Like a cornered bear, Julia Gillard is at her best when she is poked with a big stick.
“I did nothing wrong,” she declared emphatically this afternoon. “These matters have been raised and cycled and recycled.”
This afternoon she held another marathon press conference on the ongoing affair surrounding a “slush fund” established within the Australian Workers Union. It was a move designed to get on the front foot before the Opposition dug into the details during question time.
“I did nothing wrong.” Julia Gillard at the press conference. Photo by Alex Ellinghausen via smh.com.au.
It signalled a number of changes in the woman and the Government’s strategy to counter the Opposition claims.
Firstly, it seems that since her speech on sexism, Gillard has been sprinkling nails on her muesli.
She admitted as much this afternoon, when she referred to herself being “a bit more hard-boiled than she used to be”.
Her physical presentation is different. She holds her head higher and dares the press gallery to put a specific allegation of wrong-doing against her. She warned a male reporter not to “hector” her and metaphorically slapped him down for misunderstanding the AWU matters.
She suggested trying to remember every document she had seen was like Chris Uhlmann trying to remember the tie of every man he had interviewed on The 7.30 Report.
Gillard also gave a free character reference for Ralph Blewitt, the so-called AWU “bag-man”.
“Mr Blewitt is a man who has publicly said he was involved in fraud. Mr Blewitt is a man who has sought immunity from prosecution. Mr Blewitt is a man who has fled Indonesia to avoid a police interview in relation to land fraud although he denies wrong doing in the case.”
She said that people who knew Blewitt had described him as a complete imbecile, an idiot, a sexist pig, a liar and rotten to the core.
“It’s his word against mine. A Prime Minister of Australia who has done nothing wrong, and a man who has admitted to being involved in fraud. Work it out.”
Secondly, she warned Australians who might be hoping to return to a John Howard style Government (that is, relaxed and comfortable) – that Tony Abbott was not the man for that job.
“There are no John Howard-style Liberals at all… this political party is an entirely different party (under Tony Abbott).”
She said Abbott “had no ideas for the nation at all” and he was an “economic illiterate”. Gillard drew the comparison between the two Liberal leaders, saying that while she disagreed with Howard’s vision for Australia, at least he had one.
In contrast, she said the Government would be introducing legislation on the National Disability Insurance Scheme and education reforms.
It was always going to be a big finale in Parliament this week. The polls remain neck and neck, despite strong dissatisfaction with the Labor Government. The Opposition had long flagged their intention to delve into the AWU matter in forensic detail this week, though.
Deputy Liberal Leader Julie Bishop will prosecute the case. The last thing Abbott needs is to be accused of sexism again.
And so they did at 2pm. Every Opposition question was asked by Julie Bishop about the PM’s involvement in the AWU. Like Michael Clarke, she kept batting back the questions.
“If (Julie Bishop) has a real allegation of wrong doing by me, then put it,” she said.
Gillard said today and many times before Australians are sick of the “sleaze and smear campaign”.
The effect of this affair though is its capacity to play into the bigger picture of the Labor brand, particularly while the Independent Commission Against Corruption hears continue around NSW Labor members, Eddie Obeid and Ian MacDonald.
The bottom line is that Gillard is not taking a backward step. She continues to front up. The judges, the Australian voters, may award points yet for chutzpah alone.
*Gabrielle Chan is The Hoopla’s political correspondent. She is a journalist and author with more than 25 years experience, having worked most recently as a regular columnist with The Australian. She has previously worked for The Daily Telegraph, the ABC and the South China Morning Post. Gabrielle has written and edited Flickers of History, War On Our Doorstep and FEAST and is a member of the NSW Anzac Advisory Council. She blogs at www.gabriellechan.com and you can follow her on Twitter: @gabriellechan.