Tony Abbott’s wriggle room
Barry Tucker 10 April, 2014
Earlier this year federal government leader Tony Abbott spun a version of his intention to spend a week with a remote Indigenous community.
It allowed him to say he hadn’t broken a promise. He didn’t make the promise some claim he made.
It allowed him to avoid misleading the Parliament (something he regards as a serious crime).
He got away with it because there are two recorded versions of what he said.
At the annual Garma Indigenous Culture Festival, on Saturday, 10 August, 2013, Abbott discarded a prepared speech, turned to Elder Galarrwuy Yunupingu and said:
“Why not, if you will permit me, why shouldn’t I, if you will permit me, spend my first week as prime minister, should that happen, on this, on your country?
“People will say ‘You’re the prime minister, you can’t do that. You are goofing off. You are not doing your job’.
“But the fact is if these places are homes to the first Australians why should not they be home, if only for a few days, to the prime minister of our country?”
Galarrwuy Yunupingu nodded in agreement as Abbott spoke. It’s in this video:
Later that day, during a joint news conference with Indigenous Advisory Council chairman Warren Mundine, Abbott said:
“… as I said to Galarrwuy Yunupingu, if he is willing, I would like the first week that I spend in a remote indigenous community as prime minister, should that happen, to be here in this very significant indigenous community with the Yolngu people”.
It’s in this news conference transcript, prepared by Carers NT.
Notice the difference in the two statements. “… spend my first week …” in the first statement and “… the first week that I spend …” in the second statement.
Between the first and the second statement one of Abbott’s minders must have told him he would be too busy, “should that happen”, in his first week to be going walkabout in the Bush. Abbott did allude to this in the first statement. Perhaps that is why he phrased the second statement differently.
As often happens, social media picked up one version and ran with the story. Repetition made it stick; Abbott knows how that works.
It stuck so well that a few months after the 7 September, 2013, election, which Labor lost, it was being used as a broken promise.
In fact, on Wednesday, 12 February, 2014, Labor opposition leader Bill Shorten asked Abbott in Question Time about his “election promise”* to the Yolngu people.
In his reply, Abbott said he didn’t blame the opposition leader for the “construction” he had put on the statement he made at the Garma festival because some people had put that construction on it. He went on:
“But what I actually said was the first remote community I would visit and stay in as prime minister would be a community in East Arnhem Land.
“And that is exactly what I am going to do. I will spend a week in East Arnhem Land later in the year. It will be the very first remote Indigenous community that I visit in this way as prime minister.”
That’s in this video:
A couple of things to note. *Shorten is wrong about an election promise. Abbott did not promise anything. He spoke about a desire, first of all for his first week as PM and then for the first visit by a PM to a remote community at some indeterminate time. Abbott didn’t say exactly what he claims he said in his reply to Shorten. And he didn’t point out that he said one thing and then another. It would save a lot of chaos and confusion if he was more of a straight shooter.
Weasel words perhaps. Abbott is good at creating wriggle room and he IS hard to pin down, as we see this infamous encounter with the ABC’s Kerry O’Brien:
He did say in that interview that the only remarks that could be relied upon were his carefully scripted remarks. Remember he discarded his prepared speech at the Garma festival. Was that prescient?
Abbott might wish he had used carefully prepared and scripted remarks for this encounter with Leigh Sales on the 7.30 Report. Yes, it’s another one of those pesky ABC journos.
Sometimes Abbott thinks it’s best to say nothing.
Oops, that didn’t go too well.
Abbott might have signed some trade deals recently but leaders of those countries have nothing to worry about. Abbott didn’t negotiate them or promise anything.
He did make a lot of promises before last September’s election.
What a pity he didn’t stop to think about the make-up of the Senate at that time.
What a pity he didn’t use his crystal ball to see what the Senate would look after July 1 this year.
As they say, if his lips are moving …