FEDERAL Member for Calare Andrew Gee's escalating argument with Charles Sturt University has taken on the hallmarks of a rugby union rolling maul: all the real action is happening where you can't see it.
It might have been assumed that relations between the two parties had gone about as low as they could go in August, when Mr Gee said "sunlight is the best form of disinfectant" when criticising CSU for not being more open about its finances.
The Calare MP, however, made the dramatic decision last week to raise concerns about "alleged and/or apparent fraud" and systemic financial management problems at CSU under parliamentary privilege.
(The university, for its part, said problems had been internally detected, investigated and closed out.)
Pressed on ABC Central West on Thursday on his decision to use parliamentary privilege and the risk of damage to CSU's standing, Mr Gee chose his words carefully.
He said the university had no greater friend than him, but the problem remained that CSU had promised to release its independent external audit and had not done so.
Mr Gee is taking a risk in picking so public a fight with a university that means so much to regional NSW.
CSU's sympathy stocks have undoubtedly suffered at a time when it is cutting staff and grappling with a significant deficit, but its good name and reputation must remain important to the cities where it is a major employer.
The very mention of alleged fraud must have set teeth on edge among mayors and business owners already worried about how their community will look post-COVID-19.
Mr Gee has, to now, appeared a most cautious, considered MP, so he has presumably determined the risks in his public fight with CSU do not yet outweigh the reward: forcing the university's finances into the light.
So long as the real action goes on out of public view, however - and that includes what Mr Gee knows or has been told that is sustaining him in this campaign; and the line-by line findings of CSU's audit - the public is being asked to pick a side on trust.
Acting vice-chancellor Professor John Germov told the Western Advocate in September that CSU is a public institution and is "rightly open to public scrutiny", including from local members.
That scrutiny, however, is getting stronger. And there's a risk that both sides in this argument are going to suffer.
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