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Journalism

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.

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.

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54 comments

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

  1. Jimmy

    This week to me reinforced the thinking that the ALP is slowly but surely getting back in the game because Tony Abbott and the libs can’t get past the carbon tax and smear.
    While BK is right that the oppostion doesn’t have to follow the govt’s agenda some questions on policy would be nice, after all the govt has the NDIS and Gonski in train, tabled legislation regarding poker machine reform, asylum seekers and their lost super amendments (amongst other things) and has a raft of savings measures resulting from MYEFO to get through but all we have had in QT for some time is power bill (which show if you use more power you pay more)and veiled accusations from 17 years ago.

    On top of that we had Hockey challenging the govt to “debte the economy” when all he really wanted to talk about is the surplus and Tony and Ms Bishop still telling us they will have policies later on.

    Another performance like this in the last sitting week and there will be planty of questions being asked by the liberal party big wigs over christmas.

  2. Edward James

    All to often politicians who want to remain silent. Will remark that they can not discuss something because it is before the courts or under investigation. Politicians use the legal process as a shield to protect themselves from the slashing sword of political process. We have access to the admissions of retired lawyer and one tome partner of Slater and Gordon Juilar Gillard. That she helped with what she knew was a union “slush fund” even though it was represented as something else. Her refusal to answer the questions asked by Julie Bishop on the floor of our Federal Parliament. We understand all our elected representatives accept the higher standards expected of them when they accept they have been elected. Refusing to answer these questions relating to her personal values, and the way she conducts herself when in a position of trust. Our prime minister continuing to refuse to answer important questions for us on the floor of Federal Parliament demonstrates a certain contempt for our Federal Parliamentary process. Edward James

  3. Easel

    “..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…”

    GOLD

  4. Mike Shaw

    [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]

    Well now, had absolutely no knowledge of this what so ever. In any language this is so unspeakable and totally bereft of any semblance of conscience. Is it any wonder people just get so sick and tired of politics when the main players set such an atrocious example right before our eyes.

  5. Arnold Cheeseman

    @ Edward

    What a load of old bollocks!

    Gillard stood in front of reporters for 90 minutes and said “here I am, come and get me” and answered every single question without equivocation. In the end there was a big shrug of the shoulders and a ho hum.

    Leave it to the faeces flingers of the LNP to continue their sordid little campaign… I’m not surprised really, it’s all they really seem to know.

  6. Gary Johnson

    Bernard

    You will end up very old one day. How do I know this? Because you just keep Coming of Age.

  7. Arnold Cheeseman

    @ Mike

    Not to mention Abbott’s reprehensible treatment of Bernie Banton.

    Must be a LNP trait to want to abuse the sick… how very Christian of them…

  8. Edward James

    Let me put it another way. While the Prime Minister is in Federal Parliament, her answers are treated differently to any other place. She knows our Federal Parliament through its members is engaged in the peoples political business. Therefor she would understand we the people expect her to answer questions put to her on our behalf about her integrity. Should be answered in our Federal Parliament, so as to avoid any perception on our part that our Prime Minister may be contemptuous of our Parliamentary process. That said, we the people have her answers on the public record. Which permit us to understand she told her partners law firm Slater and Gordon she had helped set up a “slush fund” we may identify as the AWU Workplace Reform Association. We understand Information expected to be in a client file is not to be found. Edward James

  9. Jimmy

    Edward James – You really are full of it today aren’t you, Gillard answered every question the media could think up and those answers are on the public record but you think she should repeat them all in Parliament to honour the process.

    Pull your head out of your ar.e!

  10. 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.

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