“Look, I’m going to shirt-front Mr. Putin … You bet I am. I am going to be saying to Mr. Putin, ‘Australians were murdered. They were murdered by Russian-backed rebels using Russian-supplied equipment. We are very unhappy about this.’”
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott isn’t exactly known for his oratory. But Russian President Vladimir Putin – and most Australians – were left scratching their heads over what exactly Abbott, who enjoyed a brief but successful stint as a heavyweight boxer, plans to do to the Russian leader’s shirt when he visits Australia for the G-20 meeting in Brisbane next month.
According to slangdictionary.org, shirt-fronting is a term from the Australian rules football code, and it happens when a player executes a “head-on charge aimed at bumping an opponent to the ground.” AFlrules.com.au adds that a shirt-front is “quite aggressive” and “illegal.”
Abbott’s comments were made in the context of increasingly loud calls to ban Putin from visiting Australia because of Russia’s apparent indifference to the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in July. Of the 298 passenger and crew who lost their lives in the disaster, 36 were Australian residents — making them the third largest group of nationals killed after the Dutch and Malaysians.
As a ninth-degree black-belt in taekwondo who could probably hold his own against Abbott, Putin did not dignify the Australian Prime Minister with a response.
While Abbott has since toned down his rhetoric, saying he simply plans to have a “robust conversation” with Putin, he is by no means the first Australian politician to put his foot in his mouth on the international stage. Products of a culture in which frankness is placed on a pedestal, spin-doctoring is despised and politics is sport, their propensity for speaking their mind is a large part of what endears them to the Australian public.
Here are some other famous gaffes uttered by Australian politicians over the years.
1. “The Chinese bastards”
“They’re communists, they shoot their own people, they haven’t got a justice system and they want to take over this country. I don’t mind standing up against the Chinese bastards and stopping them from doing it.” —Mining magnate and MP Clive Palmer during a live debate aired by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) in September.
2. “Swamped by Asians”
“I believe we are in danger of being swamped by Asians. Between 1984 and 1995, 40% of all migrants coming into this country were of Asian origin. They have their own culture and religion, form ghettos and do not assimilate. Of course, I will be called racist, but if I can invite whom I want into my home, then I should have the right to have a say in who comes into my country.” —Former MP Pauline Hanson delivering her maiden speech to parliament in 1996.
3. “Islam as a country”
“I don’t oppose Islam as a country, but I do feel that their laws should not be welcome here in Australia.” —Stephanie Banister, a candidate for Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party, during a interview with Channel 7 in the lead up to Australia’s 2013 federal election.
4. “Put him down”
“The Leader of the Opposition is more to be pitied than despised, the poor old thing. The Liberal Party of Australia ought to put him down like a faithful old dog because he is of no use to it and of no use to the nation.” —Treasurer Paul Keating to Opposition Leader Andrew Peacock, 1984
5. “Walk to Bourke”
“I would walk to [the New South Wales town of] Bourke backwards if the gay population of North Queensland is any more than 0.001%.” —MP Bob Katter in 1989. Katter’s half brother Carl later came out as gay.
6. “A bum”
“Any boss who sacks anyone for not turning up today is a bum.” —Former Prime Minister Bob Hawke, following Australia’s victory in the 1983 America’s Cup.