Just as the Government was getting a little traction in the IR mud, along comes Farmer Bill! But all is not lost. The prime ministerial mate’s wrong call is still a very effective dog whistle.

Bill Heffernan admitted to The Bulletin that his comments on Julia Gillard were “rude, crude and unattractive”, but he also said that he wouldn’t “walk away” from them. Indeed, they’ve probably never had a better run.

There’s absolutely no doubt that Heffernan has disrupted the Government’s attack on Labor’s industrial relations plans.

But there can also be no doubt that there are people out there who’d agree with Heffernan’s view that “If you’re a leader, you’ve got to understand your community. One of the great understandings in a community is family, and the relationship between mum, dads and bucket of nappies”.

The Prime Minister has proven himself to be a master of dog-whistle politics –campaigning using coded language that only resonates with some voters, playing on prejudice without using overtly prejudicial language himself.

You have to be listening on the right frequencies to hear a dog whistle, and the Prime Minister was letting it sound loudly at lunchtime yesterday.

“Well, the question of whether people have children, whether they marry and have children is entirely a matter for them and I do not think it should be a matter of public comment in a political context,” he said at a doorstop. “It is irrelevant, it’s their business and I don’t approve of those sort of remarks and I’ve made that very clear.”

Moments later he added, “Julia Gillard’s life is her business and she has a right to live it according to what she thinks is appropriate and I have never sought ever to draw that kind of thing into the political arena and I’ve made that very clear and I can’t be clearer.”

The PM was then asked “Will you be conveying that to Senator Heffernan?”

“Well I think I’ve conveyed it already haven’t I?” he replied.

Another journo inquired, “Have you spoken to him?”

“No, I haven’t spoken to him because I’ve been on the road, but I will,” responded the PM.

And he did. Heffernan issued a brief apology to Gillard.

The Government’s IR attack has been derailed for now, but that’s a debate that won’t go away.

Bill Heffernan has been allowed to remind voters — once again — that the deputy Labor leader is an unmarried fortysomething who doesn’t have any kids.

And we all know all about them, don’t we?

Peter Fray

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