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It's Gillard who's slinging mud in this 'parliament of filth'

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On the issue of trashing rivals, the PM says one thing and does another.

'The Howard government was endlessly portrayed as racist and uncaring.'

'The Howard government was endlessly portrayed as racist and uncaring.' Photo: Andrew Taylor

LAST week our national leader decided to sum up the year by announcing that, due to Tony Abbott's efforts, we were blessed with a parliament of filth. Julia Gillard decided, it seems, that to use her position to make some positive and uplifting remarks was a little too passe.

Daily the opposition must count its lucky stars for having a PM who steadfastly refuses to step into the shoes of gravitas that her office allows. The rest of us, I suggest, are bemused.

After all, it was Gillard who helped set up a union slush fund without the knowledge of her legal firm partners. It was Gillard who was unable to categorically say whether all the work done on her house had been properly paid for and it was Gillard who had a relationship with one of the key players in the sorry saga.

Oh, and it was Gillard who, in effect, confirmed there was a whole lot of sleaze going on when she told us that as soon as she became aware she had been deceived, she broke off the relationship. In other words, what she allegedly discovered was ugly enough for her to end a relationship.

That Gillard's account appears to many to be completely unrealistic is not surprising. Yes, it was 17 years ago. But she is not being asked about any one of a potentially large number of legal files she handled in that year. She has been asked about work on a file that was created for her boyfriend. Unless she would like to tell us otherwise, I think, or at least hope, we can assume she did not regularly do this kind of work without the knowledge of her legal partners and particularly not for her lover at the time.

Accordingly, this file was not run of the mill, it was unusual.

Anyway, she was the one in the relationship doing work on a fund about which the union movement was concerned - but apparently it is all Abbott's fault everyone is talking about it. Apparently, he is the sleaze.

An inference of guilt by association is not something the Prime Minister endorses - in relation to herself. But the other side of her face says that Abbott, because he knows Alan Jones, was as guilty of besmirching her father's memory as the radio presenter had been.

Without wishing to be unkind, I think it fair to say the death of the PM's father was no more deserving of parliamentary time than the death of any other Australian. One hopes it was out of grief rather than a calculated call for sympathy that the Prime Minister chose to raise the issue of his passing in Parliament. She had other options, yet chose to do it right before question time.

Abbott made no issue of this and in fact spoke positively about the man who fathered our first female PM. Indeed, in relation to her father's death, I thought Abbott behaved in an exemplary fashion. Yet, when he was talking on another matter and understandably used the words he had used time and time again over many months, which happened to be the ones Jones used in relation to the PM's father, quick as a whip she took the opportunity to portray the Liberal leader as referring to her father.

Our Prime Minister has a bit of history of saying one thing and doing another. She would have us believe she is opposed to the trashing of reputations for political advantage but her behaviour towards Abbott is testament to the opposite.

Perhaps there is no clearer example of what Gillard is prepared to do for political advantage than immigration policy. When I was immigration minister for some years and responsible for that area for the Coalition in the Senate for a few more, I experienced daily a barrage of bile and invective from the then Labor opposition.

The Howard government was endlessly portrayed as mean and nasty, as racist and uncaring. This was as relentless a campaign as I experienced in a long period of government. Australians were told we were mean to refugees and lagged behind the world in caring for their plight. We were told to feel bad about ourselves. The world was told we were a bunch of racists.

In fact, Australia was and remains the second or third-largest taker of refugees for permanent resettlement in the world. Yet our nation's reputation and our pride in ourselves were trashed for Labor's advantage.

Now many of those policies have been adopted by Labor. Has there been any apology, expression of regret or remorse?

Gillard was as guilty as the rest of them. She is no doubt looking forward to May next year, when we will all be able to lift a glass in celebration of her foresight and clear-headedness. For it was Gillard who, in May 2003, said: ''No rational person - I would put it as highly as that - would suggest that in 10 or 20 years we would still be processing asylum seeker claims on Nauru.''

Age columnist Amanda Vanstone was a minister in the Howard government.

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