Nov 30, 2012

Constant over-reach on AWU is no accident

The constant over-reach that has characterised the AWU scandal reflects its lack of substance. And there was plenty else happening in Parliament this week that didn't get a look-in.

Bernard Keane — Politics editor

Bernard Keane

Politics editor

Next time you find a press gallery journalist complaining about the dire quality of public debate in Australia, ask them what they did during the AWU saga. In a week rich with policy issues of substance and import -- the Murray-Darling Basin, a nationally important, years-long process over which many MPs have agonised, Australia's UN vote on Palestine, the continuing controversy over offshore processing, the start of the government's NDIS and education reforms -- the focus of course was on what Julia Gillard did 20 years ago. One of the problems with the analogy repeatedly used this week of the Godwin Grech matter is that in that instance, there were specific allegations of corrupt behaviour by the Prime Minister and Treasurer in the course of their roles as such, capable of being tested against specific evidence, evidence which turned out to have been fabricated by a Liberal Party mole. It is only this week that we have arrived at an allegation about Julia Gillard doing something illegal over twenty years ago, and even that is problematic: it was advanced on Tuesday by Julie Bishop, retracted later that day by Bishop, advanced again by Tony Abbott yesterday, then retreated from yesterday (downgraded to "conduct unbecoming") when he was put on the spot in Parliament, then advanced again after Parliament had risen. This morning, George Brandis, continuing his self-conceived role as a sort of alternate High Court Chief Justice, laboriously tried to retool the allegations of criminality by shifting away from specifics about her letter to the Corporate Affairs Commission in favour of claiming, based on a reading of her 1995 exit interview, that Gillard always knew the Association was dodgy and therefore must have been acting illegally in advising on its registration. But most significantly, Brandis declined to repeat his claim made yesterday under Parliamentary privilege that Gillard was a criminal. There's been a similar pattern in the media coverage: there have been four instances where media outlets have been forced to retract, apologise for or clarify claims they have made about what Julia Gillard did in the 1990s. The most recent one was yesterday, by The Age in Mark Baker's article, which had to be changed online because it claimed that Gillard has told the WA Corporate Affairs Commission that the AWU Workplace Reform Association had no trade union links. Remarkably, Baker today was trying to wish this away, claiming the only problem was "editing changes" at Fairfax, and that Gillard was "hairsplitting." If Gillard had told the Commission that the body had no trade union links, it would have been a blatant lie, and illegal. The claim was not merely wrong, but defamatory. There's a pattern in all this, in the constant overreach, amendment and overstatement by both the media and the opposition. It's what happens when you have a smear campaign rather than specific, fact-based allegations of wrongdoing. If you don't have a core of fact to rely on, you're at constant risk of going too far. The fact that both the opposition and many in the media have been guilty of this is perhaps the reason why Tony Abbott will walk away unscathed from this week. Abbott has made the most serious allegations possible against a Prime Minister, and one of his leadership group has demanded she step down, only to retreat from both of them when challenged in Parliament and fail to back up the claims. Malcolm Turnbull must be wondering what he did wrong. When he made the same mistake, having been deliberately misled by Godwin Grech about the evidence, he was excoriated for it. No such fate for Abbott; indeed, his media cheerleaders want him to "stay the course". Unfortunately the only "staying of the course" that can be done will be through the media. The opposition and the media wasted four days of parliament on this issue this week. At some point, we might get to discussing issues of relevance to Australians in 2012.

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130 thoughts on “Constant over-reach on AWU is no accident

  1. Saugoof

    “A lie is half-way around the world before the truth puts on its boots”. Over a century later that is still the case. It’s disheartening when that seems to be opposition strategy.

    The other thing that’s puzzling me somewhat in this saga is the amount of coverage this non-entity has been managing to generate. Even if the worst sorts of hush-hush allegations turned out to be true which I don’t believe for a second, this still all sounds barely more serious than a “got shouted lunch but declared it on expenses anyway” type indiscretion.

  2. James Dean

    What I wanted to hear the PM say, all week –

    “Since you’re not interested in using this parliament to help me govern the nation, Further Questions Can Be Put On Notice.”

  3. Jimmy

    “. At some point, we might get to discussing issues of relevance to Australians in 2012.” Judging by yhe medias coverage of this issue we should wait for 2032 to discuss things that are relevant today.

    Any idot can see these allegations have no substance but it tkes a very special idiot to see the lack of evidence as proof positive Gillard did something wrong, fortunately the conervatives have some very special idiots.

  4. Julian Fitzgibbon

    The difference with Godwin Grech and the AWU is fairly obvious. Real money disappeared into the AWU and no utes were misappropriated in utegate. Further, Turnball relied on a forged document.
    Bishop, I think, may have tried to introduce a forged document on Tuesday when she waved around something she said showed a link between a “Kew Renovators” and “Town Mode” (a recipient of 17500 dollars from slush accounts in 1994), but the media stayed strangely mum about it and we haven’t heard a peep about this since. Apart from that they have been careful only to use material of impeccable provenance. The absolute reliance on documents does tend to handicap what the Coalition can claim as I understand many files have gone missing, both in WA and at Slater and Gordon.
    It would seem to me quite acceptable, as an example, for the Coalition to say since the Prime Minister can not recall the sum of 5000 dollars an AWU employee said he placed in her account, we are unable to rule out that she benefited from AWU affair until her memory improves. But even that inductive leap is a bridge to far at the moment for a Coalition ultra-cautious after utegate.

    I would simply say if she wasn’t ethical enough for Slater and Gordon, she is not ethical enough to be Prime Minister.

  5. BH

    Well puffy, Bernard. I dont count on the media ever looking at itself tho. Isn’t the agenda that the PM has to go down in a ballmof flame and the Sun God’s chosen one, the LOTO, has to emerge the victor?

    Writing about policy is too much like hard work. 2013 will be no different to this year. Abbott, while painting himself as gentle and polite, will still be fullmof smear. Woe beside Labor if they dare to challenge him omit. He knows the MSM will back him. Poor Australia

  6. BH

    Sorry Bernard – my first words were meant to be “well put, Bernard”

  7. Lady White Peace

    When will the Media be obliged to tell the truth just like the rest of us do??
    No wonder they are becoming irrelevant and losing readers. Spin, Distortion and Slander surely there is a law against this?? If not why not?

  8. Julia

    Depressing, isn’t it. I can’t help wondering whether the Lib’s strategy is premised on Abbott’s own behaviour in relation to setting up and actually administering a slush fund. He seems to be projecting his own experience onto the PM, for I cannot see any other reason as to why they all would seem so darned convinced of the BS they trot out day in and day out.

  9. Lady White Peace

    Yes Julia very depressing and very telling – just think they have no policies , they have no new ideas with which to enchant the public; SO they sink to the bottom of their barrels and find slime and sadly assume that everyone must be like them …
    and thus project their SLIME onto someone/everyone else.

  10. drmick

    It appears the press gallery are aggressively stupid and ignorant.
    The rest of the world picked up on “the” speech, while “they” were talking about how well their plan was going; missed the point entirely. The rest of the world have seen again what the aggressively stupid have not. What is it with that mob? Any wonder their papers are going down the drain. Good riddance I say

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