Comment and compilation
Barry Tucker 27 March, 2014
In a foolish and ultimately self-incriminating move, Murdoch’s Sunday Telegraph has tried to protect federal government leader Tony Abbott from humiliation.
Mr Abbott is quite capable of humiliating himself. In fact, he usually does it on a daily basis, making protecting him a full-time, even futile, job.
In short, The Sunday Telegraph pulled a page from 22 December, 2013, containing a story in which Abbott ruled out the reintroduction of knights and dames. Following a commotion on social media, the page was restored to the online edition the following day.
The original story was written by Samantha Maiden, National Political Editor for Rupert Murdoch’s major metropolitan newspapers. It was not major news. It mainly quoted Abbott as saying he would not be following New Zealand’s lead by amending Australia’s top honour, the Order of Australia, to a knighthood or a dame.
However, the 22 December story suddenly became big news on the night of Tuesday, 25 March, 2014, when Abbott announced the reintroduction of knight and dame honours for “pre-eminent” Australians. They would apply automatically to Governors-General, to some who accepted public office, but probably not to those who sought public office, such as politicians.
Yesterday afternoon tweeters, myself included, began researching, found the 22 December article and began tweeting the link to our followers. Abbott’s back-flip, secrecy and obfuscation created quite a stir — although we should be accustomed to it by now. A few hours later, when I wanted to re-read certain parts, the story had disappeared from the web.
When Maiden was asked if she had an explanation, she replied there was no conspiracy. The following morning, she said the removal of the page had been “inadvertent”. There is no suggestion Maiden removed the web page. That would require online editing skills and probably a log-on password by an authorised online editor.
This is where the story becomes interesting and relevant (unlike almost any Opposition Point of Order during Question Time in the federal House of Representatives). It is not unusual for a politician to change their position on something. They generally have one position during an election campaign and a different one after the campaign, depending on whether or not their party won. It is not unusual for Abbott to change his position on everything. As I wrote earlier, he keeps his minders busy.
However, The Sunday Telegraph is not, or should not be, Abbott’s minder. The fact that it has taken this role upon itself is instructive.
It would have been better to leave the page in place and not draw attention to Abbott’s flip-flop by making the page disappear. It was a foolish move because anything that appears on the web is copied and cached in many other places. The fact that the page has reappeared after a storm of social media fuss proves that removing it was recognised as a mistake.
I say “removed” and I mean to imply deliberately removed because there is no way the page removal could have been “inadvertent”. It disappeared soon after tweeters began referring to Abbott’s obfuscation. It was deliberately removed in what turned out to be a futile bid to save Abbott embarrassment.
Abbott has been severely embarrassed by his reintroduction, without consulting his cabinet or the Australian people, of these imperial honours, which have been described by former Liberal Prime Minister John Howard, and others, as “anachronistic”. I have a list of seven Liberal MPs, so far, who are annoyed or bemused by Abbott’s honours.
On the day following Abbott’s announcement, Question Time was reduced to a farce, with several Opposition MPs kicked out for what Madam Speaker Bronwyn Bishop referred to as “… a new tactic of an outburst of infectious laughter”. Abbott lost his temper at one point, leaning over the despatch box, glaring and yelling at Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, who had been humming Rule Britannia.
Abbott’s behaviour was the first evidence we have seen of the underlying bullying nature he exhibited through his university days. It was the proof I’d been expecting to see that he is, as I’ve written here before, probably not mature enough to responsibly exercise power.
He has now made at least three captain’s calls since 1 December, 2009 and they have all ended in near disaster for him. The first was his challenge to then Liberal Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull. He won that spill by a single vote. The second was his expensive Paid Parental Leave scheme, which offers new working mothers six months leave at full salary — partly paid for with a 1.5% tax on big employers. There is opposition in his party to the plan. The third and most recent was his reintroduction of some imperial honours, the last of which were abandoned in 1982.
Either Abbott has not accepted an Australian honour, such as the Order of Australia (AO), or not enough of his friends or staff have taken the trouble to prepare an application for one.
Here are some of the relevant tweets:
The following day:
One of the results of following the original link:
And if it inadvertently disappears again, read this cached copy.
Unexpectedly, News.com’s National Political Editor Malcolm Farr reported on Abbott’s humiliation.
And The Guardian Aus Political Editor Lenore Taylor did some straight reporting of the facts.