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Week 8: Tony Abbott and the Washington Post Interview

Australia has had a long standing (and very strong) relationship with the US, particularly under Gillard and Howard. My history teacher in high school attributed this to the US bailing us out during World War Two, after Britain conveniently stopped answering our calls for assistance. Or something, I didn’t pay close attention in High School History. Our relationship with the Us has strengthened over the past 70 years, with the passage of the Australian and US Free Trade agreement and our ongoing military support.  Our relationship with the US is so strong, we are being seriously considered as the 51st state and may rename our country to become “Ameristrarlia”.

Well, not really. But I hope you can understand how important our relationship with our big brother, US, is to Australia.

Evidently, Prime Minister Abbott didn’t have my superior knowledge of international relations and political etiquette  when it came to a Washington Post interview with Lally Weymouth. PM Abbott started off reasonably well, by saying “I will do everything I humanly can to work closely with the government and the people of the United States. Australia will be a good ally of the U.S. and a good friend and partner — strategic and economic — to the United States.”. He also expressed continuing support for the marine’s base in Australia and was hopeful for the opportunity to meet with Obama in the future, however understood how busy the President was.

As the interview progressed however, it became apparent that Weymouth is quite the skilled interviewer, because he is clearly a little too relaxed in his answers. After a while, he starts to gradually revert back to attack mode. Abbott was queried what he meant when he said that Australia was “open for business” once again, to which he responded with –

The previous government would often say the right thing but it would invariably do the wrong thing when it came to business. There was an explosion in red tape and green tape. There was a whole thicket of new restrictions in the labor market. There were big new taxes. It was a government which thought that there was no problem that more public servants, higher taxes and further regulation couldn’t fix.“.

He also suggested that he would do his darndest to shrink the public service and he was looking forward to having a bonfire of red and green tape. Sounds like a party really, I love a good old fashioned bon fire every now and then. The Prime Minister was then quizzed about the roll back of Labor’s NBN. He could have responded with something to the effect of “Considering the global economic situation and deteriorating fiscal outlook, we believed it would be inadvisable to pursue costly investment in infrastructure at this point in time. While we appreciate the former Government’s vision for a broadband network for the future, we believe it would be inopportune to consider such as venture at this stage of the game.”

But no. Abbott responded with this delightful chestnut in relation to the ALP’s fibre to the node policy –

Welcome to the wonderful, wacko world of the former government.” When prompted further, Abbott responded with ” I thought it was the most incompetent and untrustworthy government in modern Australian history.”

It was like returning to the wonderful world where Abbott was opposition leader and he was hurling negativities upon negativities in our general direction. But this time, he’s doing this as our elected representative on a well respected, US publication. Awks much? Of course, he gets better –

They made a whole lot of commitments, which they scandalously failed to honor. They did a lot of things that were scandalously wasteful and the actual conduct of government was a circus. They were untrustworthy in terms of the carbon tax. They were incompetent in terms of the national broadband network. They were a scandal when it came to their own internal disunity. They made a whole lot of grubby deals in order to try and perpetuate themselves in power.  It was an embarrassing spectacle, and I think Australians are relieved they are gone.

I just want to take a few moments to deconstruct that nugget of a quote. First, the reference to the great “lie” that was the Carbon Tax. The Carbon Tax became one of the most effective policies at reducing our carbon emissions. It was also a political necessity to get the Greens to form a temporary coalition with the ALP and help them to form Government.  Second, the reference to the great incompetence that was the NBN, that struggled to stay under budget and within the allocated time frame. Let’s cut the NBN a bit of slack here -this represented one of the most significant infrastructure investments in Australia’s history. I suspect the Harbour Bridge, or the Opera House, the Snowy River scheme and so on weren’t completely in a timely, fiscally responsible manner. Third, the ALP disunity. Well, I can’t argue with that one – it’s hard to have a unified party when your members are running around with knives and blabbing their deep dark secrets to the media.

The point is – he shouldn’t have made those remarks. That is not the conduct that befits a Prime Minister, irrespective of where in the political spectrum they lie. Sometimes, I wonder whether Abbott realises that he is actually Prime Minister, and he can take a small break with the electioneering.

The aftershocks of that interview have been felt in the media. Norman Ornstein, from the American Institute apparently “winced” when he read the interview, which he attributed to as being a bit of a “rookie mistake”. (SMH: 2013) However, like talking about your exes on the first date, talking about previous governments with disdain is also a bit of a diplomatic no no.  In an unexpected display of wit, our modern day Oscar Wilde, Doug Cameron, ALP Senator described Abbott as the “Wacko” and stated that he was embarrassed by the PM’s display. (SBS: 2013) It remains to be seen whether this will affect Australia /US relations, I suspect it won’t. But still, one should expect more from our elected leader, even if his mandate was the fact that his party wasn’t the ALP.

Until next time, brace yourself, climate change is coming.

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