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Nov 26, 2012

The mechanics of how a smear campaign was legitimised

What began as a smear campaign against the Prime Minister became a major media story only a few days ago, when it stopped being merely a News Ltd smear campaign.


Julia Gillard

In the last week the AWU story, such as it is, has leapt from being a confection pushed by the government’s opponents, to being a confection the Press Gallery has decided to take seriously.

This legitimization of the story has coincided with it becoming clearer just how little of substance there actually is to it. The best illustration of this was an intriguing interview on Friday by the ABC’s Jon Faine, who unlike his colleagues at Media Watch has kept his critical faculties intact about the story. Faine put the Prime Minister’s most ardent pursuer (after Larry Pickering, a former cartoonist at The Australian regularly criticised for being misogynist and an anti-semite), former shock jock Michael Smith, on the spot to outline a specific allegation of wrongdoing. The best Smith could do, the crime that he claimed “could cost the Prime Minister her liberty”, was falsely witnessing the date of a document, though he was unable to point to evidence to support this beyond the claims of Ralph Blewitt.

Until the story became legitimised, it was being driven primarily by one media company’s obsessive war with Labor, although Mark Baker’s enthusiasm at The Age, while not raising any new issues, gave some cover to News Limited. It wasn’t purely about Julia Gillard, although the smear campaign became ever more strident as she improved in the polls. But even if there’s no connection demonstrated with the Prime Minister, the incessant repetition of stories about union corruption serves a broader purpose of attacking the trade union movement. Union corruption is a convenient narrative, although by no means confined to News Ltd; most media outlets, and particularly The Australian Financial Review, find union corruption endlessly fascinating while remaining for the most part bored by business malfeasance (the splendid recent example is that of Hastie Group, where $20 million was stolen and sparked the collapse of the company, with barely a flicker of interest from the media beyond how many jobs would be lost).

At no stage was any rationale offered for how the story related to the public interest or merited the significant devotion of resources made to it by media outlets under severe financial pressure. Not even the sole contemporary relevance of the story, that disgruntled Kevin Rudd supporter and sacked Attorney-General Robert McClelland appears to have been involved in perpetuating it, was discussed.

What was intriguing about the campaign at this stage was that it was strongly gender-based. The campaign was being run entirely by older white conservative males. The Australian is staffed and run almost entirely by such people. The shock jocks giving constant airtime to it are the same. The bloggers and net trolls obsessing about it online, too, are the same demographic. That, of course, is the same demographic and the same media figures that drove the anti-carbon price and climate denialist protests, as well as the debacle of the “convoy of no consequence” campaign.

Indeed there are strong themes running through all of these campaigns: Gillard is an illegitimate Prime Minister, she has no morality, and her lack of morality and incompetence is somehow linked to her gender — it’s an easy segue from “Bob Brown’s b-tch” to Bruce Wilson’s dupe, although of course her enemies have been anxious to suggest that Gillard may well have been even worse than a simple dupe.

Last week, however, the story stopped being merely a News Ltd smear campaign. Television and radio coverage surged massively. Media Monitors data shows that weekly television and radio mentions of the story were limited to several hundred in total in recent weeks. There were 110 television mentions of the story in the week beginning 29 October, no mentions at all the following week (Melbourne Cup week) and 446 in the week of 12 November.

Last week, however, there were over 2,200 mentions. Radio coverage followed a similar pattern, but TV coverage is the key: few voters read newspapers and none but the politically engaged would have read more than a few pars of the dense, pointless minutiae paraded by the likes of Baker and Hedley Thomas. Coverage on nightly news bulletins is many, many multiples of newspaper coverage in terms of impact on voters.

And in particular, TV coverage went off last Wednesday, with 224 mentions of the story, up from low double figures in the two days before. After that, the story received massive television coverage. To put it in context, the issue was the fourth most-discussed subject on television, behind Gaza, the cricket and asylum seekers, but ahead of the child abuse royal commission.

Wednesday was, coincidentally or not, the day after 7.30 aired its interview with Ralph Blewitt — an interview that displayed a peculiar lack of curiosity about Blewitt’s activities in South East Asia in recent years, but did yield one of the great moments in Australian interviewing, when Blewitt declared the Prime Minister had questions to answer, but then answered “no comment” when asked what the questions were. The next night 7.30 followed up with an interview with Nick Styant-Brown that, while labeled “exclusive”, didn’t appear to add anything to what he had already told newspaper journalists.

Blewitt’s return to Australia and 7.30’s embrace of him as newsworthy (possibly at the prompting of Media Watch, which devoted an episode to how the ABC wasn’t following The Australian’s lead) thus appears to have been critical to elevating what was (and remains) a smear campaign into a legitimate political story.

Since then, Press Gallery groupthink has taken over. It’s now a story because it’s a story. Outlets dare not fail to cover it. “The story won’t go away,” was Peter Hartcher’s line on the weekend; a journalist complaining that a story won’t go away being equivalent to an offensive drunk in a bar complaining about the obnoxious clientele present. Only a handful, such as Ten’s Paul Bongiorno, have bluntly called the story what it is.

Unlike the initial smear campaign, how much gender plays a role in this isn’t clear, but is worth some thought. The Press Gallery is just over two-thirds male, and the more senior you go, the fewer women there are. That’s not to suggest female journalists are going to give a female Prime Minister any sort of pass on alleged impropriety — far from it. But much of the Gallery spectacularly missed the significance of the Prime Minister’s misogyny speech, partly because they were doing their day job of analysing the tactical battle on the floor of Parliament, but also, one suspects, because they failed to understand how much it would resonate with women who routinely put up with s-xism in their working lives. Tribal behaviour is at work here on this story as well and that can’t be understood without reference to gender.

That sort of tactical analysis, focused purely on calling who’s winning particular political square-ups, will dominate coverage this week. The first round of that will be the Prime Minister’s press conference today at 1pm, as Crikey is issued, followed by Question Time. So many tactics, so little reflection on the actual merits of the story.


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101 thoughts on “The mechanics of how a smear campaign was legitimised

  1. klewso

    Surely “union corruption” depends more on which “union” is involved – and is all the more legitimate a cause célèbre, as long as they have blue collars – going on “media reports/interest”?

  2. susan winstanley

    Thank you Bernard, for calling it as it is.
    A complete disgrace.
    The Press Gallery disgusts me.

  3. klewso

    Personally I can’t wait for the same media – having taken such a strong stand on this particular event 20 years ago (“going to Gillard’s ethics”?) – to apply the same standards of acceptable behaviour, and their own devotion of resources to investigation, to the rest of our elected representatives (how many will that leave standing – anyone “running book” on that?).
    Otherwise this becomes their own “Burn the Witch” party?

  4. JMNO

    Mark Baker at The Age has been running the same story every day – day after day the same information, some variation in presentation. And he doesn’t seem to understand how the incorporation process works, what the role of the lawyer is or how incorporated associations can work.

    It puzzles me why The Age is involved in what appears to be a vendetta against the Prime Minister, given that most of the questions Baker keeps asking have been answered either by the Prime Minister or by other people involved in the issue.

    Now of course with 2 newspapers running the same old, same old story every day, the rest of the media feels obliged to cover it. Now they can report, as Mark Baker did, that the story has received widespread coverage and attracted increasing interest! As you say it has become a story about a story.

  5. klewso

    Otherwise this is the cacophony of a (press) gallery of pink galahs.

    [And how the ABC had to be goaded into playing “Rupert Says” – but it too did eventually join in. Though it’s not as if Sales (“Murdochtrinated” as she is), with her political sympathies, ever needed a cause to slur Labor?]

  6. NeoTheFatCat

    Every time I hear journalists and media executives warning about the death of ‘quality’ journalism, I feel like saying “bring it on”. The sooner these pathetic ‘professionals’ are turfed out by the non-paying customer and made to do something of value, the better. I for one won’t miss them for a minute.

  7. Shaniq'ua Shardonn'ay

    Yep, you called it. I’m waiting for the next scandal – “Prime Ministers Boyfriend does hair for s-xual favours in tax avoidance scheme”!!!

  8. Bill Hilliger

    @JMNO I think you have identified the issue here – reporters are not very bright when it comes to an everyday understanding and comprehension of the spoken and written english language. Note an earlier press conference Julia Gillard held had many journalist struggled with comprehending the spoken word. Is it any wonder that newspaper sales are forever in decline.

  9. klewso

    Neo “quality journalism” died years ago – a victim of Murdochsamytosis – it just hasn’t found that out yet.

  10. David Hand

    There’s a touch of desperation in your commentary here. Playing the gender card, that many people who think Julia Gillard acted unprofessionally in 1995 are “older white conservative males” is a bit desperate, mate. Calling it “a smear campaign” won’t make it go away.

  11. MJPC

    Thank you Bernard for the complete story. The trouble with the media in Australia is there are very few with their criticalfaculties intact over any story!
    Just one question I would like answered. Nick Styant-Browne comes out with a letter from a ‘file” addressed to the M/s Gillard when at Slater & Gordon. There’s no indication of when it was received, no file note of action taken nor any indication of file folio. Pretty sloppy basic file process actions by a leading law firm I would have thought.
    The other question is where Mr S-B obtained a copy of the letter which, presumably, would be confidential correspondence between client and Lawyer held on the file. This sounds like a stitch up in my mind, in the vein of the Godwin Grech matter. By the way, what relationship does Mr S-B have to the LNP?

  12. Peter Shute

    Good analysis Mr Keane. Crikey at it’s best.

    The Canberra press gallery completely missed how the PM’s sexist speech would resonate with the public. It was a good example of how out of touch they are or how they try to set the agenda.

    This has been a non-story. I’ve done my own mini voz pops amongst customers- those who hate Gillard love it as it re-inforces their dislike but even they can’t really get a grip on the claims.

    For the rest-it’s gone over their heads. I’m very disappointed in Media watch picking up on this and continually the maddening claims :”there are questions to be answered”.

    And when didn’t the Coalition hate unions ?. They are still there.

  13. Peter Shute

    I also believe the MSM insults it’s readers when the imply somehow this ‘slush’ fund was illegal.

    We all use lawyers. We all know a layer draws up an entity for you be it a ‘fund’, incorporation and so on. What we do with that entity is of no consequence to our lawyer 9unless they are a female PM).

    We may as well call the IPA or HR Nicholls Society ‘slush’ funds for that is what they are: entities to promote a certain politics.

  14. zut alors

    The PM has been handling this witch hunt with finesse today. Her press conference and responses in Question Time to the relentless attacks by J Bishop (on behalf of her mute leader) should end this matter.

    The PM has asked for an allegation but, amongst the entire Oz media and the Coalition, none of the spineless attackers can come up with one. Just because the Press Gallery says it’s a story doesn’t mean it’s a story. Yawn…time to let it drop.

  15. John Bennetts

    David, it can’t go away. “It” hasn’t arrived yet. I define “it” as the factual basis of a complaint that the PM has actually actud eother unprofessionally or fraudulently in regard to the incorporated association or its funds.

    The PM has repeatedly asked for questioners to put up or shut up… they have done neither.

    Regarding not calling it a smear campaign… that is exactly what a beat-up based on innuendo but supported by zero facts is called.

  16. tinman_au

    Bernard, I think you’re wrong when you say “elevating what was (and remains) a smear campaign into a legitimate political story.”

    There IS a story here, and you’ve been doing a good job on covering it so far.

    I think if you view this current “storm” in the context of the Leveson inquiry, Australia’s own Media Inquiry/Convergence Review and the ALP’s earlier complaints about certain area’s of Australian media, it’s actually an ongoing story, and this is just another chapter…

    That’s the real story.

  17. John Bennetts

    Typo: “actually actud eother unprofessionally…”

    Read: “actually acted either unprofessionally…

  18. michael r james

    David Hand, who’s an “older white conservative male” now! It would be funny if it wasn’t so bloody annoying and destructive of our democracy. Please, with the greatest disrespect unless you have something actually material to relate, could you STFU.

    Meanwhile, at this morning’s long press conference the PM responded about another particularly repellent WCM:

    [‘‘Let me remind you who Mr Blewitt is. Mr Blewitt is a man who has publicly said he was involved in fraud. ‘‘Mr Blewitt is a man who has sought immunity from prosecution. ‘‘Mr Blewitt is a man who has fled Indonesia to avoid a police interview in relation to land fraud, although he denies wrongdoing in the case. ‘‘Mr Blewitt says he owes money on another Asian land deal. ‘‘Mr Blewitt admits to using the services of prostitutes in Asia.
    ‘‘Mr Blewitt has published lewd and degrading comments and accompanying photographs on his Facebook page. ‘‘Mr Blewitt, according to people who know him, has been described as a complete imbec ile, an id iot, a stooge, a se_ist pig, a l iar and his sister has said he’s a crook, and rotten to the core.
    ‘‘His word against mine: make your mind up.’’]

    Sounds about right.

    And QT is in the middle of total blather and nonsense by Julie Bishop (with Chrissie Pyne in his role as fluffer to help poor Julie keep it up). So far there is nothing but bluster and zero evidence, indeed no clear questions or claims of malfeance.

    At 3.12 pm it appears all over. But Chrissie & Julie, no money shot. And Mr Abbott, present for Question Time, didn’t ask a single question.
    The PM had the last line (and IMO the last laugh): “Nope. I didn’t fake the moon landing, I wasn’t responsible for the assassination of JFK, and I didn’t shove Harold Holt on a Chinese submarine before she gets to those questions.”

  19. zut alors

    Michael RJ, it was a great line, only bettered by the PM’s final effort as she drew Question Time to a conclusion:

    “For the benefit of those following Question Time on radio today I wish to point out that the Leader of the Opposition was present.”

  20. SusieQ

    and, further MJPC, why did Blewett come back to Australia right now and who paid his air fare? (and who is paying for his legal representation?) Having watched most of the PM’s presser today, I’m still trying to understand exactly what the issue is. Judging by the ‘holier than thou’ questioning from the media, apparently we are all meant to be able to remember exactly what it is we were doing, what documents we signed and how much we had in our bank accounts 20 years ago – even an elephant would be struggling to remember all that (well, you get my point).

  21. zut alors

    In effect, the PM accorded him the status of a eunuch.

  22. Warren Joffe

    As a lawyer put it to me: “she got sacked in her mid 30s by her partners who had lost confidence in her. It concerned her duty to them and to their clients and the breach of the essential glue of trust that a lawyer’s life entails. She would have a great deal of trouble getting a job with a half-decent law firm, other than as lobbyist to and ALP government, so how come she is fit to be PM?”

    Of course rising to the top in the ALP today is not so much climbing Disraeli’s slippery pole but showing yourself tough, devious gand even unscrupulous enough to play with the self-interested oligarchs who control the party and get to do that by using the money and union membership (or claimed membership) of people far less well educated and well paid than themselves. So it is not surprising that Gillard doesn’t find people’s presumptions in her favour.

    It’s not just the average bloke in an Aussie pub, Bernard, whom you might ask for a gut feeling but, not less, his sensible wife. She says “Are you asking me to believe that she lived, talked, slept, ate and drank with Wilson for years, helped him buy his house but didn’t have an inkling of how he was going to finance it, not even a small interest?” “And she wants us to go on letting her spend our money”

  23. Hunt Ian

    David Hand’s smug “calling it a smear campaign won’t make it go away” says it all. Bernard has given a good account of a story that has nothing to it, despite the persistence almost obsession of Julie Bishop. Hopefully what will make it go away is the boredom of innocdent citizens who have to put up with this and a continuing non-impact (reverse impact) in the polls would help. All the media fervour in the week of Newspoll has made no difference.

    Bernard is right about the bias of senior media figures in terms of gender but the campaigning is primarily to oblige private investors, who by now are appalled that Australia has not faced the austerity policies that will, according to the weekend AFR, more than double the number of billionaires in Europe by 2016.

    The reluctance of these same billionaires to pay tax is, of course, from a sense of public duty inspired by convenient economic modelling that shows they will be deterred if they are taxed as they were after World War II, or even at half the rate, despite their real incomes being so high today. The economic modelling is especially convenient since private investors failed to show their aversion to Keynesian policy when they rather surprisingly delivered a post-war boom, with a touch of Koran War inflation, that allowed countries to pay off their War debts of over 120% of GDP. Now, of course, the generations that were so let down by massive World War II debt and high levels of taxation, seem doubly averse to paying reasonable levels of tax and no doubt will embrace Coalition policies of dismantling the welfare state, which is not to be confused with reducing middle class welfare, as the Treasury does so wilfully, when it does not see this as “incentives” for the well to do to pay for their own, hopefully better, medical cover. They will embrace Coalition policies sight unseen because they cannot stand the sight of 10% of GDP nett national debt, even though Australia somehow managed 127% of GDP national debt after World War II.

    No doubt also the media pack last week hoped that Blewitt could become another Kemlani, who so conveniently flew back into Australia to give Malcolm Fraser the excuse he needed to pull the plug on the Labor government in the upper house. Mr Blewitt’s mission is more tricky, it is to convince the independents that they should pull the plug on Labor if Tony thinks move a vote of no confidence in Gillard due to her crime of failing to recollect absolutely everything in accordance with documents that the Coalition dribbles out. It is unlikely, though, that Blewitt will stand up as a Kemlani, Although Kemlani might have flown back with the prompting of the CIA, his credibility was not tarnished by sisters and former colleagues, who said he was not be trusted, and his own reports designed to minimise any involvement he might have had.

    The hope of us all is that Blewitt will fail in his Kemlani mission and Tony will draw back from moving a vote of no confidence. Then the smear campaign might go away.

  24. shepherdmarilyn

    They sit there on the top floor of the house twiddling their thumbs with group think and nonsense and ignore anything real happening that Gillard should be kicked for.

    Your assertion that this was started by Rudd though is dead wrong, he has not said or done anything to deserve that nonsense.

    Gillard is torturing innocent human beings, it has had almost no critical coverage until the last week.

    She is abusing the rights of aborigines in ways worse than Howard dreamed up, not a word.

    The question really is what is the point? It was the union that was corrupt they say, she was not in the union.

    And the HSU seems to have died off now doesn’t it so they need something else.

    The press gallery are a bunch of lazy spivs picking each others nits and Bernard you often join them.

  25. eric

    The interesting thing if is is that even with the most despicable
    and vicious campaign led by News Ltd against the ALP and Julia in particular over the past two years that the polls have the parties very close even Newspoll!.

    Imagine if Abbott and his talentless front bench had been subjected to the same smear campaign what their poll numbers would be.

  26. shepherdmarilyn

    Where are the clients of CSR who Bishop worked against to prevent compensation for the Wittenoom mine?

    All dead I believe but she got her pound of flesh from their suffering.

  27. Steve777

    After this issue is dealt with I suppose we can expect some thorough investigation of the AWB scandal. After all, it involved selling hundreds of millions of dollars of Australian wheat to a regime that we were shortly to go to war with.

  28. Edward James

    Juliars spray all over Bruce Wilsons old friend and AWU buddy Blewitt. Was all about exercising Labor political spin. With a view to avoid answering an insistent stream of very prickly questions. Was she present with Wilson and Blewitt to witness that power of attorney for the purchase of the house? I believe there is a formal complaint about the creation of a false instrument. Which has attracted the interest of police. I pray this political issue may with evidence progress into another place, the law courts. Edward James

  29. Edward James

    NSW Carr Labor Government sat on their hands while James Hardie worked to put their fiscal asserts beyond the reach of potential claimants. I will point out the Liberal national parties were sitting on the opposition were sitting in the same 52 Parliament. The law could have been regulated to prevent that process, which resulted in a pittance being left for potential claimants, what were all our elected representatives thinking about? Edward James

  30. Observation

    When the television media chimes in it can make anyone look guilty before the facts are produced. When staying in the US I was astounded how Fox News would give promos of coming interviews and stories for the following week. They would insinuate many propositions and mention that the facts would be disclosed in interviews or by exclusive footage only to be either cancelled or restructured at the last minute to give no such story at all.

    Very clever how these snippets of information or headlines through the week had people convinced without them seeing the actual stories in question.

  31. Zeehan

    Bernard Keane, come back to me when you have read all the documents, which obviously you haven’t.

  32. Sharkie

    20 years of investigation for what? And the WMD fiasco got about 20 minutes from the press gallery.
    They want to get out more.

  33. Venise Alstergren

    BERNARD K: Thank you for your insightful article.

    Having watched Question Time today, I’ve lost count of the many cringe-worthy moments I endured when watching little Tony Abbott’s tiny ankle-biter, Julie Bishop, rushing back, again and again, to plague Julia Gillard with Abbott’s brain-dead questions about something that happened seventeen to twenty years ago. {Whilst working for Slater and Gordon.}

    It is almost the end of the Parliamentary year, but, not one question was asked by her about anything on the national agenda. Any questions about the abuse of army personel; the upcoming RC into child abuse; the Murray Darling Basin law about to take place this afternoon; not even the usual nagging about so called ‘illegal refugees’-of which there is no such thing?

    Congratulations Tony Abbott, you continue to do such sterling work to prove you are no fit candidate to aspire to be running the country.

  34. Venise Alstergren

    One small point, Bernard….What is your definition of anti-Semite? All the Arab nations are peopled by Semitic races. Do I understand you to refer to them?

  35. Edward James

    I just don’t trust our Prime Minister. She called this on. When we the people know the RC will not on its own help and protect us The Royal Commission is looking more and more like a knee jerk reaction the closer we get to the 26 of November. Called by Prime Minister Gillard without any planning. It certainly served to diffuse the way the grass roots community of victims and their supporters were rising up, against irresponsible government. After the suicide of Mr John Pirona, yet another in a long line of child abuse victims who could not bear the pain any longer. The cause of which is still being hidden away by a dysfunctional system. Those of us with little or no understanding of the way our constitution and laws are meant to work and protect us. Are beginning to understand nowhere near enough of our politicians Federal, State and Local want to overtly support their constituents by voting for effective action on this issue. Our politicians are not yet willing to do whatever it takes to provide justice for all the victims. In fact some states are flat refusing to support the national call to correct a problem almost 200 years old. In time we expect closure by the regulation of legislation. So that the entities responsible for harboring such abuse will never be able to cover up and protect their particular monsters from the rule of law again. I am becoming angry after listening to the attached pod cast link in which a Mr Paul Kelly points out that the Royal Commission alone without the full support from all the States and Territories, which are the governments with the laws and the power to prosecute identified offenders get on board. Because it is looking like people at the grass roots in our community will once again be short changed by so many politicians are too scared to insist on national action supported by the states and territories.

    This podcast link http://2gb.com.au/audioplayer/5989

    helps the listener understand why the Royal commission without 100% support from every politician and their constituents will come up short. The long suffering vctims of child abuse will continue to carry their burdens. Edward James

  36. dazza

    Just another reason why Autralia needs an urgent media inquiry. Sooner the better.

  37. David Hand

    Let me define “it” for you.
    Julia Gillard is alleged to have organised the setting up of a slush fund in the name of the AWU, and she did not actually tell the client who was paying the bill that she had done it. Though she might argue that Williams was an officer of the AWU and so it was his job, her failure to open a file on it at Slater and Gordon enabled her boyfriend to pillage it for his own enrichment. Allegedly.

    There’s a cacophony of noise from the left that the questions are not known or defined. Julia, the lawyer of course gets round this by saying that it is the regulator who actually created the entity – a sophistry only a lawyer would be capable of.

    This story is not going away.

  38. Hugh (Charlie) McColl

    David Hand, either you were watching a different press conference or you simply make stuff up. Julia Gillard clearly stated that the two AWU officials were ‘the client’. She received instructions from them. She acted for them. The rest of your comment is irrelevant.

  39. klewso

    And here we are “caught between cacophonies”?

  40. Mark

    What’s the real story though Hand? Given this little creation of yours is nothing but a fantasy, another self-designed tale of titillation created by the born to rule in another – last ditch? – attempt to stop the bleeding from their loss. Is 2010-2013 the longest funeral moan in history?

    I mean the ‘real’ story is that you cannot give it up, the idea of being ruled over by a woman, oh god, it’s finally happening. The real story is that the media continues to be overpopulated and controlled by Men who cannot accept the idea of being ruled over by a Woman. Men who apply standards to a Woman in power that they would never apply to a Man, let alone their sorry decrepit selves.

  41. Bill Hilliger

    Some people are asking, for services rendered whether successful or not – is Mr Blewitt being offered Bronwyn Bishop’s seat for the next parliament? He would make a great addition to the next coalition front bench team, he has the right pedigree. Furthermore he would be an inspirational team mate and player.

  42. Jim Moore

    Now this is why I subscribed to Crikey! Very well written.

  43. zut alors

    David Hand has prosecuted his case sufficiently to convince me there must be a Commission of Inquiry – exactly like, say, the Cole Inquiry.

    Our PM could impersonate Lord Downer with a barrage of ‘I don’t know’, ‘I don’t recall’, ‘I can’t be sure’. In fact the PM would be more convincing in attempting to recall details harking back 20 years ago.

    In the AWB scandal involving $300M of bribes to a leader hostile to the West, the Oz press gallery was perfectly satisfied with Downer’s testament.

  44. drmick

    His name should be two ducks, He could not be that silly playing with just one.
    They have bought their prostitutes in again to say what they wanted them to say, and they have failed again.
    End of story. No story No facts no evidence no interest and further evidence of the biggest dummy spit in history by Abbot and his old white hoodlum friends.
    You are right BK about the old misogynists. They are standing on the sidelines in the USA still believing they were robbed when they were not even in the race. Abbots mob are as relevant and unelectable as they ever where and this rubbish reflects on the press gallery very poorly.
    Get the facts and if all else fails; get a life. You clowns are not even funny.

  45. Groucho

    What I want to hear more about is the police investigation into Mark Baker’s actions in regards to computer hacking from 12 months ago.

  46. sickofitall

    Prime Minister’s misogyny speech, partly because they were doing their day job of analysing the tactical battle on the floor of Parliament, but also, one suspects, because they failed to understand how much it would resonate with women who routinely put up with s-xism in their working lives. Tribal behaviour is at work here on this story as well and that can’t be understood without reference to gender… Clip

    Garbage. Most female journalists missed it too. The trouble with the australian press gallery is that, crikey aside, it is the biggest bunch of unintelligent mediocrities working for the worst free press in the western word. Watching an a-grade buffoon like Peter hartcher twist logic to say how ms gillard’s speech was meaningless was entertaining as the international press got it exactly right. I know they’re your friends Bernard. But they are still idiots.

  47. The Pav

    This issue is clearly a diversionary campaign by the PM to avoid the Opposition asking questions about Child abuse and the role of the Church.

    I note that the PM has denied responsobility for the Moon Landing Consiracy, JFK etc well I think she still has questions to answer if only I could think of some.Come back to me in another 20 years.

    BTW The PM definitely has questions as to why Austrialis didn’t win in Adelaide or is there going to be yet another cover up? I mean the govt allowd Faf DuPlessis entry so it must be the PM’s fault

  48. fredex

    [ dazza
    Posted Monday, 26 November 2012 at 5:12 pm | Permalink
    Just another reason why Autralia needs an urgent media inquiry. Sooner the better.]

    I repeated that cos I thought it deserved repeating.

    BTW Good article, Bernard.

  49. Alasdair Wardle

    Thank you Mr Keane, for a well analysed article. I agree with all comments about the demise of intelligent journalism, and the rise of ‘group think’ in the press gallery. There is no issue involving Julia Gillard and the AWU. An out of touch press gallery is simply aiding the opposition. Why wasn’t Mr Styant-Browne asked on the ABC interview where he obtained copies of documments from 20 years ago?

  50. klewso

    As has been referred before, “If the federal Limited News Party was further ahead in the polls and Toady Abbott not lagging personally behind Gillard – would this be such an issue?”

  51. David Hand

    Of course Julia cearly states that she acted for two individuals who were “the client”. It’s just that one of them was her boyfriend who subsequently pillaged the accosiation’s bank account for his own gain. Her failure to open a file removed the capacity of the wider leadership of the AWU to find out what was happening. That’s why she had that recorded interview, why the Slater and Gordon management lost confidence in her and why she then subsequently resigned. Allegedly

  52. iggy648

    shepherdmarilyn@26, you’re totally right. Julie Bishop has questions to answer. Why doesn’t she just come clean and answer them?

  53. izatso?

    Uh Huh …. dhand GOLD ! dhand is monkey brain. dhand is LOTO …… Baharharhack!har …..

  54. drmick

    Bill Hilliger;
    I believe that seat has variously been promised to the other mudrock employees in the house; balloon head rudd and the ex attorney (for a fee) venere&l disease “Jack” McLelland

  55. Aaron F

    Well, now that we all realise the carbon tax doesn’t make roasting a chicken cost $126 dollars, the opposition is desperately searching for something else. They could try coming up with policies and leave the birther style allegations to Bolt and the Australian, but then people have been saying this for some time, so I’m not confident they’ll try this anytime soon.

  56. David Hand

    How many times must I remind you to keep taking your medication?

  57. klewso

    The Right just wants Gillard to cop a “plea bargain” – to “get away” with what she hasn’t done?

  58. izatso?

    Yair, it’s sad I know, but Fourex just doesn’t do it for me nowadays ….. anyhowsomever, in the words of a great man, STFU davo, you embarass your gender …..

  59. shepherdmarilyn

    So scabby Blewitt is having his expenses paid for by a private citizen, what is the bet it is a friend of Abbott’s.

  60. AR

    legitimization of the story has coincided with it becoming clearer just how little of substance there actually is to it & Until the story became legitimised, it was being driven primarily by one media company’s obsessive war with Labor.
    As demonstrated CLEARLY IT HAS NOT BECOME ‘LEGITIMISED and yet you can write this crapola BK?
    Haven’t you had enough reject slips from Mudorc’s HR to stop you keep applying with this drivel?
    Only a handful, such as Ten’s Paul Bongiorno, have bluntly called the story what it is. unfortunately BK you are not one of the Honourable.

  61. Venise Alstergren

    Of course everyone has seen what a fine, upstanding, and credible human being Ralph Blewitt presents as. And no one could possibly draw to the conclusion that NewsCorp had anything to do with funding this ex-union heavy?

    If the Hun, and its siblings, have had nothing to do with this sordid apparent smear, they should hurry to defend themselves.

    A media RC into the media should be held in order to clear the guilty. The really guilty perpetrators. Including Mark Baker at the Age. A man who is creating an art form out of lockstep.

  62. Margaret Ludowyk

    The whole thing is just a beat up from the opposition and their croney’s who have no plan for the country except to discredit the PM . Who paid for the sleaze Blewett’s trip to Australia? The Murdoch press perhaps?

  63. Monash.edu

    What a bunch of partisan rubbish, from both sides. Give me Jonathan Holmes any day.

  64. michael r james

    The wealthy “former industrial lawyer” Harry Nowicki is the one funding Blewitt. Apparently he is writing a book on the AWU episode. He is described as wealthy.

    On the hunt for facts of a union intrigue
    BY: HEDLEY THOMAS From: The Australian August 03, 2012
    Nowicki found Blewitt, a pensioner living in Malaysia, and interviewed him. He also found Wilson, now a part-time cook, and spoke to him in NSW. In the past, journalists have been sent on their way, but Nowicki persevered and Blewitt decided to come clean, return to Australia and explain his position. Wilson is keeping quiet, but has in the past denied any wrongdoing.
    “Every day I learn a bit more about this saga, which would be more entertaining if it were not so serious,” Nowicki has told The Australian. He insists he is not acting on behalf of anyone else — not conservative politicians who could gain mileage from new revelations, nor disgruntled Labor MPs who might relish the embarrassment of union or party colleagues. But he has asked a top Melbourne criminal silk for advice, and has arranged a criminal lawyer to look after Blewitt.]

  65. Christopher Nagle

    This would not have been a bad article if the author had managed to resist ageist ‘stereotyping’. The trite truth is that people who are senior in the media tend to be ‘senior’ in their years as well. The fact that they are parties to some nasty politics is nothing to do with their age.

    That generation was part and parcel of the beginnings of the feminist revolution. The fact that the senior media executive cohort have either forgotten their ideological roots or never became part of them in the first place does not reflect on all of their generation, who certainly haven’t forgotten and were part of that movement. They just aren’t represented in the media, or much of the corporate elite, it would seem.

    That is a reflection on the corporate culture, not the age of its representatives.


    This is a media

  66. Patriot

    How is a smear campaign legitimised? Bernard, there are many ways, but I can think of none more powerful than having the police launch a criminal investigation into its substance.

  67. Warren Joffe

    That’s just childish stuff Mark. I don’t know who David Hand is but there is nothing which justifies your silly rant about men not being able to accept a woman PM and applying different standards when she has clearly acted in an unprofessional way (at best) for her “two clients”. If the AWU was only the client of the firm but, for some reason, not hers in this case, what was she doing allowing her boyfriend, himself not a lawyer and dependant on her advice, to set up a body which used the AWU name and was set up for purposes quite different from its professed objects?

    Even Slater and Gordon felt they had to sack her then. There is no way she could have got a job with a respectable firm of solicitors again. So how is she acceptable as PM?

  68. Hunt Ian

    Good grief, David Hand. You should listen more carefully instead of pursuing your own pre-conceptions. Julia Gillard provided some legal advice “pro-bono” to her then boyfriend on setting up an association, which she understood was for raising funds for his reelection. He and some of his colleagues set up the association and all the other machinery of the fund. It is just your assertion that the AWU was unaware of this fund and that they could only be aware of it if she opened a file at Slater and Gordon. What is the evidence for this claim?
    Contrary toTony Abbott and you, it seems, it was the fund that was “unauthorised” and “inappropriate” not the supply of legal advice which only gives its recipients part of what they require to actually set it up. As far as most people are concerned this is just a a smear campaign.

  69. GeeWizz

    Dillard has told us what she thinks about Blewitt… now it’s high time she tells us what she thinks of her lover and professional conjob Bruce Wilson.

    I have a feeling they are both covering each other backsides so lets put that theory to the test and hear what Gillard has to say about the guy.

  70. Achmed

    A lot of talk about documents but yet to see anything except bits of paper being waved around. I’m a techno-phobic (I know the off/on switch stuff), but even I would know how to scan them, put them up to be seen.
    The exaggerations of Abbotts 30% (is it?) are most annoying and only make me more sure that it really just a smear campaign. If there is any real evidence, give it to the Police or Corruption Commission. Though even if these allegations were taken to a court, and Gillard found to have done no wrong, the 30% would still be ranting.

  71. klewso

    “Scenes from a Maul”?

  72. Geoffrey Walker


    You are using too much oxygen on rubbish like your post above. How about an analysis of the known facts as they exist in the public domain.

  73. joe2

    [“So scabby Blewitt is having his expenses paid for by a private citizen, what is the bet it is a friend of Abbott’s.”]

    Maybe leftover cash from Abbott’s “Australians for Honest Politics Fund”?

    Good article Bernard. You have hit nail on head.

  74. Desmond Carroll

    Congratulations, Bernard; you have gladdened the heart of a mid-decade septuagenarian who spent the preceding five decades treating some splendid copy but — unfortunately, too often — other offerings which could not come within coo-ee of your work.

    One can only hope this piece is well read in the press gallery. Sterling work; fraternal wishes.

  75. The_roth

    The conservatives are following the line of another arch con servative Goebbels who as I recall said “if you tell a lie big enough often enough people will become to believe it”.

    Fascism has changed its outer appearance but not it’s inner core.

  76. taylormade

    Bernard, You make no mention of the comments made by Bill Shorten and Bill Kelty which also legitimised the claims in the eyes of many.

  77. iggy648

    Julie, try crimestoppers 1800 *** ***. They’ll take your evidence. Or WA police 131***.(Google it!)Just pick up the phone. And PeeJizz, changing the first letter of someone’s name to make them look foolish is just silly!

  78. iggy648

    (Damn, now I feel silly!)

  79. Liamj

    Mark Baker at The Age – does his ‘editor at large’ position pre-date Ms Rineharts purchase of Fairfax share, or is it a consequence of same?

    And to echo many others: death of the old white farts media? bring it on.

  80. Liamj

    Also, when is Tony Abbott going to attend a press conference to discuss his alleged involvement in sexual abuse at St Johns College?

  81. klewso

    They won’t believe anything she says because they don’t want to believe it – having said what she has several times – it doesn’t matter what she says. Seems the conservatives are intent on some “Describe a vacuum (in 2000 words at least)” sort of exercise.

    And “Abbott the Ventriloquist” using “Barbie” Bishop doll to deliver his lines in “the big house” yesterday – nothing else on? How would Bishop like her past (toiling away in the interests of CSR – to put off having to face their responsibilties) dragged out (like this past of Gillard’s is being projected in our media) to show her real “interest” in the likes of “Abbott/Howard Battlers” – the workers – with their vote, and with WorkChoices waiting for new name.

  82. rhonaj

    Julia Gillard is being persecuted no evidence, of wrongdoing, has been produced, – merely innuendo. If T. Abbott and Ms. Bishop had any real evidence it would have been out by now. As to the Canberra Press gallery they all live in the same rut feeding off each other and the rut exists in a bubble.

  83. Steve MacNeil

    The Prime Minister set up a fund purporting to be a worker training resource and conceded it as a slush fund. $400,000 was embezzled by her partner, a union executive who instructed her and nothing has been done in seventeen years about it.
    The Prime Minister has threatened media organisations so that the matter would not be reported which led to two journalsts sackings.
    That’s not a story?

  84. The Pav

    Steve Mac @ 82

    You’ve got to be kidding”The Prime Minister has threatened media organisations so that the matter would not be reported which led to two journalsts sackings”

    Not Reported !!!!!!!!! What do you call blanket coverage that has been going on for gawd knows how long & endless investigations by News Ltd!

    The basis on which the account was set up was less than ideal but not an uncommon occurrence. What happened afterwards was nothing to do with the PM. IUf bribes were paid then why aren’t those who paid them also being pursued? Surely they are just as culpable

    If you are concerned with probity how about the endless corporate malpractice that elicits not a squeak from a subservient media and worthless oppostion?

  85. Chad

    What a poorly researched article. The story came about as a result of comments made by Labor Party member Robert Mc Celland, the Liberal Party did not mention it for some time.

    It’s hilarious and extremely poor journalism, that you lazily play the gender card for Gillard. She is the one who deliberately lied to a WA government agency in registering the slush fund, which she told them was for the purpose of safer workplaces and skills training. If she is completely free of any poor behaviour, then why did she resign?

    As Dennis Shanahan noted, when pressed as to why she did she leave her jobnot tell the AWU or authorities of the existence of the association after concerns about Wilson’s alleged fraud involving another slush fund were voiced publicly, the Prime Minister argued she had no evidence of any criminality or wrongdoing to report to the AWU or police.

    But when asked in parliament earlier this month why she had not reported “the fraud” involving the AWU Workplace Reform Association, Gillard replied: “By the time the matters she (Bishop) refers to came to my attention they were already the subject of inquiry and investigation.”

  86. David Hand

    This is great entertainment. I haven’t seen such a fun thread for some time. I couldn’t make up the bile and vitriol expressed here. I thought call_ing Jul_ie Bishop a Barbie doll was a particularl_y topical example of the genre – a s*xist and misogynistic put-down tailor made for this period in our national discourse.
    The whole AWU question has oxygen because it is just one of the events of substance that have broken out around the widespread perception of the union movement’s antidemocratic, self-serving, el_itist practices. Deals are done behind closed doors, members’ money is misappropriated, rank and file members are done over and Labor MPs have masters other than their constituents. Allegedl_y.
    Here we have a real issue; maybe minor compared to Eddie Obeid or Craig Thompson, that directl_y involves the prime minister.
    I don’t have a problem with people defending her from the legal point of view. “I did nothing wrong” is such a convenient lawyer’s l_ine, probabl_y technicall_y true but completel_y unsatisfying. It sounds more like Nixon’s “I am not a crook” statement or Clinton’s “I did not have s*xual relations with that woman”. The questions circling about her have effect because they touch the undemocratic nepotistic union cult. Shorten understands this and is creating a bit of distance between him and her – to Julia’s disadvantage.
    The “nothing to see here, move along” campaigning from Julia’s front bench and Crikey has the look and feel of the phone hacking scandal before Millie Dowler.

  87. Robert

    If we apply the same logic as Gillard’s critics, should we then say that Tony Abbott’s time as a seminarian and involvement with Catholic institutions means that he has questions to answer regarding the activities of paedophile priests?

  88. Venise Alstergren

    CHAD: Maybe she decided to enter politics? Resigning from a job to take another one is scarcely ASIO sort of mole digging.

  89. Moloch

    This is nothing more nor less than the Australian ‘birther scandal’.

    Elderly, male misogynists in Australia can’t deal with a woman in power, just like the elderly, white racists can’t deal with a black president – so they cling to any pathetic straw that allows them to think that the hated figure is illegitimate.

    Look at the similarities

    Started and run by shock jocks – tick
    Supported by the Murdoch empire – tick
    All questions answered, with documentary evidence – tick
    All answers rejected, same questions asked over and over and over – tick

    In fact this is now the entire MO of the extreme right wing nut brigade. They’ve done it to Climate change – it’s not happening! It’s a conspiracy! Cover up! They did it with cigarettes and lung cancer, that was the model that worked and it’s been recycled ever since.

    Read Naomi Oreskes book Merchants of Doubt.
    This is not about truth, its about sowing doubt in the minds of the politically unengaged so they’ll vote against the ‘climate lie’, foreign-born socialist, corrupt union patsy…

  90. klewso

    Here in the gall bladder of the body politick, bilirubin is bilirubin – it doesn’t matter from which side of the liver it’s secreted. When you think of it we’re all pretty much the same, we just see things differently – by choice too often – some of us can see fault on both sides of that great portal vein of politics – some can’t.
    Where I come from you don’t bring a knife to a gun fight – unless you want a lift in an ambulance.
    During “the pink batt debacle” I remember Abbott using parliament as his stage, for his histrionics, to accuse Garrett of being guilty of industrial manslaughter (“… you show no remorse, no concern, no urgency about anything except saving your own hide … ”). I’m not the one (leading a parliamentary party) with image problems (and ventriloquist dolls, when you get down to it, are of indeterminate sex, being pieces of inanimate material for whom others must make up their lines – you might say they’re plagiarists too, like Bishop) – using Bishop to prosecute “such an important issue”, because “she’s a woman”.
    With his image problems/poll figures he has to back off, he could have tuned Pyne up and set him on the government as he usually does, in some hypocritical tizz – but Gillard is a woman and he doesn’t want to be labelled misogynist any more – he’s done that to within an inch of the death of his public image. So it’s down to that “Paragon of Plagiarism” to come to the aid of the party.

  91. Hugh (Charlie) McColl

    David Hand, you don’t give up do you? I showed how you just make stuff up, you agree that you make stuff up, you demonstrate how even the made up stuff would not have any material impact on the story and yet you still think there is a story. You want the community to believe that a poor choice of boyfriend equals incompetence. You want people to believe that doing a favour of some free legal advice for a mate (or boyfriend) is the same thing as perpetrating a fraud. You it doesn’t quite compute. It early does but not quite. So you want to hang around the tent pissing in to see if some more smoke comes out. You can’t get into the tent because you simply have nothing whatsoever to contribute. You actually know nothing about the subject at all. You continue to make stuff up so that you can pretend there’s something happening when there’s nothing.
    Meanwhile, new legislation goes unexamined because you think the media, all the media, should keep concentrating on the stinking tent where you and many, many others are still emptying your bladders. You don’t care about the Murray-Darling legislation because you got a tent to pissinto. The NDIS could be good for something but you want the media to keep filming over here where there’s a wet tent. Get a grip man. Put it away. Button up.

  92. Recalcitrant.Rick

    Sorry Christopher “Whine”

  93. The Pav

    I am waiting for somebody to draw the compoarison between the Abbott’s MO for the persecution of Hansen and the current PM.

    Remember in the Hansen case there was a genuine slush fund and it was based in WA. Was Bishop involved in that.

    Curious that both his targets are red haired women.

    Could we say that the alliance of Bishop & Abbott is an “Unholy Alliance” despite theirt names?

  94. Matthew of Canberra

    Speculation time …

    How does this end? The PM’s not stepping down, not a chance. Not unless something properly criminal is found, and I don’t think anyone’s really expecting that (nor ever were, I suspect)

    So what happens next? Does it keep going until the election? Is everyone just hoping like hell that something REALLY interesting comes along to take the front pages? Maybe New Zealand invades us? Or will everyone in the press just take a deep breath, get a good night’s sleep on a friday and come in to their offices on monday and start talking about something that’s likely to actually go somewhere, never mentioning the “AWU Scandal” ever again?

    Or does the PM start suing people for their “verbal slips”?

  95. Matthew of Canberra

    “The “nothing to see here, move along” campaigning from Julia’s front bench and Crikey has the look and feel of the phone hacking scandal before Millie Dowler.”

    Do you really think those are equivalent? Honestly?

    First – the phone hacking actually happened. The people at the top were in fact found to have had a direct hand in it. There’s evidence. I’m still waiting to hear what it is that the PM is supposed to have actually done wrong.

    She was misled – absolutely. But she wasn’t alone. And in order to make this look like malfeasance, it’s necessary to ignore a lot of other things going one (does anyone REALLY believe that only three people knew about that association? Really?), and it’s necessary to imply that gillard did or knew far more than there is any evidence (or justification) to believe. She didn’t create any association – the bagmen did. Their signatures are on that form, and they were responsible for its filing. Anyone can fill in a form – they don’t actually need a lawyer to do that. And, it should be pointed out, that wasn’t the only “slush fund” those guys were using anyway.

    The rest of it – what S&G and gillard knew, or when, or what they should have done, or what the impact of that was, or whether or not gillard’s involvement made any difference to the outcome … is just wishful thinking.

  96. Warren Joffe

    Apart from the silly gibes which constitute 90 per cent of comments there are curious evidences of brains switched off by those who seem to be trying. E.g. both Ian Hunt and Hugh McColl refer to “legal advice” from Gillard (and suggest that it was the only way she was involved).

    I wonder what they think the “legal advice” was, and if they have considered what it ought to be. I can well remember a new member of parliament showing me the advice he had just given as a barrister to a well known charity which said 1. yes the scheme may well work legally but 2. it might be a very bad idea for your relations with government/ATO if you go ahead with your part of it and that is without considering the ethical issues you might wish to consider.

    In fact it doesn’t appear that Gillard gave any significant legal advice. (What was the question on which she was asked to advise if you doubt that?). She simply helped use her firm’s services for putting filling in and lodging forms, paying fees etc. However, she must have known that she was helping her lover to set up a body which misappropriated the name of her firm’s major client the AWU so what did she say about that? She must have known that since it was a “slush fund” for helping her lover keep control of the levers of power and money in the AWU neither the name nor the objects registered were honest. So why didn’t she give either “legal” or just plain moral advice against that? Not to mention refraining from her part in deceiving the WA licensing or registration body.

    The more you think about it she was behaving like a sleazy crook or gangster’s moll and yet we have her as PM without her even claiming that she once was a sinner but now is saved!

  97. Warren Joffe

    Matthew of Canberra: you seem to think Gillard, a future PM of proven strength and determinaton, couldn’t have made a difference. Why? And does the explanation excuse her from having gone along with something which stank (and you do seem to imply that there was a very murky stinking cess pond in which the relevant events were occurring….)?

  98. Mark Smith

    Heaven forbid, some one is shining the light on Gillard’s murky past. Now we can’t have that can we? We should all look the other way because, after all, Gillard has told us “I have done no wrong.” So it must be true. Instead let’s join with Keane and ask no questions, accept Gillard at her word and ignore her past. I think there is a saying about good people staying silent…..gee, how’s it go…?

  99. The Cleaning Lady

    It’s so good to read that someone is thinking about the issues and sees past the surface. I’m a corporate lawyer and have been for over 20 years. I am yet to see any evidence of illegal or unethical conduct on the part of Ms Gillard. The conflict of interest scenario may not have been apparent until later.

    Some of the assertions by the coalition and Hedley Thomas were based on the (now shown to be false) assumption that the association was set up on the instructions of the union, rather than on behalf of some individuals.

    It’s almost comical as each new piece of “damning” evidence is revealed. The emperor’s new clothes…

  100. Venise Alstergren

    TO THOSE MEMBERS OF THE COMMENTARIAT WHO DESPISE OUR PRIME MINISTER: Breathless with anticipation, I switched on Question Time yesterday. Thinking to myself, “This is the day the Opposition will produce the evidence that PM Julia Gillard was a crim. This was what had had the Opposition in kinipsions (sic) for the past few months. This is what the dishonourable leader of the Opposition had been waiting for. This is the moment they’d all been salivating and waiting for. This is when the taxpayer gets to see the justification of flinging our money around in a pointless vendetta.

    Did Tony Rabbott produce any evidence of malfeasance? None that I’m aware of. Instead he pronounced the PM to show ‘conduct unbecoming.’ Coming from him this was a rich brew of poison.

    Looking slightly sheepish, Malcolm Turnbull didn’t seem overjoyed at being reminded of the Godwin Grech scenario which had helped to place the skids under him as Liberal Party leader. What a bunch of embittered old men {and a couple of women}, are, who inhabit the Coalition front/back benches, on that side of the House.

    Tony Rabbott might care to pass my regards to his little ankle-biter. As with him, Julie Bishop is all front and no depth. I wish them all an unhappy Christmas, and a dreadful New Year.

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