Date: May 22 2012
Is that really all there is? After more than a century as a nation have we been reduced to this: watching the tragic spectacle of a sad little man furiously attempting to explain away his need to pay for fornication? Saying whatever he will to excuse the inexplicable?
Only one interpretation appears to logically embrace all the unchallenged facts. It does so comprehensively. Craig Thomson's vigorous denials; that he didn't pay for sordid sex using money stolen from a union, have become a shifting veil of excuses that appears more and more threadbare every time he opens his mouth. But, of course, this public trial is not really about him at all. It's about her.
Julia Gillard's mistake was not to cut Thomson loose far earlier. Then she could, perhaps, have survived the lingering odour of ordure surrounding his single, decisive vote. The point she singularly still fails to grasp has to do with the legal concept of burden of proof. In a criminal trial guilt must be proven ''beyond reasonable doubt''. But that's not the case here.
Julius Caesar had a far better grasp of political reality than Gillard. More than 2000 years ago, way back in 63 BC, he divorced his second wife Pompeia. She'd been accused of smuggling a young nobleman into a religious festival so as to allow him to seduce her. She, of course, claimed it was one of her serving girls who wanted to get her - the Roman equivalent, I suppose, of asserting a union rival set you up by sneaking into your hotel room and booking prostitutes. By Thomson's standards, a charge like the one brought against Pompeia doesn't even rate. But, unlike Gillard, Caesar understood public opinion. He wanted to lead the populares - the great mass of ordinary people of Rome, the mob, or, if you like, the voting public.
He didn't pause for a second. Ceasar immediately divorced his pretty young wife, insisting that she must be ''beyond suspicion''. His focus was on the grand prize of achieving his ambitions, or if you like, ''policy implementation''. He didn't allow anything to threaten this overarching desire. Those spreading rumours about Pompeia overlooking her balding husband and taking lovers elsewhere were quickly staunched by a divorce. But nothing will quell the stench emanating from Thompson's activities.
His jury - the voters - have already made up their minds. They know all that's needed is proof ''on the balance of probabilities''. It's a distinction that Gillard, a one time law student, should understand.
Gillard has misjudged the political way forward, time and time again. Even if there was a betting market for self-inflicted political disasters, you wouldn't manage to find a bookie who'd give you enough odds for a flutter. The other night, over a pleasant dinner, some friends accused journalists of not giving the PM a fair go. What they really meant was that they were extremely worried at the prospect of Tony Abbott becoming prime minister. That's as may be, but it's not a sufficient defence.
If Gillard had been more politically adept, she wouldn't have allowed a smouldering bomb to sit on her backbench. Instead, she decided to ignore the continued fizzing and spluttering. It's been obvious for some time now that Thomson would explode. Seemingly transfixed by the headlights of the oncoming media convoy, Gillard's remained rooted to the spot. She failed to take the most basic precaution of moving off the path of the oncoming juggernaught until it was too late. Now she wonders why an avalanche of invective and abuse is being directed at her failure to take action until finally, far, far to late, she admitted a ''line had been crossed''. As the contours of Thomson's serial offences became evident she should have done three things. Firstly, she needed to cauterise the problem, removing his stain from Labor's clothes. He should have been banned from caucus a long time ago. This would have then given her the distance that would have allowed her to point out, correctly, that legal challenges should not be enough to disbar members from parliament. Proceed down that road and you quickly drift into the use of the courts for political ends. That's a path that should send shivers down anyone's spine. And finally, Gillard needed to lead the union movement, particularly the HSU, down a path of reform. Instead, she's been incapable of acting on or articulating any of these agendas for reform.
Her government is burning down around her. The charred props of her office are shaking and about to collapse. Yet today, of course, the PM is out of the country. It's as if she believes by placing a physical distance between herself and Thomson she's insulated from the debacle. She is not.
She'll survive this week because the two vital independents - Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott - who were once supposedly committed to transparency and honesty in politics, won't bring her down. They're only too well aware that any immediate election would dispatch both to the far reaches of the distant galaxy of electoral oblivion. That's fine. There's nothing wrong with that. The only thing that should cause anyone to retch is insincerity dressed up as some pretence of judicious deliberation.
But Labor MPs understand Gillard's time is up. The only question is who will replace her. Unfortunately, in the minds of many of his colleagues, Greg Combet's domestic arrangements have ruled out his progression to the top job. Bill Shorten would need his mum-in-law's resignation in his top pocket before he could put his hand up for the job, but the rumour is she enjoys being Governor-General. There's Simon Crean and Bob Carr, of course, but Dorothy the Dinosaur is still contracted to the Wiggles.
The reality that caucus must face is that there's no obvious successor but Kevin Rudd. We're back, again, to the same place we were three months ago. His fall commenced when he flubbed the great moral challenge of global warming. Without morals no politician can survive. Only one question remains: how many people will Thomson manage to pull down as he falls?
Nicholas Stuart is a Canberra writer.
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