Thursday, 15 July 2010

The news media got its telescope stuck up its own backside today after veteran journo Laurie Oakes threw a curly question - like a gauntlet - at the feet of Julia Gillard during question time at the National Press Club in Canberra. The detailed question about what happened on the night Gillard overthrew Kevin Rudd fell flat, however, as the prime minister batted it away expertly. She batted not an eyelid, twitched not a muscle.

But news websites across Australia decided, en-masse, that this was a story and gave top-of-page prominence to it. This included all Fairfax websites as well as those controlled by rival News Ltd. A variety of headlines appeared within an hour of the televised press conference being screened. All were alleging that Gillard is trying to hide something.

But the question was a pure fishing exercise on the part of Oakes. No doubt his sources are impeccable. But from day one Gillard has said she will not divulge what happened during the meeting in question. Her reply today merely reiterated this decision.

Why are the media so bent on finding scandal and outrage? What is their motivation in attempting to scoop Gillard when she gave exactly the same reply today as she has on numerous occasions before? Why is Oakes more of a celebrity than a journalist? And how come nothing else from the day's proceedings appeared in the news?

The talk itself was routine but nevertheless revealing. Gillard was in campaign mode, indicating that, without a doubt, an announcement on the date of the election is imminent. She played up Labor's fiscal credentials, demonstrating how the party has drifted even further to the Right since Rudd campaigned three years ago.

There was no mention, for example, of the party's new climate policy. Gillard repeatedly thrust home the message that the Labor government had a strong fiscal record and would return the budget to surplus within three years - three years (a guess) before any other developed economy. She also said that it would be reckless to trust the economy to the Liberals - essentially turning a Howard-era threat back onto his party.

As usual, Gillard's performance was stable and flawless. It will take a question with more bite than the one Oakes threw down, to unseat her in the lists.

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