A tale of two eggs: Gillard and Morrison

gillard-egg incident 2010

Five-letter word; to egg on. That was my first cryptic crossword clue many years ago and after staring and thinking about what the answer could possible mean, the double-entendre finally clicked, and I’ve been a fan of the cryptics ever since. And the answer? More on that later.

Eggs have been the protest missile of choice for political activists all around the world but other items have also been used, including a dildo, glitter, salad dressing, sandwiches, shoes, pies, flour, tomatoes, custard and purple powder, among many other items. But it was a single unbroken egg that became the focus of the federal election campaign this week.

The Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, was involved in an incident at a Country Women’s Association event in Albury, when 24-year-old Amber Paige rolled an egg on the top of Morrison’s head. The egg wasn’t “thrown” or “smashed” on his head, as claimed by many in the media, but rolled from the top of his head, onto the side of his head, and onto the ground, where it remained intact.

Morrison quickly saw a political opportunity and derided Paige as a “cowardly activist” and said he would “stand up to thuggery” and “militant unionists”, even though there is no link at all between Paige and unions.

Amber Paige rolls the end on top of Scott Morrison's head
The moment when Amber Paige rolls the end on top of Scott Morrison’s head.

The incident overshadowed all other campaign events and captured the attention of the media for almost 48 hours, especially Morrison’s attempt to create a link between the incident and unions – which would ultimately make a link with Labor leader, Bill Shorten – and, no doubt, an issue Morrison will continue to make a link with into the final week of the election campaign.





Now, there’s no suggestion that throwing eggs or other missiles at public figures should be an acceptable act, or something that should be encouraged, but how does this incident in Albury compare with others throughout Australia’s political history?

There was the most recent ‘egging’ incident in March, when Will Connolly cracked an egg over Senator Fraser Anning’s head; on this occasion, breaking the egg and setting up a chain of events where Connolly was punched in the head by Anning, and kicked and headlocked by Anning’s supporters.

Eggs have been thrown at many senior politicians in the past, including Robert Menzies, Malcolm Fraser, John Hewson, Bob Hawke and Julia Gillard, but little was made of those incidents, and most of those political figures downplayed the events.

The most stark comparison with Morrison’s over-the-top response is from 2010, when Enrico Von Felten, a man “angry with government policy affecting his business” threw an egg at Gillard, which narrowly missed her and ricocheted into a policewoman’s leg instead.

The media brushed aside the incident, filing their new reports with puns about Gillard having ‘egg-on-the-face’ on refugee policy, and ‘over-egging her Timor solution’. The Australian Federal Police seemed quite amused by it as well, downplaying the significance of the event. Gillard was asked by a reporter: “what about the egg?” to which she responded: “I’m fine, thank you very much”, before adding; “the man thought I needed to have some scrambled eggs this morning for breakfast.”

An angry man violently throws an egg at a female Prime Minister, albeit not hitting her, and it’s laughed off in the media. But when a women casually rolls an egg innocuously over a man’s head, it’s almost a national emergency. What makes Scott Morrison so different?

Back in 2010, we never heard any outrage about Von Felten actions as a cowardly activist, or accusations of thuggery in the business community. Why was Morrison so keen to make a link between Amber Paige and “militant unionists”, when no link exists?

Why was there so much confected outrage in the media about Morrison’s incident, but almost a comical response to Gillard?

Morrison’s outburst is reminiscent of Australia’s most infamous egg-throwing incident in 1917, when Prime Minister Billy Hughes was campaigning in Queensland for a national plebiscite on war conscription. Hughes was a fierce proponent of the divisive issue of conscription, the issue splitting the community, and resulted in the expulsion of Hughes from the Labor Party.

Prime Minister, Billy Hughes.
Prime Minister, Billy Hughes.

While Hughes addressed an audience at the Warwick railway station, an egg thrown by anti-conscription activist Paddy Brosnan knocked off his hat. Hughes was outraged and reached into his coat for a revolver, but it had been left behind in his railway carriage. This enraged Hughes even further, who then ordered a local policeman to arrest Brosnan, but was told “you have no jurisdiction”, as it was a Commonwealth matter.

Hughes remained outraged by this incident for some time and witnesses from that day insist if Hughes did indeed have the revolver in his coat pocket, he would have shot Brosnan dead. This incident became the catalyst for the formation of the Commonwealth Police, which later became the Australian Federal Police.

Should Morrison have made such a big fuss about an egg? What would have happened if he had a revolver in his coat?

John Hewson catches an egg at a 1993 GST rally.

Other politicians have brushed these incidents off for being the innocuous events they really are. In 1993, students were pelting Liberal leader John Hewson at a GST rally with apples, tomatoes, broccoli – and eggs. Hewson managed to catch one of the eggs and shouted out: “Those cricketers have nothing on me!”

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Many other leaders have responded with good humour in the numerous egg-throwing incidents throughout political history and, if it was good enough for the media to laugh off the incident that happened to Gillard, it should be good enough for the media to also do this with Morrison.

Obviously, Morrison has considered he should grab every opportunity available to him, even if it is to equate an egg-rolling prank with a national security alert, and release all the hyperbole affiliated with militant unionism and environmental activism.

Today, he was in a bingo hall in the outer-Sydney town of Windsor, calling out numbers to a geriatric audience, and encouraged the media to make puns about his number call-outs and budget figures. If a Prime Minister wants to call out ‘clicketty-click-sixty-six’ in a bingo hall towards the end of an election campaign, that’s their prerogative.

Scott Morrison at the bingo hall in Windsor.
Scott Morrison at the bingo hall in Windsor.

But it’s not the image of a Prime Minister in a desperate ideological battle, trying to win over every single vote and slugging it out until 6pm on election day, when the ballot boxes are sealed and the vote counting commences.

It’s more the sign of resignation, to enjoy the ride for the next week, because the seat of his prime-ministership will come to an end soon. But it won’t be a celebration: he’s toast. And even Morrison knows this.

It’s also the five-letter word solution to the cryptic clue: To egg on.

Recent polling:

DatePollLNPLabor
2–6 May 2019 Essential 48% 52%
4–5 May 2019 Roy Morgan 49% 51%
2–5 May 2019 Newspoll 49% 51%
1–4 May 2019 Ipsos 48% 52%
25–29 April 2019 Essential 49% 51%

Predicted seats outcome:

Labor 83 (+11)
LNP 62 (-11)
Others 6  

Betting:

Labor $1.15
LNP $5.25
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Eddy Jokovich

Eddy Jokovich is a Sydney-based journalist and producer of many books, magazines and handbooks and has worked as a war correspondent, journalist, lecturer in media studies and production.