Tony Abbott, Australia’s new prime minister, is a fitness buff. Opposition newspapers have called his often-photographed outdoor activities, including volunteer firefighting, “Putinesque.”
But the prime minister’s recent 14-hour stint with his rural firefighting unit battling wildfire blazes that threatened the suburbs of Sidney was no publicity stunt or photo opportunity.
It was not even in the news until some amateur video of him in his firefighting gear circulated on the Internet.
Prime Minister Abbott immediately drew criticism from his opponents, who said he was making life difficult for his security detail, showing off, and unnecessarily risking injury that would take him away from his official duties.
But Mr. Abbott also had plenty of defenders. That group included a commentator who, despite having voted against him, praised him as “a real bloke” and ridiculed the bunch crying security foul for “getting its knickers in a knot.”
Mr. Abbott has been a member of his fire brigade for 10 years. His fire chief defended him for volunteering to help at a critical time, saying he often “pulls more than his own weight,” would be deputy chief if not for his official duties and has the complete respect of his teammates.
Perhaps we Americans have become too accustomed to the security bubble that is put around our presidents and seems to keep them from much real contact with ordinary folks.
Some recent presidents have tried to show themselves doing athletic and manly things, such as Ronald Reagan cutting brush on his ranch and George W. Bush riding a mountain bike. But they still stayed inside the security bubble.
So kudos to Prime Minister Abbott for showing that the trappings of office don’t have to prevent an individual from occasionally getting outside of that bubble — and from engaging in real-world exertions without calling for attention.