03 July 2012

A study in character

See this in its entirety: thirty minutes of your life you won't get back, but it's all about the context.

It is ironic that GetUp! achieved greater insight into the way our political system works through an accident than it has for many of its best-orchestrated campaigns.

When Simon Sheikh passed out on the set of the ABC's Q&A:
  • The host, Tony Jones, just sat there (some host!)
  • Lenore Taylor, a journalist, also just sat there
  • Greg Combet MP, a government minister, stepped up and helped Sheikh
  • Grahame Morris, a lobbyist, stood up at his desk and looked concerned; a man no longer accustomed to getting his hands dirty, Morris is used to having people scurry around at the sight of him doing something really dramatic like standing up at his desk looking concerned (or maybe he wanted to do to Sheikh what he advocated doing to the PM, and "kick [him] to death"), and
  • Sophie Mirabella MP, who was sitting next to Sheikh, regarded him with revulsion and then, realising that others were making her look bad and that there was nothing she could do about it, put her hand on his shoulder.
This was a test of character for all concerned. The idea that they all deserve a free pass because "hey, that's just live television baby!" is just bullshit.

Combet showed himself to be a leader in our community, which is what you'd hope for from someone in his position. Some Coalition MPs would have stood up and helped in such a situation, and not just those with medical qualifications. Mirabella, who aspires to the job currently occupied by Combet, showed only that she must not be put in a position of any responsibility whatsoever and must be removed from any such position she now holds. Simply calling for help would have showed the humanity that is needed in her position, but which she clearly lacks.

Lauren Rosewarne thinks Mirabella was criticised for "failing to emote". She was actually and fairly criticised for failing to render assistance where assistance was required. It is stupid to accuse Sheikh of 'crying wolf' as some sort of invalidation for medical treatment.

Medical emergencies always happen quickly (or, as Rosewarne put it, "Under. One. Minute."). It's part of your civic duty to find out how to help people who need help, and wait with them until the professionals arrive (or, as Rosewarne put it, "Florence Nightingale mode"). Medical emergencies transcend gender politics, and if her failure was not at the heart of this issue the very first person to assert this would be Sophie Mirabella.

Let's give the benefit of the doubt, if not congratulations, to off-camera staff at the ABC studios that night. Their actions, unseen by viewers outside the studio, may explain the (non-)actions of Taylor, Morris and Jones. The latter may think it's his role to keep his head while all about are losing theirs, but I still think there is more to it.

Sophie Mirabella failed the basic moral test of refusing to assist someone who needed it. Having wound herself up she couldn't get over herself in order to render basic assistance. Everyone on that panel is judged on the same basis, regardless of gender; most found wanting. Lenore Taylor hasn't done much emoting today over this matter, but so what? Practical assistance, and the need thereof as required, is much more important than irrelevant disquisitions on "emoting".

It's probably more important to be able to help people when they need it than it is to enrol to vote, but at the time of writing I am too pissed off to even think about that. This is partly because I have just reviewed the earbashing that Mirabella gave the nation once again. Along with Macquarie Street troll Peter Phelps, a piece of jetsam swept up in a king tide, Mirabella embodies that perverse strain of the worst, Pellite notion of conservatism: that you are entitled to deference by sheer assertion/gall and the occupation of titles, but that none dare expect any from you. That's why this doesn't work:
Lindy Chamberlain. Casey Anthony. Joanna Lees. Women who were each publicly vilified based on the weakest and yet most damning of evidence: the failure to appropriately – to femininely – emote.
Weak, yes, but hardly damning. Lees emoted like billy-o when it suited her and Chamberlain didn't just sit by and watch her baby being dragged to death. Whatever point Rosewarne might have is stranded by the sheer fatuity of her parallels and her simple inability to perceive the situation on which she commented (click the link at the top of the page, Lauren, and watch it). That, and the fact that Sophie Mirabella has spent what passes for her life sneering at "do-gooders" (of whatever gender, Lauren) who render aid to others completely flouting Randian teachings.

Mirabella did express emotion towards Sheikh: the emotion was disgust.

There isn't a question anyone could have asked that so clearly demonstrated who stands where, who can be relied upon and who can't. As a telling moment about those who would govern us it was up there with Joe Hockey's moment of weakness/moral failure on gay marriage with Penny Wong.

The civic-minded among us can get first aid training at a location near you from Australian Red Cross or St John's, or other organisations I'm sure. Get some. This blog will still be here when you get back - and yes, I have, and do - and stuff any "Florence Nightingale" bullshit. Some good thing has to come from this sorry and absurd episode.


  1. Astute analysis. The contrast between Ms Mirabella's response to Mr Sheik and her facile responses on the rest of QnA struck me as another peak Abbott moment - a culturally and politically significant moment when another crack in Abbott's house of cards was exposed. Take a look too at the comments section in today's Courier Mail reporting on Campbell 'having fun' sacking public servants in QLD. A 'peak' Campbell moment?

  2. "a piece of jetsam swept up in a king tide"


  3. chrispydog3/7/12 11:09 pm

    So you didn't notice Sophie Mirabella put the Polonium in Simon Sheikh's water?

    She's good.

  4. No, no no... Mirabella put her hand on his shoulder to push him away from her. Have a look at the video from 10min 10 sec onwards. Get away from me you left wing creep...things were better under Howard.

    Its all part of the hubris you know.

  5. Chris Grealy4/7/12 7:50 am

    Oh look, it's just an LNP thing. Remember when Newman's Candidate for Broadwater collapsed last year during a media event, Campbell turned to the cameras and quipped, "this is Anna Bligh's fault too." It was a journalist who went to his aid.
    The LNP really don't care about anyone but themselves. "Climate change? That's someone else's problem!"

  6. Anna Phylaxis4/7/12 8:38 am

    You're quite right, Andrew, that the reaction to Sophie Mirabella had nothing, pace Lauren Rosewarne, to do with her failure to emote. But let's give her the benefit of the doubt and accept that she has poor vision in her right eye (just as well there's never anyone further right than she) and was 'in shock'. Her tragedy is that the public reaction (and the fact that she 'hit back' at critics yesterday, a characteristic response) tells us how the public expects she will behave, and why they think that way.

    1. Exactly. Any human sympathy for moments of human frailty evaporates in the face of that response.

  7. Many people are shocked into inaction when something unexpected happens, and many more times so if you're on live TV. I don't think one can read too much into who did what, or didn't do. It may give some indication as to how the different people will react in an emergency.
    In plane crashes many initial survivors freeze in their seats, rather than get out as fast as they can.

    1. Lachlan Ridge4/7/12 6:19 pm

      Yes BrianHC, but are they the sorts of people you want running the country in a crisis?

  8. And of course during the Invasion Day riots, did not Gillard ask (something like) 'is Mr Abbott ok?'
    Mirabella, even with her bad eyesight, could of at least SAID something.

  9. I tried watching this Andrew, really I did, but I turned the TV off in a cursing rage three seconds after la Mirabella first opened her mouth. What I've heard about the show since doesn't change my opinion of her (I've always thought she was unpleasant and stupid), but it makes me think even better of Combet.

    1. And yet it seems the Liberals will try and fight the next election on 'character', once the fear of the CPRT subsides.

      When my retiree spies at the Golf Club tell even the rusted-on Liberals don't like Abbott or Mirabella (their local member).

  10. A suggestion:
    Read the transcript in the first link.
    Compare to the live video and audio.
    Focus on Combet's words.
    Its an....interesting [thats my euphemism for ....?]. purported written record of what happened.


  11. Lord have mercy upon me, but I'm going to stick up for Mirabella here.

    She clearly had no idea what was happening and was waiting for the scene to make sense, which is what people are notorious for mostly doing in emergencies.

    As a side note, research indicates that the greatest predictor of being effective in an emergency is - surprise! - training in emergency responses.

    Does Combet have some fire/paramedic background?

    1. Lachlan Ridge4/7/12 6:00 pm

      Well may the Lord have mercy on you because I don't. I don't buy your observation at all - she is patently and clearly disgusted by what she is witnessing. A perfectly normal reaction if you lack empathy with fellow human beings and view those that don't share your class and world view as lesser life forms.

      The reaction of Mirabella, Jones and Taylor was disgusting, but not surprising. I've seen similar things at car accidents and on public transport. These people are good old fashioned snobs, and there are plenty of them in Australia, who care more about how a situation is going to affect themselves than about what is happening to others. It's called selfishness and is the national zeitgeist as far as I can figure.

      By their fruits so shall these trees be known.

      Combet worked in the coal industry for a while, but not underground. He has no background as a first aider that I am aware of unlike, say, Abbott, Oakeshott or Mike Kelly.

      Anyone who thinks this is not a serious issue or that Mr Ekder is overreacting has obviously never had a person drop dead in front of them. It is a cautionary lesson at the very least. Those that dismiss such things betray themsleves as immature, to put it in a polite form.

  12. Sticking up for Mirabella is an interesting concept but I agree with others - she recoiled in horror at the notion of a sick person.

    A person can die in that one minute of inaction.

  13. 2.32 comment is I, Sancho of the Politics Blogs.

    What happened to the option of posting under a pseudonym and email address?

  14. I was very ready to condemn Mirabella on the night, but since then I've been thinking of all my deer in the headlights moments. I am particularly prone to freezing for a few seconds in a dangerous or shocking situation, and it has nothing to do with selfishness as it would often be better for my own safety to react quickly!

    Saying that a medical emergency trumps gender politics is meaningless, it's a bit like saying nutrition trumps football or something. When a medical emergency or whatever is actually in progress it's best to just do what's necessary, but there's nothing to stop you judging a situation *in retrospect* from a gender POV. Unless you are pretty well a hermit with no media you would have to know that women are expected to be "hard-wired" to "nurture" and to be more "emotional", hence there is an expectation placed upon them to be more "nurturing", to show more emotion, etc. In Mirabella's case, you and I and practically all the qanda audience have a detailed backstory and we are quite well aware that Mirabella has all the nurturing instinct of Madame Defarge (to me, an anti-essentialist, this isn't surprising and the caring-and-sharing narrative simply annoying.) Perhaps Rosewarne was less aware of that backstory, but the phenomenon she describes is true in general.

    Anyway, the huge amounts of bad karma Mirabella has amassed over the years means I can't summon much passion in her defence.

    Oh, and... Not only have two First Aid certificates failed to overcome my freezing tendencies, the recommended action sequence was DRABC - Danger, response, airway etc; therefore there would be a few seconds of inaction where you checked for danger and tried to elicit a response.

    1. Now square the circle, Helen: do you then arrogantly assert your right to exercise power over essential government services? Have you spent your lifetime sneering at "do-gooders"? What we witnessed was the bankruptcy of Mirabella's entire claim to public office.

    2. Well, that's pretty much what I was saying in too much of a roundabout manner, we in the TV audience know too much about Mirabella for our interpretation of her actions to be entirely gendered.

    3. A less extreme version of Martin Sheen in The Dead Zone? :)

      Savvas Tzionis

  15. We can rightly club Sophie Mirabella over the head on many topics.

    (almost anything that falls from her mouth really)

    But I suspect her `bystander` mode is pretty common amongst the public, that get `shock-and-awe` when situations happen.

    When I did first-aid some years back, the instructor told me that a very small percentage of the public know how to ACT.

    I think these `emote` posts going around are `white-noise` when they could club Sophie Mirabella over so much more.

  16. Born to rule. Sickening.

    1. Not born to rule, but faking it badly.

  17. Mirabella does sneer at people, even people she doesn't know. She just does it by assuming an association with certain bodies means one is no good or not on her side. She is the MP for the electorate adjoining mine. We see and hear from her often. Her letters to the local paper are always sheer nastiness. Trouble is her electorate is blue ribbon Liberal and they seem stuck with her. Her own personal history is very unpleasant (re her now deceased ex-lover). Never expect her to act in anyoneelse's interests except her own. This is from VJO posting as anon.

  18. Mirabella is typical of this breed of Liberal, an attitude of superiority and a lack of empathy toward anyone or anything. There is nothing new in this from this lot, many will recall abbott attacking Bernie Banton, a reprehensible thing to do to a victim of asbestos disease who was dying.

    The deeply worrying thing about her response was her utter revulsion as she looked at Simon, she would kick you out of the way if you collapsed in front of her.This bullshit excuse for her behaviour is absurd, we all confront stuff sometimes that is deeply scary or horrid but you just know that you have to act because to not would be hard to live with.

    Not the member for indi, she just sneers and walks away. Her lack of empathy should of itself preclude her from any public position, never mind the utter contempt with which she has treated the family of her former partner, who I am sure could testify to the heartless self interest of the member for indi.