by Sarah Capper
23 December 2013
A week is a long time in politics. A year is an excruciating amount of time, and as we near the end of 2013, our third prime minister for the year has just reached his first 100 days in office. Awww.
In many senses, it’s been Tony Abbott’s year. So what does this year in politics look like – in the “suppository of wisdom” of quotable quotes? Beyond the delivery of our PM’s trademark “Umm, Ah, Yeah, Um,” response?
Some people said Abbott’s election would provide Australia with its ‘George Bush’ moment [shiver], but in terms of adding to the rich history of Australian political vernacular, perhaps Tony Abbott is more of the Donald Rumsfeld gift-that-keeps-on-giving variety. He picks up a swag of awards in deciphering this year’s Best ‘Polly Ticks’ Quotes and Moments of 2013. [Insert Drum Roll and 21 Gun Salute]. This year’s nominees and awards go to:
The Daggy Dad Award
Tony Abbott, in comparing Liberal candidate for Lindsay Fiona Scott with former member Jackie Kelly (or Kackie Jelly, as she was once affectionately known):
Former Labor leader Mark Latham scores a Dishonorable mention in relation to this nomination, for then declaring that Scott wasn’t “that good of a sort” after checking her out in the paper. Noice. As entertainer Eddie Perfect said in response, “Giving Mark Latham airtime is ethically irresponsible. It’s like paying an alcoholic in booze.”
While the award for this prize naturally goes to the new PM, the winning comment comes from yet another election corker, when Abbott appeared with a daughter on each arm [but of course – after the election campaign he needed to have them surgically removed] in a televised message to the ‘Big Brother’ house to ask them to vote for him because:
Ewww. Ewww. EWWW, Indeed. Kudos also goes to Tony Abbott’s adult daughters, who the PM said would live with him and Margie at the lodge because:
Aw, shucks – such a traditional guy. For this prize, Abbott wins the Number One Ticket Holder position of the Manly Sea Eagles – a team his daughters barrack for – where he can accompany his unmarried offspring to the football, and just in case anyone is under any strange illusion of the hetero-normative prism the Abbotts inhabit (except for his, ahem, sister, nods to her), he can whip into his speedos and appear under signs that say “MANLY”.
The Philip Ruddock Amnesty Badge Award
Sadly, quite a few nominees for this Award.
The first is a retrospective nod to the new Treasurer Joe Hockey, who in 2012 – and in the safe confines of opposition – said:
On the issue of asylum seekers, we must give another Dishonorable Mention award to the current Immigration Minister, following in the tradition of this Award’s name-sake, for his defence of the decision to separate an asylum seeker Mother and her sick brand-new-born baby each evening. The Myanmar Mother was being held offshore on Nauru, but gave birth at Brisbane’s Mater Hospital. Fairfax reported that she was separated each night from her sick baby, but this was defended in a statement from Immigration Minister Scott Morrison, who said:
Morrison and Abbott also deserve a special nod for omitting a couple of key words in their pre-election broken record slogan, ‘STOP THE BOATS’, which, through the Immigration Minister’s ‘weekly shipping news’ briefings we have since learnt actually meant ‘STOP [reporting on] THE BOATS’.
Another nomination for the Philip Ruddock Amnesty Badge Award goes to … Tony Abbott again! Hooray! Even while British PM and fellow Tory David Cameron was lambasting Sri Lanka over its human rights abuses, our Christian Australian PM chose to “turn the other cheek”, arguing that:
This comment came from the same school of diplomacy in which, when describing the Syrian conflict, the Prime Minister reduced it to a John Wayne movie dialogue:
Also related to Abbott’s comments on “difficult” things happening [read: torture], the PM more recently slapped down the “PC Police”, advocating the occasional “gentle” smacking of children by parents, arguing that he adopted the technique as a father. A special gong for use of the word ‘gentle’ – simply insert ‘gentle’ before any of the following:
Smacking – Torture – Assault – Rape
Yep, good word, gentle.
But before the recipient of this gong is announced, there is a runner-up winner of this prize who is new to the political scene – the aforementioned Liberal candidate for Lindsay Fiona Scott, who, during the election campaign told ABC’s Four Corners program:
Yep, all those leaky boats, cluttering up the damn highway. For this pearler, Scott wins the Western Sydney seat of Lindsay, where she can now share her wisdom on a national stage! Get that Amnesty badge on quick-sticks! And someone please have a quiet word with Scott – to let her know that Dog Whistle Politics is best reserved for sympathetic right wing shock jocks - that ABC’s Four Corners is not the best place in which to say dumb things.
While Scott was elected to the Seat of Lindsay, the nation was spared [F'Yeah, DEMOCRACY!] in the Seat of Greenway, after Jayme Diaz had his ‘Diazed and Confused’ moment (boom-tish, thank you Fairfax headline) broadcast around the world.
During the election campaign, Diaz was bailed up by television journalist John Hill on the detail of the Coalition’s “six-point stop the boats” plan. When quizzed, Diaz was unable to provide any details – beyond “stopping the boats”, and there being “six points” to the plan. It’s not exactly a quotable quote, but rather, a quotable non-quote. Indeed, his “six point gaffe” went viral around the world, even making it to Jon Stewart’s popular ‘Daily Show’ in the USA, courtesy of the brilliant John Oliver, who provided a much better suggestion for wannabe politicians if caught in such a dilemma:
It’s hard to top that. But not impossible! For the winner of the very hotly contested ‘Philip Ruddock Amnesty Badge Award’ goes to …
Oh my God, Look! It’s Tony Abbott, AGAIN. Abbott picks up this gong for a recent conversation he had with the legendary Burmese human rights campaigner – political activist, Nobel Peace Prize laurete, and Chair of the National League for Democracy Aung San Suu Kyi.
Suu Kyi has a much publicized history of being under house arrest for a huge period of her adult life – most of the years between her arrest in 1989 until her release in 2010 have been spent under house arrest.
Her experience included being separated for long periods from her husband and sons back in the UK (and tragically her husband Michael Aris passed away in 1999, ten years after her house arrest, a period in which they only saw each other around five times – the last time in 1995, four years before he died of cancer in the UK).
On meeting Suu Kyi – indeed one of the world’s most inspirational human beings – Prime Minister Tony Abbott attempted to find things in “common” with his own life and indeed political struggles, yup, telling Suu Kyi:
Can you remind us, Mr Abbott, precisely what were the terms of your house arrest?!
There are no words.
The Jonathan Shier Memorial Award for Most Inappropriate Political Appointment
The new Attorney-General George Brandis just squeezes in to this year’s nominees (and Brandis should be a contender – with one of the most memorable political quotes in modern times attributed to his lips – supposedly labeling former Prime Minister John Howard a “lying rodent” in 2004).
Earlier this week the AG appointed Tim Wilson as the new Australian Human Rights commissioner (there are seven commissioners in total). Wilson has worked with the right wing “think-tank” the Institute of Public Affairs as Policy Director – the “think tank” which campaigned for the abolition of the Australian Human Rights Commission itself. Only time will tell if Wilson writes himself out of a job.
Brandis rates a mention for saying the appointment was about restoring “balance” to the Human Rights Commission. So much for indivisibility or universality of human rights.
Perhaps the Attorney-General could use a ‘Civics Lesson’ from US broadcaster Rachel Maddow:
Simple, right? Not so, for Attorney-General Brandis. For example, the AG has been leading the Federal government’s High Court challenge in trying to overturn the Australian Capital Territory same sex marriage legislation, despite suggestions Brandis himself actually supports gay marriage.
But the winner of the award for the Jonathan Shier Memorial Award for Most Inappropriate Political Appointment goes to [drumroll, cue Helen Reddy]:
Oh yes, it has been his year – Tony Abbott!
For assigning himself the Minister for the Status of Women. In announcing his manistry – sorry, ministry – which included just one woman in Cabinet, Tony Abbott chose himself to represent the needs of the women of Australia (no doubt as they’re doing the ironing, pondering electricity bill shortens). And he offered this pearler in not promoting more women to Cabinet:
Abbott was “disappointed” in the voters in Victoria’s north-east corner, where, despite swings recorded towards the Coalition occurring pretty much across the country, the voters of Indi instead caused the upset of the 2013 campaign, electing Independent Cathy McGowan, through sheer good ol’ fashioned grassroots campaigning. And as for Sophie Mirabella, she may be without a seat and ministry in parliament, but she does not go empty-handed – as awarded by the former Independent for New England, when asked on ABC Insiders what he will miss the least on leaving politics, Tony Windsor nominated Mirabella, thanks to her winning the “nasty prize”.
The next prize is for Unbridled Breathtaking Hypocrisy …
And the nominees are – and ooh, this one is a tight one –
Yep, you guessed it, Tony Abbott, who is up for the award for declaring during his first parliamentary sitting as Prime Minister that “this chamber should always be a place of spirited debate, but it should never be a place where motives are impugned or characters assassinated”.
Isn’t this the same Member for MacKellar who, along with Sophie Mirabella, stood beside signs at a Carbon Price rally screaming ‘DITCH THE WITCH’ – as in referring to our first female Prime Minister Julia Gillard?
And in relation to Tony Abbott calling for a parliament that avoids “character assassination”, isn’t this the same Member of Parliament who also stood next to such signs, who has a lengthy reputation of parliamentary conduct of the head-kicking variety? Who referenced the Government “dying of shame”, soon after broadcaster Alan Jones got into justifiable hot water for his reference of the former Prime Minister’s late father “dying of shame”?
While Abbott wins this prize he isn’t alone in his hypocrisy. This one is a tie, with former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who, after wrestling the ALP leadership from Julia Gillard mid this year, after some serious undermining of her leadership, at the expense of his own party’s hold on government all in the name of ego, rose in parliament during its first sitting with him back in the PM’s chair, and dared to call on MPs to be a “little kinder and gentler to each other” – presumably the exact opposite to how he himself behaved over the previous three years.
The Member for Griffith’s prize is reducing the Labor Party’s primary vote to its lowest in 100 years. At least with his retirement, the world will be spared from as many shameless “selfies”.
But indeed, these awards can’t all be about Tony Abbott, and Kevin Rudd receives another special gong at these, ahem, esteemed awards, for providing a list of denials in response to questions about his leadership ambitions (no doubt after he himself had briefed journalists about, yep, you guessed it, his leadership ambitions).
It’s the Lazarus With A Triple Bypass Award.
Related to this prize are a couple of honourable mentions on the Coalition front bench. To Malcolm Turnbull, who delved into anthropology earlier this year when describing the ALP’s relationship with Kevin Rudd:
Well he would say that. And to Treasurer Joe Hockey, who on one of the days of K-Rudd’s failed leadership tilts (the one where he didn’t actually front up to the challenge after Simon Crean simultaneously shot himself in foot and mouth), got a little ‘Rumsfeld-esque’, teasing Rudd with the line:
Both Hockey and Turnbull win the possible prize of having another tilt at the Liberal leadership again sometime, of their or their party’s choosing (which, given the drifting opinion polls in the early life of the Abbott Government, may not seem so outrageous).
But this award is for the Chosen one himself, in relation to his leadership aspirations he’s on the record as denying (neatly documented on website Politifact) -
February 5, 2013: “I supported the Prime Minister … that remains my position … everyone should take a long, cold shower.”
March 21, 2013: “I have said that the only circumstances under which I would consider a return to leadership would be if there was an overwhelming majority of the parliamentary party requesting such a return, drafting me to return and the position was vacant … I am here to inform you that those circumstances do not exist.”
Through a spokesman on March 22, 2013: “Mr Rudd wishes to make 100 per cent clear to all members of the parliamentary Labor Party, including his own supporters, that there are no circumstances under which he will return to the Labor Party leadership in the future.”
June 6, 2013: “Last time I said in February of 2012 that I would not be challenging the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister won that caucus ballot by two-to-one. It was a convincing and strong win. I’ve accepted the result.”
June 7, 2013: “I have said very plainly that I am not a candidate for the leadership. And I have said equally plainly that I do not see any circumstances under which I would return to the leadership.”
And yet a month later … well, the rest is history. Rudd ultimately wins the prize of retirement from politics (three years too late). Yes, he was the bloke who took down John Howard in 2007, and for that he shall be remembered. But lest we forget he is also the bloke who took down half the talent from the ALP’s front bench, by the three years of relentless undermining of Julia Gillard he undertook with a band of supporters. And for that, he should also be remembered.
As Deputy Opposition leader Tanya Plibersek eloquently put it on election night, the ALP scored “nine out of ten for governing the country”, but “none out of ten for governing ourselves”.
Which also leads to our final Gongs, both which are awarded to Australia’s first female PM Julia Gillard. Firstly, the ‘Grace Under Fire’ Award‘ which Gillard wins for her comments on the July night Kevin Rudd replaced her. No matter what “side” punters were on, I think most could concede that at that particular time, Gillard had been under relentless pressure from so many quarters (from media and political pundits across the spectrum). The night of the challenge, writer Benjamin Law summed it up with this tweet:
After losing to Rudd by twelve votes (in contrast, during the February challenge Gillard won by 40 votes, one of the largest margins in leadership spill history but even this didn’t stop a relentless campaign against her), Gillard conducted one last press conference as PM where she managed to provide a reflective, thoughtful analysis of her time in Office:
I’ve been a little bit bemused by those colleagues in the newspapers who have admitted that I have suffered more pressure as a result of my gender than other prime ministers in the past but then concluded that it had zero effect on my political position or the political position of the Labor Party. It doesn’t explain everything, it doesn’t explain nothing, it explains some things. And it is for the nation to think in a sophisticated way about those shades of grey.
As well as managing to find clarity and remain cool and calm under enormous pressure, Gillard’s other political strength was her parliamentary style. Which leads us to our final gong – the Paul Keating Parliamentary Knock-Out Award.
This quote originates from earlier in the year, on the day the ALP played Simon [Crean] Says – and again, the day in which Rudd failed to throw his hat in the ring. Prime Minister Gillard fronted parliament with a corker of an opening line. After opening Question Time, announcing Simon Crean (without naming him) will not be answering questions to his portfolio, she then cooly announces “I have determined that there will be a ballot for the Leadership and Deputy Leadership of the Labor Party at 4.30 today”.
She then eyeballs the Opposition, waves her hands as if to say “bring it”, and throws down the challenge:
It’s worth revisiting the Youtube clip again.
Wishing all a giant f’ing day spa voucher over the festive season and see you in 2014.