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Federal

Nov 27, 2012

PM vs press gallery: anatomy of a tense encounter

The Prime Minister's performance at a press conference on the AWU issue yesterday was strong, but her critics have already shifted the goalposts. Crikey had a fly on the wall as Gillard took on the media.

“Questions to answer”, apparently. So Julia Gillard strode from her office yesterday at 1.10pm, grim-faced, a little drawn, ready for battle with the press gallery, who had crammed into Parliament’s Blue Room, the aptly-named ministerial press conference venue. The strategy was simple: pre-empt the impact of the opposition’s much-trumpeted “grilling” of the Prime Minister over the AWU non-scandal, which had already been deflated by Bruce Wilson’s weekend remarks.

As time went on, though, it also occasionally seemed as though the Prime Minister had another goal. For so long confronted with vague claims about nebulous wrongdoing without any specific charges, as well as frequent misreporting, accidental or otherwise, of what happened, it seemed as though this was as much about Gillard directly hitting back at her tormentors as about presenting the opportunity to grill her. In this way, it often seemed as though it was journalists in the firing line, not the Prime Minister.

After a brief preamble to contrast the Coalition’s “relentless negativity” (check) with the government’s vision on such things as education reform (check) and the NDIS (double-check), she handed over to the hacks. But guiding her responses, in part, was her own desire to bluntly attack inaccurate reporting. On the first question, from The Courier-Mail’s Dennis Atkins, she went off on something of a tangent:

“I have been defamed on a number of occasions with forms of words saying that I set up a fund or a bank account. Those defamations have been apologised for and retracted on a number of occasions. Despite that, those kinds of references are now littered through media coverage of all sorts: electronic, print and radio.

“I did not set up a fund. I did not set up a bank account. Any such claim about me is a defamatory claim and I’d look to this press gallery to try and show some leadership in standards and accuracy here.”

Gillard was also keen to dispel what she called the “emerging kind of consensus … that I need to give a full and frank account of these matters” by detailing the number of times she’d addressed them over the last 17 years, including in relation to a Liberal Party dirt file. She also used the first question about Ralph Blewitt to rip into him with lines that were always going to make it onto the evening news bulletins.

The Gillard on display was forthright but, mostly, contained. She visibly seethed during an exchange with News Limited’s Steve Lewis, her eyes darting from side to side as she watched him speak to her. “Get the timeline right. Get the timeline right before you draw implications from it,” she told him. “I’m just asking questions,” replied Lewis. “I’ve taken a lot of questions on this and let me answer your question,” she snapped back.

She only broke into open anger once, toward Sid Maher, one of The Australian’s lesser drones. “You completely misunderstand everything to do with this matter and maybe that explains some things for us,” she began her answer to him. He then tried to argue with her mid-answer, prompting her to demand he not hector her. Later, in question time, she referred to him, possibly accidentally or possibly not, as “Sid Marris”, a former colleague of Maher’s who left The Oz years ago.

There was one moment of pure stagecraft. In the shadows of 2pm, with the PM glancing at the clock, The West Australian’s Andrew Probyn asked her about the conveyancing of Blewitt’s property and then drew his own conclusion, asking her “what would be the big deal in him being given a mortgage through Slater & Gordon?” Gillard seized on it: “Anybody got any contention about how Ralph Blewitt getting a Slater & Gordon mortgage goes to any conduct by me, or any assertions of wrongdoing? What is the big deal?”

Silence. Journalists normally talk over each other in an effort to get a question, but here was a moment of pure silence, held just long enough by the PM to make an impact, before she adjusted her hands to indicate she was open to more questions.

By the end of the day, after an anti-climactic question time in which the Prime Minister was supposed to be grilled but ended up mocking the opposition‘s conspiracy theories, the gallery was talking about whether the Prime Minister had done enough to lay the claims to rest.

It was always an absurd question, because there’s never been a factual basis for the smear campaign that could be refuted. There will always be more questions about ever more trivial matters: the focus has now shifted to whether Gillard was somehow acting inappropriately because the name of the organisation she gave advice on had “AWU” in it. I mean, seriously — that was actually the subject of several questions yesterday.

But did you notice the goalpost-shifting in all that? Until yesterday, the Prime Minister had “questions to answer” about the issue. Yesterday she stood there and took question after question. For many members of the press gallery, that’s no longer sufficient. Now, the real test is whether the Prime Minister has “laid the issue to rest”. If the opposition are still asking questions about the issue at the end of the week, Gillard will thus, by that logic, have failed.

For much of the press gallery, there’s always a new test for the Prime Minister, no matter how often she passes the ones they’ve previously set.

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117 comments

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117 thoughts on “PM vs press gallery: anatomy of a tense encounter

  1. Venise Alstergren

    It is to be wondered why the MSM opposes any form of accountability for its endless stream of misinformation, slander, and straight out lies. Yet these are the foundation for their refusal to accept a referendum into their activities.

    If their egregious behaviour was mimicked by the medical profession they would all scream r-pe. Yet there they scamper, little chip-on-the-shoulder apes employed by money-bags Murdoch-and Fairfax, not so money-bags.

    Some day, one day, they will have to be held accountable-and elephants may fly.

  2. Holden Back

    So, is the PM allowed to set journalists a few tests?

    We could start with IQ tests and work our way up.

  3. Karen

    Bernard Keane – great article – the Liberal attacks and those of their minion MSM journo acolytes have now reached the moment of high farce. Its great, Bernard, you’ve actually stuck to the facts and have pointed out, accurately, a complete absence of evidence to implicate Gillard in any wrongdoing, moral let alone legal.

    As a journalist, I would be interested to see who has financed Blewitt’s return to Australia and on whose advice.

  4. Karen

    And, as a member of the public, I’m getting tired of seeing that big, jaw-boned woman, Credlin going into Parliament briefing Bishop and Abbott on how to keep attacking Gillard. That black photo of her standing in Parliament next to Bishop with a lever arch folder sporting Gillard’s name over it was a shocker. I’ve never seen politics get so personal, thanks to that toxic combination of Abbott, Credlin, and Bishop. Wake up, Australia! You don’t want this cr@p running the joint next year.

  5. cairns50

    your article says it all,what can she do to lay these claims to rest, when the murdoch press tony abbott julie bishop,the shock jocks and all the other right wing nut case lackeys just keep going on and on about this

    very very similiar to the witchunt that occured when carmen lawrence was a federal member of the penny easton affair

    surely the australian public will wake up to whats going on and see this smear campaign for what it is

    another push by abbott to remove a democratically elected pm before an election is due

    a pox on all right wingers , every single one of you

  6. cairns50

    your article says it all, what can she do to lay these claims to rest, when the murdoch press with unlimited resources and money tony abbott julie bishop the shock jocks and the rest of the right wing nut cases just keep going on and on about this

    very similar to what occured to carmen lawrence was a federal member over the penny easton sucicide in wa many years ago

    surely the austrlian public will wake up to whats going on and see this smear campagin for what it is

    just another push by tony abbott to become pm before the next election was due

    he just doesnt get it, the independents formed a govt with labor not liberal

  7. john2066

    Lets face it, when you’re dealing with Murdoch monkeys, you’re dealing with a human subspecies.

  8. Jimmy

    The Libs will want to be very careful about this issue this week now, Gillard has shown that the issue has no merit and the govt is introducing legislation on some forward thinking popular issues, if the libs keep trying to go over things from 20 years ago I think it will blow up in their face. I think the public have moved on.

  9. minnamurra

    Our Prime Minister has more than dealt with all of this farcical nonsense – if it continues it will only underlines the misogynist nature of these great whites. Including the women who bay at their heels.

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