CANBERRA OBSERVED: by national correspondentNews Weekly
Julia Gillard's fatally flawed judgement
, May 12, 2012
It has suddenly dawned on all but Julia Gillard’s most rosy-eyed comrades in the Labor Caucus that their leader lacks the political judgment required to hold the office of Australia’s prime minister.
Too many mistakes, too little acknowledgement of those mistakes, too much blame-shifting, with nothing to show for any of it except for the likelihood of the ALP’s annihilation at the coming election.
In the public’s mind the overall impression of the Gillard Government is one of incompetence and self-indulgence, combined with mulish self-survival and self-interest, being placed ahead of duty and indeed the privilege granted to its MPs of running the country.
Even Julia Gillard’s barrackers in the Canberra Press Gallery seem to have turned against the PM following her sudden and inexplicable decision to cut Speaker Peter Slipper adrift and force Craig Thomson out of the party after almost four years of vehemently defending him.
Another leadership challenge is now on the horizon. Despite the deep antipathy from his colleagues, Kevin Rudd might be enlisted or alternatively a “night watchman” might be installed — someone who can help save some of the Labor furniture in the coming conflagration. Who that might be is anyone’s guess: Bill Shorten, Simon Crean, Greg Combet?
And Ms Gillard has no one to blame but herself.
The only reason Ms Gillard could conjecture upon her return from Gallipoli was that a “dark cloud” had cast a shadow over the Federal Parliament, and that the Australian people deserved to have an institution they could respect.
But why did action have to be taken now? Only the previous week senior Cabinet ministers had lined up to declare that the principle of innocence until proof of guilt had to be upheld and that Opposition Leader Tony Abbott stood condemned for suggesting the Speaker Slipper should stand aside.
The only possible reason for the turnabout was that Ms Gillard faced a hostile cross-bench over Mr Slipper’s alleged inappropriate behaviour and there were now questions from her own party about her decision to install Slipper and to back Thomson to the hilt in the first place.
Thomson denies charges that he used $100,000 in union funds for personal use (including payments to prostitutes), and Mr Slipper denies he misused his travel entitlements and that he made repeated inappropriate advances to a male staffer during his recent six-month period holding the Parliament’s highest office.
In Thomson’s case he has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, but has curiously steadfastly resisted providing any assistance to various inquiries into his dealings as a senior Health Services Union (HSU) official.
When Ms Gillard convinced Peter Slipper to take his 30 pieces of silver in the form of the Speaker’s chair late last year, many political commentators regarded it as a triumph for the Labor Party, providing the Government with the breathing space it needed to pass legislation at will and giving it a free run to the next election.
News Weekly’s Canberra Observed column (December 10, 2011) took a more sceptical view of the Slipper defection at the time.
It said: “Officially, Mr Slipper opted to become an independent, having already deserted the Nationals and the Liberals during a colourful two decades in the federal parliament.
“But he will be Labor’s man from now on.
“Mr Slipper has a reputation for extracting his parliamentary perks to the limit, sometimes going over the limit and having to pay back taxpayer funds for overspending.
“Labor will be able to blame past indiscretions on the Liberals, but will have to keep a close eye on him over the coming months.”
Indeed, installing Mr Slipper has turned out to be a disaster, while the stubborn defence of Mr Thomson has left a stench hanging over the Labor Government, and the Prime Minister has no one to blame but herself.
One of the most under-reported and indeed forgotten events in the coup against Kevin Rudd and the subsequent installation of Julia Gillard as Prime Minister was the subsequent resignation of two of the Labor Party’s most respected figures.
Senator John Faulkner and Lindsay Tanner declared they did not want to be part of a Gillard Government, with the former going to the backbench and the latter quitting politics altogether.
Clearly, both knew something, either about the character or the ability of the incoming PM that their colleagues in the Labor Caucus did not.
And now both the ALP Caucus and the media are wondering why they did not take more notice at the time.