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Spin that Beaconsfield backlash

I expected the various criticisms of AWU federal secretary Bill Shorten, whose savvy media performance at Beaconsfield was too slick by half for the composure of many people, even some of my fellow lefties. The right is busy painting him as a callous opportunist. I think it's worth remembering that Shorten cut short his vacation to go to Beaconsfield before Russell and Webb were discovered alive, when everybody was expecting the result was going to be three dead miners and the story, while important, would not be nation-riveting.

That was what the miners of Beaconsfield, as members of the AWU, expected from their union's federal secretary at a time of a major mining disaster: that he would come to talk to the families and make sure that hard questions about mine safety were put front and centre when talking to the media. When that changed into a dramatic rescue story he was the man on the spot with media and liaison experience, so that was the role he naturally fell into. That is the job of union heads, and he is still there doing his job, as in the union meeting with Beaconsfield miners that established that not one of them had received occupational health and safety (OH&S) training.

I'm not surprised to find that he has political aspirations, and apparently that was widely reported in the media prior to the Beaconsfield disaster, it's just that his profile wasn't high enough for us amateur politics watchers to know that. So while it may look like rank opportunism for him now to be seeking preselection, this is actually something that was already in train before the disaster. His 3 weeks in front of the camera has just been a happy accident for him in terms of boosting his political capital.

I see a lot of the speculation about him as a future Prime Minister as a form of poisoning the well. Certainly he is a natural political talent that the ALP should aim to harness, but they need to see how he does as a normal MP before his further advancement can be discussed. He's not a Bob Hawke, with over a decade as the public face of unionism under his belt, able to demand quick advancement to a high-profile Cabinet position.

He needs to show he can keep on performing under pressure, not just do it for one major disaster. Premature speculation about him as a future PM is virtually strewing a minefield at his feet as far as progression within the parliamentary party is concerned - after all, the incumbent MPs all want to think they've got a shot at high office and won't be upstaged by a Billy come lately.

Crikey! points out that some poisoning the well for our rescued miners Russell and Webb has begun as well. With the bidding for the rights to their stories hitting astronomical levels, it appears that some media groups who are concerned that they might miss out have already started writing stories implying that Russell and Webb are greedy, that the real heroes are the rescuers not the survivors (the rescuers have been speaking freely with no media contracts in place), and hinting that the next level of backlash escalation will be that if Russell and Webb hog the media payout to themselves they will be selfish bastards. Peter Fitzsimons in the Sun-Herald (no link, sorry) wrote:

Can anyone remember anyone in the Granville train disaster asking for a dollar for intimate details of what it was like? In 2006, however, the nation as a whole seems to be right behind the miners getting every dollar they can. Equally, there is no doubt that even while they were in the cave, "Todd'n'Brant" were acutely conscious of the value of their story. Asked by their rescuers to take pictures of each other and their surrounds, they agreed, but only if they could retain the copyright - which was agreed to!

... one can't help but wonder how a Beaconsfield rescuer who'd risked his life to get to the trapped miners - and who now doesn't have a mine to work at for at least several months - might also be feeling.
There's no argument from me that the true heroes of the story are the rescuers. They volunteered, and that example of bravery is humbling. But what the world salivates for is the story of survival. We all know damn well that not all of us can be heroes, but by damn we hope that if we're ever trapped in a disaster that we too might survive. There's no denying the power of a survivor narrative.

The media columnists know that only too well. Way to bring down the opposition's ratings if they outbid you on the story, guys. Oh, don't watch that interview that our competitors spent millions on - Todd'n'Brant are nasty! Convenient that these stories are so easy to spin back onto the phenomenal power of the survival story if their own organisation wins the bidding in the end, too. Spin, spin, spin.

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