The night of the Tent Embassy protest I wrote this piece (below) and sent it off with hopes of it being published. The media portrayal of the protest had painted all involved as hellcats, violent and spitting fury, and only stopped short of describing Ms Gillard’s position as mortally perilous by the smallest of linguistic margins.
Since the protest there have been a number of developments: Julia Gillard’s press secretary was forced to resign after having been outed as the person who leaked the information about Mr Abbott’s whereabouts to someone connected to the movement; his contact was revealed to be a senior union member (I will admit to having had very limited dealings with her regarding the National Museum of Labour); Ms Gillard has absolved herself of all blame; the AFP has absolved itself of all blame; about half a dozen viewpoints from the protesters side have been made, some positive, others not; and the Liberal Party has been baying for Ms Gillard’s blood, accusing her of orchestrating the event for her own gain. Even Mr Wilkie, an unlikely contributor before the rejection of his pokies deal, has agreed to vote in favour of a no confidence discussion when Parliament resumes.
Reading the news now it seems that our Government is on the verge of collapse and that Ms Gillard is facing challenges from within and without; with pissed off independents and a recent poll showing the Coalition ahead in the 2PP vote it seems we may soon have a new Prime Minister.
But then again, the media has shown such a level of incompetence in the last few days that I doubt they would be able to report on their arse if they were sitting on a photocopier. News of Gillard’s government facing challenges from within and without has been printed so often that I’m beginning to suspect that it’s part of a game in which the reporter changes one word per article to form a secret code (hint: “We can’t believe you’re still buying this shit”). As Jacob Appelbaum said, the business of Government is information management; it chooses which bits of information get passed on or leaked and to whom. It seems that the Gillard government (or at least some of its members) wants people to know that it is held together merely by the desire to remain in power.
As for the efforts of the Coalition to force a criminal investigation of the protest I can’t help but remember the Grech affair when Malcom Turnbull and the Coalition carried on like pork-chops in a failed effort to embarrass Kevin Rudd and to make so much noise that no one would notice that they were lying. Politicians are generally well skilled in seizing on something small and blowing it completely out of proportion to embarrass their opponents and relish the opportunity to do so. I wouldn’t expect any less of them in this case.
So, wait. The Gillard government is in trouble, as usual. The opposition is carrying on and beating their chests, as usual. The media is hyping things up to make things sound more urgent, as usual.
I’m beginning to see a pattern here.
It’s not entirely inconceivable that the Government will lose power if a no confidence motion is debated. The real worry is that Tony Abbott might end up as Prime Minister and that the Gillard government will have set the bar for ALP amateurism even lower than Gough Whitlam’s record.
The Tent Embassy Protest and the Media (27/1)
When the news broke yesterday that the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader had been trapped inside a restaurant near Old Parliament House by violent Tent Embassy Protesters it sounded like things had turned ugly. Fresh news articles didn’t help the situation, describing the scenes as violent and chaotic and photos showing a terrified Prime Minister made it clear that things had gotten out of hand at the protest.
Oh, no, I thought. They’ve over done it. I could understand protesting Mr Abbott’s comments about the Tent Embassy being irrelevant but I didn’t think it required the response that had been detailed in the news.
Then Channel 9 released video footage of Ms Gillard being evacuated from the restaurant and I noticed something: there were more police officers and journalists near the Prime Minister than there were protesters. In fact, other than two or three protesters who had gotten caught in the scrum as they ran from the restaurant, there were no protesters near the Prime Minister. Claims of police having to push through a crowd just weren’t backed up by the footage.
When a friend who was at the Tent Embassy contacted me that afternoon I asked her for more information about what was going on so that I could try and get a clearer picture of the real story. Some of what had been reported was true: there were about 200 people protesting; they were angry and noisy; the protest had been called in response to Tony Abbott’s comments earlier that morning.
But there were also large errors or omissions that had not been reported widely. While various outlets had described a violent, rowdy crowd surrounding the restaurant the worst of the violence before Ms Gillard was evacuated was people banging on the glass. Not, I would have thought, grounds to scramble the riot squad. After she was evacuated there was violence: one or two protesters threw water bottles and water at the ComCar with Ms Gillard and Mr Abbott in it and, as various videos show, a number of protesters were hit in the head by police officers. Probably the most violent person at the protest was the police officer photographed waving a large can of capsicum spray near the faces of protesters before pushing over two protesters and a journalist.
The aim of the protest was to get Mr Abbott to come outside and elaborate on his comments about the Tent Embassy being irrelevant and needing to be moved on; the protesters didn’t even know Ms Gillard was with him until about 10 or 15 minutes after arriving and, when they realised, their aim became to get both of them to come out and address the crowd. When the small crowd of riot police ran into the restaurant and locked them in the protesters thought that they were planning to form some sort of guard around Ms Gillard and Mr Abbott so that they could address the crowd.
Instead they decided to evacuate the two of them and, to be honest, I’m not surprised Ms Gillard looked terrified: her bodyguard practically dragged her to the car, the Prime Minister tucked under his arm like a red-haired football, and then proceeded to almost throw her into the car head first. Mr Abbott, on the other hand, got into the car quite casually.
Though angry crowds are quite intimidating I seriously doubt that Ms Gillard and Mr Abbott were at any serious risk. I think Ms Gillard will come to rue her evacuation as John Howard did his appearance wearing a bullet-proof vest following the Port Arthur Massacre.
Maybe Mr Abbott should have been more tactful in his remarks; maybe the protesters should have lined up and politely made their point or remained quiet so as not to disturb those inside; this article isn’t intended to address those concerns. Nor is this an attempt to label all Australian Federal Police violent and incompetent – I was in Canberra when there was a massive factory fire last August and had to be evacuated in the middle of the night. I only have praise for their efforts that night and would not like to tar them all with the same brush.
Yet, on Australia Day, they over-reacted to a perceived threat, made the Prime Minister look ridiculous and managed to get a non-violent protest labelled a violent riot. The protest was neither a riot nor “an unprecedented outburst of violence” (compare it to the eviction of Occupy Melbourne) and before the media sets about patting itself on the back it should address these discrepancies and report the incident more accurately.