Tony Abbott was never sincere about spending his first week on Indigenous land; his chief of staff knew that but did nothing to correct the public perception. Managing editor David Donovan investigates.
LAST WEEK, I wrote a story in which the pertinent question was as follows:
Forgive if I recall incorrectly, but didn't Abbott promise to spend his first week as PM in an Indigenous community?
— David Donovan (@davrosz) September 22, 2013
The story was interesting, not merely because it showed conclusively that Tony Abbott had broken an election promise, but also because of the reaction of News Ltd journalist Samantha Maiden, who did everything in her power to stop this lie being exposed.
This story has been IA's most popular ever and led to several articles by other people, as well as some interesting reactions — most notably by Tony Abbott's hand-picked Indigenous Advisory Council chair Warren Mundine.
This piece picks up the story where we left it, ties up a few loose ends and, most of all, explains how we now know Abbott was never sincere about spending his first week as PM with Indigenous people, but that this fact was covered up.
First of all, as you may recall, Abbott said at a Yothu Yindi Foundation function in late August he would spend his first week with the Yolngu People in Arnhem Land, but of course he never did.
Some have suggested this was merely rhetoric and that Abbott never actually committed to spend his first week there by his clever and slippery use of words. Let's clear this up by looking at what he actually said in full.
He started off his promise by saying:
“And why not, if you will permit me; why shouldn’t I, if you will permit me; spend my first week as prime minister, should that happen, on this, on your, country.”
Yes, that certainly is an awkward statement and does, perhaps, leave a little room for movement. However, as pointed out by Sydney Morning Herald columnist Mike Carlton, when the words that follow these (below) are also considered, the counter argument is shown to be clearly false [IA emphasis]:
''Now I know there'll be people who'll say: 'You're Prime Minister. You can't do that; you're goofing off ; you're not doing your job.' But the fact is, if these places are homes to the first Australians, why shouldn't they be home, even if only for a few days, to the prime minister of our country?''
Once Abbott started talking about being accused of "goofing off", his statement becomes more than a mere throwaway line or a vague hypothetical. There is, in fact, no other sensible way to read Abbott's statement other than as a firm commitment — and that is precisely what the audience did, as you can see by their reaction to Abbott words, which is shown in the following video:
Despite this clear evidence, Warren Mundine came out on SBS the day after my initial report not only rubbishing the idea Abbott had broken a promise, but also the many people who thought he had.
Mundine said in a news report on SBS's Indigenous channel NITV [IA emphasis]:
“This idea he was going to do it in the first week is a bit crazy, because we know the Prime Minister of any government, the first week is setting up cabinet and getting on with the job.... His promise was quite clear to everyone who has half a brain, that it was about being in an Aboriginal community on an annual basis and he wanted his first trip to be to Yolngu country."
Such tact and diplomacy from Abbott's new Indigenous ambassador.
Let's be clear, Mundine stated he thought anyone who took Abbott at his word – such as me, the ABC's Sara Everingham, Greens Senator Rachel Siewert and the person from the Garma Festival who took notes of Abbott's speech – is not only a "bit crazy", but also has less than "half a brain".
And that night, Mundine on Twitter went further still, asserting that "anyone with a brain" knew what Abbott meant.
Now, given I'm obviously lacking a brain and thus am unable to comprehend things others higher lifeforms – such as Mundine and Sam Maiden – see clearly, I asked Warren on Twitter to clarify exactly what he meant:
@warrenmundine @julieposetti @samanthamaiden @theMickMorris @Wendy_Bacon Are you saying Senator Siewert, ABC and Garma have no brain?
— David Donovan (@davrosz) September 25, 2013
Sadly, Mundine ignored me. Or should I say, he ignored me for three days until, eventually, he sent the following tweet:
@davrosz @DebKilroy Here's my response to you: http://t.co/6zj8s8mVPY @samanthamaiden
— Warren Mundine (@warrenmundine) September 27, 2013
The link in Mundine's tweet was to a status update from Yothu Yindi Foundation, the hosts of the event at which Abbott made his empty promise:
Settling doubt. Galarrwuy Yunupingu just last wk formally invited PM 2 Arnhemland as is correct protocol. Date yet 2 b set by both parties.
— YothuYindiFoundation (@YothuYindiFound) September 27, 2013
Apparently, according to Mundine (and, of course, Maiden, who clutched hold of this statement like a drowning sailor to a passing life raft) since Mr Yunipingu had only just sent the invitation, Abbott's promise was null and void.
This was meant to put me in my place good and proper, I'm guessing.
But Galarrwuy's invitation was not news to me nor anyone else, as it had been reported by Lindy Kerin from NITV the day after my initial story — four days before Mundine sent along his triumphant tweet.
Here's what Kerin reported:
'The Gumatj Corporation, chaired by Yolngu elder Galarrwuy Yunipingu, says a formal invitation has just been sent to the Prime Minister asking him to spend a week with the members of the Gumatj clan within the next 12 months.'
Of course, Mundine's argument that Abbott was denied permission is totally absurd for a few reasons.
Firstly, Galarrwuy is clearly seen to be nodding to Abbott as the latter made the offer, signifying his acceptance at the time. Moreover, given Abbott was the strong favourite to become PM, if he was sincerely making the offer, he would have cleared up the details when he was in Arnhem Land, straight after his speech. The idea the Yolngu people would not have allowed Australia's PM-in-waiting the honour spending his first week as national leader on their land is, frankly, ridiculous and not even worth discussing.
The question is not whether Abbott had permission – clearly all he needed to do was finalise the arrangements – the question is: was Abbott ever really serious, or was he just bullshitting to make himself look good.
Mundine and Maiden were not to know that earlier that day I had spoken to Denise Bowden from the Yothu Yindi Foundation — the person who had actually organised the Garma Festival.
Denise Bowden appeared quite eager to defend Mundine and, especially, Abbott — whom she called "Tony" throughout our conversation. Nevertheless, our conversation was most revealing.
Firstly, I asked Denise why Mundine was being so tactless and undiplomatic by accusing prominent people such as Senator Siewert and others of having no brain. She responded by saying he was probably "under a lot of pressure" in setting up the Indigenous Advisory Council.
Well, if this is how he handles a high pressure job, then I would suggest questions should be asked about whether he is up to the job. And Mundine's dopey response on the ABC last week about Abbott cutting $42 million from Indigenous legal aid adds even more ammunition to his many critics:
As for "Tony's" commitment, Denise agreed Abbott had definitely made it, but characterised it as merely a "slip of the lip". Denise said that when "Tony" made his promise, she remembers looking across at his chief of staff (Peta Credlin) for confirmation. According to Bowden, Credlin immediately and emphatically shook her head and told her Abbott would be "far too busy in his first week".
If ever we were in any doubt, we now know who really runs the country.
This statement confirms what most suspect: Abbott was just shooting the breeze when he speaking about spending his first week on Yolngu land. It wouldn't have mattered if Gallarwuy Yunipingu had given Abbott full written permission and rolled out the red carpet that very day — it was simply not going to happen. In short, Abbott was trying to win over a potentially hostile crowd and was prepared to say anything to do so.
If you look at Abbott's full speech, he states at the beginning he has decided to speak without notes and so, clearly, this was just another one of those many occasions where Abbott could not be taken at his word because he wasn't reading a carefully prepared speech. It's only the "gospel truth", as Abbott once infamously explained to Kerry O'Brien, when he is reading from carefully scripted remarks. In the heat of the moment, he could say anything and not mean it.
What a man. What a prime minister.
So, the question is not whether Abbott made the promise – we know he did – or even whether he was sincere – we now know he was not – the question is: why did Abbott or his office, who knew he never intended to spend his first week as PM in Arnhem Land, not immediately retract Abbott's foolish statement and correct the record.
Many people heard Abbott's remarks – which were broadcast live on ABC News 24, I understand, and followed up with a plethora of news reports – and were left with the impression it was a fact. So, it stands to reason, many people went to vote thinking Abbott had made this solid and rather touching commitment to Australia's Indigenous people.
But it was just a lie. Worse than that, it was known at the time to be a lie by many people, including Abbott's staff, who they never any attempt to let the truth known. Presumably, they didn't correct the record because they liked the way it was playing in the public eye.
Another lie, this time by omission; or, in other words, a con job.
The brazen hypocrisy of Abbott and his office – the same people who used Gillard's so-called campaign promise "lie" about the carbon tax so relentlessly to diminish her standing in the public eye – is truly breathtaking.
Also astonishing is people like Samantha Maiden and Warren Mundine, who have such contempt for us – the general public – they will outrageously attempt to rewrite history after the fact to support their man— even after the truth is crystal clear. And they won't answer questions, but will abuse and insult you, just to stifle inquiry and debate. And they will never, ever, apologise when they are found out to not only be wrong, but offensively so.
They really must think we have no brain.
@davrosz@YothuYindiFound@warrenmundine This idea you can demand apologies out of people who disagree with you belongs in schoolyard
— samantha maiden (@samanthamaiden) September 27, 2013
@LottieSchnauzer @samanthamaiden @davrosz That rag. It full of crap.
— Warren Mundine (@warrenmundine) October 3, 2013
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