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Captain Confrontation

Whenever Tony Abbott takes on his tough guy approach his popularity in the polls seems to rise, or more accurately, his unpopularity wanes a little. The smirk disappears, the slow measured speech, mind-numbing repetition and finger-counting disappears, and Tony comes as close as he gets to sincerity. He seems to enjoy confrontation and relish in a belligerent reaction. And it has always been thus.

Whilst at Sydney University, Tony led an aggressive rightwing revolt against the leftwing orthodoxies of the late 70s and the campus was covered with anti-Abbott graffiti.

In a 2004 article by the Sydney Morning Herald, one former student who was at Sydney University with Tony Abbott, Barbie Schaffer, described Tony Abbott as “very offensive, a particularly obnoxious sort of guy” and also being “very aggressive, particularly towards women and homosexuals”.

During this time, Tony was charged with bending a street sign, accused of indecent assault, of kicking in a glass panel after being defeated at the University Senate elections in 1976, and, after having being defeated by Barbara Ramjan for the SRC presidency, approaching her, moving to within an inch of her nose, and punching the wall on both sides of her head.

Abbott’s willingness to confront people continued at Oxford.

In May 1982, six days after the British sinking of the Argentinian warship General Belgrano, with 323 killed, an Oxford demonstration took place against Thatcher’s military campaign in the Falklands. Hundreds of chanting students and locals converged on the Martyrs’ Memorial, a traditional gathering place for protesters.

Abbott hurriedly scraped together a dozen fellow rightwingers from Queen’s, rushed to the memorial, and mounted a counter-demonstration in favour of the British war effort. Provocatively, he stood beside the peace protesters, one hand in his pocket, bellowing pro-Thatcher slogans. “Police attempts to disperse [his] unofficial meeting met with little response”.

Of his time at St Patrick’s seminary, vice-rector Fr Bill Wright wrote of Tony that many found him “just too formidable to talk to unless to agree; overbearing and opiniated”.

“Tony is inclined to score points, to skate over or hold back any reservations he might have about his case.”

When the Church made a generous and unprecedented offer to accommodate Tony’s demands that he would prefer to study than do pastoral care and about where he would like to live and study, Tony rejected their offer and subsequently left. Fr Wright asserts that

“Once Tony had beaten the system and was no longer able to locate the ‘struggle’ as being between himself and authority, he had no-one much else blocking his path but himself.”

We have all heard about Tony decking Joe Hockey at football but what you may not realise is that they played for the same club and the stoush happened at training. Joe regularly played in the thirds and often got a run in the first XV but Tony, who was 10 years older and coached and sometimes captained the seconds, refused to pick Joe. Hockey admits he didn’t like the way Abbott ran the team. By his own admission, he was also abrasive. Joe didn’t like his selections and didn’t mind telling him so. So when Hockey saw the opportunity, he went straight for Abbott’s kidneys. Tony’s reaction was “a blistering array of uppercuts, hay-makers and wild swings” which left Hockey unconscious with two black eyes.

Tony was writing for the Bulletin at this time and actually led a strike.

“When I was at the Bulletin, ACP management one day, quite unilaterally, decided to sack the entire photographic department ….we were all shocked, stunned, dismayed, appalled, flabbergasted – when management just came in and said they were sacking the photographic department. So we immediately had a stop work meeting. There were various appropriately angry speeches made and I moved the resolution to go on strike, which was carried, as far as I can recall, unanimously, and we went on strike for a couple of days.”

From there Tony moved on to briefly manage a concrete plant and very quickly found himself causing a total shutdown through his inept handling of employees. Tony explained what happened in a 2001 interview with Workers Online.

“The ideology of the company was, in those days, was that the concrete industry had been run for far too long for the benefit of the owner-drivers and not enough for the benefit of the company and its shareholders – and we had to change that. So, like an obedient young fella I got to the plant in the morning, marched up and down the line of trucks like a Prussian army officer, telling owner-drivers who had been in the industry for longer than I had been alive, that that truck was too dirty, and that truck was filthy, and that truck had a leaking valve and had to be fixed.

Naturally enough, this wasn’t very popular, and I had been there a couple of months, and a phone call came through one morning from the quarry manager, saying that there was going to be a strike starting at midday, so can we put a bit of stuff on the road to you. And I said sure, send me as much as you’ve got. I’ll use it. I can keep my plant open for longer than I otherwise might.

I didn’t think anymore about it. All these trucks turn up at about 4 o’clock in the afternoon with gravel and sand and aggregate, wanting to dump it. And I couldn’t dump it without running material from the ground bins up to the overhead bins. It took me about half an hour to figure out how to turn the conveyor belt on because all the staff had gone home. I finally got it going; the materials were dumped; I went home feeling that I had done my job well. A phone call came through at 5.30 the next morning from the senior plant operator saying: “Did you turn the conveyor belt on yesterday?”. I said “Yeh”. He says “Right – nothing moves – this plant’s black – like to see you get yourself out of this little fix Sonny Boy!”

So anyway, I drove out to the plant that morning, thinking well, you know, this is a bit of a problem. How do I solve this? I thought that there’s really only one thing to do, and that’s to beg. So I got over there and I said to the senior plant operator. I said: “Stan I’m sorry. I’m new in this industry. I appreciate that I’ve been a bit of a so-and-so, but you’ve made your point and I will try to be different.”

He said to me: “It’s out of my hands. It’s in the hands of the union organiser.” So I said, who’s the union organiser and what’s his number? I rang him and I sort of begged and pleaded, and he said: “It’s more than my job’s worth to let this go. Bloody Pioneer are always pulling stunts like this. We’ve had enough of it! We’re sick of it! Got to do something.” So I said, well, look why don’t we put the old final warning. That if I ever do this again, I’ll be run out of the industry. And there was silence on the end of the phone, and after about ten seconds he said: “I’m putting you on a final warning mate, if this ever happens again you will be run out of the industry.”

Tony left soon after and began writing for the Australian. When they went on strike over pay and conditions, Tony was by now campaigning on the side of management, arguing in front of six to seven hundred people at the lower Trades Hall in Sussex Street that they shouldn’t go on strike. His speech did not meet with a particularly warm reception and the strikes went ahead.

When Tony became Minister for Industrial Relations in 2001, when trying to sell his workplace agreements, he said “I would have thought that sensible, intelligent organisations – unions no less than political parties like to say that if you are not against me you are at least potentially for me. Whereas the union I think is saying, if you are not for me you are against me, which I think is a counter-productive attitude.” Pity he didn’t think of that before coming up with Team Australia.

As Health Minister in 2004, Abbott defended John Howard’s decision to invade Iraq.

“As the critics constantly point out, war means that innocent people die. Unfortunately, any peace which leaves tyrants in charge also means that innocent people die. Pacifism is an honourable course of action for an individual prepared to suffer the consequences of turning the other cheek. But requiring collective non-resistance is complicity in evil. It’s an odd moral universe where the accidental killing of Iraqis by soldiers of the Western alliance is worse than the deliberate killing of Iraqis by Saddam Hussein or where it’s immoral to risk hundreds of Western lives to save hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives.”

Tony has continued the tough guy rhetoric in recent times, offending China, Russia, Indonesia, Palestine, Malaysia, PNG, East Timor, and most Muslims. He is amplifying the danger to our national security every chance he gets (whilst admitting the actual threat has not changed) and is spending unending billions on defence, armaments, border protection, and anti-terrorist initiatives.

Captain Confrontation has chosen the ground and brought out the heavy roller to prepare the pitch for the spinners.


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  1. Kath Malcom

    Captain Confrontation hits the nail on head Kaye, great article about the good Christian….NOT
    I would call him Captain Cockhead, just lookin at the fugly idiot makes me want to throw up,
    And when he starts finger counting, I then want to slash my wrists, to put myself out of the misery 🙂
    I can’t turn the TV over quick enough when Captain Contaminator comes on 🙂

  2. Kath Malcom

    Kaye I have changed my name, Bob Rafto suggested I drop the dark from DanDark, cos it was toooo dark
    So I have and now life has got lighter, thanks Bob 🙂

  3. mars08

    Whenever Tony Abbott takes on his tough guy approach his popularity in the polls seems to rise…

    What might that tell us about the mindset of the Australian voter?????

  4. Dan Rowden

    I don’t think this is about Abbott in particular. It’s about how conservative governments roll in the shire (in contemporary Australia). Abbott is simply a pin-up boy for that style of government. Howard was also a past master at firing up conservative synapses this way, and we all have a certain amount of those in our brains, even we are ostensibly leftist. The Left has become increasingly cynical about and resistant to this sort of style of government, largely due to the Howard experience, and that of course is all to the good, but it still resonates strongly with conservative minds, across the entire spectrum of conservative thought. There’s hardly anyone in conservative ranks in this country that are expressing “in principle” objection to the style of government we’re seeing, even though some voices are offering dissent over specific policy areas or a willingness to note specific Abbott failings.

    What’s extraordinary to me is that this sort of button pushing bullshit still works to any degree. Far too many Australians, most of them swinging voters, possess too little regard for their intelligence, such that it exists, to be offended by this kind of conservative approach to governance. It’s so transparent and contemptuous that by rights there out to be immediate and general outrage in response. Instead, only progressives are offering such. When you have a political force that is willing to exploit and manipulate the most base elements of human nature, willing to push all those lizard brain buttons, you have something that is a grave danger to civilisation itself.

    I don’t know how many average Australians I’ve met over the last few years whose head I wanted to bash in over this issue of blindness to manipulation, but it’s a depressingly high number.

    I think I mean that last point purely figuratively. I think.

  5. Kath Malcom

    “I don’t know how many average Australians I’ve met over the last few years whose head I wanted to bash in over this issue of blindness to manipulation, but it’s a depressingly high number.”

    Dan I used to work with a woman and did sort of try to tell her, saw her not long ago and well she was winging about who she voted for,
    I said too late now don’t bitch to me, I told you so but noooo you are too dumb not realise you were being lied to and manipulated by a pack of old white men, time for this country to grow up I said to her and she is 56 🙂

  6. James Cook

    Dan, I agree with you but the MSM has a lot to answer for in terms of the number of voters who are either being misled and lied to (readers of the Oz) or being misled by omission (anyone who doesn’t get news updates via sites such as this). And, although it’s heartening to see the number of responses to articles on these sites, I fear that we are still in the minority…I really fear we are in the minority!

  7. David Stephens

    Dangerous combination of, first, a driven, aggressive individual, the veins on whose forehead probably stand out considerably more often than is the case with most of us and, secondly, a compatible cadre of Doctor Strangeloves who sublimate their aggression into pointing lethal bits of tin at brown people in countries far away. The point is that our PM thinks the second lot are wonderful., For a good case study of the second lot, see

  8. Rob031Typical

    Amygdala hijack is a term coined by Daniel Goleman in his 1996 book Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ.

    Drawing on the work of Joseph E. LeDoux, Goleman uses the term to describe emotional responses from people which are immediate and overwhelming, and out of measure with the actual stimulus because it has triggered a much more significant emotional threat.

    Oops. ‘Typical’ should not be part of my post name 🙂

  9. Kath Malcom

    I hear Joe has lost his mo, no more mojoe, just back to poor old jabbering Joe, looking more like the incompetent fool it has always been, someone needs to help Joe find his mo before it’s 3 strikes and you’re out Joe, he might have to find another team to bat for lol

    “Then there is Malcolm Turnbull, whose road back to the eventual leadership continues to be paved by patience, polls, policy and Hockey’s missing mojo.”

  10. Anne Byam

    Kaye .. a brilliantly devised exposure of the Abbott’s inclinations …. Threat, aggression, war, cruel comments …. He gives his real intentions away in every possible way – expression, body language, the way he walks ( OMG – THAT gets me – it’s revolting, and I do NOT think it is due to any physical disability whatsoever ) … facial expressions, coldness of eye, and the actual substance of his speeches. He is egocentric / egomaniacal, with ungoverned impulses. I will throw in narcissism for good measure, which is actually a ‘personality disorder’.

    From a website I visited …. just one of the many items displayed in a long explanation of narcissism.

    ” Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements).” …. well ain’t THAT the truth.

    Many itemised pieces of Abbott’s history in Kaye’s article took my attention …. but several stood out.

    ‘The unconscious Joe Hockey in a rugby training session’. …. Abbott used his boxing prowess from Oxford days, to shut up someone who dared to question him. And most likely to defend himself from another kidney punch ? But Abbott’s hefty aggression resulted in quite serious and potentially dangerous injury. An over-reaction of un-necessary proportions, considering the many ruses that rugby and AFL football players all use to incapacitate their opponents – at least for a short while. And they all lose their tempers – admittedly. These days they are ousted for weeks, from the game for dangerous tactics. I would be willing to BET, he’d have not done such a thing in an actual match, with people, club mentors etc. watching on. … He is opportunistic.

    ” I got to the plant in the morning, marched up and down the line of trucks like a Prussian army officer ” …. was that a Freudian slip ???
    Anyone who knows ( I know a wee bit only ) some of the history of the Prussian Army, could not mistake the inference.

    ‘He managed a concrete plant briefly’. ( which would have had him dealing – pro or con … with unions) He is not unfamiliar with Union activity in a personal way.

    BUT …. his ‘ownership’ comment floors me.

    ” I can keep my plant open for longer than I otherwise might.” …… a pompous statement. Not ‘the plant’ … but ‘MY plant’.
    Ownership, control, and then …….. ingratiation.

    The bloke doesn’t have a clue who he is, what he is, where he is, or what he should be – except something or someone in opposition to everything that makes sense, appears to be a larger issue than himself ( e.g. climate change – it’s bigger than him !! ) … and a wish to dominate and even destroy the ‘little’ people. Just like someone else in history did. !!

    His forte is opposition …. and I can’t wait until he gets back to his beloved post, from where he can shout abuse, invective, personal insult, and anything else that comes to mind – at the Government.

    He’s a very very dangerous piece of work.

  11. Anne Byam

    @ Dan Rowden …. your comment : ” What’s extraordinary to me is that this sort of button pushing bullshit still works to any degree. ”

    I agree. Why the Australian people in general, even those who were unsure, ended up pushing this bloke into Government, AFTER they had seen what he was capable of as an Opposition leader, beats me. I sure didn’t vote for him. !!!

    But then, the average busy, working, Aussie doesn’t necessarily tune into Parliament Question time. And his excessive and crude rants were rarely shown openly on TV, by anyone, unless it became the subject of interview. At which time his ‘other side’ would come to the fore. The blustering, um-er, poor-me-I-am-struggling-here … facade.

    Abbott is an enigma to a large degree. We all seem to be greatly attracted to mystery – in any form. The leader of this Government plays this to the hilt. Admittedly, we can all be street angels and home devils – also to a degree. But Abbott is permanently on the PUBLIC stage, and dare I say, he shows the twin masks of misery and light-hearted happy face, that usually heads the stage, or backstage, somewhere in a theatre.

    Can any one of us even consider, pre-empt, or believe just what he is likely to do next ? No … and I frankly don’t think his Ministers have a clue either.

    We’d better get over being attracted to mystery, which itself is a form of manipulation, (until the last page or scene is revealed), or we’ll have this bloke running the whole show ….( occasionally, and certanly not for the best ) for a long time to come.

    Ye Gods !!!

  12. mars08

    Dan Rowden:

    What’s extraordinary to me is that this sort of button pushing bullshit still works to any degree…

    And that… in a nutshell… is (by far) the most disheartening thing about federal politics in this country. THAT, for me, is the daunting fact that crushes any fragment of optimism I might still cling to. The ease with which my fellow citizens’ fear and ignorance can be exploited is just too bloody depressing!

  13. David Stephens

    Yellow Peril, Reds under the bed, domino theory, stop them there before we have to stop them here, better dead than red, etc. In the days of old fashioned type setting they would have had these sitting on a rack in the print shop

  14. marwill10

    One of the questions to Captain Confrontation in QT today, not about national security, was put by our inept Opposition Leader: “Why is the Government cutting pensions.” Anyone who has read/heard of the budget knows that the Government is not cutting pensions, they are adjusting the rate of the six monthly increases. This gave Abbott the opportunity to rant and rave about Labor’s lies and what a great Government they are. I have despaired, listening to questions from the opposition this week. With an extra sentence or two, their questions would have required a very different answer.

  15. Kaye Lee


    I agree about the questions asked in question time. So many opportunities missed.

    When they go on about Labor left us with deficits of $123 billion (or stretching as far as the eye can see) and debt of $667 billion, why aren’t they saying “Can you confirm that those projections include your budget decisions to cut revenue from the carbon and mining taxes and changes to the FBT and superannuation, and that they also include the $8.8 billion that Mr Hockey chose to give to the RBA?” or “Why was the charter of budget honesty introduced if you are going to completely ignore PEFO and ascribe the debt caused by YOUR decisions to Labor?”

    Re the pension reduction why aren’t they asking “Won’t increasing the pension by CPI rather than average male weekly earnings continue to expand the gap and erode pensioners’ comparative standard of living?”

    Instead of asking inane questions about the GP co-payment like is it a tax under any other name (which doesn’t even make sense Chris), why not highlight the flaws in the rhetoric. “The carbon tax would have raised three times the revenue that the GP co-payment is estimated to raise. Do you now regret your decision to charge sick people rather than the polluters who make them sick?”

    Ask them what modelling they have done about the effects of cutting all income to young unemployed and what specific measures they have put in place for those who can’t “earn or learn”. Ask them what they are doing to provide affordable housing. Ask them if they have a specific plan to increase the number of jobs available or are they relying on giving tax concessions to businesses in the hope they will choose not to take this as increased profit. Ask them what gives them the right to sell our assets to pay for Tony’s roads. Ask them if Infrastructure Australia agrees with their priorities (which I know they don’t).

    The repetition of catch phrases is such a waste of time. They are like kids fighting rather than our leaders having a reasoned debate.

  16. lawrencewinder

    A nice vignette of a talentless boor.

  17. stephentardrew

    Bit too much to remember Kaye. Try simplifying. All those numbers acronyms and stuff just get confusing. Debate what the hell are you on about. Anyone would think you believe in democracy. Can’t have that can we? Wheres the fun in that. Alternate budget well we have to satisfy the Labor right don’t we. Even some of them believe in the big bag debt and surplus. Lets just keep with the internal faction fighting in the backrooms while the honorary leader has to continually watch his back. You don’t really think they have reformed themselves after the last election.

    Funny I thought the leader leads by setting the agenda and negotiating sensible policies and unifying the team.

    When the Government asks for their alternate budget they should have a coherent alternative prepared and costed.

    Kaye I think you may have to get over there and run a few basic workshops on effective opposition, collective cooperation and budget strategies because they seem a wee bit bewildered.

    Trying to walk the tightrope of least exposure and smallest footprint is a fools game.

  18. Rob031

    I must have rocks in my head for looking forward to and watching Question Time in the Reps. Perhaps a few here and elsewhere feel similarly.

    While the Dorothy Dixers are predictable enough (and annoy the hell out of me.) I view them as one of those things to be taken philosophically. Part of the Question Time game that they all play.

    The ‘hook’ for me is the hope that Shorten or someone else in the ALP will fire off one or more questions that are totally out of left-field. Ideally a rolling set of questions that would elicit repeated catatonic reactions (as we saw in the case of Abbott’s ‘shit happens’ interview.) This mob bring out the very worst in me. Sigh…

    Surely, one would think, there’s some talent lurking around in the Labor Party or supporters that could script some really effective questions that the MP’s could ask. Most of those involved in the Gillies Report of the late 80’s could do this – John Clarke being the best.

    (Gary McDonald (Norman Gunston) could also be a great resource too. Who remembers his interview with Frank Hardy – a dedicated and rather humourless Marxist who wrote “Power Without Glory”? Gunston got him to acknowledge that he was a fan of Marx. Gunston then asked him: “Which one?”. Hardy was non-plussed and asked “What do you mean?” and Gunston asked: “Well, was it Groucho, Chicko, Harpo or Zeppo?”. His interview with Malcolm Frazer about ZPG was excellent too – but I digress.)

    Yes. Given the ordinariness of the questions asked over the last three days, we have every right to fear that the Opposition front-bench are neither creative nor getting tactically effective advice. I fear that ‘Captain Confrontation’ will survive till and beyond the next election. Any suggestions for Shorten and Co?

  19. Kaye Lee

    I’ve been suggesting until I am blue in the face. But I am just a middle-aged woman in jammies.

  20. Rob031

    Oh, by the way, regarding what I was raving on above about Question Time. One of the things I watched was the demeanor on the faces of Shorten and Tanya Plibersek when Abbott et. al. they were raving on with their usual question-evading guff. Plibersek was quietly shaking her head. Shorten was kinda just ‘looking up’.

    Do you remember that time that Bob Hawke was being interviewed by Richard Carlton yonks ago? Hawke accused him of having a ‘silly quizzical face’. Such a good windup! That would be a good continence to use during Question Time methunks! Here’s the link and the ‘face’ is just before the end of the clip (2:20 on) if you haven’t seen it already:

    Cf. “Bob Hawke blows up at Richard Carleton’s questioning”

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  22. marwill10

    Like you, I look forward to QT, always with the hope that today will be different. That the questions will be meaningful. As usual, I am nearly always disappointed.

    In regard to your comment “that the Opposition front-bench are neither creative nor getting tactically effective advice.” surely it shouldn’t be too hard to come up with a question that is based on fact and is not ambiguous. What are we paying them for if they cant? It’s not as if you need a degree to ask a pertinent question There are plenty of issues that need addressing and Kaye Lee has listed several questions that could /should be asked. But all we hear is drivel, served up ad nauseam.

  23. Anne Byam

    @ Rob031 …. like you, I sincerely want to see the day that a question ( questions actually – many ) get thrown at this Government, from way out of left field. Touch questions. Surely someone has something to say, that will rock Abbott back on his heels and have him umming and err-ing with fingers splayed and waving around, while he attempts to answer.

    Where is that person in Labor ?

    I still have a sneaking suspicion that the Labor party is sitting on it’s hands, for a reason. If that is NOT the case, then a total reshuffle of the Labor party is warranted … which would play into Abbott’s hands soooo very beautifully.

    Labor is between a rock and a hard place at present. It is up to the voting people to assist … and see through this diabolical excuse for a Government ……

    But ….. will it happen ???????? ( I sure as hell hope so ).

  24. Anne Byam

    @ Kaye …. ref. your comment August 28th 5.03 pm ….. you mentioned pensions.

    From what I recall, the days of the Howard Government had pensions rising only to the CPI … and nothing else. So pensioners ( me included ) received something like $1.50 per fortnight increase twice a year … not enough for a Mars bar or cup of coffee at a coffee house. It may have been slightly more – I would have to go over oodles of bank statements to make sure.

    The Labor Government after that, tried to put things to right … and gave small but more reasonable ( far more than the Howard Government ever did ) increases to the pension every March and September.

    As we face it now, we simply go back to the Howard days, of CPI adjustments …. and I wouldn’t mind betting this Gov’t will try to find a way to reduce that too.


  25. Gillian

    I too used to LOVE question time. Nowadays I just get so frustrated with the Dorothy Dixers and the LIES, LIES and more lies that we tape it and I can fast forward through all the crap!!!

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