Monday, 30 January 2012

Straight with the public? Not Julia Gillard

After a first term of learning the ropes and settling down, a second term government should feel like a team that is just moving into third gear.

That does not describe the Gillard Government.

It feels like, seems like, and smells like, a government in its death throes with one controversy after another. The Gillard team is the team that keeps on giving. Dumping Harry Jenkins to appoint Peter Slipper as Speaker brought Gillard's 2011 year to an end with a bad taste in everybody's mouth except Slipper's and this year's start has been equally malodorous.

Believe it or not, most politicians try to maintain some semblance of a reputation for being straight with the public. Not Julia Gillard. It is one thing to justify the dumping of pre election policies because Labor did not win a majority. It's another thing to dump the Wilkie policy promise, given after the election, with the express purpose to secure the prime ministership.

The latest fracas on Australia Day is just another example of how Gillard operates in two ways; spinning and always in concert with the unions.

When media adviser Tony Hodges became the sacrificial lamb, Gillard declared that neither she nor her new Director of Communications was aware or authorised what happened. I half believe her because no authority would have been required. Labor's tactics against Abbott are Labor's standing operational procedure. They are as obvious as they are useless. You only have to read what they say.

John McTernan, Gillard's new Director of Communications, is a former spinmeister for Tony Blair. Blair's constant spin was one reason that led to his political demise. In an article in The Scotsman, McTernan used a quote from a well known Tory to advocate his approach to politics. In a discussion about politics in Scotland he said;

"Michael Heseltine was once asked for advice by someone thinking of becoming an MP 'Don't do it," he said, 'if you're only thinking of becoming one." His point - you need to want it. How do you become First Minister of Scotland? Simple. Malcolm X was right: 'By any means necessary." If you're not prepared to follow his advice, you should avoid politics as a career."

McTernan seems to believe that the ends justify the means. The simple point is that Hodges did not have to ask anyone before he organised to rev up the people at the Tent Embassy.

For 24-hours, Gillard's office must have been pleased with their dirty work. The next day, Friday, I was doing Sky Agenda with Stephen Loosley. He was running the line that Julia is such a great lady that she was concerned about Tony Abbott's wellbeing. The idea of Gillard being worried about Abbott certainly sounded phoney to me, but I did not know otherwise so I said nothing. I doubt Stephen needed a briefing, but there is no doubt that the people running that line to the press and others were the same people who were ringing the Tent Embassy. Even on Saturday, the Age was saying Gillard had 'won praise for acting to ensure Mr Abbott got safely away".

How sneaky was that! The PMs Office manipulated the situation and then boasted how well Julia handled it! It was like something out of Anthony Albanese's DVD collection of West Wing except it was for real.

Setting a large crowd onto Abbott is in a different class to the situation where a staffer rings a journalist to say 'did you notice that MP X said something silly". In this case the media reports are that the phone call went to the Tent Embassy with details of Abbott's location to suggest that people go round and vent their spleen. The call for a proper inquiry is entirely justified.

The riot also raises questions about the ACTU involvement.

This saga is certainly another example of how Gillard's Government is so hand in glove with the unions that the unions are 'helping" day-to-day throwing dirt against Abbott. The person who was the go-between the PMs Office and the Tent Embassy is reportedly the head of the ACTU in Canberra. The unions know where their bread is buttered. It would be interesting to know how many other union people were brought in for the riot. It would not be the first time.

When you look back at the last 12 months Gillard has bent over backwards to give the unions whatever they want.

She is abolishing the ABCC, the cop on the beat in the building industry, because the unions don't like having to pay fines for breaking the law.

She has agreed to various pro-union clauses in the proposed national occupational health and safety scheme and so the end result is that the reform has been stymied. The increase in the super from 9 per cent to 12 per cent is another gift to union controlled funds.

Doling out cash to the car industry is another example. The AMWU is a big union in the car industry and controls votes in the caucus. Of course, Gillard only became PM by virtue of union votes in the caucus.

Sadly, with no election in sight this year, although anything is possible, the political contest will be more of the same and Gillard's standing will continue to fall. Whether Labor can then overcome its delusions and remove Gillard remains to be seen. But, it is hard to believe she is going to survive much longer.

Given that politics looks gloomy and the riot generated an unhappy scene, at least, the increase in Indigenous employment as reported last week is one bright light on the national agenda.

As a former Minister for Employment I know that governments from both sides have encouraged Indigenous employment.

But the real story can be found in the private sector efforts of miners like Rio Tinto and Andrew Forrest and their employees, Indigenous and otherwise, who have shown how the private sector can achieve fundamental and positive social change through economic success.

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