Federal Politics


Gender an evolution in Gillard strategy

The Gillard government cannot be serious about holding a judicial inquiry into the salacious scandal surrounding Peter Slipper.

No one could credibly argue the failed sexual harassment case against the former speaker was a conspiracy to "bring down the government".

And anyone who thinks the disgraced Slipper will return to his former post is dreaming.

If Labor persists with some form of inquiry it will be pilloried by the Coalition for not calling an inquiry of equal gravitas in the AWU "slush fund" affair. And it won't do the latter because there is not one shred of evidence that Julia Gillard has done anything wrong.

Slipper gave up his plum job - as if he had any choice - over his crude text messages, not because of the harassment case brought against him by his former staffer, James Ashby. The messages became public because of the case, and inflicted maximum political damage on Slipper, as was apparently intended by his accuser.

The harassment case was an abuse of judicial process for political purpose, the court said.


The judge found the case was a planned attack carried out with the intention of severely damaging the former speaker's reputation, and enhancing Ashby's own career. ''I have reached the firm conclusion that Mr Ashby's predominant purpose for bringing these proceedings was to pursue a political attack against Mr Slipper and not to vindicate any legal claim he may have,'' Justice Steven Rares said.

The ugly saga caps an ugly year in federal politics, fought out through the use of smear and innuendo. The mud-slinging does credit to no one.

Slipper says he is "vindicated". That's a laugh. Australia has been given an insight into his weird world where obnoxious and sexually explicit text messages are the norm.

He has lost what little shred of his reputation was remaining before the texts emerged. He had already lost his job as speaker and effectively lost his job as a federal MP after he ditched the Liberal Party to become part of Gillard's coup.

Parliament now has a reputable and firm Speaker in Anna Burke. Goodbye Peter Slipper, you need

not reapply.

His place in Parliament is earmarked to go to Mal Brough, the former Howard government minister who won Liberal Party preselection for the relatively marginal Coalition seat of Fisher on Queensland's Sunshine Coast, held by Slipper for a decade.

Brough has been desperate to return to politics but has been damaged by the judgment in the harassment case.

For months Abbott has been strenuously accusing Gillard of running a "protection racket" to defend Slipper. Now the campaign is going the other way, with Labor figures saying Abbott must explain if he had prior knowledge of the harassment case.

Labor's suspicion arises from Abbott springing into action so quickly after some News Ltd newspapers published details of the harassment claim shortly after they had been lodged in court late in the afternoon in mid-April

Attorney-General Nicola Roxon said the court had made it "completely clear" that Ashby

and other members of the Liberal Party were working to politically damage Slipper and "also to damage the government''.

Her opposite number, George Brandis, believes she has crossed the line and should resign.

However, another government minister, Craig Emerson, said: ''This is a conspiracy of enormous proportions, and Mr Abbott

will hope that it simply blows away and then he can get on to his next smear campaign.''

There's been a lot of talk that both sides of politics will suddenly transform into positive political machines, intent on lifting the nation's spirits with good words about our glorious future.

That's just spin, and more spin.

Abbott has been relentless in pursuing Gillard over her alleged involvement in the AWU slush fund. Her involvement was giving legal advice to her then boyfriend.

The Opposition Leader continued to push the issue but stumbled at the final hurdle when Gillard challenged him to put up or shut up.

On Parliament's last day for the year he went to the media early to accuse the PM of committing an offence. Yet, when called to account, and even with the protection of parliamentary privilege, he refused to look Gillard in the eye and repeat the accusation.

Labor MPs describe it as a memorable day because their leader looked determined.

But the mud-throwing will not end, because Abbott, with no justification whatsoever, continues to call for a judicial inquiry into the affair, despite Gillard dismissing it as "sleaze and smear".

He may have succeeded in creating enough confusion to produce lingering doubt in the minds of some voters. The last round of polls suggest the affair has dented the PM's standing.

That is a setback for Labor MPs who were hoping to build on the hard-won gains in the polls during the last few months when Abbott has looked like damaged goods.

This far out from the election, the polls say nothing about the end result, but there's no doubting the psychological effect on political parties of a favourable shift in the figures, even when the gain is within the margin of error for the survey.

Labor's plan was to be more competitive as it ended the year,

and therefore in a better place to launch an energetic sprint to a spring election.

Gillard is much tougher than her critics give her credit for (including those inside the party). In the customary end-of-year newspaper interviews she was upbeat.

''For me, coming out of 2012, I think I'm entitled to say that I've well and truly proved my mettle to the Australian people," she told The Canberra Times.

She had no idea of the importance of her now-famous "misogyny" speech when she gave it.

It resonated around the world and back home again.

The political significance was highlighted when the PM invited female bloggers to Kirribilli

this week.

The sites of the hand-picked bloggers have a reach of around two million people, a key statistic for Labor strategists who know similar sites in the United States proved useful for President Barack Obama in his election pitch to female voters.

An evolution of strategy is on display.

The PM will use gender issues to maximum advantage in the 10 months or so to the next election.

When she became Australia's first female Prime Minister, Gillard refused to play on it.

Now the factor appears to be working in her favour, particularly since she labelled Abbott as sexist and misogynist and demanded he stop lecturing her.

It was a feisty performance but the last week of Parliament was a black hole for Labor, with policy overshadowed by Abbott's campaign on the "slush fund".

And, while Labor had a good day with the outcome of the harassment case, the court judgment will remind many voters of the deal Labor did to install Slipper - despite controversy of his use of entitlements - to improve its margin in Parliament.

Twitter: rosspeakeCT