The parliamentary year is over, concluding with a noxious exchange in Question Time on Thursday; it’s hard to see Julia Gillard enjoying her Christmas break — under siege as she now is — and the New Year may yet see the swearing-in of Labor’s third Prime Minister in less than six years.
I’m starting tonight with something I have never featured in this column — something from Herald Sun journalist and commentator Andrew Bolt, who this morning posted on Twitter a partial transcript from Julia Gillard’s interview yesterday with Paul Bongiorno on Channel Ten’s Meet The Press.
It’s an instructive read, and it underscores the point made by Piers Akerman in the comment piece he wrote in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph last week and which I also reposted: that the only real response Gillard has to any allegation or question or revelation regarding the AWU scandal and her involvement in it is evasion.
I think it’s fair to say that readers — like the rest of the country — are, in equal measure, fed up and fascinated by the AWU scandal; the now near-daily trickle of salacious revelations, discovered documentation and freshly released transcripts seems never-ending, yet the public appetite for more detail appears limitless.
Certainly, this is no longer the taboo subject it was even a month ago; that taboo — the result of intimidation, or by virtue of a judgement not to discuss the affair — has probably only served to heighten public interest and awareness in it.
Which, of course, is the last thing Gillard would ever have wished.
The obvious question is why Gillard went into politics at all, if she was so vehemently opposed to the AWU scandal and attendant matters of the 1990s ever being aired; Gillard is neither stupid nor as naive as she has repeatedly claimed to be, and anyone with a modicum of nous about the way the political world operates knows that the background of MPs is fair game to be raked over.
So here we are; the latest formulation (and thanks to the Herald Sun for posting the Meet The Press transcript on its Twitter feed) is simply to hit out at “sleaze and smear.”
(As an aside, “sleaze and smear” is a concept Gillard and her acolytes are only too familiar with, having engaged in a “sleaze and smear” exercise of their own, baselessly, without a scrap of evidence and with absolutely no justification, in attempting to portray Tony Abbott as a woman-hating misogynist. Worse, of course, was the fact the centrepiece speech in that despicable enterprise was made in the defence of filthy specimen Peter Slipper, in apparent dismissal of his own, odious, words on women).
Gillard used the phrase “sleaze and smear” in direct relation to Tony Abbott eight times in five answers to questions from Bongiorno in that short excerpt of the transcript alone; I didn’t see Meet The Press yesterday, but I shudder to think what the full interview must have been like for Bongiorno to have to sit through.
It’s a bit like the ubiquitous “Moving Forward” every time Gillard opened her mouth during the 2010 campaign — until the ALP’s internal polling began to show Abbott and the Coalition winning the election, at which point everyone in the red corner panicked and started talking about “the real Julia,” making promises of no carbon tax under her government, and all the other hot air on which Labor’s re-election pitch was based.
Given it didn’t work then, and hasn’t worked since, why would it work now?
It’s clear that the ill-effects of the endeavour to, er, smear Abbott as a misogynist are wearing off; his opinion poll ratings are beginning to recover for one thing, and for another the Labor hacks around Gillard who perpetrated it have largely fallen silent.
On that score at any rate.
Gillard fronted up at the last question time of the year brimming with feigned indignation and outrage; I say “feigned” because, simply, she yet again blustered and ranted, but still failed to give a satisfactory account of herself or for the actions in the early 1990s as a Slater and Gordon solicitor that are now the subject of so much scrutiny.
And remember, the last thing Gillard wants is scrutiny.
The interesting thing about the AWU scandal has been that Gillard has given every impression of fighting a classic rearguard action: at first, there was nothing to talk about, nothing to discuss, and nothing to account for.
Initially, every time the AWU scandal was raised, it disappeared; websites disappeared, journalists suddenly fell silent, and a lot of interesting stories abounded regarding the odd way in which “everyone” knew the allegations, but nobody would print them.
Progressively, each time a specific event was revealed, or a document uncovered, or an allegation made, Gillard has made plenty of noise about answering questions — and insisting the matter, thenceforth, was closed.
She’s done that three times so far in the last couple of months; yet the matter clearly is not closed, and Gillard has now failed to provide adequate explanations to specific allegations levelled at her by the federal Opposition in relation to at least one alleged breach of the law.
In short (as I’m sure everyone knows by now), the Opposition charge was that Gillard broke the law by supplying misleading information to the WA Corporate Affairs Commission about the true nature of the “AWU Workplace Reform Association” — the so-called slush fund central to the whole AWU scandal.
Tony Abbott aired the allegation on breakfast TV on Thursday, and the charge was pursued again in Question Time by Abbott and Julie Bishop, in the face of Gillard’s performance.
And the substance of the Opposition case has been outlined by shadow Attorney-General and eminent barrister, George Brandis SC. It makes for compelling reading.
We now know Gillard wrote to the WA Corporate Affairs Commission; we know that because she herself said so at her taped exit interview at Slater and Gordon, the relevant section from the transcript having now been released to the public by former S&G partner Nick Styant-Browne.
What we don’t know is what the letter said — to date, it has not been located.
Yet Gillard’s answer — to paraphrase, that she wrote many letters on the instructions of clients — is disingenuous.
And a statement from her office, quite literally, asked: “so what?”
What we also don’t know is what further revelations there are to come to light between now and the resumption of Parliament in February.
So we go into the parliamentary recess with the whole matter unresolved; the Opposition determined to pursue the matter further, and Gillard — caught like a deer in the headlights whenever she is put on the spot over the AWU scandal — digging determinedly in, and stubbornly refusing to utter a syllable more than the barest minimum required.
The whole thing has come to a head just as the ALP has begun sliding backwards in the polls again; a Galaxy poll at the weekend had Labor falling 46-54 behind the Coalition after preferences; Essential had it slipping a point to trail 47-53.
I am unsure as to whether a Newspoll is due later tonight, but I would think its last reading of 49 Labor, 51 Coalition is too high for Labor — and that read was taken at the height of the “Abbott’s a sexist pig” campaign and therefore likely to have been artificially inflated at any rate.
In closing, The Red And The Blue endorses the call by Tony Abbott for a judicial inquiry into the AWU scandal; at the very least, it would untangle the entire sordid web of the events of the early 1990s, and answer once and for all any and all pertinent questions that demand a response.
If Julia Gillard has nothing to hide, as she claims, she will enthusiastically convene the inquiry as soon as possible.
I suspect, however, that she won’t.
I suspect, too, Gillard’s colleagues will be discussing her leadership over their Christmas cheer, behind her back, and counting their numbers to boot.
And lest anyone think the only grub in the Labor Party lives in The Lodge, soon-to-retire member for Bendigo, Steve Gibbons, said on Twitter last week that “Libs are led by a gutless douchebag and a narcissistic bimbo who aren’t fit to be MPs let alone PM and Deputy. Both should be sacked.”
Of course, the aptly named Gibbons deleted his tweet and apologised, but not before the damage was done: his true colours were on display just long enough to ricochet across the country and into every media outlet in Australia.
Then again, in the ALP there are all sorts of ways to render service to the party.
It is to be hoped the Prime Minister — spending Christmas in her famous brick veneer in Altona — is seeing the renovations are progressing to schedule.