After all the effort that many of us have put into making Australia a perfect multicultural society, free from jingoism and stereotyping, I was distressed to see our Prime Minister (as she became) disparaging the Greek ethos in such a tasteless way in her infamous interview on the AWU/Wilson scandal. When she was undertaking renovations on her bijou worker’s cottage in Abbotsford that led to the scandal, she retained Bill the Greek and Con the Greek. The result, according to Ms Gillard, was ‘hideous’ and ‘truly hideous’, as Con built a brick fence that was so bad that Ms Gillard could only describe it as ‘Greek’. Just as well he was not trying to install Pink Batts. As for Bill the Greek, he was ‘just a big Greek bullshit artist’. It is unfortunate that she used such intemperate language, which must put under great strain the harmonious relations we have built up over the years with the Greek community. After all, Section 18 C of the Racial Discrimination Act makes it unlawful to offend people on the grounds of their ‘national or ethnic origin’. To disparage Greeks and their glorious history and culture with such relentless negativity by equating them with bad taste and lying is plainly unlawful and must be very hurtful to them.
Moving forward, opinions will differ on whether the Prime Minister’s standing has been improved or diminished in the light of her press conference on the slush fund she set up for her union mates in 1991. Starting off by calling her adoring fans in the Press Gallery ‘the elite’ certainly paid dividends, as they then fought to outdo each other with superlatives to describe her performance from ‘gutsy’ and ‘feisty’ to ‘stellar’. Why, some of them exclaimed, so monumental was the press conference that it had actually run for 50 minutes! For my part, I give the Prime Minister top marks for her tactic of seizing on the single mistake made by the Australian in calling the entity she set up a ‘trust fund’ instead of a ‘slush fund’, the expression she used herself in the later investigation of her conduct. Due to that blunder, she could skew the press conference away from legitimate issues where she is vulnerable and onto the grievous wrong she has suffered by this alleged libel as the innocent victim.
But I was not so impressed by her answers. Her lynchpin, the difference between a trust fund and a slush fund, is essentially splitting hairs. Surely, if the entity that was set up on her advice received slush money to further its purposes, which it clearly did, it must have received it on trust. Moreover, many of her answers were either evasive or simply non-answers, such as: ‘I don’t recall’, ‘You’ll need to put that to him’, ‘All of these are questions you’re going to have to deal with elsewhere’, ‘That’s a question really that no one could answer’, ‘I’m not in a position to deal with [that question]’, ‘I don’t have a clear recollection about those matters’, ‘I had no knowledge’, ‘I can’t go to matters of privilege’, ‘I’m not able to give you an insight into his thinking.’ Stellar stuff.
But the questions were even more anodyne, if possible, and were really milksops designed to let Ms Gillard ramble on and deliver her prepared speech of self-justification. For example: ‘Was your conduct … ethical?’, ‘Did you feel shabbily treated?’, ‘How are you handling it personally?’, ‘Did you feel your future was on the line?’, ‘Do you think that this will always be a cloud over you?’ The valiant press in pursuit of the truth.
It is a real indictment of the Press Gallery that it allowed an opportunity like this to pass by without asking precise and probing questions on the public policy aspects of this saga and insisting on the PM answering them.
But should we be surprised? Regrettably, no. The media has long forgotten that its role is to ask questions. It has also forgotten how to ask them and, more importantly, how to persist with them. If you doubt this, listen to some political interviews and note how many actual questions there are (few), how many assertions (more) and how many evasive responses from politicians and others who are allowed to make speeches instead of answering the question.
Moreover, it is clear that the government’s tactic of threatening new media content and ownership controls, gloating over the court proceedings against Andrew Bolt, whipping up the ACCC against anyone who dares say that prices are increasing because of the carbon tax and demonising anyone who exposes waste and scandal, is now bearing fruit. No wonder Anthony Albanese could note that the press has become more responsible over the past few months. Not only are the ‘elite’ now so supine in their approach to the government and so afraid to ask hard questions, but it seems the entire media has been tamed. So, Ms Gillard’s performance was a victory over a Press Gallery with few teeth, and hardly deserved the encomia heaped on her.
To immerse myself in an earlier era, I went to see the Napoleon Bonaparte exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria, brought here by the Fondation Napoléon of Paris. It is certainly impressive, with lots of colour and movement and a good presentation of the life and character of the only narcissist who could rival Julian Assange. I especially admired the way they condensed the vast panoply of his life and times into a manageable size by omitting anything to do with the Duke of Wellington, Admiral Nelson, the Battle of Trafalgar or the Battle of Waterloo.Tags: iapps