When I was a boy, my dad would sometimes take me sailing. He regularly crewed the boat of a friend, a man who will forever live large in my imagination for his custom of wearing a pair of underpants on his head as a hat.
A man like that deserves to live large in everyone’s imagination.
After spending the afternoon hurling my lunch over the side, the adventure would conclude - as all maritime adventures must - in the pub. The men would order a beer each, a lemon squash and aspirin for me, and one of them would tear open a packet of chips in such a way that everyone could share. Then they’d crap on about stuff that adult males crap on about.
An enduring subject of discussion was the owner of the establishment, a stout lady of hair-trigger temperament with masses of curly blond locks. Boy, how it tickled my funny bone to hear her referred to (affectionately, to be sure) as Miss Piggy.
Lacking the filter adults use to differentiate between things to blurt and things best unblurted, I relayed my enthusiasm for the nickname to Pig-minor, a lad at my school, three years older and an order of magnitude bigger and meaner than I, the runt of my grade.
Take it for granted that it hurt a lot when he poleaxed my jaw.
Fair enough. I deserved it.
And thus, just as Pig-little’s fist smashed into my gums, we smash into the subject of this article. Some things are better left unsaid. But should they be said, the speaker must accept responsibility.
Australia’s freshly-culled Prime Minister, Tony Abbot, returned not-so-long ago from a meeting on climate change in PNG where he doubtless floored the crowd with his conviction that “coal is good for humanity” and that the appropriate response to the climate crisis is to dig up everything burnable and convert it into CO2 ASAP.
At the same meeting, low-lying Pacific island nations called for a global moratorium on new coal mines. How they must shake their heads at Australia in disbelief and despair… Or perhaps their fists.
Abbot and his colleagues couldn’t give a monkey’s. In fact, they’re cracking jokes about it. In conversation with the Immigration Minister, Peter Dutton, the PM noted that the meeting for which they were waiting shared something in common with the meeting in New Guinea. It was slow.
Dutton then remarked, “time doesn’t mean anything when you’re about to have water lapping at your door.”
I heard a worse joke once, but that had Hitler in it.
Unfortunately for the pair, the microphone dangling above their heads caught the lot.
Of course, the media pounced on Dutton like a tiger upon a wounded gazelle, but his response to the mauling was bloodless: “I had a private conversation with the Prime Minister,” he said. “I don't intend to comment publicly on that.”
His gaff is unlikely to win Australia much support among its neighbors, and it already has precious little of that. A short while back the Abbot government scrapped funding for climate change adaptation programs.
When its neighbors needed it most, Australia cut and run. And now we’re laughing at them.
If only Mr Dutton had said, “Look, I apologize. It was a terrible joke. Even Abbot barely chortled,” he would have at least appeared contrite. But he’s behaving as if he doesn’t have to take responsibility for his actions.
Perhaps what’s best is for one of our islander neighbors to deliver the message Pig-junior style ’cause, far as I can tell, the minister duttongeddit.