Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Parliament Laments

Well when I am wrong, I am really wrong.

Yesterday I did not think the condolence motion speeches – especially that by Julia Gillard – for the QLD floods and Cyclone Yasi could be as emotional and raw as those given for the 2009 Victorian bushfires. It was not because of anything to do with the relative horror of the disasters, but more that the fires had occurred only 3 days before Parliament spoke on them, and also as a Melbournian, the bushfires hit very close to home for the then Deputy Prime Minister.

Well the Prime Minister certainly showed me. image

She gave a brilliant speech. Emotional. Raw. Hopeful.

Quite often throughout she was visibly fighting to overcome her emotions – her voice completely cracked and revealed her sorrow.

For those wanting analysis of what this will mean polling, go elsewhere. I don’t really care. If you want to think she was faking it to get votes, you best go over to Andrew Bolt’s blog and revel in the filth that is the comments there (filth pretty blatantly encouraged by Bolt’s line of “I’m not saying Julia Gillard’s tears in Parliament today were anything but genuine…. But…”)

During her speech Gillard was most visibly upset when talking of 13 year old Jordan Rice and of helicopter pilot Mark Kempton:

I spoke to them of courage, it spoke to them of courage.

The courage it takes to keep filling sandbags even when your back is breaking.

The courage it takes to hold your nerve in the dark as a cyclone races around you.

The courage it takes to tell your children to run across the railway line, knowing it’s dangerous, knowing they could fall but knowing it’s their only hope of getting to safety.

The courage it takes for a young boy, 13 year old Jordan Rice, to say to his rescuer, take my brother first.

And before that brave rescuer could return, Jordan and mum Donna, were taken by the flood; but the legend of Jordan’s amazing courage will go on.

A hero in the purest sense of the word.

And there are other heroes Mr Speaker, like Mark Kempton and his helicopter crew from Emergency Management Queensland, a crew that winched 28 people to safety over a period of two and a half hours.

They should be patting themselves on the back and saying job well done to each other. Instead, Mark is haunted, he’s haunted every human face of this disaster, a woman he rescued who wept uncontrollably as she was pulled into the helicopter.

In a media report Mark said:

image“I looked over my shoulder and saw her sitting on the floor of the aircraft and she was just devastated. It was heartbreaking.”

What Mark was witnessing was a young, pregnant mother who, just seconds before the chopper had arrived, had had her young child wrenched from her weary arms by the floodwaters. She finally succumbed to the terrifying power of nature that night.

How do you tell Mark to rejoice in thinking of the people he saved when that young mother can think of nothing except the child she lost?

I’m glad mention was made of Kempton. I remember seeing him being interviewed and his saying that he wished he could meet all those he saved to thank them for being able to be saved. The guy was so clearly distraught at the memory of those he had been unable to reach. It was a brutally stark reminder that the effects of these floods will not just be on those who lost loved ones, but also on those rescue workers and others who saw things no one should, those who had to make choices no one should, those who will now live with those sights and choices made, and who wrestle with themselves fighting the belief that they could have done something different.

I don’t care that Anna Bligh was better during the press conferences after the floods. She was the Premier – it was her job to do what she did, and she did it perfectly. Today Julia Gillard did what a Prime Minister needs to do and she did it perfectly.

[As a note, David Speers of Sky News just tweeted that a Lib MP said to him “Gillard confected those tears today”. No doubt we’ll never know who said that – journos just love their cosy off-the-record relationship that allows them to be “in the know”. On the 7:30 Report, Joe Hockey also said “there’s nothing confected about Tony Abbott”. So I’m guessing the talking points are in.

What a disgusting polity we have.

While I do not think Tony Abbott’s speech was as good as Gillard’s, it was still very good – obviously heartfelt and also containing a perfect line:

But, of all the acts of heroism, there was none more emblematic of the Australian spirit than that of Jordan Rice, who I think should be to this generation what Simpson and his donkey were to earlier generations: a reminder of the height of selflessness to which individuals can rise.

But it was not his day – Opposition Leaders who try to emote more than the PM in condolence motions like this risk coming across as the Mother of the Bride who tries to outshine the Bride. He did his job and did it well.


Less well was the idiotic sight of Abbott and Hockey just before 2pm giving a press conference to announce cuts to the budget they would make instead of raising the levy. It was all rather stupid because… well they’re in opposition, who cares what programs they are cutting. Who cares how much it adds up to, who cares if it is more than the Government's cuts.

None of them will happen. Tim Dunlop nicely put the performance in context:

I will be announcing my budget cuts at 3pm. They will come into effect about the same time as Tony Abbott's.

Worse though was the line put out by Abbott and Hockey that they were making tough choices. That they had “guts”. Really? To say you will make cuts in a budget that you won’t actually ever have to follow through on, and that the areas in which you are cutting are purposefully those which will directly hurt bugger all people.

I mean deferring water buybacks?? Ooh I’m going to really notice that next time I do the shopping. A cut to a school in Indonesia? Ouch, way to really hurt mums and dads in western Sydney, Tony.

Seriously that’s tough?image

Come back to me when you’re doing something like means testing the private health insurance rebate and I’ll say you’ve got a finger of courage (but not much more).

The entire thing was a joke that was elevated to farce when a journo pointed out (think it was Mark Davis) that the cuts would mean the Govt would now actually have a bigger surplus than the Libs were projecting. Hockey jumped in and said we needed to take into account the more than $50 billion in savings the Libs had found before the last election.

Yep, those promises made back then – still in force! Still being counted! The Treasury’s destruction of them? Still being discounted!

Annabel Crabb tried valiantly not to laugh as she asked if the Libs were therefore going to keep a running total of their “budget”.

But on a serious note, why in the hell would you cut funding to a school in Indonesia? It is essentially foreign aid, but foreign aid which is targeted towards trying to reduce Islamic extremism being taught in Indonesian schools. Is that now an unnecessary thing? Perhaps Abbott has been brave – he’s essentially giving the ALP a chance to accuse him of dropping the ball on the fight against terrorism.

Very odd.

Even more odd, as Bernard Keane pointed out in Crikey, was just how much the Shadow Cabinet leaked over the cuts. The Oz and The Age both had the story that Julie Bishop had defeated Abbott’s desire to cut foreign aid to Africa (another eg of him making a tough choice).

The leaks, as with all leaks, are nothing stunning – debate in Cabinets always happen. But they show that this shadow Cabinet is not as united as it was last year, and they show Abbott’s leadership is not a given.


Abbott finished off the day with a bizarre reaction to Channel 7’s Mark Riley ambushing him with footage of Abbott saying “sometimes shit happens” to a US General who had explained that despite all efforts and equipment an Australian solider died in a battle. Abbott was obviously not being dismissive of the death, but his reaction to Riley – where he stood for reportedly 1 min 10 seconds just staring and not saying anything is truly bizarre to see.

A politician not able to come up with anything to say to a journalist? Inconceivable!

The story now is the reaction – Channel 7 will run big on it – no doubt on Sunrise we’ll see the whole 70 seconds of Abbott’s head nodding but no words coming out (pretty sure he was thinking, “If I snot this hack in the nose will anyone really care?”). (On a side issue I hope for Riley’s sake no one at Channel 7 has an outtake of him swearing that somehow finds its way on YouTube.)

Peter Brent on Twitter suggested Julia Gillard should come out in defence of Abbott. I agree – it would show she is taking the high road. She also should do it because it is the right thing to say – it is all a beat up. I don’t think Abbott was being insensitive – though the footage to me suggests he is trying to be “blokey” around soldiers – which is a tad lame (though I may be over-analysing it).

The odd thing is that Abbott seemed completely unprepared for it. Apparently the FOI request for the footage had been well known about, and surely when Riley asked him for a one on one to seek his comment on some footage he (or his advisors) would’ve had a good idea what was coming – or at least that it wasn't going to be good. It was truly an Abbott in the headlights moment.

Personally I don’t give “a shit” about Abbott swearing to a US General while he was in Afghanistan, what I care about (and what I wrote at the time) is that when Abbott was in Afghanistan he desperately wanted to go play soldier, without any thought of the consequences. That was a real issue, because it went to his judgement. Pity this will get more coverage.


RodH said...

I've said this elsewhere, but I'll say it again.

The impression I’ve had of JG for quite some time has been of a volcano about to explode. Constrained because she has to be to get the job done. Covering a load of anger with the carping of Abbott, Pyne et al and those nit-twits in the media who are obsessed with “the game” and completely oblivious to its potential real human consequences.

She has to, most of the time, of course but I wouldn’t want to be on the wrong side of the chamber in question time this session. Anyone who imagines that JG is lacking in deep, human, feeling for people in strife is a fool of the first order. She has the inner strength, the certainty, the control and, hidden all too often behind the control speak of her minders in recent times, the verbal ability, to destroy them utterly when pushed to this sort of point.

I don’t think she will be taking any prisoners over the next few months.

Anonymous said...

"You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

2353 said...

7.30 Report just ran the Channel 7 footage of Abbott (and some if not all of the "bemused silence").

It's a pity this looks like getting the media's attention for the next day or so - Gillard's and Abbott's speeches in the condolence motion should be the headlines. Well crafted, genuine emotion by both of them, honest and where parliament should be/

However if Abbott & Hockey can announce at a press call today that they are going to defer spending money they don't control - Abbott deserves all the bad press he gets - after all shit happens.

Sonia said...

Great speech by the PM. I have seen the footage many times tonight and it stills makes me teary. As for the tears being fake. Any fool could see that it was real and any idiot who wants to play politics with it will I suspect pay the consequences

thefactis said...

I completely agree with you on Gillard. She was a complete professional today, showing great leadership. People accused her of being to wooden during the floods but she's the PM, not the Premier. Whoever thinks there're crocodile tears are...
And Abbott cutting foreign aid (which will never come through obviously) is absolutely ridiculous. Didn't the Howard Govt implement it?
Also, that was utter garbage from Ch7. The real damage to Abbott is the interview afterwards with Mark Riley. That was beyond awkward.

Ethan said...

The talk of the authenticity of Gillard's emotions is disheartening.

We forget that as much as the Prime Minister is that lofty position of leader of our nation, the office bearer is human too. Just as we expect her to reflect the feelings of the nation, we should also understand that her own personal emotionality and fundamental irrationality that is at the essence of being human.

I was moved to tears several times during the speech. For starters, I fail to see how the stories of Jordan Rice and Mark Kempton cannot provoke a visceral reaction of tragic pride in anyone, including the Prime Minister. Her words about courage were of defining importance for the country.

It is disheartening that we have got to this place where we can be so cynical about the person (and the people) that we make our leaders, especially when they are just being human like the rest of us.

Helen said...

When I heard the PM on ABC radio this afternoon I hadn't realised the tape was from Parliament; I thought it was a memorial service or something of that nature, because I could hear that the PM was in tears.

"Confected", indeed - doesn't that just smack of "birther"? What will they import next?

Greg Jericho said...

Oh Anon, there's a Princess Bride fan on every blog :-)

Anonymous said...

The problem with what Abbott did was not the "shit happens" comment. It was his and the other members of the Coalition's criticism, during the election,(and playing politics with) of the military leadership and the government for apparently not providing enough support for the troops (remember the "we need to send tanks..." rubbish) that lead up to the death of the soldier in question.

So, in public it's criticism, but behind the scenes, it's just "shit happens".

Their hypocrisy is stunning.

IM said...

Emotional speeches about consequences without any attempt to deal with underlying causes do not move me in the least. That's not leadership.

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

Quite right, IM. Gillard should find a way to stop hurricanes the size of the US forming in the Pacific. If she can't, she is a disgrace, and must go!

I'm being particularly amused today by the right-wingers who yesterday were blithering on about Gillard being a 'wooden' terrible actress, and then today have done a complete 180 to claim that she can turn on tears to order. It's one or the other, dudes, you can't have it both ways.

Patricia WA said...

Yes, “Charity begins at home.”
That is what Tony Abbott said.
Is this taught by the Church of Rome?
This the word that Christians spread?

Australians who need a latté,
Have credit cards that must be paid,
Who buy wine and fois gras paté,
Matter more than overseas aid?

We hear in shadow cabinet
He proposed as a general rule
These ‘needs’ are ones that must be met,
Before a hungry ‘foreign’ child or school.

That’s the ‘fat’ that Abbott’s carving
From Budget plans so there’s no levy?
Taking food from the poor and starving
So tax ‘at home’ is not so heavy?

Where’s the ‘charity’ in tax relief?
Is there no Bible on Abbott's bookshelf?
Does he not share in Christ’s belief
That one should love one’s neighbour as oneself?

IM said...

Kerryn Goldsworthy- it's climate change, you'd better start learning to live with it because you are going to see a lot more of it. And yes, JG can do something about it but she isn't. Just crocodile tears.

Anonymous said...

Abbott and Co . have been asked where would they make cuts, and they gave their answer. You people can not be so naive and one eyed. Your blog has no substance.

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

'Just crocodile tears.'

If she's that good an actress, why hasn't she been better at it until now?

Sir Ian Crisp said...

Yet another Julia was introduced to the Australian public: Julia the lachrymist. Julia poses no threat to Cicero's reputation.

Wood Duck said...

I've always felt somewhat uncomfortable with condolence motions, particularly within the context of today's political managerialism. This time, however, I received something of a fright when the "mud-stained" Australian flag was pulled from under the counter as a prop for the occasion. Pauline Hanson was criticised for draping herself in the national flag. Perhaps she was ahead of her time.
I'm sort of with IM on the issue of what has happened in Queensland and elsewhere. It is interesting to note that any discussion of global warming and its possible consequences on the part of major party politician and the MSM has been studiously avoided.

IM said...

Yes, the bogan flag waving bit sealed it for me too, a new low in parliamentary bathos. The fact that JG has used the opportunity to cut climate change initiatives (admittedly feeble ones) rather than the enormous subsidies to the fossil fuel industries demonstrates how hypocritical this melodrama was. I'm puzzled that anyone can fall for this. I don't care if the PM can publicly emote, I want solid effective policy change that deals with the underlying cause of the problem. JG will not provide that, in fact she is working against effective climate change policy and is therefore morally culpable for the human pain she weeps over.

Adam said...

Greg, although I very much dislike Tony Abbott as a politician (and representative of people), in the instance of his comments in Afghanistan, I agree that its a bit over the top.

However, having said that, this is what comes from trying to use a war zone to gain political points. If he wanted a real conversation with the general about the circumstances of the death, why did he need cameras in attendance?

Then following that, as you say, he should have been well aware the footage was coming given the FOI requests. As such, why wasn't he able to simply verbalise that the comments were appropriate given the environment, the context and the audience.

Tony Abbott is quite happy for a "media circus" regarding flood levy and his magic budget cuts, yet when the same media turns on him, he can't seem the handle the pressure at all.

Apathy said...

Grog - First time poster. I agree with you, both speeches were pretty close to the mark. I am just amazed (it really shouldn't comes as a big surprise to me when talking about bloggers on MSM) at some people's suggestion that she faked it, cut onions on the side, etc. What does that say about society that we question someone's sincerity? I think it says that most blogs are now being hijacked by the party faithful.

As far as Tony's Mark Latham moment is concerned, I don't for a second think he was being insensitive. I think it just shows that he is no John Howard or Paul Keating and he still hasn't worked out that he lives in a different era. According to George Megalogenis in his book Longest Decade, JWH used to swear like a trooper (no pun intended) but was disciplined enough to know not to swear on the job. In reality, he's crime was that it was clumsy but unfortunately it is not his first. If he wants to show guts, his best opportunity to show some might be in trying to keep the Liberal Party from doing what it does best in opposition. A civil war.

MassiveSpray said...


I'm going to go the other way and say that I think Tony's response to the interview might have been part of a bigger plan. You can now how the other media are going to spin it as "picking on poor Tony" and start to engender a groundwave of sympathy. Interesting how this cropped up just when he was starting to cop some stick about his poor performance during the disasters...or is that thinking that the LNP have Machiavellian skills they don't really possess?

Minty said...

Of course, another unfortunate aspect of Tony Abbott's comment is that it is reminiscent of Donald Rumsfeld's dismissive "Stuff happens" when told of the looting of the Baghdad museums at the beginning of the Iraq war.

Karl said...

I pretty much agree with RodH, although I'm a little more reserved about how aggressive JG's going to be over the coming months.

Re: Tony Abbott and Riley, is it possible that Tony clammed up because he figured no matter what he said it'd be steamrollered and shaped into TT's "narrative"?

Adam said...

Off Topic of this post, but just saw this http://www.smh.com.au/technology/technology-news/nbn-costs-taxpayers-24-times-south-korea-at-one-tenth-the-speed-report-20110209-1amm2.html

Apparently its shocking that it costs less to provide broadband to a country slightly larger than tasmania (with a population of 48million) than it does to provide broadband to a country 76x larger, with a much less dense population. Seriously, will we ever get a real debate with realistic comparisons and facts about the NBN

Note: I am a fan of the NBN, but am still happy for real facts to be debated rather to allow for informed choice rather than smoke and mirrors and people promoting opinions with obvious conflict of interest.

Thirdborn said...

Well I think any suggestion Gillard faked those tears is just cold hearted - I am honestly flummuxed as to how someone arrives at this position.

On Abbott - I come from an Army background and I can't think of any time when discussing life threatening situations where we would say 'shit happens'. That's the sort of thing the soldiers say amongst themselves, but not commanders. I expect much more from political leaders - shit doesn't just happen, there are always reasons why soldiers die and we have to work out exactly why so that we can stop it happening in the future.

But it is abbotts reaction to the interview which is the clincher. I have seen plenty of leaders freeze in fear, but never like that. Whether it is fear or rage is irrelevant. A leader must be able to control their emotions when the chips are down.

Which brings me back to Gillards tears. The reason she didn't show emotion when she was with Bligh was because she was on the job, making decisions and taking no prisoners. When she was giving her speach those decision making responsibilities were gone and she was exposed. Again, I have seen the same thing over and over in leaders.

Thirdborn said...

I've decided that Abbott's freeze is the same as the freeze of George Bush when he was told about 9/11 - paralysis.

IM said...

Thirdborn, I for one am not suggesting JG tears are fake, just hypocritical, given her refusal to do anything effective about climate change.

Bobalot said...


That's retarded. Any action the PM could take would have not made a difference to the tragedy that occurred.

Even if she implemented every green policy under the sun, it won't stop another Queensland flood.

Australia's contribution to climate change is next to insignificant.

Jaeger said...

Thirdborn - I think Abbott's silence was more a Meninga moment than a Dubya one... If only he had Mal's honesty and sense of political reality: "I'm buggered, I'm sorry, I have to resign."

Anonymous said...

Regarding Abbott's interview with Riley. I think it's pretty obvious that Abbott had a 'senior' moment. Abbott had just said that the quote ("Shit happens") was taken out of context. What would anyone ask after that? "What was the context then Mr Abbott?" which is what Riley asked. Instead of having an answer Abbott just stood there rocking.

The topic of the interview was conveyed to Abbott's press secretary well beforehand, the interview time and location were of Abbott's choosing. He knew what to expect and in normal circumstances would have had a response - probably pugnacious, but normally he wouldn't have stood there in an autistic reverie.

He does have that verbal stammer where he sometimes struggles to get words out. This looked a lot to me like its physical counterpart. Maybe one too many hits to the head during his boxing career? Or maybe he was about to faint? Whatever it was I don't think he was about to take a swing.

Of course all the Abbott supporters are pushing the line that he was furious and trying to control himself. I don't buy it. It looked to me that for a good thirty seconds or so he was off with the fairies.

IM said...

Bobalot If you really think that then it's about time you stopped denying and started listening.

Alistair Baillieu-McEwan said...

Gee Grog - you must be having an impact to attract those naysayers who blight any blog which attempts to give a reasoned explanation of events. Naughty - why not just stick to praising whatever it is the Opposition says or does and condemning the current Government as is normal practice in many places. Fancy having the cheek to set out "facts" - don't you know we are all living in Bizzarro Land now?

kazann said...

Grog I see jokers from the right have come a calling. Don't often see them here but they are quite stirred up at the moment.
I cried with Ms Gillard, sobbed would be a more acurate description. Only the heartless would believe grief of such magnitude would need fake tears. In regards to Tony Abbott's brain fart I realise he wasn't trying to be insensitive but I just can't imagine a circumstance where he would think it acceptable for someone to describe the events that lead to the death of one of his children as "well sometimes shit happens". His reaction was bizarre. I would hate to think he was leader of this country and could have one of those moments on the international stage if someone didn't agree with him or play it his way. I hate to say it, but I have to wonder, knowing he had prior warning and ample time to prepare, could this mean his reaction may not have been rage or worry, but staged in the hope of trying to change the dialogue in regards to some of his shortsighted imaginary, because he isn't leader, budget cuts.