The wonder of the Tent Embassy riot lies not in how or why it happened, but in the political judgement of Julia Gillard’s media advisor Tony Hodges. What was he thinking when he tried to spark an Aboriginal protest against Tony Abbott? Of all the things likely to engender sympathy for the opposition leader, nothing beats a pack of welfare-dependent, flag-burning militant-indigenes defending the derelict existence of the their so-called embassy.
If this is the standard of staff work inside the Prime Minister’s office, then Labor MPs should ensure that when they dump Gillard later this year, they also banish her senior advisors. Two months ago at the ALP National Conference, Gillard’s speechwriter Michael Cooney torpedoed his boss with the absurdity of ‘We are us’. Now her media office has handed Abbott a guaranteed popularity boost.
This is the type of wrong move Labor made against John Howard during the last term of the Keating government, believing that Howard’s alienation of minority groups would cost him electoral support. In practice, the suburban majority cheered home Howard’s policies and gave him a thumping parliamentary majority. Now they are doing the same for Tony Abo in his tussle with the Tent Abos.
Abbott had a productive January, also managing to cut through the Gordian Knot of asylum-seeker policy. By vowing to tow every boat back to its country of origin, he has exposed a vital unspoken truth. Far from working with Australia to stop the flow of unseaworthy vessels and the resulting deaths of hundreds of boatpeople, Indonesia has actually facilitated people-smuggling.
Turning the boats around is not only a powerful deterrent, it also returns the responsibility for this issue to where it belongs: the corrupt politicians, police and customs officials to our north who accept bribes from people-smugglers.
Have no doubt, Abbott’s policy will stop the flow of illegal migration and save lives. The only threat to its effectiveness is the self-indulgence of the Australian Navy. The admirals do not like this kind of work, much preferring the ‘big boys’ toys’ ethos of war games. Hypocritically, they have spent public money advertising a career in the Navy as an exciting adventure. Saving the lives of women and children on the high seas, apparently, is not adventurous enough for the men in crisp white suits.
In writing recently about George Best and Graham Richardson, a Spectator Australia reader forwarded to me one of the Best-ever quotes: ‘I spent 80 per cent of my money on booze and women and wasted the rest.’ As the captain of the ill-fated Costa Concordia has confirmed, women and alcohol make for wonderful comedy.
Courtesy of the colourful American author Abram S. Hewitt, I am reminded of the campaign speeches of Lady Nancy Astor (1879-1964), the first female member of the British House of Commons. Lady Astor was fanatical in her opposition to drinking, a position unpopular with the British working classes and their love of pub life.
Once, at a rally against alcohol, Astor wound up her peroration with the words: ‘Rather than let one drop of alcohol pass my lips, I would prefer to commit adultery.’ Whereupon came a voice from the audience: ‘Who wouldn’t?’
Who wouldn’t raise a chuckle about the predicament of the Costa Concordia? Laurie Oakes, for one. In his first newspaper column of the year, the big man denounced Abbott’s quip (‘that was one boat that did get stopped’) about the Italian cruise liner. ‘It is hard to think of anything grubbier,’ Oakes thundered.
In an article laced with comic-book expressions such as ‘Whack!’, he accused Abbott of not being ‘grown up’. Holy underpants, Batman! The Caped Crusader went on to ask: ‘Is Abbott fit to be Prime Minister?’ A better question: is Oakes fit to be a senior political journalist, with his Whack-Kapow-Clang theatrics and out-of-touch commentary?
While most people have seen the lighter side of the capsized ship, po-faced Laurie thinks that Abbott ‘just doesn’t get it’. In fact, Oakes never got it — a sense of humour, that is. For those of us safely moored here on the other side of the world, the Costa Concordia has resurrected 1,001 Italian jokes. In this fine journal a fortnight ago, for instance, Nicholas Farrell compared the boat’s hapless skipper to Silvio Berlusconi (‘a sex-addict clown’) and rolled out the oldie — but still a goodie — concerning the number of gears on an Italian tank (‘just the one – reverse’).
More than any other commentator, Oakes has lamented the rise of ‘white-bread’ politics, whereby ‘modern Australian politicians are afraid to chance their arms, to say anything spontaneous, or even to be themselves’. Old Jabba reckons ‘the individuality is slowly being squeezed out of our politicians’. Yet more than most, Oakes does the squeezing, as his attack on Abbott demonstrates. The problem is one of double standards — and a Canberra journalist hopelessly isolated from mainstream public opinion.