Tony Abbott, has a new controversy on his hands as he prepares to travel to the 60th commemoration of D-Day, recalling the day more than 130,000 soldiers landed on the shores of Normandy in order to try and gain an edge over the enemy during World War II. As the leader of Australia, one of the countries that had men fighting on D-Day, Prime Minister Tony Abbott will be a part of the commemorations, an event that should not have created as much controversy as it has.
In a statement released at the beginning of this week, the prime minister announced he would be a part of the D-Day commemorations, and then followed that up with his plans for a trip to Canada and the United States. It is not the trip that has caused consternation, but rather the way the Aussie leader tied D-Day to his political message that “Australia is open for business.” This has been labeled as cold political posturing on the backs of the Australians who fought and died on D-Day. What may have started out as a simple announcement has become a new controversy for Abbott to field as his political image is being dragged through the mud…again.
Part of the problem with Abbott’s D-Day message was the poor taste it showed. The original video was labeled as “A Message from the PM – 70th Anniversary of the D-Day,” but that title was a odds with the substance of his message, which seemed more focused on his upcoming trip to North America and its economic implications. “Open for business” was his message, a slogan that he tied closely to the legacy of Australia’s involvement in D-Day and his own determination to end the mining tax and the carbon tax.
His ambitions for Australian business, as well as his political stance, was clear to see, not just to his countrymen, but to those in the countries he is about to visit. “We stand together at D-Day, we trade every day and we have always shared a commitment to democracy, to enterprise and to people’s right to be free.” The eloquence of this message suffered from a bad title and an awkward segue from D-Day to Abbott’s economic policy. The title of the message was changed to “A Message from the PM – Visit to France, Canada and USA,” but the damage was done and people were already picking up on Abbott’s lack of tact.
Twitter blew up with outrage and sarcasm last night after the message was released, with many commenting on what they saw as the bad taste of the message itself. The apparent politicization of one of the world’s most heroic military efforts was noxious to many, including Greens Party Leader Christine Milne. She wrote on Twitter that the Aussie prime minister had humiliated Australia by his message. The Greens Party, one of Abbott’s most vociferous critics, continued with its damning opinion regarding the message. One party spokeswoman commented, “Those who fought for our Country at D-Day, and every other conflict since, came from every corner of society. Their service should not be co-opted to push the Prime Minister’s political bandwagons.” The Greens were not the only people who were critical of Abbott’s message, with even Australian comedian Charlie Pickering weighing in to express his disbelief.
Abbott is far from the first politician to use a commemorative event to push a certain political agenda. More often than not, politicians’ messages, speeches, and comments on such days involve a certain amount of shameless plugs for their own pet projects and political beliefs. In fact, the outrage over Tony Abbott’s badly phrased D-Day message seems manufactured, another way for his political opponents to lash out at an already unpopular figure. To a certain extent, then, they are just as guilty of politicization as he is.
What is more important about Tony Abbott’s new controversy is its connection to his image and how it has declined since he became prime minister. The Australian, a more conservative newspaper, ran an article on Abbott with the headline, “The real Tony Abbott struggles to come across.” They recognize what some of his supporters have realized, which is that the man running the country today is not the same as he was in Opposition. Back then he was disciplined, forceful, eloquent, and charismatic enough to effect a complete change in government. After winning the election in 2013, however, he has transitioned to a wooden, distracted, contradictory politician who has been unable to discipline his own ministers, who have recently contradicted the Abbott on certain budget issues. Embarrassingly, people are starting to wonder who Tony Abbott really is and there is not a wide variety of opinion about that fact.
More often than not, people are seeing Australia’s prime minister in a negative light, revealing a startling lack of ability to control his own image. The issue of his election promises has led many to brand him as a liar. This is a common political maneuver directed at politicial opponents, but one newspaper felt that the issue was settled enough to run the headline, “Tony Abbott is a liar: It’s a mathematical truth.” That article listed many of Abbott’s flubs, flip-flops, and outright untruths, linking to countless other newspaper articles that have done the same. If the media are the ones who are in control of Abbott’s image, then the news is definitely grim for his future.
There is even more bad news from within Abbott’s own party. Members of Parliament from the state of Victoria have sought to distance themselves from Abbott before the next election. He is apparently so unpopular in that state that it is safer to not have their party leader’s endorsement. He has also been blamed for losses in the polls that his party has suffered. This news comes after the ridiculously terrible fiasco now known as Winkgate had many Australians disgusted with their prime minister. The video of Abbott winking when a pensioner told him she had been forced to work at an adult sex line in order to make ends meet not only outraged Aussies, but it even prompted international headlines to label him as “the world’s most unpopular prime minister.” That is not the kind of person a politician would want as an ally or as one of his endorsements.
By now, no one should really be surprised when Tony Abbott finds himself in the middle of a brouhaha. Every other day in Australia, the news is full of such stories seeking their fair share of the day’s headlines. The problem with these continued stories is not whether they are legitimate or not, but how they sway public perception of the prime minister and his image to the world. As some of have argued, his status in the world is embarrassing and unpopular. The D-Day message was not just for Australians, but for those people in the countries he is about to visit. Outrage at home may be obvious, but there is no indication about whether the reception of the message abroad was similar. If Tony Abbott cannot manage to avoid such issues at home, then perhaps other world leaders should be careful when dealing with him just in case he makes them a part of some controversy as well.
Opinion By Lydia Bradbury