Friday, April 3, 2009

Behind the news

Today there were a few interesting stories.

The first was the news that back in January ,on a flight from PNG, Kevin Rudd let rip at a RAAF female cabin attendant, and that his abuse made her cry.

Now first off, Rudd was way out of line. And he damn well was right to have apologised.

But what was interesting about the story though is two things:

First, that his press secretary Lachlan Harris at first denied it happened. Why? When a journo asks you about something so specific, obviously the journo has got some information about it. No point denying it. Bad media relations work there.

The second thing was the timing. Why now? It's tempting to think that as the incident happened on a RAAF plane, this is the Department of Defence letting Rudd know it is not adverse to leaking embarrassing details to show who is boss. More likely though is the Liberals found out about it ages ago, and have waited until Rudd is overseas and on the morning of the G20 announcement to try and divert attention from what has been an amazingly successful trip.

Typically Turnbull and Hockey have gone way over the top in response.

Hockey on Sunrise this morning adopted his angry demeanour (like it was his daughter who had been shouted at) and expressed a hope that this is the only incident and that there isn't a pattern of behaviour. What this means is that the Liberals are almost certainly going to try and leak out a few more stories about Rudd blowing his stack to show it is a pattern of behaviour.

Turnbull meanwhile said Rudd's apology shows he only apologises when he is caught doing something wrong. First this ignores this aspect in the article:

Sources said the PM reacted "strongly" and a heated exchange followed. The attendant burst into tears and reported the matter to the senior cabin attendant.
She later composed herself and continued with the in-flight service.

"The crew were distressed but later in flight apologies were made by all," the report says.
It is believed Mr Rudd made a personal apology.

That is he did make an apology at the time - ie well before he was "caught out". So Turnbull, not for the first time, is just making stuff up.

Secondly, given the whispers I have heard from those who have worked as Liberal party advisers recently, Turnbull is no Mr Smiles and Sunshine. In fact the impression I get is that his standard attitude towards staff in his office is contempt and abuse. Turnbull and the Liberal Party as a whole would be advised to not get too excited about Rudd being bossy. No doubt the ALP have their own dossier (or as it's generally known - shit file) on Turnbull.

So why leak it now? Well without it look at what would have been reported (well done to Malcolm Farr for seeing the big picture):

THE groundbreaking statement by the 20 richest powers will have been familiar to anyone who has been listening to Kevin Rudd over the past seven months.

The Prime Minister has been making suggestions and urging actions which yesterday made up the bulk of the G20 statement.

The ideas of course weren’t all his, but he had been enthusiastically supporting and disseminating them since last September, working with more senior international figures such as Britain’s Gordon Brown.
The name checks Rudd has received in the United States and Britain over the past two weeks – all made with respect – were salutes for the work he has done.

He won’t defeat the global slump single handed, won’t rank with Barack Obama or Gordon Brown in leading the effort, and will still have to deal with stark domestic matters.

But he should not be denied his part in helping shape what undoubtedly is the most comprehensive global action ever on the economy.

That is Rudd went overseas to the biggest economic conference since WWII and was a player, and more than that significantly helped achieve the outcome.

Another interesting story today was a column by Dennis Shanahan on the Liberal's handling of the China-Rudd-Fitzgibbon story. He gets stuck into them:

THE Coalition has blown the whole debate over China, it has made itself the story and its outraged indignation can't hide the fact that it is conducting a reactive political guerilla war without an overall strategy. Until the Coalition realises where it has been and where it is going, the Rudd Government will continue to be popular and get away with murder.

The China syndrome is the perfect example of how Liberal uncertainty about how the Howard government's achievements should be defended and developed has led it to adopt tactics that have damaged what should have been a long-term strategy.

This week started with the Government on the defensive over Joel Fitzgibbon's sponsored, and undeclared, free trips to China courtesy of an influential Chinese businesswoman, that is, a woman who does business in both China and Australia. It ended with the Coalition fuming about the Government's "contemptible" racist smears.

But the Coalition got itself into this corner, and incidentally eased pressure on the Defence Minister, by a grandiose linking of separate issues into an alleged conspiracy aimed at hurting Australia's interests.

At the heart of this conspiracy, incredibly, was the charge that the Australian Prime Minister was acting against Australia's national interests. Just think about that for a minute.

It was Joe Hockey and Malcolm Turnbull who kicked off the conspiracy theory, which was picked up by other Coalition members accusing Kevin Rudd of being a Manchurian candidate.
Not only was this poor politics that rebounded on the Coalition, and poor policy that ceded an advantage to Rudd, but it was a complete misreading of the Government's complex attitude towards China.

He's spot on (though does he really think the Government is getting away "with murder"??). And yet I love how Dennis Shanahan has conveniently forgotten that just six days ago he wrote:

THE Rudd Government knows it's got a real perception problem with China, thanks to the ill-timed bumbling of and carelessness of Joel Fitzgibbon.

The Defence Minister's undeclared trips to China come as China is doing everything it can to take a huge stake in Australia's natural resources; after Kevin Rudd's "secret meeting" with China's propaganda chief has made a bad impression; as the Prime Minister's longstanding Sinophilia makes people suspicious; and as Australia is championing Chinese efforts for a greater say within the IMF.

So last Saturday, according to Shanahan, there is a suspicion about Rudd's dealing with the Chinese, but today, according to Shanahan, the Liberals were wrong to talk up that suspicion.

Interesting to say the least.

The final bit of interesting news was this admission by Tony Abbott:

Addressing a social services forum in Sydney, Mr Abbott was applauded when he publicly admitted the Coalition should have said sorry while in government.

"It was a mistake for us not to apologise to Aboriginal people," he said as the crowd applauded.

"And I'm pleased when Kevin Rudd did decide to apologise that he was strongly supported by the Coalition."

It is about the most sensible thing I've heard from Abbott since... ok since ever. And it should be part of a broader strategy by the Liberals - acknowledge mistakes, not criticise the Government for everything it does, and move on with some positive noises (and perhaps policy!).

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