3 April 2014
The tragedy of missing Malaysia Airline MH370 has portrayed Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott as a compassionate statesman – a stark contrast to the approach by Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, said a CNN news commentary.
“While Najib Razak sanctioned sending a text message to families informing them that the aircraft had likely ended up in the southern Indian Ocean, Abbott told the families of the six Australian passengers on the flight the country had ‘an ache in its heart and nothing we can say or do will take that ache away’,” award-winning journalist Monica Attard wrote in the commentary.
The Malaysian authorities had been roundly criticised for a text message sent by Malaysia Airlines to the families of those onboard the plane to inform them the fate of plane just before Najib announced that satellite data showing that the flight had ended in the Indian Ocean.
“Let me be very clear on the events of yesterday (Monday) evening. Our sole and only motivation last night (Monday night) was to ensure that in the incredibly short amount of time available to us, the families heard the tragic news before the world did,” Ahmad Jauhari said at a press conference.
“Wherever humanely possible, we did so in person with the families or by telephone, using SMS only as an additional means of ensuring fully that the nearly 1,000 family members heard the news from us and not from the media,” Ahmad Jauhari had said.
Putrajaya had also been criticised by some of the families of passengers and crew on the flight who believed that it had mishandled the investigation and search efforts.
Many families of Chinese passengers also accused the authorities of withholding and delaying information.
Attard said Abbott was previously known more for his pugilistic, take-no-prisoner style of politics than his statesmanship and compassion.
“On neither count has the Australian Premier, until now, impressed,” the former Russia correspondent with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) wrote.
On March 20, Abbott put Australia and himself into the limelight when he told the Australian Parliament that new satellite images had shown what might be aircraft debris in the Indian Ocean, some 2,500km off the coast of Western Australia and that an Australian-led search party would be investigating.
“Abbott made international headlines. Statesmanship peaked out from behind the curtains,” Attard wrote.
She said that when days later no debris had been found, Abbott deflected criticism that he had jumped the gun, saying the search area was about the most inaccessible spot that you would imagine on the face of the earth.
Abbott said: “But if there is anything down there we will find it. We owe it to the families of those people to do no less.”
He gained public support, Attard wrote, when an informal poll in the Australian daily Sydney Morning Herald showed that many thought Abbott had acted properly in announcing news of the satellite images and that his compassion was “perceived as real rather than political opportunism”.
After announcing that there would be no time limit on the search effort and that his government would bear the cost of coordinating the international operation, an impassioned Abbott declared: “If the mystery is solvable, we will solve it.”
Attard praised Abbot’s determination to deliver “closure” for the families of those on board the jetliner stands which she said was in stark contrast to the approach of his Malaysian counterpart.
She also highlighted Abbott’s compassion in waiving visa fees for the families who wanted to go to AiAs the Australian-led search mission entered its second week, Abbott told grieving relatives what asylum seekers trying to enter Australia have never heard.
Attard said even Abbott’s most fervent enemies would have to concede that he had been both eloquent and diplomatic in the expression of his sorrow and grief for those who do not know if their relatives are by some miracle still alive and if they are not, and what caused their deaths.
“But the same fervent enemies might also question whether Abbott sees an upside to statesmanship and compassion.
“Tragedies of the scale of MH370 are rarely used for political gain without the real and imminent danger of significant political cost. But such tragedies can soften images, turn skeptical minds and give hope to those who’ve not been recipients of an open heart,” Attard wrote.
She wrote that Abbot had been a “different leader” when it came to answering spy claims from Australia’s neighbours in the region, and dealing with asylum seekers.
Abbott refused to apologise to Indonesia when the leaked Edward Snowden files revealed that Australia had been spying on Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his inner circle, including his wife.
Abbott had also run a tough campaign against asylum seekers and the people smugglers who bring them to Australia across treacherous waters from Indonesia.
MH370 disappeared on March 8 while flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 passengers and crew members. Search for the plane is still ongoing in the southern Indian Ocean. – April 3, 2014.