Julia Gillard is under pressure, not from the opposition, but from her own actions 17 years ago that has come back to haunt her. But the beginning of the end of her reign comes not from any opposition hits in parliament but from what has been described as an “act of political bastardry“.
The watershed moment was when a member of Gillard’s own caucus, Robert McClelland, stood in the House on June 21. McClelland was a widely respected member of the Gillard cabinet and served as her attorney-general before she dumped him.
Now speaking in his capacity as a backbencher, he rose to address the subject of a bill to crack down on fraud by union officials. In full knowledge of what he was doing, he committed an act of political bastardry against his leader:
“I never want to see a dollar that a worker gives a union used for any purpose other than the proper purposes of representing that union member’s best interests,” he said. “Indeed, I know the Prime Minister is quite familiar with this area of the law; as lawyers in the mid-1990s, we were involved in a matter representing opposing clients.”
He had just revived the unmentionable matter of the Wilson scandal, the subject Gillard had spent 17 years trying to live down. Now McClelland talked it up:
“Indeed, my involvement in that matter has coloured much of my thinking in this area and resulted in me moving amendments on September 17, 2002, to actually strengthen the powers of the Federal Court of Australia.”
The shadow attorney-general, George Brandis, called this “most significant,” and he was right. Privately, McClelland told colleagues that he fully intended to give Gillard a punch in the nose.
It was a clear signal that he was joining the destabilisation of Gillard. It was a declaration that the Wilson affair was now fair game. And it was an invitation to others to reopen the matter, to use it against Gillard, and to receive the blessing and support of at least a part of the Labor Party.