrication''. The AFP was rather more thorough: it had spoken to a number of potential witnesses, gathered information and ''now assessed that the matter requires further investigation''.

Labor yesterday wasn't deterred: it made a meal of the contact that Liberal frontbencher Christopher Pyne had with James Ashby, the staffer who made the Cabcharge and also sexual harassment claims against Slipper. Craig Emerson alleged the opposition was engaging in a ''cover-up'' about this.

If it emerges that the Coalition is not telling the full story of its contact with Ashby, that will reflect very badly on it. But the government should be careful: in its quest for a smoking gun, it should beware finding itself on the wrong side of the real issue.

It's pretty sensational to have a police inquiry into a Speaker, and a bit unfortunate when you've wooed him to be your man.

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