The ABC, through its glamour couple Sarah Ferguson and Tony Jones, did Tony Abbott two huge favours this past month. Its brilliantly ruthless documentary The Killing Season has shown not only how Labor’s last government was destroyed by Narcissus and Lady Macbeth plotting and counter-plotting against each other. It nailed current Labor leader Bill Shorten as untrusted by both Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, having ratted and re-ratted in knifing two Labor PMs, and being caught out as having deliberately lied to 3AW’s Neil Mitchell about meeting Mr Rudd about the Labor leadership. Billy Liar, perhaps?
And given that in the previous episode a Gillard staffer, Gerry Kitchener, revealed then senator Mark Arbib said at the time of the 2010 coup against Rudd that ‘you couldn’t trust Bill Shorten, that he would do Julia in’, Mr Shorten’s integrity and credibility were already somewhat dented.
Already uninspiring to voters, sinking in the opinion polls against Abbott redux and soon facing the Trade Union Royal Commission over his colourful days as Australian Workers Union boss, The Killing Season skewered and diminished Mr Shorten, even though he didn’t appear either as an interviewee or cheesy re-enactor. (The decision by several actors in the original drama to re-live their treachery was extraordinary, with both Sam Dastyari and Tony Burke left looking foolish and untrustworthy).
Increasingly, the only things in Mr Shorten’s favour are the rules Kevin Rudd imposed in 2013 to immunise future Labor leaders from sudden challenge. Mr Rudd’s ingenious, final and cunning revenge on his party has been to lock in an increasingly unelectable successor in Bill Shorten.
And then, just when we thought the ABC could never top such a sterling performance, along came the ever-reliable Q&A. The decision of the show’s producers to bus in convicted criminal, Islamic State shill and misogynistic social media troll, Zaky Mallah, for an elaborately-planned ‘gotcha’ on Coalition parliamentary secretary Steven Ciobo, was pure Blackadder. Baldrick himself couldn’t have staged such a perfect backfiring blunder. Q&A has form, of course, as anyone who saw John Howard confronted by David Hicks will remember. But to try and set up a member of the Abbott government while giving a live, national TV platform to a vile extremist, was not only mischievous but in the end led to Q&A shooting themselves in the foot. ‘Gotcha’ in reverse, with Mr Ciobo emerging with his reputation and profile dramatically enhanced thanks to his principled, cool, and forthright responses under pressure.
In and of itself, the idea to allow Mallah to use his own prior jail time to question the new powers the government hopes to implement is perfectly valid. As firm believers in freedom of expression, we believe that dialogue, debate and awkward questions are the best defence of our democratic freedoms. Indeed, Mallah’s aggressive comments about ‘justifying jihad’ couldn’t have been better designed to test Voltaire’s premise. The real criticism of the ABC, rightly, rests on the issue of security precautions. (We must take them at their word that they were unaware of Mallah’s vile twitter history.)
It is up to the government to prosecute its case so that honest, law-abiding citizens are comfortable that any new powers – if they do indeed impose upon our existing rights – are desirable, necessary and well-thought through. No doubt much to the ABC’s dismay, Mallah’s outburst merely reinforced the need to crack down on terrorism sympathisers and those who blame democracy for the actions of homegrown jihadists.
Indeed, when the Mallah stunt blew up, what happened? Over a week of saturation media coverage of the unsavoury incident and Mallah’s vile taunts followed. Acres of newsprint, hours of radio and TV coverage discussed Isis and Islamist security risks at home as well as Syria and Iraq. Talkback and social media largely broke the government’s way. When news came through of the horrific tragedies later in the week in Tunisia, Bahrain and France, we were grimly reminded how vulnerable to terror attacks we all are.
With the government divided over stripping citizenship rights from jihadists fighting for Islamic State against their own country, Q&A’s decision to promote Mallah showed us – as if we hadn’t already guessed – that Lindt siege gunman Man Haron Monis wasn’t the only nutjob in our midst driven by Islamist extremism, and that preachers of treason trash their right to Australian citizenship. Also thanks to Q&A, the Coalition’s political strong suit of national security dominated the agenda for the whole week, and Labor could do little more than say ‘me too’.
Recently, Tony Abbott asked the ABC ‘whose side are you on?’ If the PM assumed the answer to his question was ‘Not his’, well, perhaps he’s wrong. Unintentionally or not, the ABC couldn’t have been a better friend to him and his Coalition government this past week. Between The Killing Season and Q&A, Aunty may well have ensured Mr Abbott is comfortably re-elected in 2016. Send her some flowers, Tony!
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