Two iconic images last week are destined to leave their mark on global and local politics. One was accidental, the other staged, yet each of them was ridiculous, vain and given the circumstances, slightly pathetic. The first was the former mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani, hair dye trickling down his face, sweatily prosecuting Donald Trump’s malignant agenda to poison Joe Biden’s presidency before it had even begun.
Source: Niki Savva, News Corp
Leaders went MIA as Brereton bombs began to fall on SAS
Giuliani was seen as the tough guy who cleaned up New York. Now thanks to Borat and Trump he has turned into a pomaded poodle, humiliating himself and his fellow Americans as the face of a sordid campaign designed to turn a loser who should have won in a landslide into a victim of a fake conspiracy.
Then, on a smaller stage, there was Scott Morrison posing in a suit jacket, open-necked shirt, shorts which looked like baggy undies and thongs, that he wore to a tele-press conference he had called to announce something completely unrelated, then along the way delivered his first response to the horrific Brereton report on Australian war crimes released a few days before.
Only the top half of Morrison had been visible during the conference yet he felt obliged to share the tip-to-naked-toe version. This would be the same Scott Morrison who urged prospective Australians to show respect by not wearing thongs to citizenship ceremonies.
The photo, taken by his official photographer sharing his not so splendid isolation at the Lodge, was released to the Sunday Telegraph to show how the prime minister was WFH. It also incited a few WTFs from old-fashioned political types annoyed by his failure to respond to Brereton sooner, then showing disrespect by flaunting his state of undress while he had done it.
It was a classic Scotty from Marketing exercise designed to confirm at heart he is still Australia’s favourite daggy dad.
Seriously who can take any of them seriously?
The delayed response from Morrison to the Brereton report came at a tele-press conference with Dan Andrews, to announce rail funding for Victoria, which could have been made the previous Monday when the Prime Minister was in Melbourne. Morrison’s office kiboshed that option, choosing Saturday afternoon. It was a safer distance in the media cycle from Brereton, the robodebt debacle and the superannuation report opening the door for the government to overturn a legislated increase and a promise.
It always helps having a good news story in the back pocket to soak up media time after a succession of awful news days. It also meant, apart from a brief comment by Defence Minister Linda Reynolds the previous day in response to a question at a business breakfast, that Defence was left to own the fallout from the disgraceful conduct of some members of the SAS in Afghanistan. On one level that was smart and fitting.
Performing solo, the Chief of the Defence Force, General Angus Campbell, presented as a highly credible voice. Over several days, Campbell handled a difficult issue with the right balance of regret, empathy, authority and promise of reform.
But it is not the generals who decide which wars troops will fight. It is the politicians, often for political reasons. Politicians also sign off on how the wars will be fought, who will fight them and the objectives. Otherwise there is no point to the national security committee of cabinet or defence ministers.
So the least politicians can do, particularly in the worst of times, is to be visible. To turn up. They need to be seen — in a timely fashion, suitably attired — to be taking some of the responsibility for the reprehensible conduct carried out in our names, while reassuring Australians that the guilty will be punished, the honour of the innocent protected, urge that the sins of the few should not be visited on the many and pledge to work with the military to change the culture.
The only minister brave enough to appear above the parapet on the day the report was released was Veterans Affairs Minister Darren Chester. Chester had prearranged engagements, including addressing, with former major general now senator Jim Molan, 100 parachutists at the army training camp in Nowra, minutes after they had all watched Campbell’s live presentation. “Opinions are like arseholes,” Chester told them. “Everyone’s got one. You need to focus on looking after yourselves and your mates.”
Despite muted grumbles from higher-ups that maybe he shouldn’t be out there, Chester fronted for interviews that afternoon and the next day. He did so because he thought it was the right thing to do. He felt he owed it to serving and former personnel as well as the Australian public to stand up and try to answer questions about why and what now.
It was the right thing to do, especially as the political generals were MIA. Morrison had warned Australians to prepare for the worst the week before the bomb exploded. Reynolds surfaced the morning after it went off, not to be seen again, while Morrison, sans trousers, surfaced the day after that, then not again for questioning until Wednesday morning.
Getting out there early, in an appropriate way, should have been a priority. Not to leave all the heavy lifting to the military, nor hope it gets buried among other stuff, and to try to ease the torment which many soldiers feel, articulated so eloquently by Liberal backbencher and former SAS troop commander Andrew Hastie in The Australian on Tuesday.
Hastie has made constructive suggestions including more rigorous parliamentary oversight and enhanced transparency by allowing media greater access to report what happens rather than receiving sanitised versions of events. Hastie argues this might have prevented some of the atrocities. That last bit could be applied across the board, including to official prime ministerial photographs.
Finally, a sad farewell to Alan Ramsey who died on Tuesday. Ramsey was a friend for about 40 years, almost, but not quite, to the end, which also makes for a painful goodbye. He was a brilliant, difficult, engaging, infuriating, charming, challenging writer and friend. No one, ever, was left in any doubt about his feelings, opinions or the way he liked things done. Particularly when it came to tea, where it was always best to let him make it when he turned up for a cuppa. Hopefully he has found peace.