IS IT that great minds think alike or fools seldom differ? On Tuesday afternoon, as Labor’s “offended” offensive rolled toward Question Time and Julia Gillard’s show-stopper, it was very hard to tell. An hour earlier, Leader of the House Anthony Albanese had played the day’s overture for reporters in the Parliamentary courtyard, using the disgraced Peter Slipper’s appalled fascination with salty bivalves to indict Tony Abbott on all the standard charges of sexism and machismo bullying.
Then came Gillard’s hysterics in the House, a spontaneous display by a woman – a strong woman, of course – pushed to the limits of endurance, as the ever-sympathetic Anne Summers wrote on boyfriend Chip Rolley’s taxpayer–funded opinion site, The Drum. Other commentators were less sanguine, with even the normally reliable Michelle Grattan and Peter Hartcher catching the twin aromas of distraction and desperation. Summers would have none of that. What she had witnessed was inspirational, “exhilarating” even, “a powerful woman speaking out against the sexism and misogyny that so many of us have to deal with.” Her fellow commentators’ refusal to recognise Gillard’s magnificence was not merely irksome, it demanded a full explanation:
“The reportage and commentary this morning out of Canberra was so startlingly at odds with the reactions of such vast numbers of people both here and abroad that you have to ask: why and how could this be the case?...
… [political reporters] are, after all, seemingly so out of kilter with how so many of the rest of us reacted that they need to provide some explanation for us to have any reason to take at all seriously anything they write in future.” *
Strong words indeed from Miss Summers, whose racing heart must have blinded her to the scripted, stage-managed and fully rehearsed spectacle Labor took on the road. The proof is in the cookie-cutter indignance displayed by both Albanese and his leader. Not only do they use the almost the same words, they list their charges against Abbott in identical sequence.
Albanese kicks off by quoting and referencing a 1998 Abbott round table with Michael Costa. So does Gillard.
Next, each mentions the “abortion is the easy way out” line.
Then comes the “ironing” remark in doplered stereo, followed by a re-capping of Abbott’s hope that the Prime Minister, “politically speaking, make an honest woman of herself.”
At this point, Albanese and Gillard both do a little high-dudgeon vamping before slipping back to the talking points, which amount in total to the allegation that Abbott likes to make girls cry.
It should come as no surprise that political ringmasters feed their monkeys standard lines and expect them to throw the poo on cue, but there is something especially off-putting, and quite damning, about the personal embroidery Gillard added to the whole cloth of her supplied slanders. That would be her reference in the House to her late father. Remember, she has spent the past two weeks fuming about Alan Jones' quip that he died of shame, demanding in her own voice and those of proxies that he be banished from his microphone in order that such thoughts never be uttered again, ever.
So what did the grieving daughter do on Tuesday? She is the one who mentioned poor old dad, seizing as her slight excuse to exhume John Gillard and drag him back into the spotlight Abbott’s use of the word “shame” – a term he has used many, many times before in relation to her government and its record.
Up until that moment it was just possible to conceive of Gillard being genuinely upset about Jones’ tactlessness. But no longer. The theatricality, her emotional opportunism, the glee dressed as outrage that she produced during Question Time for the benefit of the news and talk shows, it was cynicism on stilts. Even from the woman who has made lies her ladder and bodyguard it was a new low.
Jones was wrong on the facts when he said that John Gillard died of shame. He’ll never really pass away, not with a daughter so eager to extract shameless advantage from his corpse.
* Could this be Summers' bid for a seat on Gillard's press watchdog?