Diary of a Liberal Frontbencher: War weary
Abbott Press Secretary (APS) calls. Wants me to come to meeting at 0900.
Do not like it when Abbott’s staff start using 24 hour time. Usually means Abbott plans to use all 24 hours in day.
Meeting with Abbott.
Abbott hands me envelope – says it contains vital national security briefing. Will read on Monday. Today am meeting wife in Canberra to go to Floriade (Flower and Garden Festival). Wife has spent all week planning flower viewing.
Phone call from APS – asks where I am?
Really worried I’ve gotten Saturday confused with Friday again.
Tell APS I just finished napping, about to grab dinner.
APS says I don’t have time for dinner, I can eat on the plane. Tells me to get to the airport - my flight is about to leave. Did not know I had flight!
Tell wife I have trip I forgot about. Wife has variety of pre-packed bags for these kinds of occasions. Gives me warm weather bag.
Met by army guys in airport terminal. Get driven on little cart, quite exciting. Ask army guys if they know where I am going. Army guys say for operational reasons cannot discuss exact destination. Phew, knew it wasn’t my fault I forgot!
Ask if they can tell me what state I’m going to. Soldiers tell me that there are no “states” in Afghanistan.
Jump off cart. Roll ankle. Soldiers confused – help me board flight with crutches.
Am on way to Afghanistan.
Ring wife to give bad news.
Wife excited. Already knew – had read briefing papers.
Angry with wife – ask wife why she did not tell me what was in briefing papers.
Wife assumed I had read them seeing as they dealt with national security.
Tell wife first rule with national security issues is to assume nothing!
Wife really proud of me, has been reading Time’s articles on the Taliban. Thinks they’re just dreadful and it’s about time someone did something about what they do to their women. Book club was discussing last night that women in Afghanistan don’t even have books, let alone bookclubs! Wife would really like me to tell story of my trip for book club.
Thank wife for her concern for my safety.
Arrive at Australian base in Afghanistan. Shadow Defence Minister David Johnson briefs Abbott and I. Has been receiving confidential communications from soldiers informing him that troops are not adequately equipped and that lack of tanks, humvees and condiments is unacceptable.
Abbott asks what he means by condiments. Johnson says lack of sauce has been causing morale problems in several units.
Abbott pleased with Johnson’s work. Asks “If you can’t put tomato sauce on the table, how can you expect to win a war against Islamic extremists?” Johnson doesn’t know either.
Meet commander of Australian base.
Johnson says he’s heard that army needs more tanks.
Commander says operational requirements of mission don’t require tanks.
Abbott tells Commander he understands chain of command, and he respects the Commander too much to ask him to criticize superiors. BUT! If he needs tanks he should wink twice with his left eye. If he needs helicopters he should wink twice with right eye and if he needs both, he should blink once.
Commander does not shut eyes for rest of meeting. Incredible discipline. Glad I’m not Taliban.
Abbott and Johnson agree: Gillard must have threatened Commander when she visited.
Have shower and change clothes. Wife appears to have only packed holiday clothes.
Sit in on mission briefing with troops.
Am only one in hawaiian shirt. Feel self-conscious amongst SAS. Pretty sure if I were actually in army this would lead to hazing of some kind. Troops do great job of withholding laughter. APS tells me to make sure I keep out of photos.
Today’s mission is to patrol nearby village to reassure locals. Abbott would like to ride along. Thinks appearance of Australian Prime Minister would be reassuring to Afghan civilians. Remind Abbott that while it was a spiritual victory, technically Gillard is PM.
Commander says it’s not possible. Abbott furious that Gillard’s machiavellian bastardy would extend to preventing him from defending Australia. Commander says that the ‘no civilian policy’ pre-dates Gillard – military’s experience of civilians on missions is that they tend to die. Lack of training is real problem. Abbott asks how long it would take to complete necessary training, points out that his fitness regime is pretty close to meeting SAS entry requirements.
Commander lets Abbott shoot a lot of things instead. Abbott really satisfied.
APS quite happy with photos. Pretty sure it will cement Queensland vote for next election.
At dinner with troops. Johnson disappears to contact his army informer. Said before he left that it he could hear the Mission Impossible music in his head.
Johnson back, has made Facebook contact with informer. Informer confirmed that only reason Abbott wasn’t allowed on mission was high command is trying to conceal need for tanks.
Soldier also pretty sure that nuclear weapons would “freak the crap” out of the Taliban.
Johnson has arranged meeting with source.
Finally get to meeting place. Navigating in base made more difficult by use of compass. Really should have just read signposts or asked someone, but Johnson insisted we had to do it the ‘man’s way’.
Turns out source wants to meet in broom closet, for security. Broom closet not designed to accommodate four men. Decide to let Johnson and Abbott do meeting without me.
Turns out Johnson’s source was kitchen hand who overheard soldiers bitching. Abbott just glad Liberal Party hasn’t made too much of claims. Johnson looks sheepish: “yeah about that…” and explains he may have tweeted a media release on the tanks an hour ago.
Says he was so totally sure about the tanks thing. Says all the veterans he spoke to at his local RSL last week totally agreed, we would have held Singapore if we’d had more tanks!
Abbott farewells Commander. Promises he’ll be back in 3 months time when he’s both PM and ready to take SAS physical.
Johnson high fives soldiers on way out. As I’m leaving soldier calls out that next time I come I should bring my bikini. Abbott laughs.
On plane Johnson and Abbott agree it would be a great inspirational gesture if next Liberal Party conference were held in Afghanistan. Could really show them how democracy is done! After all, they learned war from the Americans!
Pretty sure story for bookclub will need to be fictional.
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