The Politics    Friday, June 26, 2015

A security lockdown at the ABC

By Sean Kelly

Prime ministerial language matters

In a reminder that words – especially prime ministerial words – are capable of provoking actions, the ABC has gone into security lockdown today.

There’s a fairly broad consensus now that the ABC should not have allowed Zaky Mallah on Q&A on Monday night. But that doesn’t come close to justifying the PM’s attacks on the ABC, saying “heads should roll” and asking whose side the broadcaster is on. Notably, Malcolm Turnbull refused to join in the rhetorical pile-on last night.

This week, the ABC has received over 1000 phone calls, including threats. An email has gone to ABC staff informing them of new security arrangements.

Sure, some of those complaints would have come purely because of the ABC’s error. But it’s not a brave bet that a huge number came because the PM decided to go as hard as he possibly could in an effort to scare the ABC, wedge the Opposition, and ensure terrorism was the main story in town for a few more days.

Still more would have come because the PM’s words gave the nation’s high-circulation tabloids an excuse to go after the ABC on Wednesday morning, splashing his sentiments across their front pages.

In other words, as a result of the prime minister’s words, ABC staff – the huge majority of whom have absolutely zero to do with the program in question – have today been made to feel unsafe, because the PM wants to look like he is doing everything he can to make Australians feel safe.

This is not to ignore the ABC’s culpability in the affair. It stuffed up. But this isn’t a game of either/or. The fact that the ABC acted recklessly doesn’t excuse the prime minister acting cynically.

So what would a Liberal leader who doesn’t feel the need to pursue such bloodily simplistic sloganeering look like? On, say, an issue which has provoked perhaps more facile linguistic binaries from the Abbott government than any other?

NSW premier Mike Baird, announcing today that he would grant asylum seekers access to generous travel concessions, said: “NSW is Australia’s economic powerhouse, but there is little point in having a strong economy unless we use this strength to help the vulnerable among us … This group is one of the most vulnerable in our society, often living below the poverty line.” 

Yes, yes, a picture saves a thousand words. But sometimes words can paint a pretty stark picture.


Today’s links

  • As Abbott’s chances of winning an early election get better, his excuses for calling one get fewer.
  • Bill Shorten explains in detail why he opposed the government’s pension changes.
  • Obama v Attenborough.
  • Gay Alcorn on this week’s ABC absurdity
  • Labor MP Jim Chalmers has turned up the fact that Treasury has not modeled the impact of negative gearing on house prices. As Chalmers put it: “So when the treasurer … is providing advice to his state colleagues about what they should do, and they ask him what his analysis is of tax treatment including negative gearing, he doesn’t have any Treasury analysis to lean on? He’s just relying on anecdotal and other things he picks up around the place?”
  • This made me chuckle quietly. Malcolm Turnbull unwittingly held a press conference in an internet black spot.
  • Budget cuts to the arts have divided small and large arts companies. Some artists, including Neil Armfield, are calling on them to stand together.
  • The US Supreme Court has chosen not to strike down Obamacare. Dahlia Lithwick explains why we should have expected the decision.
  • Farmers lobby the government for continued action on climate change.
  • Some graph work from NASA and Bloomberg to show your climate skeptic friends.

Sean Kelly

Sean Kelly is a columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, and was an adviser to Labor prime ministers Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd.


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