I met Tony Abbott once in his office at Parliament House in Canberra. Kevin Rudd had recently come to power and Tony had been shafted to the backbench. He was the shadow minister for employment and community services or something other. I went to talk with him about employment issues for Deaf and hearing impaired people. He is nothing like he comes across on television. I actually found him quite engaging.
Prior to meeting Tony we had gone to meet Brendan O’Connell (or was it O’Connor) the minister responsible for employment who was in the middle of a national disability consultation about employment issues. Brendan got stuck in question time and we got to meet his staff. The staff were nice enough and listened to us but offered nothing constructive. They just nodded and noted basically. They were more concerned with making sure their minister didn’t make a cock up.
It was quite fascinating really because Parliament House has televisions everywhere. These televisions beam question time to the offices of Parliament House. Brendan was about to speak and when he did our interview was suspended while the staffers watched him and took notes. They made off hand comments about his style and I swear they rolled their eyes a few times. Presumably because Brendan did not stick to the script.
After meeting Brendan’s staffers we made our way to Tony’s office. Tony was late. He too had been held up in question time. Apparently the Liberals had moved a vote of no confidence in Ruddy and it was a case of all hands on deck. After about half an hour Tony strolled in. He apologised profusely, “..It’s a mad house in there.”, he said. He asked to be excused while he attended to some, ” .. Personal needs.” (His exact words.)
After a short time he came back and shook our hands. It became apparent what his personal needs had been as his hands were still a little bit wet. He gave a new meaning to the term – a wet handshake. He led us into his office which was immaculate and on the walls were adorned some wonderful Australian paintings. He organised coffee, sat down, placed his feet on his coffee table – (where you could see the hairy gap between his trousers and socks), placed his hands behind his head, leaned back and asked us to make ourselves comfortable.
Being the cheeky sod that I am I asked if I could put my feet up too. He chuckled and said, “… sure!” It is about here that I warmed to him. I warmed more to him during our talk. Why? Simply because he did not patronise us. If we said something like, for example, deaf people need lifelong access to hearing aids and repairs he would question us. “Why should you get that while others do not get free access to spectacles?” or “How will that be paid for in terms of a budget that must meet the needs of carers?” He did not promise anything. He listened, he challenged and he questioned. In short I felt he treated me like an equal. He did not just smile patronisingly and feign interest. He WAS interested and he engaged in discussion and debate. I liked that.
Now last week my mate Tony caused an uproar. He apparently made light of the cinema access issues that we have all fought for so hard over the last few months. I was contacted by Bill Shorten’s office and told that Tony had called the issue of cinema access WAFFLE. A media release was to go out and we were asked to support the media release.
This is fine, but the problem I have with this is that it is not what Tony said at all. Tony had actually been talking with Laurie Oakes on Sunday morning television. At the bottom of this article there is a link to the interview. Poor Tony had been torn to shreds by Oakes. Oakes made Tony look like a man who changed his mind at will to suit his need for power and Tony was totally unconvincing in his responses. BUT … he did not call cinema access waffle!
What Tony had been talking about was of question time being wasted. He was suggesting that ministers chew up question time to make themselves look good. They waffle on to promote themselves or avoid answering questions. Tony wanted answers to questions to be more controlled and to the point. He wants real debate to happen in Parliament, not just waffle and old men and women yelling at each other.
Below is a transcript of his offending statement:
“.. The problem in Parliament Laurie is that all people see is Question Time, and Question Time is basically adults, responsible adults, shouting at each other. It’s not a good look and it doesn’t actually enhance our system of Government. So what I want to do is to try to get away from the ferocious adversarial partisanship of Question Time, and one way to do that or — to help do that, is to limit the length of ministerial answers, to limit the length of questions. To try to ensure that the answer is directly relevant to the question. And to make sure that we go straight out of Question Time into the matter of public importance debate without waffly ministerial statements on things like the accessibility of cinemas. So I will change or I will seek to have the standing orders changed.”
Now make of that what you will but my interpretation is that ministers should not big wig themselves on things like cinema accessibility and I fully agree. By all means call it progress, by all means publicly praise the people involved and celebrate it but do it in a bipartisan way that does not try to score political points to help with re-election.
Not having seen what was said in Parliament about cinema access I cant really pass judgement on the minister. But having watched question time often I can tell you that ministers are full of themselves with their answers to planted questions from their colleagues. In my mind I can imagine a backbencher getting up to ask an obviously rehearsed question, “.. and can the minister explain what is happening with cinema access …” Whereupon the minister answers the question in a way that makes it look like it was central to Government policy since time began and that those nasty Liberals don’t know what they are doing.
Tony’s mistake was touching on a disability issue and being seen to make light of it. In my view he did not. He was actually talking about something completely different. Unfortunately it looked like he was making light of the issue and his political foes pounced on it. They took what Tony said way out of context and blew it out of proportion. I for one thought it was all quite shambolic. To his credit Tony saw the error of his statement and apologised. I wonder if his political foes will apologise for using us all to score cynical political points. Some how I doubt it.
Let us make one thing clear, I have never voted Liberal and never will. I once voted Democrats many a year ago but I vote Labor or I vote nothing. It is not a particularly socially responsible way to vote but that’s the way 80 percent of us vote. We have an alliance and we stick to it. BUT I believe in fairness and I think Tony was hard done by in this instance. Call me naive but it is the principle of the matter. All is fair in love and war they say but in this case I think the response was over the top and demonstrated everything that is wrong with politics today.