Let’s take a look into the future, shall we? Pretend the election has already happened, and Tony Abbott has become our new Prime Minister.
He’s sitting in his study at the Lodge, poring over Cabinet papers while sipping his tea from a fine china cup and saucer. The sun is shining through the windows, he’s comfortable in his Prime Ministerial dressing gown and slippers, and it looks like a nice, slow day.
But all that is about to change. Just as he reaches for his cup again, a bell shrills out, startling the Prime Ministerial dog who’s been napping under the desk. Abbott’s head snaps around to glare at the old-fashioned red telephone sitting on a table of its own against the wall. Taking a deep breath, he stands, straightens his dressing gown, and strides over. His hand hovers for a moment before grasping the handset and bringing it to his ear.
‘Yes, Commissioner – I mean, Admiral?’ he says.
He listens for a moment. ‘I see. Another one, eh? Well, don’t worry, I’m on it. I’ll make that call.’ He hangs up and presses an almost-hidden button on a dark wooden bookcase. With a grinding noise it slides open, revealing a gleaming brass pole disappearing down into the earth. Taking one last gulp of tea, Abbott runs over, grabs the pole with both arms and legs, and slides out of sight.
We breathe a sigh of relief, reassured that our PM, our man of action, is on the case. He’ll meet that challenge head-on with his trusty sidekick Julie Bishop by his side. Together, they’ll respond to the crisis facing Australia’s shores, alerted by the incredible innovation installed at Abbott’s command when he moved into the Lodge. That instrument of connection that allows him to act instantly upon being informed of the imminent threat – a threat no other authority in Australia can face down.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you … the Boatphone.
I’m not kidding.
The leader of the Coalition has announced that he will personally make the call to turn around asylum seeker boats heading for our shores.
It would work like this, apparently. Abbott would get a call on the boatphone, find out what’s going on from the commander on the spot, and make the decision as to whether to order said commander to turn the boat around. He would bring all the weight of his Prime Ministerial authority to bear on this decision. If you’ll pardon the expression, the boat would stop with him.
Except it couldn’t possibly work like that. Navy commanders aren’t going to have a special hotline hardwired into their bridges that connects them directly to the Prime Minister. At best, they could report to their superiors on land, who would contact the Chief of the Defence Force, who’d contact either the Defence or Foreign Affairs Minister, and only then would it get anywhere near Abbott. I’m fairly sure I’ve left out a few more routing steps along the way in the interests of simplification, but what it comes down to is this – one doesn’t simply pick up the phone and ring the PM to tell him there’s a leaky boat out there heading for Australian waters.
Yet that’s exactly what Abbott has promised to do. No matter where he is, or what he’s doing, he’ll be available to take that call. Hmm, maybe the boatphone will have to be a mobile (although probably not a smartphone, as @courteneyh commented on Twitter this morning) – a red one, of course.
Think about that. ‘My question is to the Prime Minister -‘ but wait, he’s out the door to answer the boatphone. ‘Prime Minister, could you tell us -‘ but he’s being handed the boatphone by a staffer. ‘I’d like to welcome you, Prime Minister to the National Press -‘ but he’s not in the chair, he’s taking a call on the boatphone in the green room.
Setting aside the logistics of actually having him reachable by any Navy commander at any time, how’s he going to make the decision? There are a lot of factors to be considered. Will Indonesia take the boat back? Have we got enough assets in the area to escort the boat all the way? Is the boat seaworthy? Have the people on board attempted to scuttle the boat as soon as they saw the Navy come into view?
These are not questions that can be answered by any one person. The commander at the scene can probably answer questions of safety – although not if he hasn’t actually ordered his personnel to board the asylum seekers’ boat, but he couldn’t contact Indonesia, nor does he necessarily know if he can safely leave his patrol route to shepherd the boat back. There are people involved from Defence, Foreign Affairs, other sovereign nations, possibly the Red Cross and who knows what else. Yet here’s our putative PM ) telling us he’ll take his advice from the ‘commander on the spot’ and use that to decide whether any given boat will be turned back.
Because Abbott is a Man of Action – he’s the Boatman. And he’ll keep our shores safe from the threat of desperate people in leaky boats. Our security is in his hands, and we can all sleep more deeply at night.
It’s ludicrous. And it could only be more laughable if, in fact, Abbott did have a boatpole that dressed him in his superhero costume (with the budgie smugglers on the outside, of course) on the way to his secret lair, the Boatcave. He could leap into his Boatmobile and roar out to confront the boats personally with his Boatarang (and possibly his Boat-Shark Repellent, because you never know what those dastardly asylum seekers might do in their despseration to get here).