Christensen has said he was working on his phone and computer while away, and “in the age of instantaneous communication … I’ve been talking to constituents, responding to emails, talking to key staff members and getting things done”. Given no one seemed to have noticed the extraordinary amount of time he was spending away until it was revealed in the press, he may well have a point.
His prodigious use of Facebook certainly makes him seem present and active in the electorate. Like most savvy politicians, he uses the platform to speak directly to his constituents, unfiltered by the pesky questions of journalists. On that platform, few of his followers seem to notice that while some measure of hypocrisy is virtually a job requirement for politicians, Christensen has turned it into an art form.
He is a man who can criticise Greens Senator Larissa Waters for closing her “taxpayer-funded office during work hours” to attend a climate strike, with barely anyone reminding him that he was 5000km away from his own taxpayer-funded office for almost 300 days. (When Inq put this to him, he countered that he may have been away, but his office wasn’t closed). He is a man who proclaims to be “standing up for the north”, but missed eight of the 27 public hearings for the Northern Australia committee in 2014 because he was in the Philippines. He is man who calls for a halt to foreign aid, saying “not one dollar should be spent on foreigners”, while spending 10 weeks a year in Southeast Asia raising money for charity groups there.
In Christensen’s world, the Hong Kong protesters are freedom-loving heroes who “have seen how it works essentially under British-style rule of law,” but Australian climate protesters are “dangerous, and stupid, and worthy of the strongest punishment under the law“.
The chutzpah might seem mind-blowing to outsiders, but it’s immaterial to people who feel neglected, and sometimes even attacked, by those who wield power over their lives from thousands of kilometres away.
During the election campaign, Labor tried to use the Philippines story against Christensen. But when a convoy of anti-Adani protesters from the other end of the continent showed up, with demands to stop a project many locals hoped (however falsely) would bring them jobs, questions about his propriety in the Philippines seemed irrelevant.