Trappist Tony Breaks His Vow
By Mike SeccombeNovember 28, 2012
Anthony Albanese, the government’s leader in the House, does have a nice way of summing things up sometimes.
There he was on morning TV Wednesday, talking about the Opposition’s “smear campaign” (to use Labor’s preferred terminology) relating to Julia Gillard and the AWU “slush fund” (to use the Opposition’s preferred terminology), and noting Tony Abbott’s silence on the issue.
“The ‘mad monk’ has become a Trappist monk,” said Albo. “He’s taken a vow of silence, pretending that this has got nothing to do with him, as Julie Bishop just throws her mud bucket across the chamber.”
Great line. Not just because it played on the former seminarian’s long time nickname. Also because it described perfectly the Opposition’s transparent tactic.
The Leader of the Opposition is trying to rehabilitate his image. He has become defined in the public mind as negative and nasty and now, as we come into an election year, he’s got to shift that perception.
He can no longer be his own attack dog.
So his deputy, Julie Bishop, now has that role. But does anyone really think Bishop would have flown at the Prime Minister so energetically unless her master had said, “sic her”?
Not that it’s unusual for a party leader to delegate the role of attack dog. What’s unusual in this case is how much bark there has been and how little bite.
Anyway, while pretty effortlessly fending off Bishop, Gillard and her surrogates have counter-attacked by repeating, ad nauseum, the claim that Abbott has authorized the attacks because he has nothing to contribute.
Hence the other “Trappist monk” allusion by Albo.
But, good news. The Leader of the Opposition finally broke his vow of silence at the start of Question Time.
What’s more, he asked a question about a matter of some importance: Australia’s position on United Nations recognition of Palestine.
You probably know the background, but in case not, the situation is that the Palestinians, who have existed in a sort of stateless limbo for 65 years — ever since the international community decided to donate much of their land for the establishment of Israel — are about to be recognised as a state.
The Israelis, the Americans, some European nations oppose this, despite giving lip-service to a “two-state solution” for Israel/Palestine. But most of the rest of the world, apparently, is in favour, so there seems little doubt it will happen.
Of particular concern to those opposing the move is the possibility that the Palestinian leadership might use its new status to accuse Israel of war crimes in the International Criminal Court, or ask the International Court of Justice to make rulings about territorial claims.
And Australia, a loyal follower of the US on matters relating to the Middle East, is going to break the habit by NOT voting against Palestine’s bid for recognition.
We won’t vote for it either; we will abstain from the vote.
This is not what Julia Gillard wanted. She wanted Australia to maintain its tradition of preferring the Israelis to the Palestinians.
But she got comprehensively rolled by her party. Some were against her as a matter of principle; some were concerned about the electoral implications, and some just read the writing on the wall and wanted Australia to be on the right side of history.
Whatever the individual motivations, this was a big deal.
Reportedly, only two of Gillard’s ministers stood with her.
It was not, as some hyperbolically claimed, a threat to her leadership, but it was a major hit to her authority.
And it was a gift to the Opposition.
It presented Abbott with a chance to be noticed on an issue of real moment. A little forensic questioning of Gillard could have been very effective. Certainly more effective than wasting another question time going round and round the AWU mulberry bush.
Here’s what Abbott asked her.
“Why did the Prime Minister lack the courage of her convictions on support for Israel at the United Nations? What will she now do to dispel the impression that this is a government in chaos with the Prime Minister no longer in charge?”
Gillard blathered evasively in response.
Up in the gallery I, and I suspect most of the rest of the media folks, were keen to hear the follow-up question.
But came the next opportunity, and Abbott remained seated. Instead, Julie Bishop rose.
Still, all hope was not lost. Bishop — many will have forgotten this — is not just designated mud-slinger, but also Opposition Foreign Affairs spokesperson.
But the follow-up never came.
Instead we slid back into the mire of unsubstantiated allegations about Gillard, her ex-boyfriend, the AWU, et cetera, and what happened — or, as now appears to be the case, didn’t happen — 20 years ago.
Even by recent standards, it was an ugly Question Time, full of nasty personal jibes, unparliamentary interjections, pointed points of order, a couple of ejections (Joe Hockey went out glowering and Sophie Mirabella went out shouting “liar”), and reproaches from the Speaker to both sides for their disgraceful conduct.
It seemed like everyone had something to say, and say loudly, except Trappist Tony.