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Abbott’s Closing the Gap speech might be the high point of the year

Tony Abbott’s Closing the Gap speech was one of the best of recent times, but he will have nowhere to hide if results do not improve.

The highlight of the political year may well have come early, on the second sitting day of Parliament for 2014, when the Prime Minister rose to deliver his first Closing the Gap statement. If you haven’t read the speech, you should: it was one of the best speeches by a politician of recent times, generously non-partisan, honest and personal, suggestive of how, beneath the appearance of the aggressive, highly partisan, relentlessly negative politician an intelligent, decent national leader could lurk.

Abbott, of course, can afford to be honest about the mediocre outcomes of six years of Closing the Gap, as they reflect more on the efforts of his predecessors than himself, and some might argue Abbott’s personal journey on indigenous issues is irrelevant to real outcomes. Moreover, it must amuse Paul Keating no end that the Coalition, which when he was prime minister subjected him to the most disgusting abuse and smear, now champions him as everything that contemporary Labor is not.

Nonetheless, Abbott’s speech represented a political and personal commitment to a better performance on Closing the Gap: in years to come, at the start of the parliamentary year in 2015 and 2016, poor results will reflect directly on him and there will be nowhere to hide from them, not after the language he used on Wednesday. That particularly applies to indigenous employment, where the performance of the Commonwealth government — a major employer in its own right — has been as poor on indigenous employment as anywhere else.

In contrast, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten’s speech had a tinge of partisanship about it. Maybe, since Abbott started using the visits of foreign leaders to Parliament to snipe at the then-government, the idea that nothing should be off-limits for party political point-scoring has become kosher. Certainly you can’t blame Labor for giving back to Abbott what he gave to them. But Shorten seemed at pains to say in his response that Labor reserved the right to aggressively pursue the government on indigenous issues. Well, of course it does; no one suggested otherwise. Shorten might have been better off displaying a little humility at the poor progress on some Closing the Gap indicators over the last six years. He did, however, make an excellent point that the sort of alcohol-fueled violence that generated such attention over the New Year’s period was a fact of life in indigenous communities, a point the mainstream media rarely makes.

There was another speech this week, on another subject, from a somewhat different politician. Member for Fairfax and mining magnate Clive “right?” Palmer took to the podium at the National Press Club to rail at the conspiracy that has sought to rob his party of a WA Senate seat. While doing so, though, he decided to have several cracks at News Corporation and Rupert Murdoch, including suggesting yet another conspiracy theory. Palmer claimed that environmental notices served on his mining companies (bearing in mind the “professor” title that Palmer loves to use is because he is an adjunct professor of management at Bond University’s School of Sustainable Development) had been got up through an unholy alliance between Australian journalist Hedley “Lamarr” Thomas, who has turned his forensic gaze on Palmer since Palmer ended his generous support for the Coalition, and Queensland Premier Campbell Newman.

Clive’s penchant for conspiracy theories, suing critics, outlandish claims and the occasional incoherent rant comes straight from the master himself, Joh Bjelke-Petersen, for whom Clive worked in the 1980s, but it’s hard to find any fault with this description of Rupert Murdoch:

Rupert Murdoch is a person who swore an oath of allegiance to a foreign country, yet he thinks he can decide who our Prime Minister is going to be and manipulate the press in this country. I find that objectionable. That’s why he doesn’t like me. That’s why one day I got 14 articles in The Australian, a cartoon and a colour photo. I could never have afforded that.”

Clive thus went beyond what Labor politicians would dare say about News Corporation in public. The job of stating the obvious about the American mogul is left in Australian politics to independent MPs and the Greens.

And to finish the week, a follow-up to a piece we reported on Wednesday, about Attorney-General George Brandis’ inability to back up his claim that NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden had placed Australian lives in danger. After Crikey explained how such claims about whistleblowers are routine and invariably not backed up evidence, Brandis arranged to be questioned yesterday about the basis for his claim. As it turned out, the source for Brandis’ claim about Snowden placing lives in danger was the noted perjurer James Clapper, the director of National Intelligence, who lied under oath to Congress about NSA spying. Clapper addressed another congressional committee this week — not the one he lied to — and claimed that the information obtained by Snowden might reveal the names of US agents. As the New York Times immediately pointed out, none of the Snowden material published so far included names of agents or operatives.

And as The Atlantic pointed out overnight, national security officials and their media supporters are strangely quiet when government officials leak national security information themselves. And that applies every bit as much in Australia as in the US; there are plenty of serving and former intelligence officials who are happy to reveal operational details to their media cheerleaders, as long as it serves their own interests. The sort of frothing at the mouth engaged in by the Attorney-General this week is always reserved for actual whistleblowers, never for security officials or politicians who leak national security information for their own purposes.

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  • 1
    Posted Friday, 14 February 2014 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    I wonder who are the “fragrant exceptions” the Prime Minister mentions at the bottom of p1 of his transcript? And what made them so appealingly scented?

  • 2
    klewso
    Posted Friday, 14 February 2014 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    Suggestive that someone else wrote it?

  • 3
    CML
    Posted Friday, 14 February 2014 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    I wouldn’t listen to one word that the rAbbott had to say on any subject, let alone waste my time reading a transcript of his speech. He is a proven l*ar just about every time he opens his mouth!
    You may think the rAbbott is wonderful, Bernard. Just shows how easily some people can be fooled, swallowing all the spin and nonsense he sprouts!!

  • 4
    Pamela
    Posted Friday, 14 February 2014 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    So is he exonerated because he managed to deliver a speech written by someone cleverer with words?
    Speaking aint DOING.
    Besides no one can be ashamed at his abysmal abuse of another minority as he claims to want to uplift the FIRST AUSTRALIANS while dumpning and destroying the latest arrivals.

  • 5
    drmick
    Posted Friday, 14 February 2014 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    You and your bromance with the “politician of the year” has just got sickening.
    This is a five star nong, barely able to dribble a prepared speech by another author, and that is a high point? Cant wait for the low point then. No, really. Can he get worse?

    He is an international disgrace now and very quickly taking his place, internationally, as the “special” ridiculous leaders of a country referred to when the author/comedian is making a joke. He is right up there with all the current fascists and while he is aware of the terms goodies and baddies, he cant tell the difference. Maybe he can make politician of the century?

  • 6
    klewso
    Posted Friday, 14 February 2014 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    They get companies to fight their IR wars - so Abbott can carry on this cynical pretence about caring for “Australian workers” for their votes.

  • 7
    Jimmyhaz
    Posted Friday, 14 February 2014 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    …..

    This is the high point of the year?

    Really?

    I look forward to an utterly abysmal year then.

  • 8
    zut alors
    Posted Friday, 14 February 2014 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

    … poor results will reflect directly on him and there will be nowhere to hide from them, not after the language he used on Wednesday.’

    Bernard, regardless of what he spouts Abbott doesn’t need to hide since Murdoch temporarily deemed him a protected species.

    What were the consequences when the ABC aired 2009 footage of him suggesting putting a tax on carbon? Zilch. Abbott went on his merry way, unbothered and uninterrupted by commercial media not interested in making him squirm.

  • 9
    AR
    Posted Friday, 14 February 2014 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

    As those above have noted, if this is the best, then it is going to be a very drear year. Or three.
    If we accept that BK has to be… Bernard (and I do not!)could he at least try to have the odd latte, maybe even weave a basket or three?

  • 10
    aliso6
    Posted Friday, 14 February 2014 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

    proves you would dance with any devil, Bernard.

  • 11
    klewso
    Posted Friday, 14 February 2014 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

    We live in interesting times.

  • 12
    Interrobanging On
    Posted Friday, 14 February 2014 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

    Be fair to BK…he is normally very much worth a read, so we can forgive the odd clanger like this ‘Tony Abbott as Hero’ guff as long as it isn’t too much.

    Perhaps he just has to find some “balance” by saying something nice about Abbott as PM…this is very difficult to do.

    I consider Abbott a cynical fraud on Indigenous issues - even if somewhere deep he has some feeling for it personally, it is irrelevant to his political beastliness.

    His “volunteering” is (apparently) claimed for and is a nice earner. His talk is pretty cheap, even if he is reading a good script, given they have cut funding to Aboriginal Legal Services, for example.

    And where is the “Closing the Gap” metric of reducing incarceration - that is the big omission talked about that he had the chance to remedy, but went with the softer option of school attendance.

    The bit about Shorten may be accurate - the problem is that the ALP usually follow the bad behaviour begun by the more aggressive LNP. Witness them trying on the LNP disrupting Parliament tactics now.

    The Palmer stuff is better, as it has substance and a dig at Murdoch. It paints Palmer in a goodish light as being clever, but with the necessary scepticism missing from the Abbott love-in. Doesn’t mean I like Palmer though (sewer rats are clever…).

  • 13
    Electric Lardyland
    Posted Friday, 14 February 2014 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

    Just to add to that, IO, this is from Tony’s vast expense claims summary, showing the cost of a charter flight to volunteer for two days at Arukun.
    Charter
    Office Holder
    Details Amount Notes
    10 Aug 12 - Cairns to Aurukun Mission $9,636.36
    12 Aug 12 - Aurukun Mission to Cairns

    And this is for when he visited the community at Normanton.
    Cairns to Normanton 9 Nov 10 $32,545.00

    A cynic would possibly claim that this is an awful lot of public money to pay for a couple of photo opportunities.

  • 14
    klewso
    Posted Friday, 14 February 2014 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

    This is probably as good as it gets for Abbott”?

    Loved his effort in the aftermath of the Brisbane floods :-
    At an old ladies house, media in tow for photo ops, he was given a broom to scrub a wall. Three strokes and he gave it back - photo-op taken.

  • 15
    Electric Lardyland
    Posted Saturday, 15 February 2014 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    Clive Palmer is an Adjunct Professor at Bond University’s School of Sustainable Development!?? I can’t help thinking that they may have fundamentally misunderstood the concept of sustainable development. Maybe in Bondworld it means something like; to preserve a climate favourable for developers, no matter how flagrant the environmental vandalism of the development projects.

  • 16
    BSA Bob
    Posted Saturday, 15 February 2014 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

    I agree with the sentiments expressed by most of the commenters here. Re closing the gap, I’m told rAbbott has another Five Year Plan, the current jobs Five Year Plan’s going really well eh? And he’s been given plenty of places to hide there.

    klewso 14
    Ah yes, I remember the “here’s your bloody broom back” moment. The last time I saw that the vital seconds at the end had been “lost”.

  • 17
    Dez Paul
    Posted Saturday, 15 February 2014 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    ….suggestive of how, beneath the appearance of the aggressive, highly partisan, relentlessly negative politician an intelligent, decent national leader could lurk.”

    Careful, BK. rAbbott might hear you and believe you think he’s destined for great things. We know better.

    @IO - well said. Spot on. Even if he is at the helm while inroads are made into Indigenous disadvantage, he will never close his credibility gap.

  • 18
    R. Ambrose Raven
    Posted Sunday, 16 February 2014 at 12:39 am | Permalink

    Policies need to have a strong emphasis on design and implementation that reinforces the positives that Aboriginal society either has or needs. Doing what is needed would probably cost less while achieving much more than now because it would be focussed on actual needs, realistic plans, and Aboriginal-community-oriented decision-making.

    Government agencies don’t appear interested in real improvement of Aboriginal lives, nor do politicians appear to actually want it.

    Abbott’s own script is the customary Hard Right aim of turning Aborigines into aspirationals with utter disinterest in what Aborigines themselves might want. After all, saying a failure to properly educate children is ‘one of the worst forms of neglect’ not only dismisses the difficulties in doing so faced by families of our most marginalised social group, but also was an important justification for the Stolen Generation.

    Several massive external barriers exist to any serious improvement of marginalised Aboriginal society - politics, the denialists, the media, transnational economic ideology, and the bureaucracy moulded by such pressures. Add one extra issue rarely discussed and usually ignored despite its importance – the affordability of living there even for those marginalised unusual enough to live in the Hard-Right approved manner. Far from being merely annoyances, they are greater barriers to fundamental betterment of Aborigines as a group than the disadvantage of Aboriginals themselves.

    Far too many programmes are put forward without even a hint of mention of just how they propose to overcome all those issues.

    Despite the white noise of racism and historical dispossession which is a constant drone in the background of their lives, many Aboriginal people do try, inevitably against the odds. But far too much responsibility/blame is cast onto the individual or extended family. It is extremely difficult for any marginalised group to seriously better itself. Aborigines are no different.

  • 19
    Ken Lambert
    Posted Sunday, 16 February 2014 at 11:24 pm | Permalink

    Mr Raven

    But far too much responsibility/blame is cast onto the individual or extended family. It is extremely difficult for any marginalised group to seriously better itself. Aborigines are no different.”

    Unless they happen to be Indians, Vietnamese, Chinese, or Jews and other ‘marginalized’ who were immigrants to America and similarly to Australia.

  • 20
    drmick
    Posted Monday, 17 February 2014 at 7:56 am | Permalink

    If todays polls are accurate, (and I do not believe they are), then there is no hope for this country. Howard costello and murdoch created a monster 11 years ago and bernards hero monster is now in charge of it. I know now why the push from the new ruling class was to denounce common sense at all costs, and praise the new dog of “you are not part of the problem, you are the problem” to the point where workers are voting against their own party. No solidarity, no faith and no hope.
    Given the atrocities the Kredlin bullies have already committed, i don’t know what will shock workers and fair minded genuine people back in to reality? Maybe an enforced drop in pay under workchoices, and their creation of 11% unemployment will do the trick?

  • 21
    JohnB
    Posted Monday, 17 February 2014 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

    The for TA, perhaps, but certainly not for BK.

    All things are relative: One is coming off a low base, the other was formerly a reasonably trustworthy observer and wordsmith.

    The former remains pretty well mired in the past, the other could well lift his game - and there are still 10 months in which to do so.

  • 22
    JohnB
    Posted Monday, 17 February 2014 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    Correction to sentence 1 above.

    The high point for TA, perhaps, but certainly not for BK.

  • 23
    R. Ambrose Raven
    Posted Saturday, 1 March 2014 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

    Mr Lambert, denialist.

    But far too much responsibility/blame is cast onto the individual or extended family. It is extremely difficult for any marginalised group to seriously better itself. Aborigines are no different.

    Unless they happen to be Indians, Vietnamese, Chinese, or Jews and other ‘marginalized’ who were immigrants to America and similarly to Australia.”

    FYI, Mr Lambert, those groups were in very small numbers until the ending of the White Australia Policy. You also also wrong to describe any of them as marginalised, Jews least of all.

    Collapse of the Rana Plaza factory complex in April ’13 killed 1,129 sweatshop coolie Bangladeshi garment workers, largely female. It produced clothes for a range of Western companies, all of whom dishonoured their pledges to compensate the victims and their families. With assistance from the police, the owner of Rana Plaza used threats of violence, withholding of wages, and dismissal to force women to go back into a condemned building.

    They, Mr Lambert, were certainly marginalised. They, Mr Lambert, did find it difficult to improve their position.

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