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.
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:
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.
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.
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.