Plan for today
Rehearsals started early for her line "I was acting on Ralph Blewitt's instructions, I only did it because Ralph told me to"

Turnbull says "War of Ideas" with ISIL. That's nice. In the real world a War of IEDs, AK47s and Jihadis heads our way

This is my review of Prime Minister Turnbull's visit to our troops deployed on active service in Iraq and Afghanistan.  It comes in two-parts, Style and Substance.

On 9 January this year Prime Minister Turnbull announced he would visit President Obama on 18 January in Washington DC.

The alliance with the United States is fundamental to Australia's national security......the Prime Minister will underline Australia’s enduring commitment to the alliance and in particular Australia's ongoing commitment to an effective response to regional and global challenges, including combatting ISIL in Iraq and Syria.

For security reasons, Turnbull's visit to our bases in Iraq and Afghanistan on the way was not announced in advance - but it's reasonable to presume the formal reason we'll get was to thank the troops for their service, to remind them of the mission and to reassure them that he had their backs.

Prime Ministers Rudd, Gillard and Abbott made much the same tour.  I've always wondered why?  Did the urge to say thank you suddenly make its way to the top of the priority list?   What was the real purpose each of them had in mind for going.  

Self-promotion is part of a politician's character - so you'd expect to see a subtle tincture of PR in the mix.   The question is how much PR and media is too much - and whether or not PR for the PM is the driver for the tour with everything else built around the photos.

They're not all like that of course - when Tony Abbott went to thank the troops, that's what he did.  In private.   Which didn't go down well with the media who already had the duty free items picked.

Journalists cut out of Tony Abbott visit to Baghdad

January 5, 2015

David Wroe and Latika BourkePrime Minister Tony Abbott and his Iraqi counterpart Haider al-Abardi.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his Iraqi counterpart Haider al-Abardi.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has broken with tradition by not taking Australian journalists on a trip to Baghdad, even cutting out a television crew that was ready and waiting in nearby Dubai.

Read more: 

Long after the reason for a particular trip is forgotten, the portfolio of candid moments with the troops lives on.   They're a must-have accessory for the international leader.   Now Malcolm has his.  So was Malcolm there for the diggers, or were the diggers there for Malcolm?


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It's not hard to imagine Kevin Rudd filling in for Malcolm Turnbull on this trip - you wouldn't change a word in the script.

Turnbull's visits were built around photo ops, speeches The Rudd might have authored and social media published on the run (my analysis on the substance of what he did in Part Two).

This afternoon (19 January 2016) this photo and the text attached to it were inadvertently made public on  Turnbull's Instagram account.

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The photo and comments were quickly taken down but plenty of screen grabs were made and are circulating on the web.

"turnbullmalcolm's" comment above is directed to a staffer responsible for the final publication of the photo of Turnbull's back (yours to print and keep) standing alongside the US Secretary for Defense Ash Carter.  

"How can they say I'm against the fight on ISIL?"   (Editor's note, that's not what I hear them say Malcolm, it's more about your leadership and knowing how to fight them.   MPS)

Here is the photo in its final published edition.   "Malcolm is strong on terror and strong on the causes of terror" looking like something from the East Wing.   All about Malcolm.   

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As you'll read in Part Two of this story, I thought Turnbull's speeches to the troops were poorly prepared.   He hadn't boned up on how to talk to, or about soldiers, sailors and airmen and women deployed on active service.   As a result he made some pretty basic but very telling and quite insulting errors - and they won't be forgotten or easily forgiven.  

But I don't think you'll see or hear too much analysis on that in the mainstream media.  Some bile was splattered at Tony Abbott for offloading expectant travellers (in the article announcing Prime Minister Abbott would thank the troops in private) but the reporting on PMs in favour during trips like Turnbull's is usually reliably positive.

That's because journalists who get to go on tours to exotic places with the PM are selected or approved by the Prime Minister's staff in advance.  Get the message?  They sure do.  Not too much departure from the lines the PM and his team want to see published, right down to the headlines in some cases - here are arch-enemies the ABC and News Ltd's reports from Iraq:

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Trips to the ADF's Areas of Operation present an opportunity for control over the message like no other. 

The headlines are easy, the photos are key.   The ADF publishes the authorised photographs, you can see Turnbull's by following this link and clicking through.  I loved this shot, 9 blokes with the PM at first glance.  But look closely at their eyes.   The diggers have their own shot in mind taken by a mate who's off to their right.  The 6 to Turnbull's left are all posing for their mate's camera "look who we got in our photo".  Malcolm's eyes say a lot about why Malcolm's there.

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It takes judgement and sensitivity for a politician to be photographed with troops on active service.   It's pretty obvious when they're being used as a backdrop.

Mr Turnbull knows in his heart why he went to the Middle East.   After an hour or so the diggers would have too.   If they reckon the leader is fair dinkum, backs them and knows what he's doing it'll show.   Likewise if he's a Stephen Smith show-pony for whom our soldiers were an irritant.

Getting the tone right in written reports is simple.  It's easy to write and talk bullshit.   But body language and other non-verbal signals (like where a person stands in a room, who he stands with, looking at the watch etc) send out a message that can't be rehearsed.  

Most of us are pretty good at picking up the spirit of someone else's intent - like the bloke at a cocktail party who's constantly looking past you for someone more important to talk to.   But diggers serving in the Middle East are in a class of their own. Even Alan Pease would come second in the intensity diggers bring to studying people for signs of duplicity.  Their lives depend on observing the slightest non-verbal communication signals from everyone around them with the constant threat of rogue Islamist locals and suicide bombers on the streets.   They'll sum you up quick smart.

 Here are some unauthorised snaps of The Leader at work.

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Service men and women put their lives at risk to achieve the things politicians want them to do.   The really hard stuff.

"Does this bloke back me?   Does he know what it's like?   If he's the boss, what does he say we're here for?" It rightly pisses anyone off to feel they're being used - when your life's on the line it's a bit more personal.

Turnbull's not alone - Rudd and Gillard clearly went to the Middle East for the photos, but no one has done it quite like Turnbull.

A short time ago I Googled Turnbull's contribution to misunderstanding the war against Islamic State, his banal slogan that it's a "War of Ideas".

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(Editor's note - our troops aren't in Turnbull's War of Ideas, theirs is a War of IEDs.   More from me on that in Part Two - back to the issue at hand - Malcolm's message and the media.)

All the major media organisations covered the PM's trip. All ran reports.  They (including the ABC) all play the "count the clicks" game and are acutely conscious of the importance of Google rankings in searches for contemporary news issues of interest.   So what's Turnbull's website doing at number one, beating the professional news organisations.   The first thing I checked was his material, what was he running that would cause so much interest, was it unique and only available on his site?

Nope.  Turnbull's website contained transcripts of Turnbull's utterances - but his page wasn't the original source. The original transcripts carry the national Coat of Arms and appear on the website as original source material recording Australia's position on issues of importance.

In his role as PM, Mr Turnbull is a paid employee hired to deliver services on behalf of Australia.  His employer published the transcripts at its website - isn't Mr Turnbull's job to promote Australia, its messages and interests?

On that score he's done a poor job because the website didn't even rate a mention in the Google rankings.

But identical transcripts, stripped of Government of Australia emblems like our Coat of Arms turn up on Turnbull's personal page - and it's that website, the personal property of Turnbull that reaps the benefits of work done for Australia, but stripped of its Australia branding.

It's surprising to see a politicians personal homepage at No 1 on an issue that gets picked up in the media   He's outpaced all our media organisations who invest in sophisticated techniques to build their audiences for connection to advertisers.

SEO (Search Emgine Optimisation) is an acronym for an industry that uses various techniques to lift a website's rankings. Mr Turnbull's homepage is a prime example of SEO at work, particularly on this issue.

Mr Turnbull takes webpage content from his day job (, strips it of its Commonwealth branding, reposts it to his personal website and uses SEO techniques to build the personal website.   He could provide links to to improve its standing.   But he doesn't.  That would be about Australia.   And this is Malcolm talking about Malcolm.

I followed the Google No 1 ranking in my research for Australia's Prime Minister and Australia's take on the "War of Ideas" in the Middle East and ended up at Turnbull's home page.   Turnbull sets out what it's all about.

The message couldn't be any clearer.


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Malcolm, the tail is wagging the dog a bit.  Aren't you there to serve us?   Support Malcolm?   What for?

Malcolm is a master of marketing in the age of social media and -isms.   But what does Malcolm sell besides Malcolm?  In Part Two of this review of his trip to the Middle East and US we'll look at the substance of what he did and said.


PS -  If you're affected by Turnbull's subliminal messaging in the Support Malcolm call to action above, why not try a soothing contribution to

No staff, PM salary or government grants here - just me and you!   

PPS on a serious and businesslike note - I appreciate that there's a lot to learn from studying savvy internet marketers like Turnbull (a lot to dislike as well).  If he was a consultant on SEO etc I'd listen to him.   But he could apply his expertise in marketing etc to any discipline with much the same results - he is oriented almost wholly to the messaging.   I simply don't see the substance.

I see this website as the polar opposite.  this website and its history provides a very good insight into much of the "what not to do" if the aim is to build a viable business online.   But building a business has never been my intention.   I've done no market of the site, no SEO and have resisted offers of help to transform this operation into a self-supporting commercial enterprise - I felt from the start that our cause was loftier.

I recognise that if we are to remain online we'll need to change. Enquiries pending!