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Whew! Tony might still be ok

May 19, 2010

After “gospeltruthgate”, it looks like Tony’s detractors may have over-egged their criticism. Caroline Overington in The Australian today:

THERE is one thing upon which almost everyone agrees: Tony Abbott was telling the truth when he said he sometimes lies.

Not that he actually said that.

That’s stretching the truth of what he said.

Still, some in the media went nuts about what he did say (which, for the record, was: “Sometimes, in the heat of discussion, you go a little bit further than you would if it was an absolutely calm, considered, prepared, scripted remark, which is one of the reasons why the statements that need to be taken absolutely as gospel truth is those carefully prepared scripted remarks.”)

Labor said it was an “astonishing gaffe”.

It doesn’t really think that. It’s sort of stretching the truth too. But by day’s end, it had an ad up on YouTube, asking voters if they should believe anything Abbott said because “by his own admission he’s probably lying’ which wasn’t quite true, either.

A rough survey of the nation’s top ABC radio announcers suggests Joe Public wasn’t exactly floored by Abbott’s candid approach to lies, and talkback hosts weren’t sure it had damaged him all that much.

Jon Faine of Melbourne-based ABC 774 says listeners were evenly split. One sent a text message saying “Phoney Tony has just lost the next election” but others thought “Good on him for being upfront”.

Matthew Abraham, of ABC 891 Adelaide, didn’t think listeners were “too cranky” about it. “One said: ‘It’s the first time they’ve heard a politician tell the truth.’ ”

One person rang Brisbane’s Madonna King and said: “Think about your work colleagues, your business partners, your friends. You do sometimes say things that you wish you could take back’.”

Abbott himself probably felt like that yesterday but here’s the rub: how does a politician back away from a claim that he occasionally lies?

But while Labor thinks they’ve been handed a gift, their rather rabid response to Tony’s “gaffe” is rather telling. Dennis Shanahan in The Australian agrees:

As his minions and advisers went for Abbott’s throat, a low-key Prime Minister, who had been prepared to hit the road and sell the budget for a second week, ducked the issue. He simply flicked it to his ministers and let Gillard, Tanner, Swan and Emerson throw the mud and question Abbott’s credibility.

There is the reasonable answer for Rudd’s reluctance in the time-honoured practice of letting a deputy or two do the dirty work, but there was also the issue of Rudd’s own recently tarnished credibility.

Labor ran the dual risk of appearing too eager and too febrile in their Abbott attacks and drawing Rudd into a debate on believability. It was a risk Labor advisers recognised.

There was a hint of desperation, which smacked of the Howard government’s own rattled response to Mark Latham and Rudd in their early times as opposition leaders.

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