Suspend for a moment your disbelief and try to imagine the following scenario: Prime Minister Julia Gillard's partner, Tim Mathieson, is employed by an Australian property developer of Arab background whose position on the Middle East conflict is unashamedly, even crusadingly, pro-Palestine. In addition, our property developer of Middle Eastern appearance has formed an Australia-Arab Cultural Exchange and staged a series of forums bringing together Australian politicians and representatives of countries and groups in the Middle East committed to achieving justice for the Palestinian people. Imagine further that Gillard, as deputy prime minister, has both led a political and media delegation to a forum meeting in an Arab/Muslim capital and, in return, received an Arab/Muslim political and media delegation at a similar forum here in Australia.
Impossible to get your head around, I know, so let's just focus on one element only of the above scenario - the pro-Palestinian property developer of Arab/Muslim background employing La Guillotine's partner.
There is little doubt that this particular aspect of the scenario alone would have elicited howls of sustained protest by our Israel First fraternity, stimulated a weeks-long feeding frenzy by the corporate media (especially the Murdoch pack), and rocked the Labor government to its very foundations.
Contrast that with the media yawn attendant on the news* (around since October last) that La Guillotine's Manbag is currently working for a pro-Israel property developer of Israeli origin, who heads an organisation called the Australia-Israel Cultural Exchange (AICE) which has so far staged two Australia/Israel love-ins (Israel 6/09; Australia 12/09), under the banner of the Australia-Israel Leadership Forum, starring none other than La Guillotine herself. In the flurry of reporting on La Guillotine's ascension to the prime ministership, however, the matter has produced barely a flicker of media interest:
Typically, Murdoch's Australian initially played dumb: "Mr Mathieson, a hair products salesman, was appointed by Health Minister Nicola Roxon as a men's health ambassador in 2008, to get men to seek help about their health issues. His new role as the nation's First Man will see him thrust even further into the public spotlight." (Let's wait & see on marriage, says her partner, Stephen Lunn, The Australian, 25/6/10)
Lunn corrected himself next day, however, when he described Mathieson as a "former Shepparton hairdresser turned real estate salesman" and added that his new public role as La Guillotine's manbag "may well come at the expense of his current job, a full-time position he has held since January, selling apartments in a 50-storey complex in Melbourne's St Kilda Road for the developer Ubertas Group. Ms Gillard's pecuniary interests register lists Mr Mathieson as a 'property agent selling residential properties with the focus on international buyers." Lunn went on to report that "Ubertas Group executive chairman Albert Dadon is also chairman of the Australia-Israel Cultural Exchange," only to divert his readers with the astonishingly coy "Ms Gillard is understood to have travelled to Israel last year at this group's invitation." (Partner faces life in the limelight, 26/6/10)
The Sun-Herald gave Manbag the Woman's Day treatment with no hint whatever of La Guillotine's highly personal links with one of the Israel lobby's movers and shakers: "Former AFL footy player Geoff Raines believes his best mate Tim Mathieson will take the role as Australia's first ever 'first bloke' very seriously indeed. And he says Prime Minister Gillard is in the safest possible hands... Raines says Mathieson, whose current work is dabbling in real estate but retains his love of his hairdressing trade by still cutting his mates' hair, knows what his role will be as Australia's first man... While Raines describes his friend as 'politically savvy', others disagree, saying he is trying to learn but his political knowledge and understanding is limited... Mathieson's employer, Albert Dadon of property group Ubertus, was the first to suggest he consider doing some work for the not-for-profit sector and has been keenly impressed by his even nature." (First bloke is a man's man, Kerry-Anne Walsh & Matthew Benns, 27/6/10)
The Sydney Morning Herald was a little more forthcoming, revealing that "The Melbourne real estate developer Ubertas is referring all queries about its salesman Tim Mathieson to the office of his partner, the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard. Mr Mathieson's career change from selling hair products to selling apartments has stepped up interest in his job at a firm that has a sensitive development plan before the Victorian government... The recruitment of Mr Mathieson by Ubertas's managing director Albert Dadon... sparked curiosity in real estate circles because of Mr Mathieson's lack of experience. Mr Dadon was reported as saying he planned 'to make him a property star' as he had done with others in Ubertas who had been appointed without experience." (Light shines on rising star, Mark Metherell, 26/6/10)
Gee, Ubertas must be heaps popular with Melbourne Centrelink offices, what with its extraordinarily selfless habit (for a corporation) of taking on fifty-somethings with no prior experience whatsoever. Albert, you're a legend, mate!
Metherell went on to reveal that "Mr Dadon heads the Australia-Israel Cultural Exchange and has helped organise trips to Israel by Ms Gillard and Mr Rudd. Ms Gillard disclosed Mr Mathieson's appointment to Ubertas in a letter to the registrar of member's interests soon after he took his new job last September. A spokeswoman said then that Ms Gillard did not expect any perceptions of conflict of interest to arise from the job. 'However, the appropriate steps will be taken to ensure both Ms Gillard and Mr Mathieson discharge their professional duties in an entirely appropriate way', she said."
A perception of a conflict of interest? The Herald appears to be of the view that this involves only Dadon's commercial interests. (By way of explanation, Manbag's job of flogging luxury apartments to international investors follows the Rudd government's controversial relaxation of laws relating to foreign real estate ownership. (See Developer employs Julia Gillard's partner to sell apartments, Marc Pallisco, realestatesource.com, 1/3/10)) That a conflict of interest might arise in relation to Australia's Middle East policy hardly seems an issue for the likes of Metherell.
OK, the man's a whizz at pushing hair care products, but we're expected to believe that he's been taken on by Ubertus to flog luxury flats just because he's a nice guy?
Alas, both La Guillotine and her Manbag appear to have gone to ground: "Mr Mathieson could not be reached for comment yesterday and Ms Gillard's office did not respond to questions on his job. Mr Mathieson first attracted wide public attention when the Health Minister, Nicola Roxon, appointed him a men's health ambassador. It came under fire because of Mr Mathieson's lack of health expertise. But he denied that he had been chosen because of his ties to Ms Gillard, who was then deputy prime minister."
But had Mark Metherell been able to reach either of them, can you imagine him asking whether Manbag had really been employed by Dadon with a view to his utility as a convenient conduit to the then deputy prime minister on matters Middle Eastern or as a favour for her starring role in his forums? Not in a million, I'm afraid.
Not only is such a question from one of our corporate reporters seemingly inconceivable, but we also have the spectacle of one of the ms media's most conspicuous talking heads, visiting fellow at the Lowy Institute and professor of strategic studies at the Australian National University, Hugh White, telling us that "The big story about Julia Gillard and foreign strategic policy is there is no story... She's been involved in the Australian-American Leadership Dialogue for the last couple of years, but only since they came into government, she was involved in the Australia-Israel Leadership Forum last year... but she has no established positions, as far as anyone knows, on foreign policy questions." (Amid all the change, foreign policy a constant, Dan Oakes, Sydney Morning Herald, 26/6/10)
Strewth! I can't believe he said that.
[* See my 13/2/10 post A Job for the Boy]