AS the saying goes, we’ve seen the movie before. It’s called“Coalition PM Travels Overseas and Embarrasses Australians”. The original starred John Howard. Remake, Tony Abbott.
It all started on Monday when online news reported that, during an official visit to Ottawa, the Prime Minister said “Canadia, Canada, probably has more involvement in the affairs of Europe than Australia often has”.
He was supporting Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s criticism of Russia’s policy with respect to Ukraine. It was a slip of the tongue, of the kind everybody makes at one time or another, which was corrected instantly. However, it was enough to send social media wild with excitement.
It came as no surprise when Labor frontbencher David Feeney threw the switch to ridicule with a tweet laughing at Abbott.
Likewise when the self-styled “Dame Sir Ron Chato” joined in the Twitter chorus. That’s what opposition politicians and compulsive tweeters do when they want to have a go at someone they don’t like very much.
The problem turned on the fact that it was not long before the serious media commenced reporting a brief verbal “typo” as a significant error. And, of course, an embarrassment to Australia on the international stage.
Last Monday, the Nine Network’s evening news bulletin gave prominence to Abbott’s slip of the tongue. Journalist Lane Calcutt reported that “he has trouble saying” Canada.
Some serious commentators also joined in. Erik Jensen commented: “What can you expect from the Australian Prime Minister?” Jensen is editor of the super-boring The Saturday Paper. However, journalist Julia Baird exhibited sound judgment, declaring “this wasn’t a story”.
Quite so. Yet on ABC radio, Sydney morning presenter Linda Mottram began an interview on Tuesday with journalist Mark Riley as follows: “You can feel the pain, can’t you? ‘Canadia’ — I mean, it’s just a stumble, isn’t it? One of those things when you’re jet-lagged?”
Well, yes. Yet Mottram consciously decided to start an interview with this instantly corrected error. The true story of the Prime Minister’s Canada visit is that it appears to have been a success. Abbott and Harper exhibited a united front as leaders of mineral exporting democracies. Moreover, Abbott has reported considerable interest by Canadian investors in Australia.
The Prime Minister had not even commenced his official visit to the US before it was dismissed by Fairfax Media (apart from The Australian Financial Review). Last Saturday, the key story on page one of The Age was titled “US ties at risk over climate”.
Peter Hannam started his report by saying: “Australia risks seriously damaging its international reputation and being isolated in the global debate on climate change unless it rethinks its inaction on greenhouse gases.”
He quoted Heather Zichal, who was described as “a top adviser to the Obama administration on climate change”, as declaring that Australia could jeopardise its relationship with the US if the Abbott government failed to fall into line on this issue.
Zichal left the White House last November. What’s more, the Australia-US relationship involves much more than climate change — matters such as security, intelligence-sharing, trade, investment and more. To depict the relationship as hinging on future approaches to climate change is tosh.
On Wednesday, ABC TV’s 7.30 presenter Sarah Ferguson did a soft interview with US Democratic congressman Henry Waxman. There were no Ferguson-style “sorry, but I have to interrupt” interventions as Waxman was given a free kick to criticise the Australian and Canadian governments on their response to climate change.
Waxman was in the congress when the US, with Bill Clinton as president and Al Gore as vice-president, did not sign up to the Kyoto agreement. Unlike the Howard government in Australia.
Waxman was also a key player when, despite the Democrats having majorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, the congress failed to implement an emissions trading scheme. He is not in a strong position to be lecturing Australia.
On the evidence available, Abbott has had very successful visits to Japan, South Korea, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, France, Canada and the US. He is not an embarrassment to anyone but the inner-city left intelligentsia. Nor was Howard.
The word “unhinged” has received considerable usage in the Australian political debate in recent weeks.
It’s certainly applicable with respect to coverage of the Abbott government by such left-inclined media outlets as The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald, sections of the ABC, The Guardian Australia and The Saturday Paper.
Without doubt, The Age has presented the most obvious symptoms of this condition. For example, on June 4, the paper’s editor declared the following letter fit to print. Here it is in full: “In trying to connect his government to the actions of Australians fighting in the D-Day invasions, Mr Abbott seems to overlook something. The D-Day invasions were part of a plan to remove a government based on the spreading of lies, the corruption of science and the victimisation of parts of society. I hope we can find a different way to remove a government that seems to support similar ideas.”
So The Age saw fit to publish a letter which maintained that the Abbott government has “similar ideas” to Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime, which was militarily conquered in 1945. This is not only a hugely alienated interpretation of contemporary Australia. It is also of huge disrespect to Nazi Germany’s millions of victims.
This was no slip of the tongue, just irrational verbal rage.