About half an hour ago Rob Oakeshott announced to the media that he has declined Julia Gillard’s offer to become Minister for Regional Australia. His major reason for doing so was to ensure that he would not be constrained in any way from seeing through the regional reforms he and Tony Windsor were hoping to implement.
In so doing, he wrong-footed almost every commentator and politician who’s weighed in on the idea for the last few days.
Pundits tut-tutted that if he accepted, he would become little more than an arm of the Labor government. Senator Nick Xenophon fretted about the same terrible possibility. It was all about power, said others. The responsibility of being an Independent who had shaped the government had gone to his head.
The Australian, fresh from its declaration that it planned to do everything possible to destroy the so-called ‘Labor-Greens alliance’, didn’t bother to mince words. It declared that Oakeshott had been lying to us all this time about his alleged neutrality. It released an article this morning claiming that the Member for Lyne had previously sought a similar Ministry with the New South Wales state Labor government under Morris Iemma. The former Premier confirmed a conversation on the subject had taken place, but stopped short of agreeing that Oakeshott had asked for the position. For his part, Oakeshott said he had no recollection of such a conversation.
The commentators leaped on that statement with all the finesse of a school of wallowing hippos blundering around a waterhole. Could that be true? How could he not remember such an important conversation? Senator Barnaby Joyce – who had decided to spend the weekend in Tony Windsor’s electorate of New England ‘canvassing’ the voters – made it clear that he thought Oakeshott was talking rubbish. After all, if he, Barnaby, would remember such a thing, how could Oakeshott say otherwise? Joyce’s opinion was repeatedly broadcast throughout the day.
The panel on Sky News’ The Contrarians this afternoon (containing such leading political lights as Tim Wilson from the Institute of Public Affairs) went one step further. Oakeshott was clearly not telling the truth. What a bad look. Of course one could understand why he covered this up, because it ‘proved’ that he had been angling towards Labor all along. His independence was nothing but a sham.
At no time did anyone consider he might be telling the truth.
All this without one shred of proof being offered besides talk of an unnamed ‘Labour source’, who apparently chose The Australian as their preferred vehicle to expose the alleged awful truth. Yes, you read that right. This source decided to approach the one media outlet that would be guaranteed to accept any information that might damage the new minority government – the newspaper that has proved itself absolutely opposed to Labor in power under any circumstances.
Smelled fishy to me, too.
Right about then, Oakeshott’s announcement was communicated to them. The spin came so fast it’s a wonder the panel didn’t all suffer severe whiplash.
Oakeshott was ‘clearly’ preserving his independence, and good on him, too. It would have been such a bad look for him to accept, and obviously he realised that. He was doing the right thing – but there’s still the worrying problem of his past ‘associations’ with Labor. The panel warmed to its theme – and then the host, Peter van Onselen, dropped the other shoe.
Tony Abbot had also offered Oakeshott a Ministry.
At that point there was nearly 20 seconds’ silence from the panel. It was a beautiful thing to watch.
Oakeshott did nothing wrong. He said he could not recall a conversation with Iemma on the subject, and was pilloried for it. His veracity was automatically dismissed – there was simply no room for the idea that he might be telling the truth. No benefit of the doubt whatsoever.
Even if he had sought a Ministerial position from Iemma, it would not necessarily indicate a bias towards Labor. It might just as easily be a sign that Oakeshott was intent on being an effective voice for regional Australia. Again, that idea was never floated. Once the assumption was made, it became the only possibility. Oakeshott was branded a power-seeker, willing to sell out his electorate – indeed, all of regional Australia – for personal gain.
Understand, these things were not floated as possibilities or opinions. They were stated as fact.
No wonder The Contrarians panel was tongue-tied when confronted with the real story, and yet more evidence that Oakeshott was actually what he appeared to be – a true Independent with the integrity to refuse personal power if it meant he would be unable to work for the good of the people.
We saw the same thing happen when Andrew Wilkie refused Abbott’s $1 billion. And when Tony Windsor misspoke during a media conference, giving the impression that he had supported Labor to deny the Coalition victory at an early election, no one wanted to hear his explanation. Interviewers cut him off in mid-sentence and flatly contradicted him – the same interviewers that allow Gillard, Abbott and other ‘major’ politicians to simply trot out the party line in response to hard questions.
Bob Katter was perhaps most cruelly treated of all. His reasons for giving his vote to the Coalition may have had as much to do with sending Labor a message about replacing Kevin Rudd as anything else, but he tried to make important points about regional Australia and integrity within a political party. The media portrayed him as a mad old uncle, someone to be tolerated and then forgotten about as soon as possible.
The media has no idea what to do with such people – men of integrity – and so it falls back on what it knows. It tries to reduce them to the grubby level of deceit and arrogance that we’ve come to expect is ‘normal’ for politicians. So far we’ve seen that fail twice. It’s time they re-examined their strategy.