ABC pic of Lin Thorp
With the appointment of controversial ex-Minister Lin Thorp to the Senate, there has been an attempt within the ALP to portray Thorp as a competent and committed member who was the victim of a witch-hunt. ALP State Secretary John Dowling blames Thorps loss of the seat of Rumney on a bitter personal campaign against the Minister. This re-framing of the past fails to recognise that Ms Thorp had a litany of errors to her name in the year 2010, long before 2011’s controversy around the unethical disclosure of confidential details surrounding Child Commissioner Paul Mason’s position in the government job selection process.
Thorp did maintain public support by being elected for two terms to Tasmania’s upper house, first elected in 1999 with over 45% of the first preference vote. The following election in 2005 saw Thorp increase her popular support taking 51% of the first preference vote. (See HERE)
Ms Thorp remained popular with the autonomy and separation from government which is afforded through being a member of the Legislative Council. The downfall of Lin Thorp began with the election of the Labor minority government in 2010. The ALP lost four seats pushing them to negotiate a deal with the Greens to maintain power. Not only did the ALP lose seats but some old-hats were replaced with fresh faces; without enough experienced members the government was forced to source Ministerial talent from outside the House of Assembly. Lin Thorp was a long term Labor member in the Legislative Council and seemed like a good option for promotion. The echelons of government proved to be Ms Thorp’s undoing as her brief ministerial career was marred by controversy throughout 2010 and 2011.
In June 2010 Ms Thorp received criticism from many sections of the community for comments around wanting to move youth offenders to Victoria as a cost cutting measure. This potential outsourcing was mentioned in a Budget Estimates Committee hearing and was criticised across the board from the Tasmanian and Victorian opposition parties, unions and community advocacy groups such as Prison Action Reform. (see HERE)
July 2010 saw Ms Thorp’s taxpayer-funded trip to London questioned by the Liberal’s Elise Archer; Ms Thorp described the trip stating she would be ‘visiting services and meeting with experts in the areas of children’s services, youth justice, youth mental health, and how to better support children leaving care among others.’
Archer questioned why the holiday component of the trip was longer than the work component, why the minister was taking her education adviser who was also a long time friend and whether the holiday was planned to coincide with the work trip, making the minister liable for Fringe Benefits Tax. (More ministerial questions over travel) The trip itself consisted of a five day work trip in London with an added two weeks in Portugal and Greece. (HERE) The Australian Taxation Office ‘ATO’ investigated the matter and released their findings in February 2011 that Ms Thorp was required to pay $2852.64. Ms Thorp admitted that it was a mistake to take a private holiday in Europe while on a work trip. (HERE)
October of 2010 saw a major challenge for Minister Thorp’s career, the minister presided over three of the departments which failed in protecting a 12 year old girl who was prostituted for two months by her mother, despite the fact the girl was in state care. (HERE) This lead the Liberal opposition to move a no-confidence motion in Ms Thorp, which was defeated by the ALP and Green coalition. (HERE)
On the 14th of October Paul Mason was informed that he no longer had the job of Child Commissioner, this taking place one week after the former Commissioner had released a scathing report criticising the government and child protection services. (HERE)
Come November 2010 and Ms Thorp faced fresh accusations questioning her impartiality after her failure to meet with Karen Donnet-Jones, the former head of Sexual Assault Support Services ‘SASS’. Ms Donnet-Jones was at the centre of a criminal investigation which was later dropped in August with all charges against her dismissed in August 2010. Ms Donnet-Jones claimed that Ms Thorp was partly to blame for the matter going as far as it did and questioned whether her friendship with a SASS board member had clouded her judgement. (Police mistakes in failed prosecution)
While December 2010 saw the minister questioned over her department accidentally overpaying the Relative Care Assistance Allowance, this went unnoticed for two weeks before the department ordered funds be paid back with the government believed to have suspended payments until the money was recouped. Shadow Minister for Children, Jacqui Petrusma said many of those affected were grandparents who had contacted the minister and that due to the time of year the money had already been spent. Ms Petrusma criticised Ms Thorp and her department of being scrooges and stated that claiming the money at the present time would ruin Christmas for a number of families who are already struggling financially around the holidays. (HERE)
The year 2011 was the final nail in the coffin for Ms Thor’s, not only was it the year she was to face the voting public but specifically faced criticism for breaching ministerial codes of conduct, specifically the use of ‘information obtained during the course of official duties must not be turned for private advantage’. The concern was that Minister Thorp released these details on ABC radio and may have been seeking to discredit Paul Mason who was challenging the minister as a candidate in her seat of Rumney. (HERE) Ms Thorp refused to apologise stating that she was not in breach of the ministerial code of conduct.
The minister faced another no-confidence motion from the Liberal party which was once again defeated by the Labor and Green coalition but these time the Greens forced their hand as leader Nick McKim demanded an apology. A red-faced Thorp appeared with the Premier before the media on April the 1st, one week after the incident and offered an apology stating that her comments on radio regarding Mr Mason’s ranking in the job selection process were inappropriate. (HERE)
Come the 2011 elections and Thorp’s personal vote went from 51% at the last election, to a crushing 32.8%. Her nearest opponent was Independent Liberal Tony Mulder who gained 28.3%, while political rival Paul Mason gained over 15% of the vote. Preferences flowed strongly to Mr Mulder and saw him defeat the embattled minister by taking 53% of the vote after the distribution of preferences
Perhaps the ALP felt sorry for Thorp, having guilt pangs that they were responsible for her embarrassing time in the ministry. Perhaps throwing Ms Thorp into a safe appointment of a senate vacancy was an apology with the aim of giving back prestige and a chance at redemption in the eyes of the public, all without actually needing to face the electorate.
The simple fact remains that there was no witch-hunt against Lin Thorp; she proved time and time again that she was incompetent for the job of holding a ministry. In her brief ministerial career of just over one year, Thorp faced two no confidence motions and numerous criticisms. Equally when Ms Thorp deliberately revealed confidential details regarding another candidate on ABC radio, she refused to admit any wrongdoing until she was backed into a corner by the Greens.
The ALP tactic of filling Nick Sherry’s senate vacancy with a controversial candidate is a resounding indictment on the ALP which is consistently becoming more and more out of touch with the community. The 89% of ALP members who voted Thorp into the senate is not reflective of her public support of 32%. The only consolation which the Tasmanian people from this spit in the face from the ALP, is that they once again have their chance to dismiss Lin Thorp by placing her last on their senate ballots at the 2013 federal election.