Shows how much I know about mining! I thought the two guys trapped in Beaconsfield would be out days ago, right after they were tracked down. But no, they had to get a special borer in. Cue the same puns that everyone else has made about the special borer being David Koch … which is very unfair to the Today Show crew – also in Beaconsfield and even more boring.
But hasn’t the media enjoyed itself? Virtually every show on TV’s done a special “live from Beaconsfield” – a description that seems a little insensitive in the wake of one death, and the chance of two more. The media hasn’t had a good old frenzy like this since the tropical cyclones.
Of course, the line between life-threatening situation and brilliant product-placement opportunity is a very thin one. Imagine the joy the good people at Sustagen would have felt when it was breathlessly revealed their product was being shipped down the hole to the miners because of concerns that jelly beans weren’t nutritious enough for them.
You can’t buy that kind of good publicity. Unless you talk to Harry M. Miller, who did that infamous deal to get Mars Bars to James Scott.
Then there was the news that they’d been given iPods. What was the point of that? No-one could see into the pitch black mineshaft to be impressed by their cool white earphones, removing the device’s primary purpose as far as I can tell.
No, that’s not fair, I’m a devout iPodder, and I reckon giving them music is a really nice idea – even if it’s the Foo Fighters. But given iPods’ still-woeful battery life, I really hope they have a kilometre-long extension cord down there.
Apple and Sustagen weren’t the only ones whose brands were promoted, of course. (And for the record, Sustagen has denied it paid anything. As you might hope!) The miners were also seized upon by men promoting brands that have had a rougher time in the marketplace recently – Kim Beazley and AWU President Bill Shorten.
Now, I must take issue with those who’ve criticised the Opposition Leader for using the disaster to benefit politically. Kim Beazley’s never benefited politically from anything. But it sure was tacky to go launching into a critique of the Federal Government’s WorkChoices legislation.
His points about training were valid and the union’s involvement may have saved the two men’s lives – so far. But there’s a time to make these sorts of points, and it’s pretty clearly when the two survivors have actually, um, survived.
By speaking so soon, Beazley has successfully undermined his entire argument by allowing the Government to shift the debate onto whether his comments were appropriate. How many times does this have to happen before Labor wises up to the idea that criticising the Government works better if the manner in which you do so isn’t itself vulnerable to criticism? Even Steve Bracks, a far more media-savvy leader than Beazley, has criticised him for it.
Then there’s Shorten, who rushed to the scene on Sunday night and was confidently speaking today about the various rescue methods, as if he was the one greasing up to pull ’em out, like a trade unionist Groundskeeper Willy. This is exactly the sort of situation where the union should play a role in ensuring workers’ safety, of course. But let’s not make this about WorkChoices. I think the new industrial relations regime is outrageous as well, but now’s not the time. Otherwise all that will happen is that workers considering whether to join a union will opt out, for fear their hour of need will be hijacked by a limelight-seeking bureaucrat.
In Shorten’s defence, he’s held off attributing blame until after the ordeal’s over. And there’s little doubt he’s been helpful. But not as helpful as this has been to his profile. He was spoken of as the “great hope” of Labor before all this, and the Rudy Giuliani of Beaconsfield has certainly handled it better than Beazley.
There will be a time for blame, and a time for point-scoring. Let the free-for-all begin as soon as we’re certain that the two guys stuck down there aren’t going to die from another cave-in caused by the rescue effort. Until then, as hard as it may be for Kim Beazley and Bill Shorten to believe, this isn’t actually about them.