It might feel goodA senior political correspondent can't tell when he's being gamed:
it might sound a little somethin'
but damn the game if it don't mean nothin'
what is game who got game
where's the game in life behind the game behind the game
I got game
she's got game
we got game
they got game
he got game
it might feel good
or sound a little somethin'
but fuck the game if it ain't saying nothin'
- Public Enemy He Got Game
One of the many intriguing aspects of the slush fund scandal that was revived against Julia Gillard this week is that the opposition had almost nothing to do with it.Oh, please.
In the annals of scandal-based attempts to embarrass or pressure prime ministers, this makes it as rare as a blue diamond, but nowhere near as attractive.
The opposition was not hawking to the press a dirt file on Gillard. It did not promote the story or brief reporters on the key questions to pursue. It did not use question time, not even once, to pressure her on the matter. These are the time-honoured hallmarks of an opposition-led assault; they were missing this week.
And when Abbott was intimately involved in undermining the Pauline Hanson support movement, and lying about his involvement, Hartcher would not have dug for the real story: he'd have been satisfied with the surface appearances and left it at that.
Had Hartcher been a White House correspondent in 1972, the official denial of any involvement in the break-in the Democrat party headquarters in the Watergate building would have seen the story end there.
Tony Abbott did egg the media on by repeatedly telling reporters, when asked, that the Prime Minister had questions to answer. But he did not specify any, even when invited to. He was a bystander enjoying the spectacle and cheering it on, but not a participant.Abbott has the most to gain from the political destruction of Julia Gillard. Had the Prime Minister faltered there was a real prospect that he would have been in the Lodge by Christmas.
As the putative Prime Minister, Abbott could have demonstrated some much-sought-after statesmanship by declaring the Slater & Gordon allegations to be some sort of internal Labor kerfuffle and refusing to discuss it. Had this happened, the press gallery would have rounded on those who really are peddling the story (Hartcher used to get feeds directly from Kevin Rudd when the latter was on the ascendant, and this story has that old-time's-sake feel about it), and dusted off their Gillard leadership stories once again. The fact that Abbott, like Rudd, neither put up nor shut up looks weak; they look like those appalling football spectators who love on-field scraps more than the game itself.
There are some obvious questions for Gillard here. Did she know about his alleged fraud? Did she knowingly abet theft in any way?Thanks to ABC24, I saw the press conference where those questions were put to and answered by Gillard.
I do not know if Hartcher was there (maybe he was busy, y'know it was just before Question Time) but it does not reflect well on Hartcher for him to put those questions:
- If Hartcher knew those questions were asked and answered, it's craven and dishonest to put them to readers of his article; and even worse
- If Hartcher didn't know those questions were asked and answered, his reputation as a journalist is on the line.
It looked like a perfect opportunity for the opposition to embarrass Gillard because it reminds the public of the intimate relations between Labor and the union movement, because it reminds the public of union corruption, and because it allows the opposition a new way to accentuate the old theme of Gillard's trustworthiness.There is clearly no interest in the Labor-union links and union corruption, otherwise this would be a hotter story for the MSM than it would appear to be. Abbott has pretty much negated the untrustworthiness thing with whether or not he read the BHP announcement over Olympic Dam. Clearly, Hartcher's musings come from outside the Abbott brains trust; from people who think they can second-guess them.
Why pass up the chance? There are three reasons that the opposition chose to sit this one out.Yes there are, but they aren't the ones cited by Hartcher:
- The Coalition have an unrelentingly short-term focus. If they can knock Gillard out with a single blow, they're interested; but to do any in-depth forensic digging (like John Howard did over the Loans Affair in 1974-75) is all too hard;
- The Wilson-Gillard thing has already claimed the career of Glenn Milne, whom John Howard wanted as his press secretary, later the most pro-Coalition member of the press gallery; now apparently picking coins out of Canberra gutters. That's why Josh Frydenberg dodged the questions-to-be-answered question when they was put to him on ABC Breakfast; and
- They've seen what Gillard is like when she's full of fight, and they can't cope. As with all big beasts, you don't wound Julia Gillard; you knock her off quickly and cleanly or you put the gun down and drive on.
So how did the Prime Minister arrive at the point on Thursday of icily declaring that "I have determined that I will deal with these issues", "given we have got to a stage where false and defamatory material is now being recycled in The Australian newspaper," and taking questions from the press gallery until the questions were exhausted.Umm, was it The Australian newspaper, perhaps?
The watershed moment was when a member of Gillard's own caucus, Robert McClelland, stood in the House on June 21 ... he committed an act of political bastardry against his leader.Why the two-month lag between then and Thursday? A gun political correspondent could tell us that, but there's nothing here. Surely McClelland learned the lesson of going off half-cocked in February.
A former industrial lawyer with the old Builders Labourers Federation ... Nowicki and Blewitt are hunting for documents.Would you lump them in with those misogynists and nutjobs we've heard so much about lately? Why is it OK to make the Federal Opposition and the Federal Parliamentary Press Gallery put up or shut up, but these guys can come out with anything as and when they feel like it?
With an entire ecosystem of anti-Gillard activists, dedicated promoters of the Wilson scandal like Nowicki and Blewitt, a split and bitter Labor caucus, and the anti-Gillard agenda of The Australian, this affair is not going to fade away.If there are no issues of substance to be raised, why shouldn't it fade away? If it does not fade away, it is an indictment of pretty much the entire Australian media. We saw how it pissed away its credibility over Howard-Costello, Rudd-Gillard, Thomson-Jackson and Ashby-Slipper. You'd think these guys would quit while they're behind, but you can't do fearless foot-in-door journalism when your foot is in your mouth and the door is closed.
Indeed, Gillard has now turbocharged this affair. She has elevated it to a legitimate subject of prime ministerial scrutiny.No, Peter; as with the Rudd Government, she's buried it. There is no new material, champ, and even if there is he sources are so discredited they may as well not bother.
Hartcher has been a Canberra correspondent for twenty years, no longer an up-and-comer but not an Oakes-Kelly doyen, either. Consider the dire financial position of Fairfax against its expensively-maintained non-AFR team at the Canberra press gallery:
- Hartcher has been there half as long as Grattan and is her logical successor, but Fairfax can't pay out her entitlements and stay solvent;
- Phil Coorey has a sinecure as correspondent to the Labor Right;
- Misha Schubert has already gone;
- Maley and Murphy are expendable and each is almost certainly paid less than Peter Hartcher.
Update: Bushfire Bill on the press gallery, comment 4468.