Now that Australia is taking a respite from annoying China, Prime Minister Tony Abbott has decided to go back to publicly baiting his own favorite disfavored very large nation: Russia. Abbott has vowed to shirtfront Vladimir Putin when he arrives for the G20 Summit in Brisbane in November. “Shirtfront,” for those for those unfamiliar with Australian sporting terms, is a move from Australian Rules Football which knocks another player down.
Unlike Palmer United Party Senator and founder Clive Palmer – who earlier called the Chinese “dogs” who “shoot their own people” – Abbott’s sally was not based on business deals gone awry, but rather on his frustration at Russia’s purported laxity and disinterest when addressing the issue of the downed Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 which killed 298 people, among them 38 Australian citizens and residents. According to local news Abbott has said he plans to tell Putin that he knows the plane was shot down with weapons supplied by Russia, by Russia-backed separatists. Russia has not been remotely cooperative, Abbott alleges.
The prime minister has been strident since the plane was shot down, telling Parliament in mid July, “The bullying of small countries by big ones, the trampling of justice and decency in the pursuit of national aggrandizement, and reckless indifference to human life should have no place in our world.” It was less accident than crime, he suggested.
There has been no official response from Russia as yet, but a rather amusing editorial by Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey in Pravda (Bancroft-Hinchey is English) has been widely quoted in Australian media. It accused Australia of having a “colonial chip” on its shoulder, suggested it is good Australia cannot have its own head of state as its political class “doesn’t have what it takes,” hopes (twice) that Putin washes his hands after shaking hands with Abbott, and also stated: “When Australia isn’t busy crawling around the legs of its colonial master, England or trying to crawl up the anatomy of London’s master, Washington, participating in their wars to pick up a few crumbs thrown Canberra’s way, its politicians are busy kowtowing to Europe and the USA making stupid and unfounded remarks about Russia.” (He forgot that Australia likes to upset China and spy on Indonesia, also.) Bancroft-Hinchey has not limited his work to defending the Russian president against Australia: He also regularly attacks the United States and even Canada. Bancroft-Hinchey has also pointed out that Abbott, an elected prime minister, “does not represent Australia or Australians” and suggests that for examples of Australia’s redeeming culture and goodness one should look to Australia’s great cultural export Neighbours. Also, Masterchef (where the judges are nice to contestants). Bancroft-Hinchey followed up on Tuesday, with a long open letter to Abbott expressing similar sentiments.
Putin has not said anything, as yet, and it does not seem likely that he will. Why bother?
Meanwhile, back in Australia, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has not publicly planned to shirtfront Russia’s president, but has said Putin should not attend the G20 summit. Jacqui Lambie, a senator in the PUP who recently attacked China herself and has come out in favor of banning the burqa (rarely worn in Australia), spoke some unusual common sense comparing “hormone affected schoolboys trying to out-macho each other on the footy field” (another football reference).
Helen Clark was based in Hanoi for six years as a reporter and magazine editor. She has written for two dozen publications including The Diplomat (as Bridget O’Flaherty), Time, The Economist, the Asia Times Online and the Australian Associated Press.