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Nov 2, 2012

The week in Parliament: from the strategic heights to muddy depths

You weren't expecting high-minded policy debate in Parliament, were you? You only got muckraking, mendacity and malice this week. With barely an ounce of wit.

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The week was, at least according to the government, given over to the clash of high-minded policy and strategic vision versus muckraking, mendacity and malice. The government wanted to talk about its “Asian Century” white paper and all the opposition wanted to do was continue its fear campaign over the carbon price, talk down the economy and throw mud at the PM.

Luckily the government, which complained about the lack of opposition questions about Asian engagement (it being, Labor now seems to think, the opposition’s job to play along with the government’s political agenda), was able to fill in the blanks and ask itself plenty of questions about the Asian Century. In fact, they never seemed to shut up about it. The count on “Asian Century” was down to single figures yesterday, but that was by far the lowest of the week.

We’re again reminded that, even if it apes the content of Keating Labor’s time in government, this mob can’t get within cooee of the delivery. Exhibit 1 in the death of conviction politics.

Visibly puzzling over whether to stick with Tony Abbott’s obsession with the carbon price or move on from a tactic that seems decreasingly relevant, the opposition settled for using Julie Bishop — being a woman and all — to lead the attack … indeed, be the entire attack against the Prime Minister over claims she did something somewhere somehow illegal or unethical or ill-considered before she entered Parliament. Despite a new round of efforts from the media to pin something on Gillard c.1995 via The Age, no one has yet come up with a specific accusation of wrongdoing, funny business or inappropriate behaviour.

The automatic assumption behind this now-extended campaign of smears, vague claims and general hysteria from media new and old over Gillard’s legal career is that it is in the public interest. Are politicians accountable after they enter politics for everything they’ve done before they entered politics, even when no specific allegation of criminality or unethical behaviour can be produced?

When Abbott was attacked over what remain unsubstantiated claims about intimidating behaviour toward a woman back in the 1970s, I suggested dredging up stuff from before his time in politics, particularly when it was in the distant past, was inappropriate and in fact downright damaging to the quality of public life. But clearly many in the media disagree, and think claims about non-criminal behaviour in relating to non-political events from the past are relevant to current political debate.

In which case, one wishes they would at least be consistent. We never hear anything of Bishop’s activities as a lawyer representing CSR in its efforts to prevent asbestos victims from obtaining compensation. In the one mainstream media article on this, from The Australian in 2007, she maintained she acted honestly and ethically. Quite how one acts ethically in trying to deny the dying victims of a company fair compensation is of course a matter between Bishop and her conscience. But if we’re raking over what female lawyers did before they entered politics, then there you go.

There’s other forms of consistency as well. I’ve always wondered why no one in the mainstream media showed the slightest interest in one of the biggest scandals of the Howard government, when its advertising committee directed millions of dollars in advertising contracts to Liberal Party mates. That wasn’t the subject of newspaper tattle and online smears, but a devastating ANAO report, including about some MPs at that point still in Parliament. Barely a whisper outside of Crikey.

Still, consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds, etc.

In what was another dire week for the quality of our political and policy debate, the highlight — or highest lowlight, perhaps — was Greg Combet’s Coalition leadership form guide. Having handed off his favoured “mendacious” to the PM, Combet ran through the Coalition contenders from Turnbull through Hockey, Bishops both Julie and Bronwyn, Scott Morrison (“spooked by foreign horses”) and Kevin Andrews.

Carefully prepared and probably rehearsed, it was nonetheless a reminder of what seem now-fabled earlier times when wit occasionally intruded into Parliament, rather than meaningless repetition.

Bernard Keane — Politics Editor

Bernard Keane

Politics Editor

Bernard Keane is Crikey’s political editor. Before that he was Crikey’s Canberra press gallery correspondent, covering politics, national security and economics.

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54 thoughts on “The week in Parliament: from the strategic heights to muddy depths

  1. Timmy O'Toole

    The Prime Minister gave legal advice and incorporated an association for a slush fund.

    That legal advice was ‘dodgy’ and ‘unethical’. It enabled illegal activities to occur because it concealed them.

    Associations are not incorporated (a) for union activities under the WA law or (b) to raise money for elections. Indeed, the objects of the Association do not even suggest fund raising or electioneering- they pretend to be an Association for Workpalce reform, which in the Working Nation era had a well known policy meaning (award rationalistion etc). The name and objects played off on that policy meaning. Hence Julia’s admission it was a slush fund puts that into direct contradiction to the impression she was trying to convey by its title and objects. This is deceptive and illegal– the offence is “creating a false document” and Michael Williamson (I believe) was recently charged with it.

    In addition, Julia wrote “AWU” on the title of the Association (it’s her handwriting). This is problematic for two reasons: firstly, her client (the AWU) had not passed a resolution according to its rules authorising this- there is no way she can claim, as an IR lawyer, not to know this was required; secondly, the “AWU” in the title allowed companies like Thiess to conceal the true nature of the payments to their auditors because it ‘passed off’ on the AWU’s legitimacy.

    In other words, the PMs intervention in misleading the WA Incorporation’s Office about the true purpose of the Association (as refelcted in its objects and the letter to the WA Incorporation Body arguing for its false ‘bona fides’), and placing AWU in its title, enabled Bruce Wilson to launder money.

    It could not have occurred without it because companies like Thiess would not have paid money to an unincorporated association without a union name in its title- their auditors would have discovered the payments and made inquiries.

    Furthermore, as I have explained above, the lack of legitimate reason for incorporating an Association for this purpose in the first place means Julia cannot say she was merely doing ‘legal work’ that was misused. (eg setting up a trust fund for a client that can be used for a legal purpose but the client then misuses; in this case, the Incroporated Association was not appropriate at law or in practice so Julia had to lie about it.)

    But they could do it when it was called the “AWU Workplace Reform Association” because it passed off on a legitimate organisation. Remember, the essence of money laundering and slush funds is concealment– and the improper use of “AWU” in the title provided that concealment.

    The slush fund then raised money illegally- though there is no proof that Julia knew about Thiess and other companies and how they placed money into it.

    At law though, given the illegal incorporation, not knowing about the subsequent illegal use is called “wilful blidness”.

    As an analaogy: setting up an improper association is like stealing a gun and then giving it to your boyfriend. Your boyfriend then robs some banks with it. You may not be involved with that but it was your theft of the gun that enabled it to occur.

    Wilful blindness, Bernard.

    Just like your analysis.

    Whether all of this matters 20 years later or not, Bernard, depends on your attitude to white collar crime. Should people who facilitate and undertake white collar crime be subject to a statute of limitations? They are not under the law– for any crime.

    Your unwillingness to engage with and reflect on complicated material reflects very badly on your practice as a journalist. This is aggravated by the fact that you are obviously a very intelligent person and a well reasoned analyst (based on your extensive writings in Crikey).

    My advice: eat a bit of humble pie and go back to the original documents. Get some legal advice on them.

  2. Hamis Hill

    No-one asks the obvious question re Labor and Conservative corruption,are these the same people with different names?
    Now if you begin, as the right wing do, with the argument that democracy is bad, stupid, unnatural then you have a carte blanche to destroy it, and what better way than with a bit of corruption,(it was already rotten etc etc).
    So I wonder how, given that starting point of the right wings of both Labor and Conservatives, they avoid becoming corrupt?
    This is not an equal contest in any way when one side accepts and abides by the democratic principles and the other behaves as if it were a war to the death.
    The right wing, usually religious, are coached that when when fighting evil you can be evil.
    “Capitalists have an interest to deceive and oppress the public using every means at their disposal to have governments interfere in their favour”
    Why? because higher wages increase bank deposits and reduce the interest that can be paid to the minority, idle rich”.
    So while deceiving the public that they are engaged in a democratic contest to deliver the best governance for all voters, the right,Labor and Conservative,instead conduct a campaign on behalf of their wealthy employers to maintain low wages and high interest rates.
    This is deliberate.
    Incidentally every politician calls their election funds “Slush” funds.Be they Union politicians contesting union elections.
    An the “slush” funds are isolated from the other ordinary activites of the respective organisation which require money to expended.
    So, rather than being sinister, “slush” funds indicate a more open and accountable use of funds since they are clearly set aside for election purposes.
    Aren’t the Qld LNP in the middle of a slush fund scandal ie funds set aside for election expenses?
    And at any rate the policy greased pigs who went to the Qld state election with no policies are being mimicked by Abbott and company with the same objective, to traduce democracy and the principle of one citizen, one vote equality by instead governing for the benefit of a small minority of Plainly Superior Rich People who do not work for a living(Proves the point, to anyone with a brain, doesn’t it).
    So don’t bleat on, Edward, about the right wing of Labor being corrupt; that’s the only reason they are there!
    This can never be an equal game to that small minority identified by Adam Smith, 236 years ago, as the idle rich, who do not work for a living but live off the the interest on money lent out to others.
    If the Mosaic injunction against usury is ever made law these people will have to work or die.
    That is why they are so vicious and deceptive and why they employ right wing “religious” goon squad politicians to work their bidding. And if you cast these money lenders out of the temple they’ll nail you to a cross as well.
    Don’t be deceived!
    As for going on about the supposed corruption of Julia Gillard over OOh ooh “slush funds”,don’t be so bloody ridiculous. If you are looking for a sell out go to Manly. There’s an “aspirational” there with a $700K mortgage, on the up and up just trying to “better” himself as a loyal servant of Mammon.(Franco, Shicklegruber Mussolini)Who?

  3. Roy Bean

    @Timmothy O’Toole

    Your shot across Bernard Keane’s bow was a good one.

    You executed it with the skill and patience of a crocodile waiting in ambush for it’s prey.

    But the irony is he would actually agree with you within the context of any proved criminality in regards to Gillard or any other politician for that matter.

    I have read his article three times and the main thrust is that it high-lights the annoying tit-for tat banter from both sides that masquerades as politics.

    Even more annoying is that the MSM presents this as mainstream news which contributes to the even more dumbing-down process of the already sleep-walking gullible Australian public. I am sure you would agree with him on this.

    To the Abbott conservatives he is asking them to show policies or counter existing policy of the govt instead of muck-raking over alleged past misdemeanours.

    He also cited the example of Abbott and MSM muck-raking over an event, “alleged”? 30 years ago?..and that was very fair.

    Like most of us, including you, he sees these political shenanigans, and aided and abetted by the MSM, as diversionary and unserving of the public interest and that was the main apolitical thrust of the article. No political ideology anywhere to be seen, I thought.

    He was n’t taking sides, but more to the point he gave apolitical focus to the inadequacies and outright futility that masquerades as Australian politics.

    Thanks for your very informative post Tim. You might like to know that I do not agree with Bernard on everything. You are not an ” Ideologue.” Big Grin!!!

  4. Edward James

    http://www.heineraffair.info/index.html Labors Kevin “Heiner” Rudd has political baggage just like Prime minister Julia “slush fund” Gillard Rudds goes back a few years further. I think it is interesting reporters are not giving the latest inquiry much oxygen.
    Read more: http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/queensland/rudd-goss-could-face-inquiry-20121101-28mo5.html#ixzz2AxSkzcmR
    Particularly the fight to limit the scope of the latest inquiry started by Can Do into what we identify as the Heiner Affair / Shreddergate. To just politicians and none of the rest of government. What “government” actually means became the subject of a legal argument defined by the court. Once again the peoples are being short changed. Edward James

  5. Edward James

    The Heiner Affair / Shreddergate manifest itself again with another inquiry promised by Campbell Newman reported here : http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/queensland/rudd-goss-could-face-inquiry-20121101-28mo5.html#ixzz2AxSkzcmR

    This site http://www.heineraffair.info/index.html provides more than enough access to the work product which is the result of an over twenty year fight by Mr Kevin Lindeberg to have all those involved in the destruction of documents and other matters outlined at the Heiner Affair site, front an inquiry. Edward James

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