Barry O'Farrell: Abbott's angry retort
The Prime Minister praised the NSW Premier's 'honesty and integrity' and bristled when a journalist asked about 'corruption.'PT3M14S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-36qus 620 349 April 16, 2014
It was supposed to be his big day. For Prime Minister Tony Abbott, it doesn’t get much closer to Christmas than this: an infrastructure announcement joyfully rounded off with a royal visit.
Tony Abbott tries to talk about infrastructure instead of Barry O'Farrell at Liverpool Council on Wednesday. Photo: Sasha Woolley
A regally red-letter day.
A tummy-butterfly-inducing day so highly anticipated it was preceded, one imagines, by a sleepless night spent practising witty one-liners with which to greet Princess Kate, and thanking God for the fact that (finally!) he was about to meet a woman who would not object to being called a ‘‘lady’’.
The schedule was perfect in its simplicity: deliver keynote address at breakfast for business-led initiative combating youth unemployment. Make mention of own youthful toil, including teenage fence-building for $2 an hour and beer-pulling at Manly pub. Mid morning: gather MPs and senators from Liberal family (ladies placed at front for maximum visibility) for glorious announcement of $1.2 billion funding for many big roads. Resist, manfully, impulse to don hard hat, as now Prime Minister this is not so befitting. (Also barred from driving trucks but not from making casual reference to one’s own trucking licence if opportunity arises). Eat quick, protein-dense lunch while revising notes for afternoon royal reception. Sniffing of duchess’s hair discouraged. References to one’s own monarchy-love very much encouraged.
And lo, like the roadmap back to surplus, or the NorthConnex tunnel, it was all planned out.
But then it got torpedoed by a bottle of Grange and a forgetful Premier.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott, a long-time political ally and friend of Barry O’Farrell, was informed of the Premier’s resignation just a few moments before he fronted the media in Liverpool on Wednesday. He was flanked by Sydney MPs including Fiona Scott and John Alexander. Liberal senator Marise Payne was also present - she appeared upset and was comforted by her husband, NSW MLA Stuart Ayres.
It seemed the Prime Minister had not taken the news well either. He gave a statement saying he admired the Premier for the nobility with which he had fallen on his sword. Then he asked, rather hopefully: ‘‘Do we have any questions on the Badgerys Creek road announcement?’’
The first question came from Nicola Berkovic, a reporter for The Australian, asking if he trusted the ‘‘corrupt’’ NSW government to deliver infrastructure.
Up with this the Prime Minister would not put. We were witness to one of those rare moments - even rarer now he is Prime Minister - when Abbott struggles not to lose his cool. This effort is usually accompanied by a slowing of his speech, superfluous nodding of his head, an implausible grin and excessive formality in his language. This time was no different.
‘‘That, if I may say so, is an entirely unjustified smear,’’ he began, sounding like the Scarlet Pimpernel but looking rather more fierce.
‘‘Let me not mince my words, madam, an entirely unjustified smear!’’
He challenged the reporter to explain herself and directed the press conference back to the Badgerys Creek infrastructure announcement, but his face betrayed what he must have known - the day was done.
And as is so often the case, Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce said it best, when he gave his own press conference, shortly after the Premier’s surprising resignation.
Joyce said he had only just learnt the news, via social media.
‘‘I’ve looked at Twitter this morning,’’ he said, giving lie to any bumpkin-ish reputation the Member for New England might have earned, ‘‘and I’ve thought, ‘There’s the end of my media for the day’.
‘‘I could run around the place with a paper bag on my head and no one would care.’’
Not unless the bag contained a bottle of vintage wine, no.