A little mud sticks, even if the PM is squeaky clean
Julia Gillard had two big goals for the second half of 2012 and was on track to achieve both of them. The first one was simple enough: to survive. If a doctor’s guiding dictum is “do no harm,’’ the political equivalent is “being there’”.
For any leader, and particularly an unpopular one, merely making it through the closing days of parliament – the so-called “the killing season’’ - is something of an achievement.
The second goal was to finish off the year well allowing Labor to hit the ground running in 2013. That too seemed to be working. Progress through the second half of 2012 had been steady and encouraging just as she promised.
This is attributable to the reality of the carbon price - as distinct from the fear of it - and to the opportunity presented by the clearing of that dense cloud to re-define Tony Abbott as relentlessly negative, and unlikeable.
The polls since June have charted Labor’s slow but steady rise just as they have also shown a decline in Mr Abbott’s never strong personal approval. As one MP quipped recently, “Tony Abbott himself is now more unpopular than the carbon tax’‘.
Labor’s primary vote had climbed from the mid-twenties to the mid-thirties. Then came the return of the Slater and Gordon AWU slush-fund affair.
Like Paul Keating’s piggery and the Whitewater controversy that dogged Bill and Hillary Clinton without ever being fully cleared up (nor result in a charge against them) the AWU slush-fund has been on a slow burn.
Zealous opponents have been feverishly working away for years looking for that elusive smoking gun - proof that way back in the 1990s, the (mysteriously) despised Julia Gillard was part of something murky or even criminal - the legal expertise behind a conspiracy to steal union money.
For most of the time the Opposition has left the running on the issue to others - not wanting to get involved in another Godwin Grech / utegate debacle.
But what was a smouldering peripheral fascination was re-energised when one of Ms Gillard’s own - dumped former attorney general Robert McClelland - referenced the old issue in a parliamentary speech. That breathed new life into the old events resulting in renewed attention and the crisis engulfing the Government in recent days.
The final week of Parliament has seen a once reluctant Opposition weigh in fully turning the House of Representatives into a B-grade court-room.
Few voters will have engaged with the many complex details of the case and even fewer will have formed a new view of the PM based on her culpability or otherwise as a lawyer way back when. But that has never really been the Opposition’s goal anyway.
Despite breathless gotcha headlines and politically foolish over-reaches such as Julie Bishop’s personal contacts with the self-declared bag-man Ralph Blewitt, there has been no proof of any corruption or malfeasance by Ms Gillard. Neither, however, has there been a full explanation.
What there has been though is plenty of suggestion and much guilt by association. This, as one observer put it, is word-cloud politics - linking terms such as union, bag-man, corruption, boyfriend, fraud, con-man, etc. with Labor and of course with Julia Gillard.
If Ms Gillard’s prestige with voters has not been dented by all this it would be a miracle. And her standing was hardly helped when she was rebuffed on her intention to have Australia vote against Palestine in the United Nations.
“She’s basically lost the caucus,’’ said one sage Liberal observer not normally given to hyperbole. But the Opposition has hardly come out smelling of roses either.
Yesterday’s unfounded criminality claims by Tony Abbott were a clear mistake as evidenced by the fact he failed to back them or move no confidence in the PM – surely the least he should do if he was serious.
It was an untidy, unedifying end to a rancorous political year. From here, it seems next year will be the same.
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