In an article titled Inside the terrifying mind of Tony Abbott, Bernard Keane quotes a study from 2015 which looks into the psychological basis for climate change denial and why one particular demographic — older white males — tends to dominate the ranks of climate denialists.
The study identified that “denial is driven partly by dominant personality and low empathy, and partly by motivation to justify and promote existing social and human-nature hierarchies.”
I was immediately reminded of an article that Tony Abbott wrote in the Bulletin in 1987, six months after he left St Patrick’s seminary, in which he blames the church for not living up to his ideals, and the response written a week later by Father Bill Wright, a priest and church historian, who was vice-rector at St Patrick’s whilst Tony was there.
Father Bill said Tony was a controversial figure at the seminary. Whilst some seemed to admire him, others found him “just too formidable to talk to unless to agree; overbearing and opiniated”. After the heady days of university, “Tony was not, on the whole, impressed by his companions”.
“I do not recall that he ever talked about theology while at Manly. His concern was with churchmanship.”
Tony confirms this in his own article. He wanted hierarchical power but had no interest in empathy and pastoral care.
“Looking back, it seems that I was seeking a spiritual and human excellence to which the Church is no longer sure she aspires. My feeble attempts to recall her to her duty — as I saw it — betrayed a fathomless disappointment at the collapse of a cherished ideal.
In addition, a “cooperative” style of management ran counter to the Church’s age-old hierarchical structure.
The more they played up lay ministry and ecumenism and played down the unique role of the priest in the one true Church, the more the struggle seemed pointless.
l felt “had” by a seminary that so stressed ”empathy” with sinners and “dialogue” with the Church’s enemies that the priesthood seemed to have lost its point.”
Fr Wright goes on to say “Tony is inclined to score points, to skate over or hold back any reservations he might have about his case.”
This lack of empathy and desire to maintain the privileged status quo manifests itself in so many areas of Abbott’s thinking and public life.
In 2007, on the tenth anniversary of the Bringing Them Home report about the Stolen Generation (and before Kevin Rudd delivered his historic Apology), then Health Minister Abbott gave a speech in which he said “the debate on indigenous affairs had moved on from the issue of an apology”. What’s there to be sorry for after all.
Tony speaks of welfare “cheats” and “leaners” who rip off decent workers. The only reason they aren’t working is because they are lazy. Best way to deal with it? Starve them.
After he was assaulted by a man who “just wanted to nut the c#nt” because he had “always hated him”, Abbott immediately engaged in cynical political opportunism, saying “The love is love brigade aren’t showing a lot of love” and the “ugliness” and “intolerance” is coming from “those who tell us, in the name of decency and fair-mindedness and freedom, we’ve got to allow same-sex marriage”.
As Bernard Keane points out
he sees LGBTI people as threatening — not, of course, to his physical self, but to his social status. He put it even better when he explained his “threatened” comments by saying homosexuality “challenges orthodox notions of the right order of things”, revealing how LGBTI people conflicted with his hierarchical, “right order” view of the world.
We see the same lack of empathy when it comes to dealing with the humanitarian crisis of refugees. Abbott’s response about settling supposedly “illegal” asylum seekers here was a heartless simplistic “Nope, nope, nope.”
Abbott is a monarchist who sees any push for a republic as “the latest instalment in the green-left’s war on our way of life”.
He does not support quotas for female political representation saying “It’s up to every pre-selection panel to choose the best candidate regardless of gender.” Obviously he didn’t think much of the women in his party when handing out Cabinet jobs.
Keane sums up Abbott well when he says
through a prism of hierarchy, it becomes easier to understand why Abbott clings to the heterosexual, coal-fired, monarchical Australia he believes he grew up in, because that delivered him, as he sees it, to the top of the “right order of things” and anything that contradicts it must be fought as a kind of existential threat.
Abbott and his mates are happy with the status quo and they sure don’t want anyone upsetting the apple cart on their privileged advantage.