Whispering campaign … Nova Peris and Julia Gillard. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
A serious backlash against Nova Peris, Julia Gillard's hand-picked Senate candidate for the Northern Territory, has prompted the former Olympian to explicitly address a whispering campaign alleging wrongdoing while she was a public servant more than a year ago.
Amid continuing anger in the territory at the Prime Minister's announcement on Tuesday, disaffected ALP members have been lashing out at Ms Gillard and Ms Peris, with some peddling a rumour that she had been sacked by the Territory's education department and even investigated by police over the use of departmental furniture in November 2011.
Ms Peris has attracted solid support from several prominent indigenous people for her community work promoting children's health and girls' education but other indigenous activists claim she is being paraded by the ALP to improve its Aboriginal credentials.
With a smear campaign in full swing, the politically inexperienced Ms Peris was being shielded by her new ALP minders and was unavailable for direct interview yesterday.
But she issued a statement denying any substance to the anonymous claims. ''I have been made aware of malicious and unfounded rumours circulating about my time as an employee of the Northern Territory Department of Education in 2011 and I wanted to definitively correct the record to address these incorrect suggestions,'' the statement said.
She said she had not misused ''departmental assets during my time at the Northern Territory Department of Education'', and in fact had supplied two of the three girls' academies she had established with lounge suites, a coffee table, a fridge, a microwave and a rug.
She said she had later removed her property at the department's request when it elected to replace the items with new ones.
''I am not aware of any investigation into my behaviour and have never been questioned by the department, the Northern Territory police or by any other body,'' Ms Peris said. She said she had left the department on good terms in November 2011. ''The decision to leave was solely of my own choosing,'' she said.
That such a definitive statement was deemed necessary reflects the bitter atmosphere infecting Labor's NT branch following the Prime Minister's anointing of an outsider, a former Olympic and Commonwealth Games athlete, over a sitting senator.
MPs aligned with the former prime minister Kevin Rudd continued their criticism of Ms Gillard's intervention in the party's pre-selection processes on Thursday, describing as ''unprecedented'' the move against the long-serving senator, the Left's Trish Crossin.
Senator Crossin's name will be among three to be considered by Labor's national executive at a special pre-selection meeting on Tuesday but her fate has already been sealed by the decision of factions to fall in behind Ms Gillard. That is expected to result in a unanimous decision to install Ms Peris at No. 1 on the party's Senate ticket in the territory.
One MP said on Thursday that ''foisting'' a candidate on the territory showed Labor still did not understand the unique character of the top end, where such attitudes were ''electoral poison''.
''If the plan was to maximise the vote among territorians and particularly within the indigenous community, then it has already failed because they've been denied the right to choose their own representative,'' the MP said.