Remarks by 2GB talkback supremo and Liberal Party stalwart Alan Jones, inferring Julia Gillard was responsible for her father’s recent death, are baseless, tasteless, and simply nasty. But ALP reactions are indicative of an organisation all too comfortable with gutter tactics and bullshit.
It’s one thing to be tough — and Alan Jones certainly has a reputation for toughness, especially where Labor Party figures are concerned; indeed, 18 months ago he shredded Julia Gillard on air — almost literally — in a verbal savaging over her broken promise on a carbon tax that was justified, grounded in fact, and absolutely lethal.
It’s another affair, however, to be a turd; to overstep the line between fact and fiction, and to engage in a discourse so offensively and patently noxious as to merit no more than contempt.
And this is what Jones did on Saturday night; as the whole country knows, he was guest of honour and keynote speaker at the annual Sydney University Liberal Club President’s Dinner at Sydney’s Waterfront restaurant in The Rocks on Saturday night.
Courtesy of an undetected reporter from Sydney’s Daily Telegraph — who paid for a seat at the dinner and attended, with a recording device — we now know that Jones let rip with some choice observations about the Prime Minister, the recent death of her father, and her party’s recent modest improvement in some opinion polls.
Jones said, to quote from a transcript of his speech:
“…They are inveterate and compulsive liars. They’ll lie and lie and lie. Every person in the caucus of the Labor Party knows that Julia Gillard is a liar…(Gillard’s) old man died a few weeks ago of shame, to think that he had a daughter who told lies every time she stood for Parliament…”
He went on to suggest Ms Gillard’s tears for her deceased father, whom she publicly said she “will miss for the rest of my life,” were responsible for a modest rise in her approval ratings in some polls.
Remarks such as these are obnoxious, offensive, and simply wrong. This sort of thing has absolutely no place in political debate — and what makes it worse is that Alan Jones knows it.
Once the storm of outrage had broken, Jones apologised, but couldn’t even simply say he was sorry: the closest he got to it was a churlish remark that “(my comments) merit an apology by me.”
Aside from that, he hedged; the remarks were something he had heard at a child’s birthday party, he said. He’d been bombarded by ”any number of twitters” expressing hope his prostate cancer recurred, he said. But rest easy, because ”that doesn’t really affect me much because I suppose I might be a different sort of person,” he said, adding ”I don’t know what the constitution of Julia Gillard is on these emotional issues.”
In other words, he was tough enough to take the insult, but Gillard wasn’t.
On and on it went, the 45 minute apology almost long as the 50 minute speech it was “apologising” for. I have to say very bluntly that if anyone believes for a minute that the apology was genuine, based on the apology offered, then perhaps they were following a very different issue altogether.
Others were far more forthcoming, and rightly so; figures from across the political divide have excoriated Jones, including Liberal leader Tony Abbott and key frontbencher Malcolm Turnbull. I’d have thought it was obvious that the disgust at what Jones had said and insinuated was as good as universal.
Yet the lacklustre apology given today by Jones — with an ice cream smile, and with its obfuscations, its caveats and its justifications — tends to suggest that Jones was, is, and remains deadly serious about what he said at the Sydney University Liberal Club dinner on Saturday night.
Speaking of that august club, several of its members failed to cover themselves in glory, too, when confronted with a transcript of the Jones speech after initially denying the substance of Jones’ ill-advised remarks. Yet a Twitter account attributable to the club tweeted praise of the Jones speech after the event — a tweet subsequently deleted, and replaced by one claiming Jones’ comments had been “out of context and not our own” and opining that the comments had “distracted (sic) from the national debate.”
It’s one thing to embrace the political fight with gusto and with relish; it’s even one thing to hate a political opponent personally, if one is that way inclined.
But it’s another thing altogether to make the type of wild remarks Alan Jones did, with the level of public recognition he holds and with the degree of public and political influence he wields, and to expect to get away with it.
Jones, by virtue of his position as the country’s top-rating talkback radio host, is an influencer and shaper of public opinion; this is not a role to be taken lightly, and — whilst perfectly reasonable for him to use it to advance conservative political causes — it is inappropriate for him to abuse it to launch the type of erroneous, incorrect and offensive personal attack delivered in his speech on Saturday night.
This column has always made it clear that Julia Gillard is an unsuitable candidate for the Prime Ministership and that she has, in her time in the role, displayed appalling political ineptitude.
She has displayed dishonesty, manipulative cynicism and incompetence, a penchant to keep questionable political company, and failures of judgement that seriously compromise her viability as Prime Minister and degrade the standard of governance in this country as a consequence.
This column has also repeatedly referenced the warm, engaging nature Gillard is reputed to possess, and the wicked humour said to accompany it, and lamented its utter and constant invisibility in her public persona.
But above all, it has been repeatedly been emphasised that the Prime Minister is just as human as anyone else, and in specific reference to the death of her father, I said that
“…we encourage readers to pause and reflect that away from the brutal daily conflagration that currently constitutes our polity, our elected representatives are just as human as the rest of us….I wish the Prime Minister and her family peace and insight at this time.”
Gillard did not deserve the attack based on her father’s death. I can say it no more plainly.
Jones won’t be sacked by 2GB and the listeners won’t desert him, even if the sponsors do; that’s how it works, whether you agree with it or you don’t.
For her part, Julia Gillard has not commented on Jones’ remarks and she has indicated she is unprepared to accept a personal apology from him. This is her right and she ought not be criticised for it. Even so, Jones should be man enough — to use his own words — to attempt to do so again, perhaps when tempers have cooled a little.
And in time — be it in days or a matter of weeks — the episode will be largely forgotten as the national political discourse moves on toward the next vicious, grubby and intensely personal battle.
But the stain on Jones will remain; because for once, he has overstepped the line that separates argument from decency, and gone far too far.
Having said all of that, a curious and odious additional element to this issue has emerged — namely the claim, variously made in implicit and direct terms — that the entire episode is the fault and/or the responsibility of Liberal leader Tony Abbott.
Predictably, this contribution emanates from the Labor Party and from figures therein who ought to know better.
For example, Foreign minister Bob Carr said that “the people who cheered that speech are the people (Tony Abbott) would be bringing into government with him.”
Trade Minister Craig Emerson said the Liberal leader had “chosen not to come out personally and repudiate Mr Jones’s comments,” which seems odd, given Abbott criticised Jones’s remarks as “completely out of line” and expressed satisfaction that Jones had seen fit to apologise for them.
Somehow, it was even partially the responsibility of conservative Queensland Premier Campbell Newman — who said inflammatory comments made by Mr Jones were “clearly wrong” — apparently because he expressed a willingness to continue to be interviewed by Jones.
Yet Attorney-General Nicola Roxon also said the Liberal Party had questions to answer despite nonetheless also saying she wouldn’t rule herself out from speaking on Jones’s program.
Craig Emerson, in later remarks, linked the comments to the Liberal Party, claiming Jones was a “sidekick” to Opposition Leader Tony Abbott. “This is a disgusting episode, but we shouldn’t be too surprised because this is the culture that Mr Abbott and his sidekicks seeks to promote in the Liberal Party,” he told ABC TV.
And Kevin 747 — the so-called “people’s choice” — tweeted: “Alan Jones’ comments are lowest of the low. Abbott must dismiss Jones from Liberal Party now & ban him from future Liberal events. KRudd.”
Can anyone spot the pattern here?
Never mind that Alan Jones is the only person who can be held responsible here: blame Tony Abbott, blame Campbell Newman, blame anyone in the blue corner if the dirt might stick.
It’s probably Bob Menzies’ fault too, the truth be told — the old bastard had the temerity to found the Liberal Party in the first place!
Not simply content to lambast Jones over his repugnant comments, the Labor Party cannot help itself.
For years now, its politics have been of the basest variety: if no slur exists, devise one.
We saw it in Queensland, with the disgusting allegations that Campbell Newman and his wife were, essentially, corrupt — and the then Premier, Anna Bligh, eventually admitted the charge was groundless.
Here, however, we have a similar phenomenon: the myth that Tony Abbott hates women, is aggressive to women and is hated by women, and that all slings thrown at women in public discourse are, ultimately, Tony Abbott’s fault.
At some point, voters are going to awaken to this ruse in their millions, and when they do, the electoral consequences for the ALP will be catastrophic; just as hundreds of thousands of Queenslanders turned on the ALP following Bligh’s belated admission and transformed a comfortable LNP win into a total massacre of Queensland Labor.
I’m not going to dwell on the point, but it beggars belief that faced with the opportunity to castigate Alan Jones — a figure regarded by many in ALP ranks as akin to the devil — the Labor Party has opted, instead, to go down the muck bucket route of political shit-throwing and falsely smearing the character of opponents.
It’s typical, and unsurprising, and does Gillard neither favour nor justice.
In closing, there are two broad points to make: one on Jones, the other on the ALP.
I’ve always had a fair bit of time for Alan Jones; I’ve found his insights of interest and his invective amusing, I’ll admit. Over the years he has been rigorous in his advocacy of conservative viewpoints and fearless in his prosecution of that advocacy. It’s fair to say I like him, but then again I vote Liberal too.
But I am disappointed in Jones and disgusted by the remarks he has made on this occasion, and I would urge him to say — however difficult it might be — that in light of any confusion over his remarks and his subsequent apology that he was wrong, that what he said about the Prime Minister was entirely inappropriate, that he is very sorry, and that he unreservedly withdraws the remarks.
And to follow that up by sending the Prime Minister a bottle of her favourite tipple, or an expensive box of chocolates, or some other meaningful personal peace offering.
And to move on.
On the Labor Party generally, however, and the “Tony Abbott did this and he hates women” approach it has applied to this issue, as it has with every other issue since 21 June 2010, two words sum it up succinctly.
The Labor Party needs to take a long look in the mirror before it starts flinging insults and accusations of moral impurity around.
This episode involving Alan Jones is no more than its latest justification — in a long, long list of purported justifications — for either inventing issues or twisting them to shape, carefully dipping in excrement, and hurling them as hard as possible at their intended target.
For now, that target is Tony Abbott.
Given the Labor Party is prepared to use the very ammunition provided by Jones and thus the same family tragedy of its leader that it simultaneously seeks to decry Jones’ use of, the ALP is no better, and in fact treats its Prime Minister with moral contempt.