Leave aside who told who what. The fact is the Prime Minister's office thought it was legitimate politics to organise an Aboriginal protest against her political rival.
As a taxpayer-funded ''media adviser'', Tony Hodges sent a tip-off to the Aboriginal tent embassy that Tony Abbott was nearby so they could do what? So they could go and protest against him.
And this is the key point. As far as Hodges was concerned the Aboriginal activists were legitimate assets to be used for partisan benefit. The only thing he had to do was to give them the message without leaving fingerprints. But Hodges wasn't up to that. So he had to fall on his sword to protect his boss.
Next time you hear the sound of handwringing coming from the Gillard government about how much they care for indigenous people, remember: they don't care nearly as much about them as they care about Tony Abbott. If they can use them to get at him, they will.
When I saw this my mind went back to the day Kevin Rudd made his apology in Parliament to the ''stolen generation''. A large overflow crowd gathered outside to watch the event on a big screen - indigenous and non-indigenous. Rudd's speech was received well with much applause and many tears. Then the Opposition Leader rose to speak in support. It was a difficult speech for Brendan Nelson. It involved repudiating the stubborn refusal of John Howard to use the word ''sorry''.
Howard loyalists were not happy about Nelson's turnaround and Nelson went out on a limb. If he had not given it bipartisan support that day, it would not have been the triumph that it was for Rudd. Rudd owed him a lot for that.
But the crowd did not warm to Nelson's speech. Some even stood up and turned their backs to the screen as his speech was broadcast. It was assumed that he had antagonised indigenous Australians. Later it was discovered that prominent among those turning their backs and demonstrating against Nelson were Lachlan Harris and Tim Gleason from the Prime Minister's staff.
Isn't that a coincidence? Different prime minister, different staff, but both engaging in attempts to fan indigenous protest against a Liberal leader.
We spend a lot of time thinking about how to successfully address indigenous disadvantage. But one thing that does not do it is political staff trying to manipulate indigenous issues for partisan advantage.
These are only two examples where staff have been caught in the act. I suspect there are many more but they have involved much more sophisticated political staff.
Before we get too hard on the staff, it is worth remembering the tone of an office is set by the minister. I always found a courteous minister had a courteous office, a trustworthy minister had trustworthy staff. People employ those who reflect their own values and beliefs. Was Richard Nixon unlucky to have those Watergate types - such as Ehrlichman, Haldeman, Colson - or did it say something about Nixon himself? Where did Hodges get the idea it was his job to spark indigenous protests against Abbott?
Which brings me to the hilarious performance by Anthony Albanese who went to the National Press Club to deliver an oh-so-serious attack on Abbott the day before the Australia Day riot. It turned out that his chief attack line was against the political rival of a fictional president played by the actor Michael Douglas in the movie The American President. Albanese says we shouldn't blame him for the blunder because he only read out a speech given to him by a staffer.
It makes you wonder what those Labor staffers are up to. Perhaps when they went to work in government they thought their lives would imitate art. In Hollywood, people organise demonstrations against opponents, do dirty tricks and get Oscars for doing so.
In the real world, actions have consequences. You learn that when you grow up.
Peter Costello is the former federal Liberal treasurer.
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