The error of his ways

ranting billYesterday was such a bad day for Opposition Leader Bill Shorten that Australia’s savvier vendors of lukewarm pies may well have bolted shop doors in expectation of a small, angry, frustrated man expanding their exposure to the saltier manifestations of the Australian argot. Cabbies might also have been well advised to take precautions. First, there was Shorten’s bitter disappointment at learning that Tony Abbott would remain Prime Minister, a further reminder that, while ABC narratives and predictions can offer great comfort to the true believer, they are very often at variance with fact.

No Malcolm Turnbull PM? What a huge disappointment — and such an inconvenience!

Shorten had a speech prepared that attacked Turnbull, and that ill-conceived choice of targets presented a dilemma. Should he file the text of his no-confidence motion in the rubbish bin or affirm environmental credentials by having it shredded and sent to Sarah Hanson-Young as nesting material?

None of that. Brave Bill, who’s not for turning, stuck resolutely to the game plan and assailed Turnbull anyway, providing a visibly more energetic PM with an opportunity to smack him around with a litany of the Labor era’s profligacy, turmoil and betrayals.

Now, courtesy of Hal G.P. Colebatch, a further reminder that, while ABC careers can blossom by virtue of audience stacking and simply making stuff up, the lot of a politician is somewhat more demanding. In reading Shorten’s eulogy to Tom Uren, the Quadrant contributor  and prize-winning historian took exception to the Opposition Leader’s assertion that British prisoners of war, unlike Australian captives of the Japanese, were a nasty lot whose class divisions prompted much higher mortality rates. Here is what he asserted:

“When Tom looked at the British prisoners: the officers taking first choice of the food and accommodation– he saw the ‘law of the jungle’.

Yet, in the Australian camp – as Tom would often say, including in his maiden speech in the old chamber down the hill: The fit looked after the sick. The young looked after the old. The rich looked after the poor. For him, that was the difference.”

Writes Colebatch:

“The Leader of the Opposition used the Parliamentary eulogies to Tom Uren to get in some anti-British hate-speech, claiming that in Japanese prison camps on the Burma railway, the British maintained their  class structure with privileges for officers, etc, while the Australians helped one another.
 
In fact the death rates of the two groups were practically identical : 22% for British, 21% for Australians. The fact the British death-rate was very slightly higher is statistically almost insignificant and may be accounted for by the fact that the British prisoners were relatively less inured to a tropical climate. It seems quite likely they tended to be from a more urban culture and thus had fewer survival skills.”
But not to worry. The ABC has its talking points straight, so expect not to hear a negative peep from the national broadcaster about the Opposition Leader’s gaffe. Saddled with a mere 5% cut to its budget, the national broadcaster remains sufficiently fit and vigorous to deliver in full accord with Labor and Greens expectations.

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