THERE are two explanations for the curious case of the Prime Minister and the Gina Rinehart workforce deal: that the government is utterly dysfunctional or that Julia Gillard has stretched the truth. Or possibly both at the same time.
Gillard appears to be encouraging the conclusion that her government is dysfunctional. She told furious union leaders on Friday that she had not known about the deal until Wednesday.
That amounts to an admission that key ministers had, deliberately or otherwise, kept her and her office in the dark - despite the highly centralised decision-making processes in this government and the politically contentious nature of the deal.
It also means the announcement and speech by the Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen, at the National Press Club had not been run past Gillard's office before Wednesday - despite standing orders that everything of significance must be - and that she didn't have the power to stop the deal even though she wasn't happy with it and she is supposed to be in charge. In effect it means her government is dysfunctional, and she's letting everyone know it.
But some of her ministers insist this is not true. They say her office was informed and even had talks with other ministerial offices about how to handle the inevitable union backlash, well before the announcement.
That amounts to an accusation that the Prime Minister chose to stretch the truth and blame her ministers because a government policy got a less than enthusiastic reception from her key union backers.
(Even more disturbing from a public policy point of view is the incredible proposition that the government would ever announce such a deal because, as union leader Paul Howes put it: ''I thought we were attacking these guys [mining giants such as Rinehart] at the moment.'')
Wayne Swan's criticism of mining billionaires was based on the assertion that they used their money and influence to exert an unhealthy influence on public debate. He wasn't criticising them for using their money to open new mines and create wealth and jobs, which is what the employment agreement was supposed to help them do.
(The idea that it is apparently implausible to facilitate Rinehart's investment of billions while criticising her policy ideas shows how this attack has become cartoonishly devoid of nuance or content.)
Wherever the truth lies, the saga is again raising the leadership issue, with conspiracy theories on both sides running rife.
The Rudd camp is trying to douse, rather than fan, the flames. Given that there are now new questions, either about the functioning of the government or the judgment of Gillard or both, why would they do otherwise?