Tony Abbott reveals much about the man behind the public persona – unknowingly – whenever he speaks. Peter Barnes looks at Tony Abbott’s recent interview with Michelle Grattan, where glimpses of the man – the real Tony Abbott – came to the surface.
Michelle Grattan’s interview with the Prime Minister produced some more intimate glimpses of the PM than we normally get during the heavily scripted and rehearsed interviews on the news.
Here are some I thought revealing.
The first glimpse was of a PM who is still in Opposition. When asked about his experience of the job he answered a different question and said:
Hopefully the people’s experience of the new government will be that it’s competent and considered, trustworthy and candid, in a way that the former government wasn’t.
In general people seem to think that this continuing obsession with the previous government represents a failure by the PM to switch to governing, however after six months I think it’s much more likely to be a deliberate strategy. Whether accidental or deliberate, it’s not what we want from the leader of our Government.
The second glimpse was of a generation gap. You only have to look at a photo of the cabinet to understand that if you’re middle-aged or older, white, male, healthy and well off you’re well represented by this government. Otherwise, your mileage will vary. However this glimpse reveals a PM who clearly has never used social media, and really doesn’t understand social media. Why? Because although it might seem trivial, he says:
The thing about social media is that it is anonymous
With that single, massive misunderstanding, he goes on to dismiss social media as:
kind of like electronic graffiti
In this way, the infrastructure that lay behind Occupy, Arab Spring, March in March and numerous other popular movements is pigeonholed in the PM’s mind as trivial vandalism. This, from the PM who wants to be “the infrastructure PM”, but who totally misunderstands a major piece of the single most important piece of infrastructure – the internet – to be built in the last twenty years.
The third glimpse is, I will admit, pure snark on my part. The PM can’t add up to six. When asked about fatigue, he says:
Yes, but I’m lucky in that I’ve got quite a bit of stamina, Michelle. I don’t need more than six hours sleep a night . . . I can bound out of bed at five o’clock in the morning . . . I find I can go through the day till about ten o’clock pretty comfortably.
Mr. Prime Minister, from ten to five is seven hours. Churchill, you’re not.
The next glimpse is more conventional, of a politician buffing and polishing the facade. Asked whether he has informal “sounding boards”, he nominates, amongst others, the fire brigade he serves with. That certainly sounds like an admirable man, serving his community and staying in touch with people from all walks of life. So how often does he consult the firies? Well, he says he spent two shifts with them in October (resulting in blanket coverage of the PM in firefighting gear), and since then he has had just two additional shifts. That’s two shifts in five months. Mr Prime Minister, can we just admit you dragged the fire brigade into the conversation by their yellow braces, and they’re no more a sounding board for you than the members of Destroy the Joint?
The same goes for the rather bizarre answer to Grattan’s question about the most rewarding areas of the job:
. . . contact with the military at every level, from the service chiefs to the squadies that I’ve been lucky enough to do PT with, has been a special highlight
This sounds like another case of a topic being dragged in, kicking and screaming, by the epaulettes. Can you imagine the pre-election interview:
“Mr. Abbott, why do you want to be PM?”
“I want to be PM because it will allow me contact with the military at every level, including doing star jumps with squaddies”
The next glimpse is telling, and disturbing. When asked from whom he gets advice, the PM nominates a number of people and groups (including the firefighters). When he’s finished, Grattan observes:
Michelle Grattan: You didn’t mention the public service in that list.
Tony Abbott: Of course I should have, but in the end the public service is there to implement the policies of the government as well as to offer frank and fearless advice.
In other words, in the PM’s mind the Public Service is there to do as it’s told. He’s not even slightly interested in their advice, in any form. The PM’s clear contempt for expert advice that doesn’t match his already held beliefs is well documented. He has already abolished a number of expert bodies, and has dismissed advice from people and groups eminent in many fields, simply because it isn’t what he wanted to hear. That is a very dangerous trait in someone who should freely acknowledge their own limited expertise in practically all subjects, and whose contribution should be in listening, then balancing needs and demands for the greatest good of the nation.
However the most revealing glimpse is the last. Again, it reveals a PM still trying to portray himself as battling in Opposition, rather than governing. It reveals a PM still talking in three-word slogans. It reveals a PM who can apparently simultaneously claim to have stopped the boats, and yet still not have stopped the boats. It reveals a PM whose every achievement is defined in terms of stopping and undoing.
It reveals a PM completely devoid of vision. Here are his absolute top priorities for Australia in the next twelve months.
Michelle Grattan: Just finally, if you were to fast forward a year, what are the three things you would most like to have achieved by this time 12 months on?
Tony Abbott: We’ve got to stop the boats, get the budget under control and repeal the carbon tax and the mining tax. They’re the things that we have to get done in these first 12 months.
[twitter-follow screen_name=’infinite8horizo’ show_count =’yes’]