Barack Obama’s team watched Julia Gillard’s misogyny speech whenever they were “really annoyed” with Tony Abbott, one of the president’s senior advisers has revealed.
Ben Rhodes, the former deputy national security adviser, has also described how Obama “went way off the script” to blast the Abbott government for climate inaction during a visit to Brisbane for the G20 summit in 2014.
For his part, Rhodes described Abbott as being “tone deaf” on the climate issue in the lead-up to the Paris agreement and recalled the former prime minister as being “upset” about the US president’s forceful intervention on protecting the Great Barrier Reef.
The behind-the-scenes tension between Obama and Abbott is laid bare in the latest episode of A Rational Fear, a news and politics comedy podcast.
In an interview, Rhodes said he and others at the White House had regularly watched the 2012 video of Gillard declaring she would “not be lectured about sexism and misogyny” by Abbott.
“I will tell you that whenever we were really annoyed with Tony Abbott, we would watch the video of that speech by Julia Gillard,” Rhodes said.
“That speech got watched a lot in the Obama White House, let me just put it that way,” he added with a smile, but did not specify whether the president was one of the viewers.
Rhodes said while Obama had been able to work positively with centre-right leaders including Germany’s Angela Merkel and Britain’s David Cameron, it was no secret that Abbott was “far from his favourite leader to begin with”.
“What was frustrating with Abbott, you know, is he was kind of very sure of himself without really knowing what he was talking about,” Rhodes told the podcast hosts, Dan Ilic and Lewis Hobba.
Obama had been “trying to get Australia to do some minimal stuff”, such as setting a target to reduce emissions by 2030 or providing funding for developing countries.
At the time, the Guardian reported that Australia was resisting including language in the official G20 communique encouraging countries to make pledges to the Green Climate Fund, instead insisting the focus should be on spurring global economic growth.
Rhodes said Obama’s team had prepared a paragraph about climate change for a speech on the sidelines of the G20 but when the president got to that portion “he just went way off the text, and was just basically blasting the Abbott government in ways that he almost never did on foreign soil and pointing out the Great Barrier Reef disappearing”.
Obama told an audience at the University of Queensland that global heating threatened “the incredible natural glory of the Great Barrier Reef” and Australia, like the US, had to “step up”.
“Abbott was upset,” Rhodes said. “You know, this was supposed to be this big stage for him hosting the G20.
“But it’s like, well, look, if you want to host a G20, you’ve got to step up and be an international leader. And we’ve got everybody else kind of rallying around this effort to get to an ambitious climate agreement the next year in Paris, and Abbott was really one of the last holdouts dragging his feet.”
Abbott used his own speech to the G20 leaders’ retreat to declare that his government had fulfilled its domestic-policy promises to the Australian people, including “that I would repeal the carbon tax, and that’s gone”. The final Brisbane communique included a call for “strong and effective action” on climate change.