Tim Blair

The misrepresentation of Tony Abbott

Tim Blair outlines the misrepresentations of Tony Abbott’s words by media and Labor flunkies. This misrepresentation led to a near riot.

Last Thursday, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott was asked this question by an ABC interviewer: “Mr Abbott, today is also the 40th anniversary of the tent embassy in Canberra.

Do you think it’s still relevant, or should it move?”

Abbott’s complete reply: “Look, I can understand why the tent embassy was established all those years ago. I think a lot has changed for the better since then. We had the historic apology just a few years ago, one of the genuine achievements of Kevin Rudd as prime minister. We had the proposal, which is currently for national consideration, to recognise indigenous people in the constitution. I think the indigenous people of Australia can be very proud of the respect in which they are held by every Australian, and, yes, I think a lot’s changed since then and I think it probably is time to move on from that.”

Those are the exact words that Tony Abbott used. What ensued was nothing short of a media, Labor party and Aboriginal beatup of a non-story. Manufactured outrage based on lies.

The trouble began on Thursday afternoon when word reached the Aboriginal tent embassy in Canberra, not far from where Abbott and Gillard were at a restaurant function, that Abbott had said something bad about the embassy. According to the PM, Hodges contacted Unions ACT secretary Kim Sattler, who then circulated the line among protesters.

Sattler, Hodges and Gillard all now claim that the message passed on was exactly as Abbott gave it on ABC-TV. That’s clearly not how protesters heard it, however. The impression they were given was that Abbott wanted the embassy to be torn down.

Remarkably, nobody in this scenario apparently sought to check Abbott’s actual comments. Hodges reportedly got his information from journalists at the restaurant. Sattler received her version from Hodges. The protesters heard from Sattler. Then all hell broke loose. As Sattler put it on her Facebook page (before changing her story): “Tony Abbott just announced the Tent Embassy should be closed down and a huge crowd from the Embassy went to greet him and he had to be rushed away with a police escort!”

If someone in this chatter-chain had paused to review Abbott’s gentle comments, perhaps trouble might have been avoided. Well, maybe not in the case of the tent embassy’s more excitable inhabitants, who would probably be provoked to screaming rage by the opposition leader quoting Enid Blyton. But what excuse can be offered by relatively senior political operatives, with their access to the latest devices?

Some media have been caught pants down too:

The media have even fewer excuses. A YouTube clip shot by tent embassy supporters last Thursday shows Ten reporter Amanda Hart at the protest being advised by an activist: “Don’t forget to say that Tony Abbott asked for the tent embassy to be shut down.”

Sure enough, on Ten’s 5pm bulletin, Hart’s piece included this line: “The protest was launched by Aborigines from the nearby Aboriginal tent embassy, sparked by Tony Abbott who said the embassy, now in its 40th year, should be shut down.”

Remarkably, the piece also carried a brief extract from Abbott’s ABC interview in which he didn’t say the embassy should be shut down. The authority of third-hand claims from some muppet at a protest is evidently superior to words direct from the source.

AAP’s first account of Abbott’s interview incorrectly summarised: “Federal Opposition Leader Tony Abbott says it is time to move the Aboriginal tent embassy in Canberra. It was time it was disbanded, he said.” News Ltd isn’t blameless. A pointer on News’s PerthNow site over the weekend carried this inaccuracy: “Tony Abbott has defended comments about the Aboriginal tent embassy in Canberra that sparked pandemonium.” Wrong. It was sparked by invented words attributed to Abbott.

PerthNow also ran this: “Gillard brave as Abbott incites protest.” Again, wrong. And easily proved so.