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The Intolerance of Tolerance: Tony Abbott’s Head Butt Episode

“This was a violent and criminal act, nothing whatsoever to do with the point of view of those of us who favour a yes vote.” (Senator George Brandis, Australian Attorney-General, Sep 22, 2017).

It came, less out of the blue than out of the ether of the expected. “A 38 year old North Hobart man has been charged,” went the note from the Tasmanian Police Force, “following an alleged incident on Hobart’s waterfront yesterday afternoon.” Former Australian prime minister and conservative high priest Tony Abbott had received a Liverpool kiss, a head butt that had left him, by his own admission, a slightly swollen lip. “I just want to shake your hand and just went bang,” came the description from a Hobart DJ, Astro ‘Funknuckl’ Labe.

Abbott’s account on this directed “bang” was immediate. This had been the work of a pro same-sex advocate, an invert not merely in the sexual sense, but in the sense of political tolerance. Heads had replaced hearts – quite literally.

“Their slogan of ‘love is love’ is unfortunately shown in practice to be intolerance, not wanting people to be able to have their view.” The reliably conservative Senator Eric Abetz also added his stubborn varnish, suggesting that the encounter was “yet again another example of the ugliness of the Yes campaign.”

Abbott garnered little sympathy from various quarters. The critics, as they do with reliable promptness, came out with their pitchforks. The New Matilda site wondered if he was being economical with the account. “What we do know is that the best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour, and on that front there are so many videos on YouTube of Tony Abbott lying”.

Writer John Birmingham felt solidarity with the man who sported a head that connected with Abbott’s: “Je suis headbutt guy.” Tribal loyalties were being stirred, and violence was being embraced as a necessary symptom, axiomatic in any debate, if it could be called that, regarding Abbott and his views. Tolerance had been replaced by delight and Schadenfreude.

Others added their own versions, showing that this had become an argument without a distinction, a discussion without a purpose. What mattered was the application of unadorned violence, best reflected by the hashtag running its merry way through Twitter: “nut the c#nt”. The brutish phrase had its origins in Labe’s own roughly struck words, which had spawned a social media phenomenon: “If I see an opportunity to improve my life and those around me by nutting Tony Abbot, I’m a pretty pragmatic guy.”

The social media feast swarmed with disputes about violence, its application, its necessity. The tolerant brigades had disappeared, and the revolutionary pugilists, behind the comfort of a tweet, were coming out. What was left was mere technique, reaction, and counter-attack. “Abbott has a uni boxing blue,” chirped Steven Trewin. “Disappointed in Tony that he did not punch the tosser hard in the face! He served it for his king butt.”

Then came the next turn in the tale, another shift in the winds. Labe, it transpired, had attacked the former prime minister for different reasons. Abbott’s own Liberal colleague, the Attorney-General George Brandis, poured the coldest of pours on the suggestion that this act had anything to do with the same-sex marriage debate. “This man had absolutely nothing to do with those who advocated for a yes vote in the same-sex marriage postal survey, absolutely nothing.”

Abbott had the Tasmanian DJ seeing a haze of red rage, an instinctive chance. “It’s just about Tony Abbott – the fucking worm that he is.” Old, unalloyed “personal hatred”, and his anarchism, was what sufficed to do violence. And the fact that he “didn’t think it was an opportunity I’d get again.”

And what of the same-sex sticker on his ticket as the ferocious act unfolded? Astro Labe was unconvinced. It was a case of coincidence, accident, a misalignment of the stars. “It was purely because a friend of mine had walked past handing them out and had stuck one on my jacket.”

The nature of this debate (if it qualifies as that) has had its inevitable pressures. Violence, not love, is the current running beneath notions of what will be changed by what can only be described as a fatuous survey. The tide is coming in, and the pantomime is unfolding.

Businesses are being made to come out in their own fashion. Sporting clubs that would otherwise be interested in the pursuit of sport have had a stab, with mixed results, at the whole issue of same-sex marriage, donning the rainbow, spouting the line. The very issue is becoming a fashion statement, with a serious undercurrent. The debate there is simple, unrefined. The default here can only be intolerance.

Astro Labe did reveal the sheer bankruptcy behind such nice-mannered efforts as controlling and punishing the one-punch on an intoxicated night out or restraining violence in the community with the nonsense of control. Australia, embrace yourself: the truth of simmering resentment will out.

Dr Binoy Kampmark is a senior lecturer in the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies, RMIT University. He was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, University of Cambridge. He is a contributing editor to CounterPunch and can be followed on Twitter at @bkampmark.



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  1. john ocallaghan

    Abbott and Abetz and their clique are blatant opportunist and will exploit any situation that crops up to further their cause.
    They dont give a flying fig about SSM,it is all about attacking your political opponents and anybody else who votes “No; as they see them as Lord Forbid,”Progressives” Cultural Marxist” Greenies, Enviromentalists and other Subversives against the State,Motherhood,White Supremacy, Traditional family values and Oh.. Tony’s main game is to un-seat Turnbull and once again sit on the Throne with his partner in neo con ideõlogical insanity…. Peta she who must be obeyed Credlin!~!

  2. kathysutherland2013

    Interesting (but not surprising!) that Tony contacted the media, not the police!


    At a deeper level this is part of the ongoing battle to make old (culturally specific e.g. ‘white’) Labor or left to become and/or vote conservative; trying to split the centre and left to gridlock democracy and/or entrench malign neo-liberalism masked by conservative cultural and nativist issues.

    Ditto Brexit in the UK garnered significant older Labour support (sharing similar nativist or nationalist beliefs with Conservatives) for the Brexit cause, through sub-optimal media and PR i.e. decades of dog whistling Europe, EU and ‘immigrants’ (in the US, same template with Trump’s white working class too?); followed by much ordering around and demands of move on to ‘Remainers’.

    The long game one fears, with this precedent, is normalising ‘direct democracy’ via hot button cultural issues, presented very noisily while by passing parliamentary democracy and leadership for autocracy.

    Paraphrasing PJ O’Rourke who in turn was paraphrasing Mencken, ‘the people demanding direct democracy deserve it, and they deserve any negative consequences good and hard’.

  4. Zoltan Balint

    Rabbit … you have to be kidding. Any sane person with any sence of humanity, with any sence of justice any individual that is human and has had to endure a single comment or even an image of you Tony Rabbit over the last 20 years would have said “YES” and also “if only I was there I would have done the same thing and more AND I might be voting NO”. Take it like a man (sorry concept you do not understand) Tony and realise you are a twerp … and there is no other reason that a person needs to do it except of what you are Tony. Even Peter is showing signs of not being with you any more. T.W.E.R.P = Totally Without Emotional Realisation or Presence. Goooo awaaaay Tooooooooooony. Shut up so adults can talk, and take Malcolm and the rest of the cretins with you.

  5. Zoltan Balint

    Sorry forgot … go and eat an onion Tony.

  6. Glenn Barry

    If Tony’s a victim, then I’m a Martian. That man has been a perpetrator his entire adult life.

    I unfortunately live in his electorate and wonder WTF is going through the minds of the people in this area that both Abbott and Bronwyn Bishop are chosen to represent.
    Thankfully Bishop was rolled in pre-selection, losing the contest, I hope Abbotts demise is at the hands of the same clique, the same undignified fate

    Zoltan – tells us how you really feel – I agree wholeheartedly, personally I would like to campaign for a public service award for our headbutter, and yeah I’d also like to thump the C%#T, properly!!

  7. Keith

    The LNP were warned that tensions would be increased in the community by their postal survey.
    While Abbott gets all the media attention, very little has been stated about Rudd’s son who is a Yes supporter, and was bashed.
    It would be quite a safe proposition to suggest that many in the LNP would secretely cheer on anybody who touched Abbott up.

    But, in the end violence does not solve situations.

  8. Zoltan Balint

    Violence is not good. Would you consider the situation of attaching a rock to Abbots feet and throwing him off a nearest pier violent or just asking him to show his life saving skills that he so often exibits in his budgy smugglers.

  9. Shogan

    The headbutt that started all this was pure karma and I hope when the offender goes to court the judge tells him to go back and do the job properly!!…:P

  10. Peter

    Incorrect! I don’t like Abbott much at all, but the left of politics encourages intolerance whilst preaching tolerance.
    A good deal of introspection is required from the left.

  11. Zoltan Balint

    Peter this is not and it should not be about Left or Right. It is the Right / LNP that made it a political issue as such forced the YES people into the other camp. The YES / NO issue is about humanity after generations of oppresssion of a section of the pupulation. The forced ‘medical treatments’ and ‘retrainning’ the gay people had to put up with I see as violence that was there already.The NO camp would prefer to hold onto the ability to exclude and limit ‘A’ group the freedom that only they should have. And that freedom is to judge and determine the future of individuals NOT like US. If someone under force has hit you with a stick all your life and finally your hands are free to defend your self and they say to you this is the only and last chance to change it …

  12. Roswell

    Dear Jack. That was me – and it was only one comment.

    We are in the habit here of deleting comments that are an attack on the author. There’s a whole topic to talk about instead.

    Thems the rules.

    You are quite capable of intelligent debate. I’ve seen it.

  13. Henry Rodrigues

    Hey Tony, why didn’t you shirtfront him. You’re not such a tough guy after all. But your behaviour does confirm the old adage, bullies are really cowards. Now bugger off, you won’t get any sympathy here.

  14. Lee

    AS a mum of two gay kids, i am not sure had I seen Abbott I would of walked up and given him a mouth ful had him report it and me milk it for all I could get. I am surprise Abbotts old boxing reflexes didnt come in. my understanding of his boxing day was he didn’t box he belted and gbeat

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