EDITORIAL TUESDAY 18.05.10.
Tony Abbott’s apparent inability to take himself at his own word has taken on a life of its own. After admitting on the 7:30 Report on the ABC that only carefully crafted prepared and scripted comments are to be taken as Gospel truth, Tony Abbott is probably still trying to take his foot out of his mouth. When he finally does, no doubt he will use it to kick himself in the backside. The comments have been reported far and wide, quoted, repeated, interpreted, and passed along rather like a game of Chinese whispers which has now reached the point where it doesn’t really matter what he actually said. All that matters is that he has very successfully given the impression that not even Tony Abbott feels he can trust Tony Abbott to always be truthful.
What he was actually trying to say was that sometimes politicians get caught out by their own rhetoric when detailed policies turn out to be at odds with previous casual remarks. Those remarks may or may not have been a firm commitment, but once they are on the record they hang around forever, ready to come back and haunt the unwary. Ironically, it was the effort to be a straight talker that left Tony Abbott floundering to explain himself, when he would have been far better off to simply brush the whole thing aside, or to claim that circumstances had changed in the course of policy development. In other words, Tony Abbott has been caught out trying to tell the truth about the need for reneging on one’s own words in the topsy turvy game of politics.
Unfortunately for Tony Abbott, it’s not just the fact that he has been forced into admitting a policy backflip had made him a liar, but it was the fact that he allowed himself to be maneuvered into a position where his explanation left us all with the impression that there is no way for us to know when he is to be trusted and when he is not. It’s perfectly natural for ordinary everyday people to distrust politicians, but it is another matter entirely when one of those politicians actually tells us not to trust him by implying that we can never be sure if he means what he says or not. And it’s not just the idea that we can’t trust anything that he says, because most of us don’t trust politicians anyway, but it’s also the error in judgment and the lack of competence displayed in the process that is a significant cause for concern.
If the Leader of the Opposition cannot outwit Kerry O’Brien on the ABC, shouldn’t we all be worried about how he would go as Prime Minister dealing with other world leaders, especially in any kind of confrontation or crisis? No disrespect to Kerry O’Brien, but when you’re dealing with sensitive trade negotiations or matters of national security, the potential for disaster is a whole more than just the embarrassment of dropping the ball in a television interview. Tony Abbott has not only admitted to Australians that he cannot be taken at his word, he has shattered his own credibility as a potential Prime Minister.
Of course, some would insist that he never had any in the first place.