OPINION: Abbott earns praise, and some slack
TO my own surprise, I have found myself admiring much of what Tony Abbott has been doing in recent weeks.
I'm thinking particularly of the leadership he demonstrated in Middle East matters and in his discussions with Dutch political leaders following the MH17 tragedy. I think he successfully trod a narrow path between hyperbole and honest commentary.
Australians touched personally by this horrendous air disaster must surely have gained consolation from our Prime Minister's unreserved condemnation of those responsible for the loss of so many lives. The massive, thoughtful and deeply moving attendance at the Empire Theatre to commemorate the lives of Toowoomba doctors Roger and Jill Guard was a measure of the impact on our whole community.
I think Tony Abbott got it right not only in condemning the atrocity but also in pledging ongoing commitment to bringing home the remains of those who died. Condemnation both as a concerned individual and as the leader of the nation was equally important. His words and actions rang true both at the personal and official levels.
There was no conflict of interest between a personal view and any "official" view.
That's not always the case. At a comparatively completely trivial level I've written quite recently about the need to distinguish between a personally held opinion and an opinion that might be attributed to an organisation you are seen to represent. You have to be very careful in the choice of words ...
The very same Tony Abbott, if press reports are to be believed, has recently got himself into a tangle over the issue of Scottish independence. Even in the UK it is a brave person who ventures to express a public opinion on anything Scottish without having a decent whiskey on board and an accent that says you've spent a lifetime north of the border.
Proper, native-born Scots people can have an opinion even if they haven't been home since before Hogmanay was invented. However Sassenachs, no matter how important, and especially if they are Catholics with Australian accents, would do well to stand back, mouth closed.
"Sassenach" was often used in a slightly derogatory way to describe an Englishman. More commonly nowadays it is used to describe anyone who doesn't sound like a Scotsman.....
To give him his due, according to BBC News Mr Abbott told the Times newspaper that (quote) "What the Scots do is a matter for the Scots ..."
He then blew his goodwill by saying that it was (quote) "hard to see how the world would be helped by an independent Scotland".
"People who would like to see the break-up of the United Kingdom" he said, "are not the friends of justice ... and the countries that would cheer at the prospect ....are not the countries whose company one would like to keep."
What else is making news:
He, unsurprisingly, copped an ear-full from Alex Salmond the Leader of the Scottish National Party and First Minister for Scotland. His view was that Mr Abbott's comments were (quote) "offensive to the Scottish people".
He described the Australian Prime Minister as "notoriously gaffe-prone".
Mr Salmond, who it should be remembered is a huge supporter of Scottish Independence, then asked "Who is Mr Abbott to lecture Scots on freedom and justice?"
I suspect that the whole shemozzle was a storm in a tea cup. Many Scots are unlikely to know who Tony Abbott is anyway. Some will probably be surprised to know that Australia has someone called a prime minister, whatever his or her name is.
Others will think that Australia is really Austria misspelt and "What has it got to do with Austria whether we are independent or not?"
It can't be easy to choose the right words when you are a Prime Minister, especially if you are jet-lagged and quite busy.