The hardest thing in spin is making the judgement about when you have a crisis on your hands. At what point do you or your organisation say, we’ve got a big problem and we need to communicate in a different way? The Australian Government reached this point last month on the David Hicks case and judging by its reaction it misread the signs. As the five year anniversary of David Hicks being locked up ticked over, the Australian people lost patience with the government’s stonewalling and started demanding action. In turn they got pis-ed off that their Prime Minister’s reaction was to make it look like he told his old buddy in the White House to get things moving. “Why didn’t he do that years ago?” we all thought.
Sending the deadpan Phil Ruddock out to tranquilise the punters stopped working. John Howard stepped into the fray and started looking like he was trying to be fair minded about the issue. But at this stage of the game, Australians either believe our Prime Minister is impotent to influence the USA, or worse, complicit in skulduggery and not being honest. At this stage of the Hicks case, the Howard Government has lost some skin. Not because of the Gomer Pyle look-a-like lawyer Major Mori, but because of the government’s inability to answer simple questions about the case. Voter frustration remains because the fundamental question we all want answered has not been addressed. Why is our closest ally belatedly running one of our citizens through a kangaroo court in Cuba, instead of putting him through an Australian process, here, just as most other countries have done with their former detainees? Advocacy group GetUp cracked the message with its billboard and poster campaign simply stating “Bring David Hicks Home”. The debate is not about Hicks being a terrorist any more. It’s about the Australian Government looking like it’s being pushed around by George W Bush, or worse, being complicit in human rights abuses. What should a government do in a crisis like this? It’s not difficult really. Tell the truth. Tell it all. Own up about who is to blame and how the mistakes were made. You put as much information into the public arena as possible and you apologise over and over. That way you get the pain over quickly and get back to running the country. The time for diplomacy is over. Howard should start belting George Bush for human rights abuses against our citizens. If there is some grand plan as to why Hicks had to be locked up for five years, tell us. Most Australians expect politicians to bullsh-t now and then, but they hate a cover up and hypocrisy.