India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi—or his speechwriter at any rate—set up the joke rather well.
Addressing Australia’s parliament yesterday Modi said this: "I’m the third head of the government you are listening to this week. I do not know how you are doing this. May be, this is Prime Minister Abbott’s way of shirtfronting you.”
One had to know the meaning of the very Australian term shirtfronting to get the humor. It is an Australian football term that means to shoulder-charge an opponent’s chest. It is a menacing move which is also used in non-football situations. Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbot had just used it as a sort of mild threat against Russia’s President Vladimir Putin by saying he would shirtfront him.
G20 leaders had gathered in Australia for a summit summit and Putin was a guest under particular scrutiny because of his moves in Ukraine. Last October, after the Malaysian jetliner was shot down over Ukraine, the Australian prime minister had said he planned to shirtfront Putin over it.
It seems someone on the Indian prime minister’s staff had managed to tuck away the reference possibly to be used later. The speech to the parliament offered a perfect opportunity. The joke worked as the members of parliament cheered Modi.
The Australian parliament was also addressed by Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron and China’s President Xi Jinping.