I agree with Bill Shorten that accusing the ALP of a lack of patriotism is unfair. But I also understand why that particular mud might stick. Stephen Smith’s sullen and surly performance of his Minister of Defense duties* in the last government was unseemly. His disgraceful behaviour during the ADFA scandal uncalled for, and his lack of repentance when shown to be wrong is still fresh in our minds. Of course that doesn’t make him unpatriotic, but it reflect poorly on Smith, his government, and the ALP.
Stephen Conroy’s performance during the week (I’ve been waiting for the particular Hansards to the published) simply adds grist to the mill. In his defence of Conroy (why? – that’s a rhetorical question, we know why) Bill Shorten made a mistake:
What I also know is that in 2007, when Chief of Army General Gillespie was at estimates, it was Senator Ronaldson who called him a coward. I am sure given his time again that Senator Ronaldson might have chosen his words differently.
In fact we know that Senator Ronaldson never said those words – it isn’t that he did in fact use different words, the incident never happened. As Laurie Oakes explains this morning:
SHORTEN withdrew and apologised when Ronaldson denied the allegation. The faulty memory of Labor MP David Feeney was to blame.
But then Oakes goes further:
The truth, though, is that Ronaldson did make an offensive remark to a general at a committee hearing in 2007. It was Major-General Steve Gower, then director of the Australian War Memorial, not Lieutenant-General Gillespie.
Ronaldson suggested Gower had allowed then prime minister Julie Gillard to hold a news conference at the War Memorial in order to ensure his reappointment — not an accusation of cowardice, certainly, but an allegation that impugned the general’s character nevertheless.
Hansard shows that Feeney, a member of the committee, demanded a withdrawal, but Ronaldson refused.
So Senator Feeney was actually involved in the incident but his memory is so faulty that he can’t recall the details? Okay – mistakes are made.
There is more to this story. I recall a senior military officer being called a coward. It was Admiral Chris Barrie after a press conference and, if I recall correctly, it was Laurie Oakes who did the deed.
* To be fair, Smith was taking a bullet for the team – but he could have been gracious about it in public.