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SOUNDS OF SILENCE

Trappist Tony Breaks His Vow

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.

<p>AAP Image/Alan Porritt</p>

AAP Image/Alan Porritt

Tony Abbott briefly broke his silence in Wednesday’s Question Time

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.

Weird.

16 comments on this story
by Helena

more than Tony trying to reform his image, he cannot speak of the awu allegations for fear of unleashing another tirade accusing him of misogyny/sexism

November 28, 2012 @ 10:09pm
by Stan

Mike, why do you hate catholics ?

November 29, 2012 @ 8:30am
by Carlene Cameron

Helena maybe there is just no story full stop. It is all ancient history let's go back to governing for the people and the country instead of muck raking.

November 29, 2012 @ 10:03am
by Rhona Johnson

Abbott is doing to Gillard what he did to Pauline Hanson and Cheryl Kernot ie ruining their reputations with endless unsubstantiated innuendo and accusations. I don't believe he hates women but he does have a hatred of sucessful powerful women.

November 29, 2012 @ 10:25am
by Stan

My last comment wasn’t posted and I have no reason to think this one will either but I hope that somebody could pass this message along to Mr Seccombe “Sectarianism is not cool !!!”

In your otherwise excellent article you peppered your writing with anti catholic rhetoric “ mad monk, Trappist monk, vow of silence, former seminarian’s, Trappist monk (again), vow of silence “ and finally your new moniker for the opposition leader “Trappist Tony.”

Just stop it, O.K., just stop it.

I am not a Catholic, was not raised Catholic, don’t want to become a Catholic but clearly you think it’s significant that Tony Abbott is a Catholic.
What that has to do with not asking a follow up question in parliament is beyond me so stick to the point and leave your private biases to dinner parties.

November 29, 2012 @ 10:47am
by Lee

Stan - Mike is quoting Albanese. Just because he likes the quote doesn't mean he's anti-Catholic (whatever that means).

November 29, 2012 @ 4:05pm
by Edgar Mueller

Stan is out of order sorry but he doesn't understand

November 29, 2012 @ 4:50pm
by Alex Njoo

Indeed Stan, Abbott belongs to the very same religious organisation that had infringed UN human rights convention.

November 30, 2012 @ 7:49am
by Marcus

LOL. Personally I'm glad that this government-for once-didn't subserviently "tug at the forelock" towards Israel & the US. I only wish they'd gone that extra step further by voting in *favour* of the upgraded status.

December 1, 2012 @ 5:17pm
by Marcus

@ Helena. That wasn't a "tirade", it was a carefully constructed set of arguments showing up Abbott's hypocrisy in using a random text by Slipper as a basis for accusing Slipper of sexism-all for the low goal of getting his party into government without all the fuss of going through an election. Judging from the aftermath, the vast majority of people who saw Gillard's speech entirely agreed with her assessment of Abbott's character. Just a pity his blindly loyal fan-base can't see it.

December 1, 2012 @ 5:20pm
by Pete

Sophie Mirabella has taken politics to gutter level. She was ejected for unparliamentary behaviour and took it to a worse level by yelling "liar" as she left the chamber. It was a week of nastiness and demonstrated that Abbott has no credibility and no strategy. I'd hate to think of what his policies would be if he had been Lord Chancellor of England during the reign of Queen Mary. Perhaps, though, he might have gone the same way as Sir (posthumously Saint) Thomas More at the hands of King Henry the 8th.

December 1, 2012 @ 7:17pm
by Francesca Davy

Excellent article, thank you Mike Secombe. You gave a succinct, easy to understand summary of the background situation re Palestine and the United Nations.
Kind regards
Francesca Davy NSW

December 2, 2012 @ 11:59am
by pete

If Tony Abbott, or his strategists, feel that he needs to re-brand himself, he is obviously not electable for who he is. I would be very wary of any politician who put on a front as it is not genuine and we must be able to see who we are really electing. After all, he would be elected under false pretences if the strategists decided to make him all warm and fuzzy only to find that he reverts to his old image afterwards. If the Liberals wish to be elected, the strategists need to clear out dead wood, so to speak, and that means a different leader, not a re-branded current one.

December 5, 2012 @ 4:09am
Show previous 13 comments
by Alan - Gold Coast

Who is the Real Tony?

December 7, 2012 @ 1:04pm
by Ray O'Brien

I will make a bipartite prediction. 1. Mr Abbott will not last as opposition leader until the election and 2. The Liberal National Party coalition will not win the election.

February 5, 2013 @ 12:38pm
by Joan

Ray, I pray every day that your prediction that the Liberal National Party coalition not win in September comes to be. I believe that the present Coalition leader Abbott , is similar to Mitt Romney, who with his cohorts just wanted to win at all cost.s They have no demonstrated respect for the majority of Australians but just pretend that they are respectful while they hurl abuse at our government and us. They have lost their sense of decency and self control. They also need to be voted out next election because they are such terrible role models to our children . I am very fearful for Australia and Australians if Abbott and his bullying supporters win

April 9, 2013 @ 8:56am
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