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October 13th 2010 print

David Flint

The arrogance of Julia

In using her Afghan visit to score cheap political points, Julia Gillard  has gone too far.

Julia Gillard’s overbearing arrogance: has she gone too far? 

In seeking to humiliate Tony Abbott over a visit to the expeditionary force in Afghanistan, Julia Gillard has once again  demonstrated her overbearing arrogance.

In ancient Greece, such hubris would have  invited punishment from the gods.
We have never seen such behaviour from a Prime Minister.

We already know that she is not the most competent minister the country has seen. To hand over 15 or so billion dollars of the taxpayers’ hard earned money for the BER programme, without putting in place the most elementary conditions requiring accountability, transparency and responsibility – all envisaged by our Founding Fathers – demonstrate that. To lose something estimated to be well in excess of five billion indicates a remarkable degree of profligacy. And then not to establish a genuine inquiry with power to compel the production of documents and the giving of evidence to find out where the money went indicates a remarkable indifference to financial rectitude.

Worse, not establishing a Royal Commission to find out any corrupt and criminal behaviour into the biggest financial scandal in the history of our country indicates a deplorable lack of concern about minimum standards of law and order.

We know the Prime Minister is no diplomat. Her attempts to stitch up a deal with the ceremonial East Timor head of state demonstrate a remarkable ignorance of international law and practice. But what topped it off was to buy off Kevin Rudd by giving him the foreign ministry. Not only did she sack one of the better performing ministers in the Rudd government, Stephen Smith, a natural diplomat.

But Rudd is not only held in contempt by the Chinese leadership. He has upset the Japanese and Indian governments and the White House. The US ambassador had to intervene about the silly story leaked from Kirribilli House that President Bush asked in a private phone call to Rudd: “What’s the G20?” The last portfolio he should ever have is foreign affairs, although letting him near any department with a decent budget is a mistake. Ms. Gillard clearly subscribes to the Richardson school of ‘Whatever-It-Takes’. She will do anything to stay in office.

The sell-out to the Greens confirms she will follow to the letter the No-Dams and the minimal bushfire hazard reduction policies practiced by some state Labor governments to buy Green preferences. That is also why so much North Queensland aboriginal owned land has been set in aspic. And that is why she is likely to accept the Greens’ marching instructions to run down our Murray Darling food basin. This ‘Whatever-It-Takes’ approach also led to the secretive deal on the mining tax with three big foreign miners.

If the Rudd government had lost its way – Ms. Gillard justification for turning on her leader – it was the mining super profits tax which sealed it. Yet with less consultation and more secrecy, she adjusted that tax to favour three major foreign miners and shift the burden to the smaller Australian ones. It was not so surprising then that BHP-Billiton’s Marius Kloppers would throw himself into domestic politics on her side over the carbon tax. (Why incidentally is he not defending his intervention by going before the media?)

As we now know, the Prime Minister feels that she may – within weeks of an election – openly abandon an express commitment made to the people during the campaign. That this could have been the reason for the way some people voted is of no moral concern to her. Once again we see evidence of hubris, of Julia Gillard’s overbearing arrogance.

She will pay for this. Soon, whenever Australians open an electricity bill they will think of her. Many bills have already doubled and they have much more to go. Food prices will no doubt follow.

The Prime Minister’s ruthless style shone though not only in the back stabbing of her leader. This stood out over who should be the speaker. Abandoning any trace of loyalty to Harry Jenkins, this office or a ministry was part of the price she was willing to pay to Rob Oakeshott, who wanted the impossible – to participate and to chair the House.  

So the government slipped in the ludicrous and potentially unconstitutional provision that the speaker be paired, although he has no deliberative vote. Even his casting vote is not discretionary but governed by well established conventions.

When the Oakeshott fiasco failed, Ms. Gillard’s offsiders sought a compliant Liberal hoping he would agree to pairing and handing over his vote on any confidence motion. They finally did not get all they wanted, but they proceeded in the knowledge that if a Labor MP were to do this he would be expelled.

Ms. Gillard’s visit to Afghanistan coincided with the appalling prosecution of three Australian soldiers. This is the direct result of an ill conceived plan for the ‘reform’ of military justice. It has seriously undermined morale and potentially endangered our troops in combat zones. Instead of plotting to embarrass Tony Abbott, she should have announced immediate action to end the prosecutions.

Some people may have believed her promise that she would not be seeking to win the news cycle each day. Most would have taken it with a grain of salt.
But few would have expected that she would use her visit to our troops in Afghanistan and manipulate the truth just to win the daily news cycle.

On 22 September Abbott told her of his plans to go to Afghanistan after the UK Conservative Party conference, and to be embedded with the troops. Abbott is a rare politician – one who likes to learn on the ground and among the people – witness his years in the bushfire brigades, lifesaving and working among the indigenous people. He therefore could not accept her invitation to go with her.

In telling her of his plans, Abbott naively believed that on matters related to the defence of the realm, all political leaders would behave honourably as Curtin and Menzies did. But what then happened was in breach of all relevant standards of propriety and decency, and probably of security.

A story that he had refused to go with the Prime Minister to Afghanistan was leaked to the media. (The journalist involved says the leak did not come from the Prime Minister’s office but pointedly does not deny a government source.) When Ms. Gillard was asked whether Abbott was more interested in going to the Tory conference than visiting our troops, her reply supported this. She knew this was untrue, and that he was already going.  She also knew that under the rules Abbott would be unable to say why he had refused to go with her.

Taken by surprise by this perfidious act and unable because of security conditions properly imposed on him, Abbott was forced to obfuscate.

This episode is disgraceful. It is just about as low as anybody could go. No Prime Minister has ever done anything like this. Such hubris does not go unpunished. Once again she demonstrated her overbearing arrogance; this time she went too far.