MARK RILEY: Why Anthony Albanese’s big smile was wiped from his face on his WA visit

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Mark Riley
The Nightly
4 Min Read
MARK RILEY: Why Anthony Albanese’s big smile was wiped from his face on his WA visit
MARK RILEY: Why Anthony Albanese’s big smile was wiped from his face on his WA visit Credit: Supplied

Anthony Albanese was wearing a big smile as he presented himself at Perth’s Kings Park on Wednesday morning on his latest whirlwind visit to the west.

He no doubt felt he had a good story to tell the assembled media.

It was his 20th visit to WA since taking office two years ago this month.

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“The great state of Western Australia is so important for our national economy and that’s why today I tick off a commitment that I made of 10 visits here every year as Prime Minister,” he said proudly.

Turning up is indeed a big part of leadership.

Albanese quite rightly wears that as a badge of honour.

But it’s what you do after you turn up that is of primary importance.

It’s something Albanese has realised twice in the past fortnight.

The first time was when he turned up at the march against domestic violence in Canberra.

Being there sent a strong signal. But his eagerness to speak at the rally to defend his Government and his couched accusation that the young organiser had tried to prevent him from speaking sparked a controversy that ran for several days.

His appearance at Kings Park would soon draw similar criticism.

Turning up as a leader also means you expose yourself to the local news cycle.

Albanese would have expected to be asked about the bashing of Perth grandmother Ninette Simons.

Phillip Simons (76) and Ninette Simons (73).
Phillip Simons (76) and Ninette Simons (73). Credit: Andrew Ritchie/The West Australian

But his smile turned to an uncomfortable grimace when those questions centred on whether he would take time out of his trip west to visit her and apologise.

Albanese skirted the question, saying that his heart went out to Ms Simons and that there was no place for violence in Australian society.

He continued to deliver variations of that answer as the questions kept coming.

Ninette Simons believes his Government has let her down.

Does he accept any responsibility?

Will he at least visit her and talk with her?

Albanese was on a hiding to nothing.

He was limited in what he could say because the case was still before the courts.

The worst thing Albanese could do in these circumstances would be to utter anything that could prejudice a potential trial.

That would be a real disaster.

And, so, he kept falling back on the set of words he’d probably cleared with his advisers, expressing his sympathy and disgust without stepping across any legal lines.

But he still could have visited Ms Simons. Or at least given her a phone call while he was there.

Local MP Anne Aly has been to see her.

Immigration Minister Andrew Giles has called her.

But it is largely Giles’s absence from the public scene and that of his senior minister, Clare O’Neil, that have dropped Albanese into this unenviable position.

The Immigration and Home Affairs ministers have both ducked for cover under the nearest rock, leaving Albanese to field all the uncomfortable questions about this dreadful affair.

Immigration Minister Andrew Giles
Immigration Minister Andrew Giles has called Ninette Simons. Credit: Mick Tsikas/AAP

It hasn’t gone unnoticed among their colleagues in the Labor caucus.

Several I’ve spoken to this week are mightily unimpressed with both Giles and O’Neill.

This is a Government that promised a return to openness and accountability in office.

This affair has seen little of either.

O’Neil made her weekly appearance on Seven’s Sunrise last week. But Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth subbed in for her on Wednesday.

Giles hasn’t appeared before the cameras at all.

Being a minister isn’t just about turning up to cut ribbons at the opening of the latest shiny thing.

It also comes with an absolute responsibility to turn up and face the music on the tough days.

You have to take the hits for the team.

Giles and O’Neil would have earned the real respect of their colleagues if they had aimed up.

Instead, they’ve gone into hiding in the hope that everyone will forget and the whole thing will go away.

That is not going to happen.

It’s not clear whether O’Neil and Giles decided on this strategy of silence or whether they’ve been sent into witness protection by Albanese.

Either way, it is a dumb strategy.

And the consequence is that Anthony Albanese has been left looking isolated and evasive in Kings Park, the smile wiped from his face in a news conference televised live to the nation.

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