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Bishop, Dutton gaffes on camera

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Australia’s most senior non-feminist, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, appears to have called her counterpart Tanya Plibersek – or perhaps another female Labor MP – a ‘bitch’ in Parliament this week.

What do you think she said?

Soon after that video surfaced, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton was caught on camera joking about the threat of rising sea levels on Pacific island nations.

Noting that their meeting was running a bit late, Mr Dutton remarked to Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Social Services Minister Scott Morrison that it was running to “Cape York time”, implying that Cape York residents are tardy.

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Mr Abbott answered with a small gaffe of his own, saying, “We had a bit of that up in Port Moresby”. He was referring the Pacific Islands Forum in Port Moresby, at which low-lying Pacific island nations requested more be done to combat rising sea levels.

Mr Morrison – clearly the only one who was aware the conversation could be recorded – tried to restore a more reverent tone.

But an apparently ignorant Mr Dutton cranked up the controversy with the following comment: “Time doesn’t mean anything when you’re about to have water lapping at your door” – a reference to rising sea levels threatening low-lying islands.

Mr Morrison then prevented any further gaffes by pointing out that there was a “boom [microphone] up there”.

The ABCs of interviewing

Leigh-Sales-main
Leigh Sales and Tony Abbott have history of tense interviews.

Despite the Abbott Government’s often-tetchy relationship with the ABC, the PM granted an interview this week with the public broadcaster’s flagship current affairs program 7.30.

Mr Abbott was ostensibly there to talk about the government’s decision to almost double Australia’s humanitarian intake by resettling 12,000 Syrian refugees. Oh, and that other decision to accept the “invitation” from the US to join air strikes against Islamic State in Syria.

Yet it was a bizarre response from the PM that belied the true purpose of the interview.

By answering “we’ve stopped the boats” to a question about his government’s economic competence, the PM was indulging in an old media trick – ignore the question and say what you want to say – so that he could assure voters he hadn’t gone soft on border protection.

The challenge for Mr Abbott was to get the balance right between acceding to his colleagues’ demand for a strong response to Syrian refugees, and maintaining his hard line on asylum seekers who arrive by boat.

An opinion poll emerged on the same day as his 7.30 appearance showing 57 per cent of respondents supported Australia increasing its refugee intake to accommodate Syrians, but 54 per cent also remained supportive of Operation Sovereign Borders, including boat turn-backs and offshore detention.

Reuters: Dimitris Michalakis
A Syrian refugee and his daughter arrive on the Greek island of Lesbos.

So this was the theme that permeated most of the government’s formal and informal utterances this week. In case you missed it, Mr Abbott’s latest slogan is “more jobs, higher economic growth, safe communities”, with an emphasis on the last two words.

Of course the concept “safe” can be subjective, and a variety of government MPs tainted the discussion of the Syrian intake with their own take on what constitutes safety.

For some, it was “no more Muslim men”. Others put it more politely as “only families, women and children”. Some further conflated matters by suggesting that Syrian Christians should be favoured.

In all, the suggestions were a cacophony of unedifying peeps on the dog-whistle at voters who think “all Muslims are terrorists”.

What leadership tension? 

Federal Parliament sat this week, giving government MPs the opportunity to get together after two weeks in their electorates, to chat about the 30th bad Newspoll in a row and whether the listing Coalition ship could be turned around.

If there is ultimately to be a change in the top job, it would need to occur before the end of this year for there to be enough time for voters to become acquainted with the new leadership team.

If Mr Abbott remains in the role after parliament retires for the summer break, there’s a good chance he’ll take his best shot, risking the destruction of the Coalition government with a double dissolution election early in 2016 rather than hand the plum role over to Malcolm Turnbull.

Stand by me

AAP
Is a Cabinet reshuffle on the cards? The PM says no.

Meantime, as Mr Abbott and his colleagues await the outcome of the Canning by-election next weekend, the PM has attempted yet again to distract those MPs who might be thinking of switching to Mr Turnbull with talk of a ministry reshuffle.

Stories emerged three weeks ago that the PM was considering a major refresh of the ministry at the end of this year.

A cabinet reshuffle is customary at this point in the electoral cycle, 12 months out from an election, but speculation about who will be in (and who will be out) is deliberately being encouraged by the Prime Minister’s office to convince ambitious ministers to stick with him rather than take a chance with Mr Turnbull.

The latest leak, according to the PMO’s favourite tabloid, throws even more names into the air including five women who “may” get a promotion. However, the leak may have backfired, with the PM reportedly having to deal with ministerial made “hysterical” by the speculation.

Terrible twos

The Abbott government celebrated its second year in office this week, putting out a glossy booklet to mark the achievement.

However it’s likely the publication will be viewed fewer times than a video of Labor frontbencher Jason Clare sardonically acknowledging the anniversary with a scathing rundown of the Government’s misdemeanours. To date the video has clocked up 1.5 million views.

Happy Birthday Australia – 2 Years of the Abbott Government in 90 seconds.

Posted by Jason Clare on Monday, 7 September 2015

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