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July 11th 2010 print

David Flint

How to interview Julia Gillard

Answering questions like a Radio Moscow announcer, Julia Gillard seems impervious to robust and sceptical media analysis. The gallery could learn from 4BC’s Michael Smith on how to interview the head of the second government in three years to lose its way.

After only two weeks in office the Gillard government has “lost its way”, the very justification Julia Gillard gave for deposing Kevin Rudd.

This emerges, with remarkable clarity, from Michael Smith’s 9 July interview on 4BC on both the mining taxes and the asylum shopping issues. 

There are already 22 transcripts of interviews posted to the PM’s new website; unsurprisingly, Michael Smith’s is not there.

Admittedly, Julia Gillard is difficult to interview. She talks like Moscow Radio. Let me explain. In Bolshevik days a news item would begin:

In Moscow today, the Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Supreme Soviet of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, Comrade Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin, met with the President of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, Nikolay Mikhailovich Shvernik …

The bulletin was filled with similar waffle and most people turned off.

Just as one example, Julia Gillard always uses the ludicrous and neo Marxist "Building the Education Revolution."  Why doesn’t she just say “BER”?    She doesn’t because almost all of her answers consist of similar long winded repetitive waffle designed to fill the interview and prevent any meaningful interrogation.

And all words seem to be delivered by Ms. Gillard without any of the inflexion used in normal English parlance. Is this to disarm the interviewer from knowing when an interminable sentence, loaded with repetition, is actually going to end?  Even Moscow Radio did not do that.

Michael Smith penetrated these defences as few journalists have. Of course many in the gallery don’t bother to try. They are still so excited with her accession that they fall about cheering rather than doing their job. Their job is what they correctly did with John Howard. This is subjecting a politician’s words and actions to robust, sceptical analysis, regardless of party.  

Not so long ago this same gallery was beside itself when Joe Hockey failed to honour them with an advance copy of his budget policy before his National Press Club speech. And Tony Abbott has never been allowed to live down being late for a 2007 Press Club election debate.  Indeed Michelle Grattan is still talking about one frank word he used to Nicola Roxon, mild by the sort of language Kevin Rudd used even when describing the Chinese to journalists at Copenhagen.   

So where the journalistic outrage was when Ms. Gillard arrived late at the Lowy Institute, announced her East Timor solution to the asylum shopping problem and then refused to take any questions whatsoever?

The centrepiece of her address demonstrated the essential features of the Rudd – Gillard governments: incompetence, duplicity and profligacy.

Incompetence, because she was speaking to the obviously wrong person. How could a lawyer make this elementary error? Why did she not seek advice from e Foreign Affairs? Anyone with the slightest interest in current affairs would surely know that a president is normally only the head of government in systems based on the American or on the French Fifth Republic.  

This incompetence is not surprising in what some are calling the Five Billion Dollar Woman. This is after all the same minister who presided over the $5 billion BER rort (some are saying it’s much more) and then ensured there would be no Royal Commission into that.

(Why did the gallery accept that impotent substitute for a real inquiry? They gave John Howard no credit for the Royal Commission into the AWB, only complaints about the terms of reference which Howard said he would amend if the judge asked for this.)  

The Lowy Institute statement was misleading for two reasons. First, it suggested a dialogue which had been going on over several days, not a late night call the previous night. And everyone took Ms. Gillard’s words  to mean that centre would be in East Timor, and not in, say, New Zealand. Was that her intention? And if it were not, why did she allow it to run in the media, the nations’ homes and workplaces for three whole days?

“In recent days,” she had declared, with a straight face ” I have discussed with President Ramos Horta of East Timor the possibility of establishing a regional processing centre for the purpose of receiving and processing of the irregular entrants to the region.”

Under Michael Smith’s effective questioning she offered  the disingenuous explanation that she had not actually said the centre would be in East Timor. True, she had not exactly said this, but Australians will be irritated to find they have Prime Minister prepared to quibble when she is caught out.

This centre will probably never be built. And it need not. The Rudd-Gillard governments cannot bring themselves to use the centre we already have in Nauru. This was yet another example of a profligacy few of us imagined any government could indulge in, particularly one which claimed to be fiscally conservative.

To date asylum shopping, directly resulting from the Rudd-Gillard “humane reforms”, have cost Australians around $1billion. (Only under these governments has it become commonplace to talk in billions.)

In the meantime how many Australians are still on waiting lists for essential operations, still homeless, still paying enormous ETS inspired increases on their power and water bills. One billion could – should – go a long way.

Asylum shopping will only be stopped by a reversal of the Rudd-Gillard governments’ weakening of the Howard government’s solution, especially in the suppression of temporary protection visas. They worked. Tightening up on those who destroy their identity documents will strengthen this.

A further reform is necessary to reverse the ridiculous proposition so fervently held by the bleeding hearts and the Rudd–Gillard governments, “Once a refugee, always a refugee.”   

Requests for asylum should only be considered from those who have come direct from the country of persecution, as those who fled by boat from the communist victory in Vietnam.    

The mainstream media is asking how we went wrong with Kevin Rudd. The question ought to be why they kept what they knew or ought to have known from us. And why they endorsed him at the 2007 election. And then why for most of his term they protected him from proper examination.

Now they are doing the same with Julia Gillard. They should learn from 4BC’s Michael Smith.

Listen to Michael Smith’s 4BC interview here…