Give Paul Kelly top marks for trying. On Sky’s Australian Agenda this morning (Aug. 19), the veteran reporter put a very simple question to the Prime Minister:
Were you forced to resign from Slater & Gordon?
Rather than a direct answer, Kelly received a tutorial in obfuscation, evasion and aggressive aspersion. How could he ask such a question? Someone must have put him up to it! Serious journalists would never dream of making such a fuss!
And indeed, the serious reporters being seriously agreeable on Insiders put much serious effort into dismissing any suggestion that the nation’s leader might care to shed some light on the queer dealings of a former and apparently light-fingered lover. At stage left and standing as he always does to start the show, former Hawke mouthpiece Barrie Cassidy wore the expression of a man wiping something nasty from his shoe as he introduced the topic, almost apologising for having to mention the many and fresh doubts about our Prime Minister’s honesty.
Kelly persisted, failing to tap whatever reserves of candour this Prime Minister commands but managing all the same to add a little extra to the sum of the Australian electorate’s understanding of the Gillard character. The revelation came not far into the exchange:
KELLY: … a partner in your former firm has made a series of allegations which go to your integrity.
GILLARD: And the relevance to me being Prime Minister today, Paul?
Ah, integrity! What possible “relevance” could it have to this government?
— Roger Franklin
Australia Agenda transcript…
PAUL KELLY: I want to refer to the article in yesterday’s Australian. Is it correct, that in 1995 you had to resign as a partner at Slater & Gordon as a result of their investigation into misappropriation of funds around the legal entity that you had established?
THE PRIME MINISTER: I am not dignifying all of this scurrilous campaigning by going through these things point by point, Paul. We are talking about matters 17 years ago which have been dealt with on the public record for most of that time. As long as 15 years ago these matters were dealt with on the public record. I did nothing wrong. If you’ve got an allegation I did something wrong, then put it. If you don’t have an allegation I did something wrong then let’s ask a question that matters to the nation today. On Slater & Gordon you’re talking about a firm with which I’ve got continuing good relationships and as recently as the last few weeks was giving a speech in their building and greeting staff at their Sydney office.
KELLY: Okay, well, can I just ask, given your good relations with the firm, would you like to see them make some statement to clarify this matter?
GILLARD: Look, what Slater & Gordon says is a matter for Slater & Gordon but, Paul, my essential point here is there’s delving into matters 17 years ago for what purpose? If you’ve got an allegation I did something wrong, put it. If you can’t put it, why are we talking about this?
KELLY: No, no, I’ve got no allegation but the point is …
GILLARD: Well, if you’ve got no allegation and I’ve not seen in yesterday’s Australian or anywhere else an allegation put about my conduct. If there is no allegation to deal with then why are we dealing with this issue when we could be dealing with the Australian economy, schools, health.
KELLY: No, we’re very keen to deal with those issues but there were a series of allegations made in yesterday’s Australian by a former senior partner which questioned your integrity. Surely you need to respond to those allegations?
GILLARD: Well, I am not going to get into a circumstance where we’ve got people blogging malicious nonsense and we’ve got some of this penetrating to the media. I am not going to get myself into a circumstance where I’m going to spend my time dealing with these events 17 years ago when the people who are asking me questions about them are unable to even articulate what it is that they say I did wrong. This is just nonsense and a distraction from the important work I’ve got to do as Prime Minister and the important issues for this nation’s future. I’ve just said to you, Paul, I continue to have very good relationships with Slater & Gordon, you know, going and greeting the staff and all of that kind of stuff. It’s not the first time I’ve done that. It won’t be the last time I do that.
KELLY: Okay, I understand your point. You’re saying it’s all nonsense. Can I just ask you then this direct question…the central point…
GILLARD: Well, Paul I’ve dealt….
KELLY: No, hang on…The central point was, the central point was the partner alleged you had to resign because of this issue, is that correct or not?
GILLARD: Look, Paul, I did resign from Slater & Gordon, that’s a matter of public record. I made the decision to do that. All the rest of this is just the sort of scurrilous ….
KELLY: But you’re not answering this specific point …
GILLARD: Paul, I’m not getting in to specifics about issues 17 years ago when you are not able to put to me any contention about why this is relevant to my conduct as Prime Minister today. I mean join the dots for me, Paul. What matters about this today for Australia and me being Prime Minister? Just articulate that.
KELLY: Well, I will. The point is that a partner in your former firm has made a series of allegations which go to your integrity.
GILLARD: And the relevance to me being Prime Minister today, Paul?
KELLY: Well, well, I think when accusations are made about the integrity of a Prime Minister going to the profession position she had before she came into politics … surely that is relevant?
GILLARD: And, Paul, I did nothing wrong. Are you challenging that?
KELLY: No, I’m just asking questions.
GILLARD: Well, and this is the issue, isn’t it? Because I understand you’re being asked to ask questions today.
KELLY: No, no, no, sorry, there’s no-one asking me to ask questions.
GILLARD: Well, that wasn’t my advice a little bit earlier before this show.
KELLY: Well, I’m sorry Prime Minister, I ask my own questions and nobody tells me what questions to ask.
GILLARD: And I’ll give you an answer to them. I did nothing wrong, Paul. Have you got an allegation to put to me? If you do not, why are we discussing this?
PETER VAN ONSELEN: Can I just ask one question on this and then we’ll move on. Last question. Why not just put it all out there? I believe you that you did nothing wrong. I made a comment on Friday on my show The Contrarians that I thought this is all a beat up and we should move on to the major issues. But why not just address it straight down the barrell so that we can move on and all of this scuttlebutt that goes on online, which frankly I’m sick of people emailing me about this, we can just move on from it.
GILLARD: Well, Peter, let me welcome but also question your grand naivety. These people who are dealing with this online in their malicious and motivated way would not stop not matter what explanations I gave. You know that, I know that and that is why there is no point in flogging through all of the details of this because people who are pursuing this malicious campaign will continue to do it. They are not at all interested in the truth. The truth is I did nothing wrong. No-one has put any direct assertion to me. You haven’t done it today, it hasn’t been done in the newspaper that I did anything wrong. In these circumstances why are we 17 years later, when these matters have been dealt with on the public record for the best part of a decade and a half, still talking about this?