Tony Abbott says he is going to “shirtfront” Vladamir Putin at the G20, but managing editor David Donovan says he may just be in for a shock.
IT WASN’T JUST WHAT HE SAID, it was also the way he said it.
Yesterday, Prime Minister Tony Abbott ‒ fresh from saying coal is good for humanity ‒ stood in front of an enormous coal truck in Central Queensland and, like a punch drunk pug trying to trash talk a much more highly fancied opponent, said he was going to “shirtfront” Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Firstly, “shirtfront” — what does that even mean?
When I first heard Abbott say that yesterday afternoon, I thought he meant he was going to grab Putin by his shirt and not let him get away until he gave him a piece of his mind — something, I would suggest, he could ill afford to lose.
Then, however, I began hearing people from the AFL states offering their footy code’s definition — which would seem to be the act of illegally scruffing someone by the shirtfront – or laying the hip and shoulder into them – and knocking them to the ground.
Could Abbott really have just threatened assault on a foreign head of state?
Then I heard another take, which is two drunks in a bar holding onto each other’s shirtfront to stop the other from falling down so they could keep on punching. What?
Whichever one Abbott meant ‒ if any ‒ he has committed an appalling breach of diplomatic protocol in advance of a major international summit and shamed the nation.
Of course, Abbott has consistently behaved in an offensively aggressive manner toward Russia ever since he started tough-talking over Russia’s intervention in the Ukraine earlier in the year. He followed up with all manner of threats and bluster when MH17 went down in June, standing up in Parliament the next day to effectively accuse the Russians of shooting the plane down. The rashness of this statement is manifest when we consider the incident is still being investigated by Dutch authorities, who still appear be no closer to announcing the real cause. Then, of course, we were going to ban Russia from attending, and then we had to let them come and now this.
Whatever he is trying to do — it ain’t working. It is the diplomacy of the town drunk, yelling incoherent abuse into the street.
But again, it wasn’t simply what he said, it was the way he said it.
Here is a direct transcript of Abbott’s words [IA emphasis]:
“Look, I’m going to … ahh … ‘shirt front’ Mr Putin. You bet you are… ahh … you bet I am. Ahh…”
You bet you are… What?
You get the impression he had just been prepped and fired up by an advisor, perhaps his ubiquitous chief of staff Peta Credlin, who had fed him his lines and he had forgotten to personalise them.
Either way, it was a truly facepalming moment for the nation.
It must be said that Abbott is a woeful public speaker.
When he reads his remarks, he sounds like an eight year-old who has never read a book without pictures before and is still coming to grips with the written word.
When he doesn’t read his speeches and speaks off the cuff, he sounds somewhat more composed, but then usually makes some hugely embarrassing faux pas or blunder — like when he promised before the election to spend his first week as PM in Arnhem Land, for example, or this one:
But even when he is trying to parrot simple rehearsed lines, he still can’t quite get them right.
Did he even mean “shirtfront”? Who would know? One can only imagine the anxiety and distress in the prime minister’s office every time they watch him appear in front of the media.
No wonder Peta Credlin drinks.
Really, Tony Abbott should never have become Australian prime minister. John Pilger pigeonholed Abbott perfectly when he described him on IA recently as ‘aggressively weird’. He is aggressive and he is weird — and it often also appears as if all his synapses are not firing effectively.
He makes blunder after blunder and doesn’t seem to care as Australia more and more becomes a laughing stock and international pariah.
We should also note that Vladamir Putin, apart from being a former KGB agent, is reportedly an eighth dan black belt judo champion — ninth being the highest awarded and judo being the sport in which the object is to grapple or throw the other person to the ground.
Putin’s nickname is Vlad the Impaler — and after threatening violence on him, Tony Dum Dum may finally have bitten off more than he can chew.