Abbott’s bid for bucks on back of misery

Posted on February 6, 2011


The worst of times often brings out the best of people. That has certainly been the case for Queenslanders over the last few weeks with the floods and Cyclone Yasi.

Already amazing stories of mateship and courage have emerged – stories that make you proud to be an Australian. Like the bravery of the woman giving birth in the Cairns mall with the help of an off-duty midwife.

On Wednesday night I was on the phone to one of the AWU officials based in Cairns.

He’s a good bloke who has lived and worked in Far North Queensland all his life, but said that he’d never seen anything like the system that was about to hit.

He was worried about his elderly father who lives in Townsville and I asked him did he have any good neighbours that could help his dad out.

He responded, “Mate, in towns like these, in times like these, everyone is a neighbour.”

He’d summed up what is best about our country – the spirit of solidarity and mateship, putting differences to one side to pitch in and do the right thing.

Although it seems that there was one place the spirit of mateship and solidarity didn’t penetrate on Wednesday.

Because, as the rest of the country was watching the North, praying and hoping for the best, in Liberal Party headquarters in Canberra, political hacks had sniffed out an opportunity to make a few bucks and exploit the tragedy of the floods for their political advantage.

They sent out an email from Opposition leader Tony Abbott laden with unbecoming attacks on the Prime Minister about the flood levy.

Then, if you can believe it, Abbott had the sheer gall, the absolute effrontery, to call on Australians to donate cash to him so he could fight the flood levy.

No mention was made of donations to the Queensland Premier’s Flood Appeal. He wanted the money for himself.

Abbott actually thought it was the right thing to call on the Liberal faithful to send their cash to him so he can score a few more political points off the back of human misery.

The outrage was immediate. Press Gallery veteran Laurie Oakes tweeted, “Lib fundraising on back of Qld flood disaster as a devastating cyclone bears down will not earn Tony Abbott any credit.”

But Brisbane-based author John Birmingham summed it up best when he wrote, “I must confess myself astounded that Tony Abbott could be so foolish as to shake people down for a donation to his private cause … But that he should do so while the most ferocious cyclone in recorded history bears down on the coastline of the very same state, well, words fail me.”

And that’s the crux of the matter.

Abbott believes that people have enough spare cash to donate to his crusade but not enough to pay a levy to help our fellow Australians rebuild their lives and their state.

Birmingham later tweeted, “Mendacious, ugly, disgraceful and cringe-worthy. Yes Tony Abbott, I’m looking at you. No you may not have a donation.”

I don’t think anyone could say it better than that.

Abbott’s office later denied that he was responsible for the email, shifting the blame to the Liberal Party director Brian Loughnane.

This is not only unbelievable – it’s not likely that the Liberal Party would send out a statement with Abbott’s signature on it without checking with him first – but it compounds the error, because it shows that Abbott isn’t a big enough man to take responsibility for his own mistakes.

Normally a sensible political leader in this situation would apologise and, after a day or two, that would be the end of the matter.

But by blaming a Liberal Party lackey, who then makes it even worse by also refusing to apologise because “we rely on public support”, well, that shows the measure of the man, in my opinion.

By offering no apology, no retraction, Tony Abbott has demonstrated he will do whatever it takes to fill his coffers with cash. It was rank political opportunism at its most brazen.

Australians expect unity and leadership from their political leaders during times of natural disasters. They deserve nothing less.

Abbott had the chance this week to demonstrate real leadership. Instead, he chose rank money-grubbing and, in the process, made himself look mean and unstatesman-like.

This may be one of Australia’s darkest hours, but we will rally. They build them tough in Queensland, and they’ll be right with a bit of help from their friends.

The same cannot be said for Abbott, though. This will be a watershed moment in his leadership.

So no, Tony, you may not have a donation.

Paul Howes is National Secretary of the Australian Workers’ Union

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