If there’s any benefit to not actually standing for anything, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull seemed to find it on Monday. With no values or principles to guide him, the PM easily abandoned his previous effort to be a pale imitation of Labor, and dramatically changed tack this week with a hilarious but disconcerting impersonation of Tony Abbott.
Not that it was meant to be amusing. The Prime Minister had his serious face on when he fronted the assembled media to announce that the Turnbull government would make it possible for the military to be called in when terrorist events happened in Australia.
This is something that Mr Abbott and his commentator sympathisers had been demanding since the inquest into the Lindt Café siege. But not only did Mr Turnbull steal Mr Abbott’s policy, he tried to outdo the former PM’s nationalistic staging of such announcements.
Instead of being accompanied by a dozen bristling flags on a podium, as Mr Abbott (or his chief of staff Peta Credlin) appeared to prefer, Mr Turnbull gave his press conference in front of a military vehicle and a line of machine-gun-wielding commandoes whose identities were deliberately concealed with Darth Vader-like gas masks.
While Mr Abbott’s flag-fests engendered a bit of patriotic pride within the conservative “base” and scornful mirth elsewhere, Mr Turnbull’s even more over-the-top attempt was simultaneously hilarious and menacing.
It appears the PM was trying to assure voters he only had their best interests at heart when giving the military the right to do police work (for what could possibly go wrong?). But instead, he looked like the tinpot leader of a military junta warning the populace to keep in line.
Unsurprisingly, the wits on social media felt anything but assured by the PM’s demonstration of firepower. It didn’t take long for the real Darth Vader and Batman’s masked nemesis Bane to be photoshopped into the PM’s presser, or the cast of Mad Max, while there was a least one joke about the PM announcing a comeback tour for masked musicians TISM.
Malcolm: "It's a pleasure to unveil the Minister for the Home Office and Get In The Van" pic.twitter.com/o50YqKdYKk
— 🔥High Quality Guy🔥 (@dobes) July 17, 2017
One journalist noted there would be a few Defence officials who would “be uncomfortable with troops being used as props like this”. The opposition certainly didn’t waste any time reinforcing this point, with Labor’s defence spokesperson Richard Marles saying there was a fine line between acknowledging and politicising the work of Australia’s defence force personnel.
“The Australian people can well see a prop when it’s presented,” Mr Marles noted. “They can sniff it from a mile away and they will judge people accordingly.”
Australian voters may remember that in the dying days of Mr Abbott’s leadership, the former PM resorted to a succession of khaki announcements like this (accompanied by an ever-increasing number of flags) in a final attempt to resuscitate his government’s standing in the opinion polls.
In a spooky echo of that time, Mr Turnbull is reportedly due to make another national security announcement this week when he unveils the long-anticipated “home office” mega-portfolio to be run by former Abbott loyalist, Peter Dutton.
If the PM is to continue his efforts to out-Abbott Tony Abbott on matters of national security, perhaps on this occasion it will be the Prime Minister himself wearing the goggles, mask and flak jacket.