Should I really care what Ms Gillard did twenty years ago?

By November 28, 2012Media, Politics, Society

The short answer to the question in the title is: Probably No. Anyone who has been actively involved in public life will have done one or two things early on which they might well wish they had not done, or done in a different way. She held no public office at the time, and was governed by the law and by the professional rules governing legal practice. It is not clear that she breached either, and unless someone can come up with some incontrovertible documents, or sworn statement to the contrary, I see no reason not to accept her account of things.

But I wish she would go about it all rather differently. Given that Parliament is sitting, I would have thought that the right place to make her statement was on the floor of Parliament. What does she do? Holds a mammoth media conference at which she sets out her position, and then goes into the House of Representatives and demands that the Opposition stop its ‘smear’ campaign, because she’s answered everything. It is an awkward way of handling things, because it raises what may well be an irrelevance — that telling tales to a media conference is one thing, but telling tales to Parliament is altogether more serious. She was pursued by the Opposition anyway, but in my view the media conference should have occurred after, not before, the parliamentary sitting.

By choosing to fight her opponents through the media rather than in Parliament, Ms Gillard has brought that issue on herself. And the stuff that has come up, whether or not Ms Gillard knew about it at the time, is pretty grubby. Secret funds that purported to be for the re-election of union officials are bad enough. Aren’t union elections supposed to be for the benefit of union members? Even Mr Shorten said that it was ‘inappropriate’. But that these funds could be rifled for private purposes makes it much worse.

When you couple it with the ICAC enquiry going on in NSW, it is hard to escape the view that, while Royal Commissions are now the order of the day, we might with benefit have one into the way unions are actually organised, and how the relations between unions the ALP actually work. The possibility of such an enquiry is said to have made one senior union official quite alarmed.

Both the Prime Minister and the Attorney-General have claimed that the Opposition’s concentration on this issue is simply a ruse to distract our attention from the Government’s positive agenda. Maybe it is, but it wouldn’t succeed for more than five minutes were the story not such an unpleasant one, with so many of the details now available to us all. I would agree with Ms Roxon that Ms Gillard may have shown poor judgement in her choice of boyfriends, but her judgment seems little better in (apparently) failing to open a file, or taking the advice of her superiors in Slater & Gordon, or not seeing quickly that her client, Mr Blewitt, was the sort of evil person she called him in Parliament this week. And I puzzle that she could not remember whether or not some aspect of her house renovation was paid for by the slush fund or the union.

So while I am prepared to accept that Ms Gillard made some mistakes in her working life as a solicitor, those mistake don’t seem to me to have much bearing on her role as Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of Australia. It would be nice if, when politicians leave for the Christmas break, the whole matter dies down, and runs out of steam in the new year. It has become boring. The trouble is that the grubbiness of the  business is indisputable, and that because it is linked to a solicitor who then went into parliament and became Prime Minister it will remain newsworthy.

As for the positive agenda of the Government, I don’t think I’m alone on seeing that as a never-ending set of  ‘announceables’. I’m sure it means well (my mother was known to say the same about me), but whether or not Australia is any better off for having had the Gillard Government is something on which the jury is definitely still out, and will be out for years.

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  • mondo says:

    There are other elephants in the room that will, in my view, see a resolution here sooner rather than later. It has been widely suggested for many years that it is pretty much standard practice for construction companies to make payments to union officials to ensure industrial “peace”. From the viewpoint of a construction company, industrial disturbance can drive a project from being completed on time, on budget (and thus contributing to profits) to being delayed and resulting in losses. It would seem that the recent problems encountered by Grocon in Melbourne might have resulted from their refusal to play the game.

    The continued digging into the AWU Workplace Reform Association affair is likely making more than a few people nervous. Perhaps that entity was set up as a vehicle to facilitate “peace” payments from Thiess (and other companies) that conveniently in their case it seems were funded by WA Government grants intended for workplace reform. As you point out in your piece, there are calls for a Royal Commission. And as you suggest, my guess is that from the point of view of the union officials and the construction companies that is the very last thing that they will want.

    Given the kingmaking power of the union faction leaders, I wouldn’t mind betting that the result will be that JEG will be commanded to get the story off the front pages of the newspapers. And smartly. The continuing unfolding of the saga, its twists and turns, its colourful characters, does not look like it will fade away any time soon. The only way I think JEG can make it fade away more quickly is to take a precipitate action. Like resign.

    I could be entirely wrong on all this though! Maybe JEG will brazen it out, get away with not answering the key questions etc, and survive to fight the next election.

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