Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Two shades of limelight for Julia Gillard with Royal Commission and memoir launch

History will record that the largest criminal organisation in Australia was protected by the first woman prime minister of Australia. This is going to be a big month for Julia Gillard's reputation. Starting as early as Tuesday, she is likely to be called as a witness by the Royal Commission into Union Corruption. Then, on September 24, her political memoir will be launched.

Was Gillard a success or failure as prime minister? Many, perhaps most, Australians have already have made up their minds. Many would think that by becoming the first woman to reach the leadership, and forming a government that survived three years, she made history and is by definition is a success. But there is a big difference between history and success. The accumulation of facts – as distinct from mere opinions or gender solidarity – is not going Gillard's way.

The factual tide is flowing against her. Gillard's name will always be associated with the word "fraud". Frauds committed not by her but by others she supported. There is also a direct correlation between Gillard's actions as PM and the brazen contempt for law that has broken out across the construction industry, with national economic ramifications. Disruptions such as those on the Barangaroo building site in Sydney last week, which included a young woman being described by a CFMEU official, using a loud hailer, as "a f***ing slut* because, as a staff member of the Fair Work Building Commission, she had dared to come onto the building site. Or the "accidental" fire that shut down the Barangaroo site. Or the organised crime group that infiltrated the project.

The Gillard flow-on is evidenced by the 150 active investigations of fraud, intimidation and criminality currently under way, with the majority directed at the CFMEU.  It is evidenced by the use of "safety" by CFMEU official to go onto building sites to extract funds from workers. (One CFMEU official even took an EFTPOS machine while on a "safety" inspection.) It is evidenced by the flying squads of CFMEU goons who go into cities, mock the police – who are deserving of mockery – and shut down dozens of building sites in a display of power. It is evidenced by the collusion of big companies with the CFMEU to pad the cost of major infrastructure and building projects.

All of this has led the Productivity Commission, among many others, to urge the re-introduction of the Commonwealth Building Code, the re-instatement of the Australian Building and Construction Commission, and the introduction of higher penalties for unlawful activities in the construction industry. All because Gillard, as prime minister, shut down the ABCC and the building code after furious lobbying by the CFMEU, which hated the police powers of the ABCC and the legal restraints imposed by the building code. And Bill Shorten, as leader of the Labor Party, is fighting a rear-guard action to stop the ABCC and building code from being revived.

Gillard's actions while prime minister have had huge ramifications because the construction industry is huge, on a par with the mining industry, which is regarded as the engine of the economy. While mining represents 8.6 per cent of gross domestic product, construction represents 8.3 per cent, and employs many more people than mining, more than 1  million jobs.

On Gillard's watch, and as a direct result of some of her actions, the construction industry saw an outbreak of cost blow-outs and on-site intimidation that contributed to ending the mining boom and continues to inflate the cost of infrastructure, inhibit investment and destroy jobs.

None of this will even get a mention when Gillard is questioned at the Royal Commission this week. She has been called to give evidence about events which took place years ago, before she was in parliament. The outcome may or may not seriously damage her reputation. It will all revolve around whether she is found to have been a witting or unwitting participant in serious fraud because of her actions as a labour lawyer.

Whatever the outcome, Gillard has already been struck by fraud lightning far more than most politicians. The Labor figure on whose vote her government depended for survival, and whose reputation she defended, Craig Thomson, turned out to be a fraud and liar who misled the parliament on multiple occasions. The person she elevated to be speaker of the house, Peter Slipper, has since been convicted of fraud. Her former boyfriend, Bruce Wilson, is immersed in multiple serious fraud allegations.

The most defining speech of her career, the "misogyny" speech delivered in parliament on October 12, 2012, was based on not on evidence that Tony Abbott had a hatred of women but served as a cynical diversion from the scandals embroiling her leadership. It set a poor precedent that the first woman PM would resort to a vindictive personal attack, playing the gender card, to deflect from multiple self-inflicted controversies.

The defining promise of her one election campaign as leader – no carbon tax – turned out to be a falsity. Even her greatest legislative legacy, the National Disability Insurance Scheme, was drafted and passed with bipartisan support, but not adequately funded.

The Australian people have delivered an adverse verdict on Gillard's leadership. She took a comfortable majority into the 2010 federal election and lost it all. She never had the chance to go to a second election because her standing in the opinion polls had sunk so low her party removed her rather than face the electorate with her as leader.

Gillard was a more sane and sympathetic leader than her predecessor and successor, Kevin Rudd, but that is not saying much. The best she can hope for from the Royal Commission is that she does not get struck by fraud lightning yet again.


The old Leftist poison of antisemitism is re-emerging in Australia

TONY Burke has reignited the clash in Labor over the Middle East by saying Jewish settlements in the West Bank are a ploy to block a two-state solution, and are “trashing” the drinking water of Palestinians.

So trenchant was Mr Burke in his criticism of Israel that he won the praise of Sydney academic Jake Lynch and the acknowledgment of Greens senator Lee Rhiannon, known for their vocal support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel.

In a blistering attack on Israel during a keynote address to a pro-Palestinian fundraiser, the senior Labor frontbencher said he, Senator Rhiannon, diplomats from Arab nations and others at the event were “here representing the view of the majority of the world”.

Mr Burke said anyone who supported Israel’s bombing UN compounds in Gaza was “on the wrong side of that argument”.

Mr Burke’s speech in Sydney late last month to the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network, unreported until now, went far beyond his previous comments in support of the Palestinian cause.

Labor’s finance spokesman and manager of opposition business is one of the more outspoken in a group of ALP frontbenchers, including foreign affairs spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek, who lean towards the Palestinian side of the debate, in contrast to Bill Shorten who is robustly pro-Israel.

In his speech, Mr Burke said “Israel’s actions have changed”.

“It is one thing for them to have ... said for years, ‘well, it’s a negotiated outcome and we just haven’t got there yet’,” Mr Burke said.

“But when settlements are being built between Bethlehem and Ramallah, all the way south of Jericho, that’s about preventing a two-state solution. It cannot be about anything else. It’s about ­dividing territory to prevent there from being a workable state.”

Mr Burke said he had met the Friends of Palestine group who had evidence Palestinians had “had their drinking water trashed by a settlement upstream”.

Mr Burke’s remarks drew a sharp response from Victorian Labor MP Michael Danby, a supporter of Israel, when The Australian advised him of the speech.

Mr Danby said Mr Burke and former Labor foreign minister Bob Carr, who championed a more pro-Palestinian Australian policy in the UN, “seek to impose ­Munich-style settlements on Israel like the great powers handed down on the Czechs in 1938”.

Mr Danby said Mr Burke and other pro-Palestinian Labor MPs needed to “get a more balanced perspective, especially on the missile attacks (from Gaza’s Hamas organisation) that forced five million Israelis to the air-raid shelters”.

A spokesman for the Opposition Leader reiterated ALP policy on the Middle East but said he declined to endorse Mr Burke’s speech.

Mr Burke’s spokesman said his speech was “consistent with Labor’s position on this issue”.


Peta Credlin: A mystery that went nowhere

Mark Dreyfus dubbed it "cash for questions" and spoke of "remarkable allegations that go to the highest levels of the Abbott government". Problem was, he couldn't quite articulate what the allegations are against Tony Abbott's larger-than-life chief of staff, Peta Credlin.

Greens senator Lee Rhiannon was similarly bold, declaring the ICAC scandals have now reached "into the heart" of the federal Liberal Party, "with the Prime Minister's office implicated".

But she failed to back up her assertion that previously suppressed emails, to and from Credlin, reveal "another layer of political sleaze".

Yes, the fact that Liberal Party lawyers sought to have the emails suppressed by the Independent Commission Against Corruption suggests they were, at the very least, sensitive about their contents.

And, yes, the fact that Credlin, arguably the country's most powerful woman, emerged as one of the "mystery" figures in the email exchange, is news of sorts.

But that is the extent of it. A little bit of smoke but no gun. All the emails reveal is Credlin doing her job, which in opposition focused heavily on finding people prepared to say the carbon tax was killing them.

The fact that one such person, Brickworks chief executive Lindsay Partridge, was described to her by a NSW Liberal fund-raiser as "a very good supporter of the party", was irrelevant to whether he helped her cause or not.

Barely a day went by in opposition that  Abbott was not visiting some business that claimed it was being hurt by the tax and it is safe to assume that many were natural constituents of the Liberals.

The separate issue, and the one worthy of debate and investigation, is whether existing disclosure laws on political donations are adequate and whether there should be a federal equivalent of the NSW ICAC.

But here there is no consensus on this, even within the Labor Party.

Back in June, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said that, while "we've all been shocked at the revelations" to come out of ICAC, he did not believe these problems were "prevalent in the national political debate in Australia".

While Dreyfus appears to be moving towards support for such a federal body, Labor's former national secretary, Gary Gray, now the frontbencher responsible for electoral matters, disagrees.

The weakness of Labor's case against Credlin was underscored by the Dreyfus statement. Despite the powerful opening, it went nowhere.


Bottle of Grange among gifts to Campbell Newman

Premier lists painting of himself, Māori spear and three ties worth $755 among presents worth more than $19,000

The Queensland premier received a painting of himself and a bottle of wine similar to the one that claimed the career of a New South Wales premier, according to a list of $20,000 in gifts he received last financial year.

Barry O’Farrell resigned as NSW premier this year after denying before the Independent Commission Against Corruption that he had received a $3,000 bottle of 1959 Penfolds Grange from the Australian Water Holdings boss Nick Di Girolamo.

But Campbell Newman didn’t make the same mistake, listing a similar, but more common $700 bottle of 2002 Penfolds Grange in his ministerial gifts register for the 2013-14 financial year.

The bottle, from the developer Nick Gardner, was one of 37 gifts worth a combined $19,041.65 given to the Queensland leader during the period. The gifts also included a Māori spear.

Newman handed the wine to the ministerial services branch, which will auction it for charity. He did, however, keep three designer ties worth $755 from the recruitment entrepreneur Sarina Russo.

The assistant planning reform minister, Rob Molhoek, received the most expensive gift – a Ballon Bleu de Cartier watch valued at $23,400 – worth more than all the premier’s gifts combined.

He too offered the gift, from a Ruipeng Li, to the ministerial services branch for auction.

The deputy premier, Jeff Seeney, received a $880 silver peacock figurine and a $740 silver bowl from the Indian mining giants GVK and Adani respectively, which he has put on display.


1 comment:

Paul said...

Given the ever-shifting definition of "anti-Semitism", I'm sure it can be made to pop up wherever and whenever its needed.