"... and politics isn't fair - ask Julia Gillard, who has been kicked from pillar to post for having a sub-optimal boyfriend, bogan hair, no fruit in the bowl, colossal ear-lobes, robotic delivery and no progeny, and then flogged mercilessly all summer for not emoting enough."
All well and good, however the fact remains that Channel 7's Mark Riley may have sprung a gotcha on Abbott, but it was a well-researched gotcha that took three months to come to fruition, in which time Abbott knew full well that it was coming... or thought he did.
Who didn't do their homework? Riley or Abbott? Three months on an FOI request, against objections? Sounds like "homework" to me.
A couple of things we might have wondered about have been confirmed (well, as confirmed as you can get with a story in The Oz
1. Abbott did NOT object. Apparently, he thought that to object would just make things worse.
2. Riley was after footage of the 'gun-totin' Abbott', not the ’coup de merde
3. The sound was so inaudible that 7's sound department had to work on it a bit to bring it out. The Oz
makes out that this is a big deal, but from my experience in TV news it happens all the time. No biggy there.
So, Tony, here's a hoist and a rope, and the petard is over there. Can you fetch it for us?
Abbott wanted to play soldiers by shooting guns, something he probably hadn't done for decades after cadets finished with their 303s at school. He also wanted to go off half-cocked about inadequate resourcing, after declining Julia Gillard's invitation to accompany her (no shock horror reports about how much that would have cost the taxpayer, by the way, for a special one-off flight to Afghanistan... "Kevin-747" anyone?).
Then he lied about why he didn't go with Gillard. Made up a cock-and-bull story about jet lag. Even after admitting it he didn't attract too much opprobrium from the media. A few comments were made, sure, and eyebrows raised, but they forgave him, putting it down to a busy schedule and some public relations stuff-ups.
When he got there he tried to insinuate himself into a ‘live’ patrol. He must have known he didn't have a Sunni's chance in a Shi'ite mosque of being granted permission, but his press people put it out that he'd volunteered anyway. Tough guy again.
Then the firing range! Abbott, a reprise of Abbott the He-Man: first lycra and Iron Man competitions (duly reported by a gushing media, especially the ABC, as if it was an Olympic final), then the logical extension: playing soldiers.
Continuing on with the ‘playing soldiers’ theme, he gets into a huddle with the brass and his whole argument about under-resourcing collapses: shit happens. Apart from the fact that a bunch of strangers were standing around, self-exonerating themselves from responsibility, discussing the death of his son as being the result of ‘shit’ happening, I can't think of any reason the boy's father would be upset if that footage ever saw the light of day.
Instead of fixing the general with a death stare and saying, "Well maybe so, but we're going to find out for sure with an inquiry," Abbott caved at the first sign of resistance from "important people", Army brass, dropped a whole, well-publicised policy line of argument concerning alleged inadequate resourcing that he'd been touting and crowing from the rooftops for weeks (knowing the media would let him out of it sweetly with a minimum of fuss) and fell in with the big boys, using their vernacular while cameras were running
. Now, there's political nouse for you.
I think he was
genuinely surprised by the questions Riley asked. He had so many other things to worry about from that trip - lies about jetlag, macho gun stuff, 180 degree reversals of attacks on the government - that he'd probably forgotten he described the death of an Aussie soldier as ‘shit’.
Yet Abbott was so confident he'd be given a free pass by the media whatever he did, he walked into the trap, a trap that had been three months in the laying, due to some genuine spadework by Mark Riley and his staff. When Abbott rocked up to the interview he was bright and breezy, hail-fellow-well-met. He hadn't even conceived to himself that degrading the death of a soldier - a soldier he had been suggesting needn't have died - by calling it ‘shit’ would ever get back to the father or the widow, and (perish the thought) the Australian people.
We, none of us, know exactly what we'd have said ourselves in the same circumstances, but thankfully it's only a mind exercise for us. We're not the Leader of the Opposition and self-appointed ‘Alternative Prime Minister’ of Australia.
Abbott stuffed up the whole overseas exercise, from phoney excuses, to playing soldiers, to caving in to the explanations of the brass, to finally (and casually) dismissing the death of a young soldier with the cameras rolling.
Many have given him "the benefit of the doubt" by saying that what he said was not the problem (me included, at first).
But now I'm not so sure.
I keep on imagining Julia Gillard saying what Abbott said, and thinking how she would have been crucified for it, and her political ashes scattered to the winds.
Put yourself in the mind's eye of the father, seeing a couple of high-ranking Army officers forgiving themselves, and Abbott agreeing, after all the fuss he'd made about it, and you might change your minds too. If our political discourse has sunk so low that a soldier's death can be excused - on the spot - as "shit happening" by a testosterone-charged wannabe warrior with a potty mouth like Abbott, who'd lied his way from Canberra to London to Kabul and back again, reversed his policy and been given a free pass for all of it by the media, then you might get my drift. I think Mark Riley was right on the money.
Live by the camera, Tony. Die by the camera. If it's good enough for everybody else, it's good enough for you.
After all, shit really does happen..