I’m unaware of those operational details, Kerry.

… as to the precise sequence of events, I cannot recall each step in that sequence of events. I honestly cannot.

… the precise sequence of events concerning the handling of this particular vessel I cannot recall in absolute detail—they were complex diplomatic negotiations.

That would be done through the normal agency of the Australian government—the customs and border protection arrangements of the government. That is where the command and control lies. I imagine it is an operational matter.

— Kevin Rudd last night on the 7.30 Report.

It’s wonderful that our workaholic Prime Minister has finally relaxed enough to stop sweating the small stuff. Remember the Kevin Rudd of 2008, who couldn’t let anything happen in the entire Government without personally vetting it first?

Now he appears content to leave the operational details of a critical issue like the handling of the Oceanic Viking to other parties. He was repeatedly asked last week in Parliament about such matters and, almost with a shrug of his shoulders, declared he couldn’t quite recall. And judging by his effort with an inevitably semi-manic Kerry O’Brien last night, his recollection hasn’t improved in the intervening days.

Or not, as the case may be. Does anyone seriously believe Australia’s most controlling Prime Minister and his office are not fully across exactly what’s going on? But the Prime Minister has developed a too-cute-by-half strategy of professing ignorance about the handling of events in Indonesia.

It’s partly understandable given it is only the ABC and The Australian which are, for their own ideological reasons, fascinated by such details which, even in the broader context of the Government’s policy on asylum seekers, are of relatively minor importance.

However, it reflects his ongoing struggle to find a communications strategy that will enable him to get control of the issue again, although Tony Abbott appears eager to assist him by saying, more or less, that Rudd now has blood on his hands, once again demonstrating that no matter how obvious the benefits of keeping attention focused on the Government, the Coalition can be relied on demand the spotlight be swung back to them. Perhaps now that he has finally copped a knock in the polls — although today’s Newspoll is clearly a rogue result, especially compared to other polls — he might re-evaluate what he’s trying to say.

Malcolm Turnbull had a difficult interview yesterday as well. If Kerry O’Brien suffers from a tendency to ask a question, pause for one syllable of an answer, and then ask another one, Turnbull’s amazing encounter yesterday with Alan Jones (listen to it here) seemed like an extended rant by Jones interrupted, on occasion, by a clearly deeply unhappy Turnbull.

Jones appeared to go entirely off the deep end, simultaneously demanding we take every Tamil refugee and re-establish the Pacific Solution — although he didn’t quite understand the latter. Turnbull struggled to explain the Howard Government’s policy to Jones, even as the latter demanded to know what his policy was. The Prime Minister isn’t the only leader whose line on asylum seekers is a work in progress.

Better yet was when Jones spent several interminable minutes subjecting Turnbull to an assembled Greatest Hits package of his interviews with greenhouse denialists and conspiracy theorists, prompting Jones to claim that climate change was a vast plot to give Australian money to “the Arab-Muslim bloc”.

The only time Turnbull managed to shut him up was when he told him Jones he should be putting the same questions to his idols John Howard and Margaret Thatcher.

Quite why Turnbull insists on punishing himself by returning to front Jones is a mystery, even if it provides brilliant entertainment for the rest of us. If Jones’s ancient, reactionary audience are deserting the Coalition, then it’s time to give up.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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