When Julia Gillard took on her critics over the AWU slush fund affair in her second marathon news conference on the controversy in three months, it was another impressive performance.
Of course her critics won't be satisfied, and will throw up more questions. But Gillard has narrowed their opportunity to get fresh momentum
Steely and angry, she rejected a range of allegations, admitted there were some things she didn't remember, protested her total innocence, and challenged her accusers to say what she had done wrong.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard facing questions about her conduct as a solicitor in the 1990s. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
'Why didn't she report the irregularities of the slush fund in 1995?' she was asked. Because she only knew of the rumours – she didn't have hard evidence. She had no access to the slush fund's bank account. Her role in its establishment had been only to provide legal advice.
When the rumours were circulating in 1995, she did decide to end her relationship with her then boyfriend Bruce Wilson, one of the two officials who set up the fund.
What about the claim by Ralph Blewitt – the other AWU official who, with Wilson, siphoned money from the fund – that she had witnessed a power of attorney without actually been present?
Steely and angry ... Prime Minister Julia Gillard. Photo: Andrew Meares
Who would you believe, Gillard retorted – her, the Prime Minister, or a man (Blewitt) who had admitted to fraud, had published lewd and degrading comments and done much else unsavoury besides?
Anyway, in her time as a lawyer, she had witnessed many thousands of documents ''and I did that witnessing properly''.
What about the mysterious $5000 that had allegedly been put into her bank account on behalf of Wilson? She did not remember it; she had tried to contact the Commonwealth Bank but had been told records from that far back are not available.
How come she left a little wriggle room in her Slater and Gordon exit interview about whether any slush money might have found its way into her house renovations, but later had been certain she had paid for absolutely everything? Because she had subsequently been through her receipts in even more detail, she said.
Gillard's tactic in holding the news conference was to go on the front foot, to take some steam out of the opposition's question time attack. She still had to face those questions in parliament, but she had done a lot of the spade work beforehand.
She is also hoping, by dealing with it thoroughly up front, that she can prevent the AWU affair dominating this final sitting week.
Of course her critics won't be satisfied, and will throw up more questions. But Gillard has narrowed their opportunity to get fresh momentum.