Federal Politics

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Plot thickens, but it's a very slow burn

AS LEGAL thrillers go, it's not quite John Grisham.

The plot is diabolically complex, and would need to include a lengthy discursion on the Incorporated Associations Act - not generally considered a great crowd-pleaser.

With due respect to the characters involved, none could feasibly be played by Julia Roberts or Tom Cruise (at least not in his pre-Oprah-couch-jumping incarnation), and unless you wanted your audience to self-harm with their popcorn buckets, you would have to leave out the stuff about mortgaging and conveyancing.

And there's a lot of stuff about mortgaging and conveyancing.

And yet the AWU affair, comprised of ''questions to be answered'', which stop just short of actual allegations against the Prime Minister, have captured the full attention of Parliament.

Like a Rorschach inkblot, different people see different things in it, but everyone comes away with a headache.


Julia Gillard is no milquetoast, but she was either angry or nervous when she called a 1pm press conference to deal with the matter. Her voice shook as she trash-talked Tony Abbott for not being a proper Liberal like the former prime minister John Howard. The Opposition Leader had nothing to offer except ''sleaze and smear'', she said.

But the Prime Minister saved her best material for her chief accuser, the former union official Ralph Blewitt, who has lately become such a media favourite that it's not outside the bounds of possibility he'll turn up on the next Dancing with the Stars.

Mr Blewitt, the Prime Minister said, was a self-confessed fraudster who is on the run from various authorities across the Indonesian archipelago. He has posted creepy photos of young girls on his Facebook page.

He also ''admits to using the services of prostitutes in Asia'', she said, a fine example of sexual euphemism that manages to make the act sound grubbier by skirting around its detail (this, if nothing else, is a lesson Labor strategists can take away from the Craig Thomson ''brothel-frequenting'' scandal).

But the real humdinger came in the reported speech.

''Mr Blewitt … has been described,'' she said - as though she was just doing us all a solid by reporting the facts - ''as a complete imbecile, an idiot, a stooge, a sexist pig, a liar, and his sister has said he's a crook and rotten to his core.''

Like a Rorschach inkblot, different people see different things in it, but everyone comes away with a headache.

Once she had demolished the necessary reputations, Gillard skipped off to question time.

There, she was confronted by Deputy Opposition Leader Julie Bishop, prim and prosecutorial in a snow-white jacket.

Bishop asked all the opposition's questions, slowly roasting Gillard over her part in setting up the AWU ''slush fund''.

Later, Bishop said ominously: ''Today we set the scene. This is just the beginning.''

It may be about as pacy as an Ingmar Bergman flick, but it's not going to end soon.

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