The 'Get Gillard' camp gobbled up hundreds of column inches, burnt acres of taxpayers' dollars and scored zip — apart from their own collateral damage. Alan Austin reports on the never-ending, venomous pursuit of our former Prime Minister.
With Julia Gillard’s long-awaited testimony at the Trade Union Royal Commission, Australia’s longest and most malicious media campaign of vilifying one public figure has almost certainly run its course.
It was more venomous than that against Lindy Chamberlain, more sustained than that against Carmen Lawrence and based on far less evidence than that against Pauline Hanson.
One strong positive to emerge from Wednesday’s theatre in Sydney was to see influential Fairfax mastheads The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald abandon their earlier lockstep march behind Murdoch’s malicious liars.
The difference between Murdoch and Fairfax on this matter is now quite stark. Last September, Fairfax outlets The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Canberra Times were pilloried by the Australian Press Council (APC) over two articles about Gillard and the Australian Workers Union (AWU): they were not ‘accurate, fair and balanced’ and did not provide ‘opportunity for a balancing response’ to false allegations.
Author, Mark Baker, has since left Fairfax and appears to have left journalism. If his departure is because of the adverse APC finding, that’s yet another Gillard scalp. Already 2UE shock jock, Michael Smith, and Murdoch’s Glenn Milne and Ean Higgins have been humiliated or lost their jobs for misreporting the matter.
Fairfax’s syndicated report yesterday was a fair and accurate account of Gillard’s testimony, highlighting the humorous and quirky. Headed ‘Dignified in the dock, Julia Gillard checks attack on invoices’, it concluded:
‘In the end, the commissioner will have to reflect on whether Ms Gillard's word is more credible than some of those who have given evidence. That should not prove an onerous task.
‘The bigger question is one not covered by his terms of reference: whether all the resources that have been marshalled to pursue Ms Gillard could have been deployed for a higher, more productive purpose. You don't need a royal commission to know the answer.
The coverage by The Australian, in contrast, continued its long-running malicious misrepresentation. All four falsehoods the Murdoch media have peddled from the outset – now 19 years ago – were regurgitated yesterday by Hedley Thomas. The first is that Gillard set up the union “slush fund” to be used for corrupt purposes. This is the most sustained false assertion, carried across all hostile media, and even some not so hostile.
It is blatantly false. Ms Gillard helped set up an association incorporated with the Corporate Affairs Commission. She did not set up any of its funds – or bank accounts – slushy or otherwise.
Clearly, an association and its bank account are quite separate entities.
Thomas in The Australian yesterday:
‘... he [former AWU chief Bruce Wilson] and his sidekick Ralph Blewitt allegedly perpetrated the fraud with the slush fund — the Australian Workers Union (AWU) Workplace Reform Association — that Ms Gillard had helped to establish in 1992 with her legal advice.’
It is plainly false.
The distinction between the two entities was clarified on Wednesday when counsel assisting the commission, Jeremy Stoljar SC, quoted from the 1995 exit interview between Gillard and Slater & Gordon partners Peter Gordon and Geoff Shaw:
'... the account belonging to an incorporated association by the same name which was incorporated by Slater & Gordon ...” [page774]
Clearly the slush fund belongs to the association; they are not the same thing.
Stoljar confirmed the distinction with this question: “He [Gordon] is referring to an account quite separate from the Association; correct?”
'When you look across this discussion with Mr Gordon and Mr Shaw, there's a discussion about the Workplace Reform Association; there's a discussion then about bank accounts ... I didn't know anything about the banking arrangements of the AWU Workplace Reform Association.' [page774]
— The Daily Rupert (@TheMurdochTimes) September 11, 2014
Deliberately confusing the two has been a malicious tactic used throughout the campaign by Murdoch and other hostile media.
It has clearly been successful. Even Crikey’s Scott Mitchell erroneously referred to the association as a slush fund this week.
Thomas in The Australian:
“... with the leaking to The Australian of confidential material showing Ms Gillard’s colleagues at Slater & Gordon were so concerned that they considered terminating her for misconduct as a solicitor in the mid-1990s.”
Bolt and Akerman repeat this lie also.
Several former Slater & Gordon colleagues have confirmed this to be blatantly false, including Justice Bernard Murphy on Tuesday:
'I had conversations with her [Gillard] about whether she'd done anything wrong and she assured me she hadn't and I believed her.' [page 577-8]
Gillard was not sacked or censured in any way. She resigned to pursue a career in politics.
The third falsehood is that Gillard knew the slush fund was corrupt, and that it was given a misleading name and purpose when registered.
Thomas in The Australian again:
‘[Gillard] ... provided the know-how to create the device that would be used by Wilson to raise ill-gotten money;’
The fourth is that Gillard benefitted from corruptly gained moneys which were allegedly given to her in cash by Bruce Wilson to pay for home renovations.
The Australian continues to claim:
‘[Gillard] ... allegedly received or benefited from (according to three witnesses) thousands of dollars Wilson directed her way ...’
If there was any evidence for any of these alleged crimes, other than unsubstantiated allegations by political enemies, Wednesday was the chance to present it and elicit from Gillard an admission of guilt. No such evidence was tended.
Barring some extraordinary revelation it seems certain the royal commission will exonerate the former PM. That must further marginalise Thomas, Bolt, Akerman and the other Murdoch manipulators. That, if it happens, will be a just outcome.
You can follow Alan Austin on Twitter @AlanTheAmazing.