With the conclusion of the final Question Time for the year we can, in retrospect, see what the Coalition’s strategy was in the endlessly reheated Gillard-AWU scandal (so called).
After three days of monomania from Julie Bishop on whether or not Gillard had corresponded with the WA Commissioner for Corporate Affairs over the bona fides of the magisterially misnamed AWU Workplace Reform Association and three days of Gillard refusing to say one way or another if she had or had not, hard proof emerged on the morning of the last day (surprise surprise) that Gillard had indeed made such correspondence. In 1992.
Tony Abbott greeted this news with a statement that it appeared that Gillard had committed a crime and called for a judicial review into the matter, now 21 years past.
Plainly the materialization of documentary proof of Gillard’s correspondence had been pre-arranged beforehand with Nick Styant-Browne of Slater and Gordon and the three days of direct questioning on the point, (u MUTZ tellz us YESS!! ur NOES!! – anno fuling) were arrayed in hope that Gillard would say NO and therefore mislead the parliament. Since Gillard held her nerve and evasively refused to confirm or deny, the Coalition and its ally then settled for a second-best, producing the horror document on the last day (oh look a miracle and in the morning for best all day effect too), speciously claiming it constituted proof of a crime and then calling for a judicial inquiry on the HOL FING.
Now the beauty of a judicial inquiry is that it will drag on for months ideally up until the next election allowing The Australian to every day print ‘forced to deny’ stories beginning ‘Julia Gillard was today again forced to deny criminality in the matter of…’ and every day Tony Abbott could put on his best concern troll face and mourn the passing of decency in government, pledge a return to wholeness and purity etc. etc.
So that was Abbott’s strategy. Hold the documentary proof as an Ace-in-the-hole, spend all week in the muck, try and force Gillard to mislead, then, come what may, call for a judicial inquiry.
In short: try to parlay the innuendo into a year of dirt, Abbott’s natural habitat.
The moment when the LNP knew that Gillard would not be suckered into misleading the house came at 2:39 PM on 28 November when Gillard answered the infamous Ventriloquist’s Doll question (watch vid here) uttered by Julie Bishop while Tony Abbott read along to the question from the very same words on a page on the table in front of him.
Ms JULIE BISHOP (Curtin—Deputy Leader of the Opposition) (14:39):
Madam Speaker, I ask a supplementary question of the Prime Minister. I refer to her answers in this House. Did the Prime Minister write to the WA commissioner for corporate affairs to vouch for the bona fides of the AWU Workplace Reform Association—yes or no?
Ms GILLARD (Lalor—Prime Minister) (14:39):
Given that the Leader of the Opposition read along with every word of that question from the Deputy Leader: get up and ask it yourself, and then I will answer it.
It is apparent that this particular question is the centrepiece and climax of the Coalition’s strategy for the week. Their whole team is hanging on it and their tension is palpable. Why else does Abbott drop his charade of indifference to proceedings and read along to the question ? Why else does Abbott nod meaningfully at Gillard and stare at her when the question is concluded ? And as you listen here from 38:14 – 38:57 notice how Christopher Pyne is unable to contain his frustration at Gillard’s stonewalling shouting out “Joke! You are a joke! You are a joke! How dare you … indistinguishable and ranting on for a bit longer …”
Gillard didn’t mislead. Tony and team had been foiled. They were spewing.
Your Picnic, My Essential Inquiry
Now conservatives are prone to describe legal protections for, let’s say, asylum seekers) as a lawyer’s picnic e.g Boat people win, lawyers celebrate, taxpayers mourn. An Australian Bill Of Rights was also so described by Bronwyn Bishop. Janet Albrechtson said the same about the forthcoming Royal Commission into predation against children.
So I will be interested to see if the Coalition’s proposal for a judicial inquiry into the long-ago rip-offs of the AWU will be similarly derided as a lawyer’s gorge-fest. I somehow think not.
Legal defence of society’s vulnerable: a complete and utter waste of time and money.
A platoon of lawyers trolling through the minituae of a twenty year old Union scandal: Only right and proper.
But There Will Be No Judicial Inquiry
Because Gillard has not broken any law.
Abbott was given 15 minutes under parliamentary privilege to say what laws Gillard had broken. He could not name any.
And the matter occurred 20 years ago. Before Gillard was an MP let alone PM.
So the Coalition will not get their inquiry.
Who Looks Worse ?
In my view Julie Bishop was the biggest loser this week, having to retract her more egregious overstatements about the matter and spending all week on TV (like Pyne and Credlin) looking anxious and frustrated. Simply Bishop was running an unwinnable line. There was no criminality despite Bishops continuous innuendo. Her willingness to dive deep into the muck has left plenty sticking to her and comparatively little to the PM.
Gillard was embarrassed by the proof of her correspondence but made a forceful counter to Abbott to table his worst. And he couldn’t. All he had, too, was innuendo. Most of the week Gillard looked in control of proceedings. Abbott only has perceptions to work with on this issue in the absence of any actual wrong-doing by Gillard and the pictures mostly showed Gillard looking confident and relaxed.
As for Abbott, well his approval is already in the cellar at 27%. That’s the rusted on, who would approve of the Leader of the Liberal Party if it was a can opener wired with a computer chip that simulated human speech. His public esteem cannot get any lower.
For me, the actual truth of the issue was best summed up by Craig Emerson, Minister For Trade, who told us this week he has not received a question from Julie Bishop his Shadow for more than two years and the Coalition has not asked him a question on Trade or any policy-related matter for more than three years.
Whatever Julie Bishop and the Coalition are actually doing in Parliament its not policy-related. They could be replaced, at much lower cost to the public, by a tape loop reciting the phrase ‘AWU Workplace Reform Association’.
What Motivates Nick Styant-Browne ?
NSB was the Slater & Gordon partner in charge of the conveyancing file associated with the mortgage on the property in Fitzroy partially purchased with funds from the AWUWRA slush fund.
That mortgage forms a centrepiece of the pseudo-scandal fervently wished for by Abbott, Bishop, and The Australian. Gillard has been directly accused by Bishop of facilitating the robbing of companies by the AWUWRA and personally benefiting from the heist. The so-called proof of this is that her name appears on some papers in the 425 page thick conveyancing file.
But Gillard was not in charge of the conveyancing. Styant-Browne was.
I suspect that NSB’s motivation in assisting the Coalition by revealing and providing internal Slater and Gordon documents proving Gillard’s communication with the WA Commissioner for Corporate Affairs is to distance himself from the whole stink try by trying to dump the lot on Gillard. NSB is not happy he provided conveyancing for a property purchased with ill-gotten gains. His preference is that someone else (Gillard) has to eat that particular cold frog. Abbott and the Coalition are only to eager to assist.
Postscript: Two Weeks later
Latest Newspoll 11-Dec-2012 shows a shift to the Coalition. Gotta hand it to Abbott – he does ‘sleaze and smear’ very well. So much for my belief that Gillard had won the week.