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September 10th 2014 print

Roger Franklin

‘Do You Swear to Tell the Truth…’

A fascinating day at the Trade Unions Royal Commission, where one witness has, er, dis-remembered his earlier recollections of a future Prime Minister's innovative approach to funding unionists. As for Gillard, her reputation, such as it is, remains intact.

gillard toon2The achievements listed when the testimony began were most impressive

… former Prime Minister, UN wallah for Something High-Minded, Brookings Institute frequent flyer…

But it was the lesser credentials that were the heart of it, the impedimenta she has hauled so long and far from those “young and naïve” days at Slater & Gordon  – barely into her mid-thirties, poor child — and which no amount of squirming and dissembling, nor posturing and diversion has ever been able to entirely derail.

History is hard to shake, and tabbed and tendered folders of evidentiary documents even more problematic.

The TURC hearing live feed

As today’s TURC hearing adjourned for lunch, was it imagination that had the witness seeming to be the person most in need of a restorative cuppa? Toward the end, did her voice quiver for want of an adequate answer to Counsel Assisting’s plodding, implacable questions, or was it no more than an innocently dry throat? The afternoon may tell us more, although the morning’s session has produced quite a lot to digest.

Long before Ms Gillard swore to tell the truth, a less well known bottom had occupied the same cushion, where its owner performed the remarkable trick of somersaulting while remaining fully seated. Earlier, in a sworn statement, former HSU secretary Robert Elliott had stated that the future PM offered to set him up with up with one of those union “slush funds” outside the union, as she admits doing for boyfriend Bruce Wilson. This would allow a greater freedom, shall we say, with the allocation of funds drawn from various sources by different means.

This morning, a jaw-dropper indeed!

Mr Elliott explained that he had been grappling with his memories and now wished to disassociate himself from his own words which – and this was the baffling bit – he had believed to be true at the time he uttered them. For good measure he also apologised to Ms Gillard. Elliott was followed to the stand by his wife, a Labor member of Victoria’s upper house, who also didn’t remember too much, but seemed certain that hubby, now that he had recovered from False Memory Syndrome, had remembered that he had forgotten as well.

The afternoon

What to make of the afternoon’s evidence and the performance of its chief witness?

Well, for starters, it was lousy theatre. There were none of those memorable moments we saw so often during The Lodge years, when questions about a former legal practitioner’s ethics and office procedures were apt to provoke counter-attacks on the sexism salient. You remember the tack: if only the Prime Minister had not been born with a uterus none of these cruel aspersions would have ever been cast. Those push-backs were always accompanied by the yapping and hallelujahs from the left’s Amen Corner, and those elements were present today, as always, on Twitter.

jericho

Jericho’s language is florid, but grant him a fan’s appreciation for a job well done because Gillard, the congenital lawyer, left the stand a little ruffled but unbruised, even though her account of events stretched credulity. What homeowner doesn’t get quotes from contractors before letting them loose with hammers and crowbars? Then again, perhaps this witness is a representative of that rare breed. After all, there was precious little evidence of clear thought or attainable goals in any of her government’s budgets.

Then there was the curious business of not being sure during her exit interview at Slater & Gordon that she paid all the renovation bills out of her own pocket. She thought that was the case, she said at the time, but couldn’t be absolutely sure. Since that date, which preceded her departure from the firm and her active practice of the law, she had become certain all the cash spent was nobody’s but her own. Alas, it would be difficult for anyone else to achieve such a pronounced degree of certainty because bank records just don’t go that far back.

And so it went on … and on … and on. More than five hours of thrust and query met with five hours of lawyerly stonewalling and tried-and-tested formulaic responses. None of it, however, appears to have advanced  knowledge of the Wilson/AWU beyond what had ben established before Gillard made her pre-evidence affirmation. This has always been more than enough in the past, at least as far as certain journalists were concerned. Click this link, for example, to watch three senior members of the Fourth Estate agree late in 2012 that their PM had put most questions to rest and that any remaining ons weren’t worth worrying about.

And that, if you will, may have been the today’s greatest contribution to the sum of human knowledge — the confirmation that, when eyebrows are raised, just how high they go depends very much on the political colour of the central figure.

Sure, Gillard’s marathon established nothing new, but it did confirm that her conduct as a lawyer manifested a cavalier disdain for propriety. The AWU remained in the dark about the fund she established for Wilson, of which her fellow partners also stayed ignorant. The fund itself was not constituted for its stated purpose and, to put it charitably, Gillard saw nothing wrong with these omissions at the time.

As her list of international credentials suggests, Australia’s first female prime minister has suffered no long-term adversity as a consequence of her follies on behalf of a crook.

There is a lesson there: enjoy the admiration of the gallery and, no matter how lamentable your deficiencies, your ink-stained friends will let it pass. If you don’t believe that revisit that Fairfax video of three apologists sitting around talking.