“When you ain't got nothing, you got nothing to lose,” said Bob Dylan, when asked to comment on Julia Gillard’s approach to matters of political principle and moral conviction. Actually, he was singing about another arrogant, untrustworthy woman, identified only as "Miss Lonely," who also lost her way in a morass of dodgy deals and broken promises. Nonetheless, his words hit the nail on the head when it comes to defining what is really wrong with the whole Wilkie/Slipper/Gillard shenanigans that the Australian electorate has been forced to endure over the past twelve months.
When you hold no principles, you have no problem abandoning them.
A lie built upon a betrayal built upon a lie pretty much sums up the foundations upon which our federal government now precariously perches. The first lie? Regardless of whether you sit up at night fretting that the planet is heading towards an environmental Armageddon unless we price carbon or you think the whole climate change kerfuffle is a case of overblown hype, the simple fact remains that in the days leading up to the last election the two most senior members of the Labor team promised - yes, promised - that they wouldn't introduce a carbon tax in the life of this government. But they did. The second lie? In order for Julia Gillard to be granted permission by the Governor General to form government out of the fractured, unsatisfactory 2010 poll, Gillard promised - yes, promised – not only to Andrew Wilkie, but by definition also to his electorate, to the Australian people and to our Head of State that she would introduce Wilkie’s pokie reform legislation into the parliament by May of this year. But she won’t. And the betrayal? In order to be able to break both these promises yet still hold a parliamentary majority, Gillard persuaded a member of the Liberal party to betray - yes, betray - his own electorate and party for a fistful of dollars, or thirty pieces of silver - whichever analogy you prefer.
Nowhere in this grim saga do political principles – or indeed any ethical principles - come into play. The NSW disease, a particularly virulent and toxic form of political paralysis, has now infected the entire body of the federal Labor party. The light on the hill turns out to be the flashing, blazing, glittering lights of ‘Deal or No Deal.’ Whatever it takes in order to stay in the game. No principle is so sacred that it can't be jettisoned in order to hold onto power. Just ask Chris Bowen, Peter Garrett, Wayne Swan, Stephen Conroy or any of the others who daily turn their backs on what were once deeply held convictions or commitments.
Penny Wong, attempting to justify the latest lie, claims that it’s all about “getting the job done” and “getting results.” This betrays an arrogance about the use of power and the privilege of being trusted by the electorate to keep your word that is verging on the sociopathic.
It's hard to imagine the Australian voter is taken in by this stuff. Even if within "the beltway" left-leaning and overtly optimistic pundits are impressed by Gillard’s wheeling and dealing, can a political party really survive without any genuine principles? The answer is, of course, no. As Abe Lincoln pointed out, and his compatriot Kristina Keneally recently discovered, there comes a point where the majority cease to be fooled. The trickery wears thin, the spin ceases to mesmerize, and the lies start to fester away under the stairs, leaving a smell that can’t be got rid of no matter how much Glen 20 you spray around.
According to Senator Nick Xenephon, Gillard’s actions are a “gross breach of trust”, and she has “backstabbed the person who put her in office.” As Kevin Rudd can testify, it’s not the first time either.
“Integrity in government and being able to trust your politicians - to know your politicians will deliver on their promises - is a much bigger and more important issue,” admitted Andrew Wilkie, as the scales belatedly fell from his eyes. A worthy soundbite, and in fact, the most interesting sentiment to come out of his mouth since he opted for the role of lone avenger. As Wilkie is aware, far more people care about the “character” issue - whether or not their Prime Minister can be trusted to keep his or her word - than about the issue of $1 bets or mandatory pre-commitment. Furthermore, Andrew has stated that he believes the Prime Minister “never intended to honour her deal.” If true, then it takes away every shred of legitimacy (and decency) this government pretends to possess. Ironically, Wilkie, determined for so many years on a variety of hot-button issues to make his mark on the national stage, may finally have unwittingly done just that. Even if his pokie reforms, in whatever shape or form, ever do materialize, it will probably be his role as Gillard’s fall guy and in being so comprehensively dudded by this brazen, conniving and untrustworthy Prime Minister that will be his legacy. With any luck, he’s even spawned his own verb: to be “wilkied” may come to describe that dreadful feeling of having been played for a goose by a person or persons in a position of authority.
Pictured sitting forlornly on his front porch, Mr Wilkie can presumably now answer Bob Dylan’s pertinent question: “How does it feel? When you stare into the vacuum of her eyes and she says “do you want to make a deal?”
Bob Brown maintains he has been dudded over the logging agreement. Now Wilkie’s been shafted on his promised pokie reforms. Rudd was stabbed in the back because he’d, er, “lost his way.” The electorate were lied to over the carbon tax. And Her Majesty was assured that Gillard could form a stable government.
Asked to comment, Dylan had only this to say: “There’s no success like failure, and failure’s no success at all.”