The Politics    Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Fools’ equivalence

By Rachel Withers

Image of former energy minister Angus Taylor, February 17, 2022. Image © Mick Tsikas / AAP Images

Former energy minister Angus Taylor, February 17, 2022. Image © Mick Tsikas / AAP Images

The Coalition’s criticism of Albanese’s official travel is a sign of just how galling this Opposition is going to be

The cynical sniping surrounding Anthony Albanese being out of the country on official business during a crisis is one of those ludicrous situations where it’s hard to know whether to buy into the controversy. Most sane observers have now called it out. NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet has already rubbished it twice, telling reporters again today that the Labor PM was simply balancing his responsibilities, and that federal support for the current floods had actually been stronger than in previous emergencies. The Sydney Morning Herald editorial has labelled the attacks “nonsense”, although it ended on the unnecessary suggestion that it was time for Albanese to shift his focus back home. The PM has himself shot back, telling reporters this morning that it was “beyond contempt” to compare his Ukraine visit to Scott Morrison’s secret Hawaiian holiday, after yesterday having asked critics to nominate which of his engagements he ought to have missed. It’s obvious to all that this criticism of Albanese is a comically false equivalence. But it also shows what we can expect from this Opposition.

We all knew that the Coalition would be just as shameless out of government as it was in government. The new Opposition launched into attack mode immediately, blasting Labor for crises so early on that they could only be problems of the Coalition’s making. But this week’s garbage is on a level all its own. It’s almost as if the Coalition is engaged in a competition to see which of its members can make the most outrageous statement about Albanese’s travels – a game only made fair by the fact that Opposition Leader Peter Dutton is on leave this week. (Although someone forgot to tell fellow Queensland MP Karen Andrews.)

First there was former energy minister turned shadow treasurer Angus Taylor, who accused Albanese of being “more concerned about his reputation on the global stage than … making sure people in NSW have a place to sleep”. Never mind that it was Australia’s reputation on the global stage that Albanese was off repairing, in no small part due to Taylor’s actions as a minister. Then there was Nationals leader David Littleproud, who expressly linked his criticism to Morrison’s trip to Hawaii, implying that Labor were the hypocrites. “I think we want to be fair and equitable on this but you can’t have your cake and eat it too,” he told Today. “They were pretty quick to throw a few grenades at Scott Morrison,” he added, before pivoting back to “the victims”. (Exactly why the Coalition would want to remind voters of Morrison’s infamous Hawaiian holiday is a mystery.)

Acting Opposition leader Sussan Ley, meanwhile, this morning decided to attack the government for not having activated disaster recovery payments that it was on the brink of activating (perhaps Albanese wanted the photo op, an Opposition spokesperson tried to argue), before popping up on Sky News to attack Albanese for “having a bit of a grumble” that he hadn’t actually had a day off yet. “I’ve got news for him,” Ley said smugly. “Prime ministers don’t get days off.” Someone maybe should have told that to Scott Morrison. Teen climate activist Anjali Sharma, who was the lead plaintiff among a group of Australian teenagers who famously sued Ley when she was environment minister in order to prove she had a duty of care to protect children from climate harm, tweeted her thoughts on the matter, noting that Ley could hardly say she was “standing with” victims of the climate-intensified floods.

It’s not as if this is anything new. The Coalition has long sought to politicise crises, even as it has repeatedly bungled them. But it is deeply dispiriting to see the new Opposition using disasters as an attempt to get back at Labor for criticising its own serious missteps. It makes one’s blood boil to hear the shadow ministers now invoke “the victims” at a time when so many victims of previous disasters are still waiting on federal payments that were mismanaged by the Coalition, which is to say nothing of those who were deliberately left out or made to wait for political purposes. (As the Chaser quipped sarcastically overnight: “Peter Dutton slams Albanese for not putting up a GoFundMe yet”.) And it’s simply galling to listen to these critics slam the prime minister’s visit to Ukraine after Peter Dutton himself spent last week encouraging Albanese to go.

The new Opposition has clearly been looking for a way to attack Albanese’s international forays, which foreign policy experts have broadly praised. But to weaponise the floods, which state (Liberal) leaders say have been well handled, in an attempt to draw false equivalence with the very valid criticism of Morrison’s dereliction of duty is as embarrassing as it is stupid. The new Coalition leaders are demeaning themselves with their churlish behaviour, proving that they will be every bit as cynical as those who came before them.

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Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.

@rachelrwithers

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