You raise up your head/And you ask, "Is this where it is?"/And some-body points to you and says/"It's his"/And you says, "What's mine ?"/And somebody else says, "Where what is ?"/And you say, "Oh my God/Am I here all alone?"/ But something is happening here/But you don't know what it is/Do you, Mister Jones? – Ballad of a Thin Man, Bob Dylan
Turnbull, Jones throw bombs
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Turnbull, Jones throw bombs
Malcolm Turnbull and Alan Jones have clashed on breakfast radio with each suggesting the other is undermining the Liberal Party while the Communications Minister accused the 2GB radio host of being a "bomb thrower".
Alan Jones, Sydney radio's conservative troutmouth and a man of opinion, figures he knows exactly what's going on.
Why, it's obvious. Malcolm Turnbull is trawling for the leadership.
Alan can tell. Malcolm is opening and closing his mouth. When you're the eminence of the troutmouths, you just know.
This, essentially, was Mr Jones's bait on his Thursday fishing expedition:
"Can I begin by asking you," he demanded of Turnbull, having lured him into the ghastly depths of his studio. "If you could say after me this: As a senior member of the Abbott government I want to say here I am totally supportive of the Abbott/Hockey strategy for budget repair."
Turnbull wasn't going to swallow that.
"Alan, I am not going to take dictation from you," he snapped. "I am a cabinet minister, I support unreservedly and wholeheartedly every element of the budget."
And off they went, the piranha and the barracuda, trying to take chunks out of each other.
"You're sounding very nervous, Malcolm, why are you nervous?" Jones taunted.
"I'm not nervous," responded Turnbull.
"Malcolm I've coached Australian in rugby," said the ever-modest Jones, a fellow for all seasons, "and if one of my players on the eve of the rugby test was seen socialising, having dinner, privately, inviting a member of the All Blacks, on the eve of a major test match, the player would be sent home, Malcolm."
"Well, Alan," said Turnbull, "This is not football."
And there it was. Turnbull had been seen having dinner with Clive Palmer, enemy of Tony Abbott. Turnbull, obviously, was a traitor; not one of the team. Should be given the boot.
Worse, accused Jones, turning the whole alleged leadership-stalking strategy on its head, "there's no challenge to [Abbott's] leadership because you have no hope ever of being the leader, you've got to get that into your head, but because of that you're happy to chuck a few bombs around that might blow up Abbott a bit".
Turnbull cross-accused Jones of throwing the bombs, and his fellow traveller Andrew Bolt, too.
"This is the most united, cohesive government we've had in this country for a long time and I think it is just very sad that you and Bolt are doing the work of the Labor Party and undermining the Abbott government."
It went on for 25 minutes.
The question, pretty obviously, is why Turnbull would rise to the likes of Alan Jones's bait. Or bother even to swim into his murky cave.
His explanation is that he's buggered if he does and buggered if he doesn't, so to speak.
“Do you ignore them or do you respond to them?” he asked, citing what he declares are outrageous slurs from Bolt and Jones.
“You can ignore it. In which case silence is deemed as some kind of agreement or consent.
“You can give a sort of mealy-mouthed response, which is not much better.
“Or you can actually state the case, call a spade a bloody shovel and call this out for what it is and it's what I've done.”
On the other hand, as Alan Jones knows, for he has made a career and a fortune out of the knowledge, the more you talk and the more the talk is filled with storm and fury and confusion, the more people listen.
Turnbull, who is not hanging around Canberra for the sake of his health or his bank balance, does himself no harm from opening his mouth and closing it on Sydney's highest-rating breakfast show, even if he has to share the air with a troutmouth.
When it happens, you can be pretty sure there's something happening. It's just that we don't know quite what it is.
Or perhaps, seeing we're talking about radio, we've got the wrong soundtrack. Maybe Buffalo Springfield's "Stop Children, What's that Sound" is a more accurate guide to what might be happening than Dylan.
"There's some-thing happening here/What it is ain't exactly clear/There's a man with a gun over there/Telling me I got to beware"