Ten flags now, is it? Really!
Tony Abbott’s lack of diplomatic skills and his limited vocabulary are the main reason he gets himself into so much trouble when he opens his mouth. Both shortcomings came to the fore this week.
His many gaffes, some just plain stupid (suppository of wisdom), others utterly thoughtless (lifestyle choices), are the product of someone not sufficiently mature enough to grasp the nuances of the moment. And ten flags won’t help him with that.
His latest foray was directed at the ABC in the aftermath of this week’s Q&A program. “Whose side are you on,” he asked. His love affair…not, with the ABC is well known. Which makes his question/comment all too expected,unfortunately.
It is another one of those occasions when his political skills and experience were compromised, this time by his confusion over who is entitled to speak freely in our country and who is not.
It wasn’t that long ago when he was keen to amend Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act that makes it unlawful for anyone to publicly offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate a person or group of persons. It was during that debate Attorney General Senator George Brandis told parliament that people had a right to be bigots.
Given that Section 18C was not amended, it might be reasonable to ask if both Steve Ciobi and Zaky Mallah have broken the law? Ciobi’s inflammatory comment, “I’m happy to look you straight in the eye and say that I would be pleased to be part of a government that would say you’re out of the country,” was followed shortly after by Mallah’s equally inflammatory reply, “The Liberals now have just justified to many Australian Muslims in the community tonight to leave and go to Syria and join ISIL because of ministers like him.”
Ciobi should have known better. His comment could be construed as offending and intimidating, while Mallah’s could be seen as insulting. Putting the law to one side, it might be reasonable to dismiss this as no more than a robust discussion between opposing points of view. It is a matter of opinion as to which comment was the more inflammatory.
So, for Abbott to ask which side is the ABC on, seems to miss the point. The ABC should not be on any one’s side. It is a public broadcaster. In this particular case it may have an editorial problem to deal with but that is another matter.
The ABC is also a forum for public comment across all issues of public interest. It is not a tool of government; it is independent of government. And, it is funded, not by government, but by the people.
Abbott has seemingly overlooked that point. His question also reduces the matter to the base level of a contest; as if one side is more deserving and should be supported more than the other. He has reduced it to another ‘Team Australia’ moment. I would have thought the subject of national security was far more serious than that.
Clearly, the prime minister is on the side of national security; to the point of being annoyingly so. Ten flags says it all. But because he is the prime minister, surely we are entitled to expect something better than, ‘whose side are they on’? Are we not entitled to expect that, in the case of the Q&A episode, he might first acknowledge that this was an example of free speech in play?
He might then have been entitled to question the editorial wisdom of having Zaky Mallah on the program in the first place. He might then have asked why was a more responsible and authoritative member of the Islamic community not invited. That would have fitted perfectly into his current obsession with national security.
But his actions suggest he is more interested in having a box-on with the ABC rather than address the real issue. His actions not only call into question his diplomatic skills but just how genuine is his concern for national security beyond its ten flags status and using it to try and wedge the opposition.