In a frenzied fit of panic, Julia Gillard today forced Craig Thomson’s departure from the ALP, and decreed Peter Slipper to be sidelined indefinitely. She possesses neither authority nor credibility, and her role as PM — and perhaps that of Labor in government — is now untenable.
Let’s speak bluntly and candidly about a few things.
The Australian public is fed up with Julia Gillard and her government; fed up with the lies, the deception, the intrigue, the manipulation, the double standards, the incompetence, the condescension, the holier-than-thou outlook, the scandals, the crises, and the sheer chaos that goes hand in glove with this Prime Minister and this government continuing in office.
Australians, overwhelmingly, want an election; but this Prime Minister would as soon sell the country to the devil than she would listen — really listen — to anything other than a gratuitous and self-serving recipe for survival, self-preservation and clinging to the trappings of green ministerial leather.
And as symbols go, Australians are fed to the teeth with the ongoing saga of Craig Thomson and his credit cards, and latterly with the new-ish but equally despicable storm that has engulfed the government’s hand-picked but utterly unsuitable Speaker in Peter Slipper.
And on this last point, Gillard has today kicked perhaps one own goal too many.
Gillard this morning said that she “(felt) keenly that Australians are looking at this Parliament and at the moment they see a dark cloud over it,” going on to add that “the views of the Australian public matter. I have made a judgment call that I believe is right because I want Australians to look at the Parliament and respect the Parliament.”
Claiming to be acting in the interests of “standards,” Gillard today announced that she had informed Craig Thomson that he should “no longer participate in (the Labor) Caucus;” Thomson, accordingly, will sit on the cross-bench.
Similarly, Gillard announced that she had informed Peter Slipper that she had decided it would be best if he stayed out of the Speaker’s chair “for a further period of time.”
Gillard claimed that “a line had been crossed” which made today’s developments necessary; pressed by journalists, she proved unable to say where the line was, or what constituted it being crossed.
I would argue that any “dark cloud” hanging over the Parliament is one entirely of Gillard’s own making; likewise, the indisputable and growing lack of respect many Australians feel toward Parliament and its occupants can be directly referenced back to the matters I outlined in the third paragraph of this article.
Stripping away the legalese and gobbledygook so favoured by Gillard, let’s look at what she really announced this morning as her solution to the issues she claimed to be addressing.
Firstly — Craig Thomson. Far from being kicked out of the ALP as Gillard’s message was designed to imply, Thomson has simply entered into a voluntary suspension of his membership of the Labor Party.
He hasn’t been expelled; he hasn’t even (yet) been disendorsed as the Labor candidate for Dobell; and if no charges are forthcoming from the various investigations being undertaken into Thomson and his time at the Health Services Union, he will be free to resume membership of the ALP — and to again sit in the Labor Party Caucus.
Secondly — Peter Slipper. Gillard’s announcement amounts to no more than an agreement with Slipper for him to spend an unspecified additional period of time on the cross-bench; in the meantime he remains on the salary package that goes with the job of Speaker, and he retains the benefits and perquisites that go with the role to boot.
The acting Speaker — Labor’s Anna Burke — performs the role in the interim on her salary as a backbencher.
Gillard’s announcements, therefore, are effectively nothing; a ruse, a smokescreen, smart answers designed to hoodwink people into the mistaken belief that she has acted decisively to resolve two festering and rancorous problems that have bedevilled her government.
She has done nothing of the kind.
And those announcements, delivered in Gillard’s usual patronising tone of moralising condescension, stink of the smug, righteous, too-clever-by-half approach that went a large way toward landing Gillard in the mess in which she finds herself in the first place.
In the case of Thomson, when did he cease to enjoy Gillard’s full and unqualified support? That support is something that Gillard has gone well out of her way to express for many months, and — innocent or guilty as he may be — there have been no new developments in the Thomson saga in the past few days, so why the change?
In the case of Slipper, Gillard and a coterie of her ministers have been adamant that he should return to the Speakership as soon as the latest questions surrounding his use of travel entitlements are resolved, possibly even as soon as the commencement of the budget session on 8 May. Again, there have been no new developments overnight, so why the change?
The answer to these, and all other relevant questions, is simple: Gillard’s standing with the electorate is toxic; her poll ratings continue to deteriorate; and her government is now confronting the prospect of a successful vote of no-confidence for the first time since the inconclusive election of 2010.
The other motive for today’s developments centres on the ALP leadership, and on Gillard’s weakening grip on it; as we discussed a couple of days ago, the mutterers are muttering, and having crucified Kevin Rudd as planned eight weeks ago, their gaze is now turning in the direction of their leader.
Readers will note that none of this — none — is motivated by quaint ideals like running a functional government, or delivering on election commitments, or advancing living standards for ordinary Australian people.
No, it is motivated solely by a desire to keep Labor in office, and to keep Gillard’s backside in the chair behind the Prime Minister’s desk.
An election at this time — favoured by a majority of voters — comes with all sorts of problems and drawbacks attached to it, mainly arising from problems of timing and the fact any election before next August would throw the electoral cycles for the Senate and the House of Representatives out of kilter; these are serious and complicated issues which could be resolved, but with difficulty.
Compare these considerations with Gillard’s reason as stated today for not calling an election: “We (Labor) have a superior economic plan, so I won’t be calling an election.”
“Superior economic plan?” That’s another one of those stupid slogans regurgitated over and over on rote during the ALP’s 2010 election campaign (moving forward, anyone?)
But alas, glib slogans and smart answers is all Labor has to offer.
Today’s developments will be analysed and picked apart in the next few days by journalists and commentators across the country, but they point — again — to a simple and inexorable truth.
Julia Gillard is finished. She is completely unsuited to the office of Prime Minister. And the time is nigh at which either she goes, or the whole government will have to go.
It’s going to be an interesting few weeks in Australian federal politics.