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Tag Archives: Catholicism

The romance of the retro PM

The more we see of Tony Abbott the more we are see of a person to dislike and distrust. And what we see emerging is a Prime Minister who would be more suited to leading a country in the 1950s – not the 21st century, writes Ricky Pannowitz.

The 1950s were a time of great cathartic change in everything from design to popular culture. Owning a 50’s retro car is more about perception than functionality. The regressive experience may be romantic, but it is ultimately expensive to maintain and less functional for the modern imperative. Can Australia afford a retro prime minister in a modern age?

It is no accident that Tony Abbott is a man who has gone from being the romantic notion of a simplistic bygone era to uncomfortably impractical. Like a shiny old reconditioned car in a showroom reminding us of a reminiscent past, there are many impracticalities and hidden issues that were not apparent beyond a new paint job and the aggressive sales pitch. After Tony left the showroom his transgression of trust saw a fickle voting public, transfixed by the mantra of sales spin, hit by the reality of something impractically different from what they were sold. The sagacity of wisdom from experts experienced in the realism of such decisions was barely audible beneath fervour of pitched hype. People were told across the board, the real Tony Abbott is a radical religious neo con, not this guy they are selling as centre centric. Any old school mechanic would tell you this ride will be uncomfortable, unreliable and ultimately expensive. Was Australia sold a lemon by crooked salesmen or is it a case of the buyer beware?

Friedrich Nietzsche wrote; “When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago.”

Just as we look back at the attitudes from another less progressive and enlighten time as cultural cringe, equally cringe worthy is the attitude to Abbott’s regressive assault on the hard fought rights of ordinary Australians. The very fact that the ideals, which have been fought and won with bipartisan acceptance long ago, are in Abbott’s sights is in itself a glaring example of his reckless judgement in embarking upon a politically suicidal assault on social cohesion. The sociology of political change tends to occur after a slow conciliatory process which culminates in a glacial shift that is usually in step with changing attitudes of contemporary society. Reconciliation, gender equality, sexual equality, racial equality, universal heath care, superannuation, equitable quality education, anti discrimination, protection from vilification, humanitarian responsibility, equitable immigration, a healthy public broadcasting sector, freedom of press, freedom of speech, the minimum wage, fair industrial relations, economic sustainability, research and technological capitalisation and welfare for the disadvantaged, affordable healthcare to name a few are all measures of Australia as a progressive egalitarian society. Then there is Tony Abbott; a radical ideologist who maintains a narrow centric view embodying the current pendulum swing to the furthest right axis of the social divide. Abbott is putting it all or nothing out there at once in an expedient assault of his ideological will with indifference to consequence. There is no doubt that this is all propagated by a free ride on the populous news cycle which is afforded far more democratic weight than its current erroneous substance should allow. It’s also punctuated by a heavy agenda as there are much money and favour behind Tony’s assault. A 880 million dollar tax bill payed to a media proprietor who supported him during the campaign that could possibly be a down payment to purchase the soon to be privatised telecommunications infrastructure which would monopolise delivery of his future content. Abbott has many such scores to settle in his rise to the top job.

John Avlon who wrote; “A wingnut is someone on the far-right wing or far-left wing of the political spectrum – the professional partisans, the unhinged activists and the paranoid conspiracy theorists. They’re the people who always try to divide rather than unite us” Partisan Division is a tactic that has served Tony Abbott well, until now.

Abbott represents the remnants of everything that connotes an old world view of a young, rich colonial power trying to punch above its weight on the world stage. A nation struggling with the shame of its arrogant colonial past whilst seeking to define the identity of its future as a progressive independent multicultural nation.

To understand Abbott one must look at the ideology of that which shaped him in his formative years as a student on the SRC at Sydney University. Deeply religious, highly opinionated and in contempt of anything that he considered to be of lesser social value or challenged his moralised ideological thinking; Abbott was a radical religious conservative chauvinist. Where others use university to explore, test and challenge convention through the development of critical thinking, Abbott was a defiant sycophant of ultra conservative class elitism, preferring to oppose and demonise progressive social thinking flippantly as a ‘socialist disease’ or ‘communist propaganda’. He dogmatically shoehorned all philosophy into the supposition of his inflexible world view. Tony Abbott was a political operative of Bob Santamaria, an ultra conservative religious anti communist in the 70’s who was the voice of catholic ultra conservative right. Santamaria groomed Abbott as the new charge of ultra conservative Catholicism which would ultimately come to embody the neo conservatism of the Tea Party movement and Toryism.

Abbott sees himself as a man of great morality, however this is at odds with his actions which define him as a bare knuckle combatant moralist who will say or do anything to win political advantage. Abbott is consistently a contradiction of his christian values, even when the issue on the table is at odds with the best interest of Australian society. Abbott demonstrates hypocrisy by virtue of his past and present actions. A fundamentalist catholic who entered the priesthood but ultimately failed due to the constraints of ethical dilemmas presented by his burning political ambition driven by a dogged lust for power at any cost. Abbott’s views are those of a religious conservative Australia in less progressive times that most Australians would rather forget than revisit. A dark age of xenophobic ardour, coercion of challenge to conventional institutionalism, suspicion of sociological advancement, political tyranny, scaremongering, corruption steeped in misogyny and the bigotry that maintained an indefensible position of religious faith over personal choice. Abbott believes there is no case for the separation of Church and state, in fact his religious beliefs consistently promulgate Christian influence over his Prime Ministership and publicly funded programs.

It was apparent to anyone that knew anything of Abbott’s politics and ideology before the election that he was incapable of governing for the majority as Tony Abbott knows no middle ground. Abbott’s view is all black or white; for or against as compromise is just not in his DNA. Tony is a poor negotiator who treats everything as a political game to win rather than a bipartisan outcome for the common good no matter what’s on the table. Abbott gives no quarter considering anything but ‘all or nothing’ weak and effeminate, irrespective of what the fallout or social consequence may be.

Image courtesy of the

Image courtesy of the

Abbott’s general tactic for even the most extreme obstinacy is usually to deny or offer a conditional, insincere apologetic acknowledgement to minimalise political capital before reloading to maintain assault. This is a man who has strategically manoeuvred to make his move at a time when political discourse in the country has arguably hit the lowest ebb in the nation’s history. Abbott has taken Howard’s most extreme regressive policies that tapped into the dark underbelly of prejudice, racism, hatred, misogyny and class welfare; then amplified them one hundred fold into a sensory assault strategy based on divide and conquer. The new ‘Minister for Women’s Affairs’ has long held grudges and his retribution can sometimes appear contemptibly childish to prove a point. Simplistic language dispenses a bitter pill administered with faux spin that is manufactured for the political expedience of powerful ideological encroachment rather than any visionary social progression. Tireless three word sloganism as a grinding, unrelenting mantra for political sleight of a back hand to his detractors.

This continuing language of deception is evidentiary in a budget that is little more than a manifesto of social engineering rather than a statement of prudent economics. Every thread of the Australia’s social fabric at odds with neoconservative ideology is attacked as unsustainable, unwarranted, superfluously unimportant or irrelevant. We all must do the ‘heavy lifting’ as Australia just can’t afford anything that Tony is opposed to and anyone who questions the budget with conflicting factually inconvenient critique is a ‘fiscal vandal’. The message behind the transparency of the language is arrogant, insulting and rhetorical ‘heavy grifting’ at best. The process of implementation of the budgets methodology was a prequel led by the “Commission of Audit”. This was a series of warning shot across the bow of middle Australia designed as conditioning for the predictable shock and awe of an unnecessarily tough budget to come. “You will thank us”, he reiterated, “we’re making the necessary hard decisions”. “Budget Emergency” “Big Black hole” Tony’s fire truck had arrived and its full of gasoline.

Under the scrutiny of experts across the political divide and with superficial micro explanation by the architects, both the audit and budget just don’t add up. Abbott is not a good orator with a fundamental understanding of economics at best. His subsequent response affirms he is in fact an “economic simpleton”. When pressed to explain himself he resorts to the rhetoric of slogans, outright lies and attack, all tactics that served elect him. This may well work in a election campaign but as a PM under the microscope in clear air, its a different proposition. The treasurer delivered the budget, tried to explain it and his approval together with his confidence rating severely tanked just like Abbott’s. Abbott and Hockey are not good performers under pressure, especially when thrown to the wolves without a script. The sheer weight of this ideology is drowning Abbott and Hockey and may well sink this government. Abbott’s freestyle oratory incompetence has seen a series of gaffs unbecoming and unworthy of his high office, further eroding his already dismal relationship with the Australian voting public. The mean spirit, retribution, hash cruelty, and inequality coupled with lack of detail, poor salesmanship with the absence of any qualified evidentiary substantiation underpinning the methodology constitutes a the budget bordering on amateurishly incompetent at best. If an election was held now this government would be deservedly decimated into political wasteland. The harsh critical analysis from all corners of society is a resounding vote of ‘no confidence’ in the Abbott Government ‘trying it on’. Such fervent discrediting asserts Abbott’s first budget to be nothing more than the wish list of corporate interest, free market capitalists led by assumptions from a socially disconnected elite. A doctrine of those who shape the ideology machine of the controlling neo right of the LNP.

Australia underestimated Abbott and his ability to tap into a festering reserve of underlying hatred, intolerance and political apathy that has polarised political debate in Australia. The reality of political lies is when they are exposed the voting public’s retribution is brutal and unforgiving. John Howard is testament to this fact and he was popular, a luxury not afforded Tony Abbott. Consequently Abbott may well be the most hated Prime Minister since Billy McMahon. History will not be kind to this government, especially now the cloaked reality has lifted and the sobriety of the real Tony Abbott’s rhetorical lies hits his enticed aspirants in the hip pocket. The voting public have began to realise they have been conned, surprised and subject to the will of a man that has no plan other than rhetorical propaganda simplified to three word slogans as a means to impose his extremist ‘retro’ ideology. Everything that Abbott said he was not and would not do, he is doing or has done. He has abandoned the people who believed his lies hoping to win them over with more of the same medicine show. This is of no surprise to those who understood Abbott before he was hastily reinvented. The real Tony Abbott is a man who embodies the personification of everything that he professes to be against such as entitlement, dirty deals, subterfuge, character assassination, slush funds, political perks, corruption, nepotism, racism and misogyny. This is evident by his words and actions. The real Tony Abbott has no shame whatsoever. When faced with the prospect of being caught in a lie, he compulsively qualifies the lie with another. The real Tony Abbott has the auspicious honour of being unpopular when elected and descending lower in the polls, all the while selling himself by claiming a mandate.

There aren’t many people left for Tony Abbott to upset. As thick skinned and unfazed by being disliked as Tony is, there is not much possibility of Abbott riding this out unscathed. Abbott and his cohorts have been very sloppy along the way, with a trial of political impropriety that is lying in waiting for the next headline. Abbott’s biggest miscalculation may have been to arrogantly open a can of worms that his machine will not be able to control. The bygone political operatives of the time they wish to emulate had the benefit of controllable information, however in an instantaneous information age nothing is controllable. The process of lighting a fuse to test credibility and competence with show trials, may well see Abbott with nowhere to run. Tony was born to rule and has fulfilled his ambitious quest to do so against all odds, but for how long and at what price? The gloss is washing off the car, the tyres are flat, it’s overheating, blowing smoke, this lemon is breaking down on the first leg of the journey. It may have seemed like a romantically good idea at the time but ultimately this bomb is an impractical rusty relic destined for the political scrap heap no matter how you paint it.

When you reduce the complexity of consequence down to the simplistic, the devil is always in the detail and the detail is most certainly in the devil they didn’t know.

Catholic Schoolboys Rule: Neo-Conservatism and the Sociopathy of the Religious Right

Is this country being run by right-wing Christian fundamentalists? And if so, are they representative of the wider society? These are some of the issues examined by Sean Stinson.

“Sometimes it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission”. – Tony Abbott, 2010

In September 2013 Australia elected its 44th Parliament. Led by a former seminarian and composed largely of fellow Jesuit-educated Catholics, it is fair to say that today’s Cabinet represents an extreme right-wing Christian world view which is not particularly representative of the beliefs and values of the broader culture.

This may go some way towards explaining some of the more bizarre policy measures thus far introduced. From a military led attack on asylum seekers to a scorched earth environmental policy, from mass public service sackings to jobs for the boys, from pre-election promises of no cuts to a budget blueprint for an American styled two-tiered society with restricted access to healthcare and education, this is clearly not a government that anyone voted for, which leads me to ponder some unusual questions, the answers to which may be stranger still.

Why are the religious so right-wing? How did we come to have a small group of socially conservative Catholics making decisions which affect all our lives? Why do these people who call themselves Christians seem so morally bankrupt?

What is unique about this Cabinet is that at least half of its members profess to be devout Catholics. Historically this seems to be quite a recent phenomenon.

It is interesting that Labor candidates tend to come more from the secular end of the gene pool, at least in the last 50-odd years of Australian politics. Why is this so? Wealth and privilege no doubt play a part. Certainly the history of the Jesuit order in Australia, private education and the old school tie all have a story to tell in the downfall of egalitarianism, about which could be written volumes. For the purposes of this inquiry, however, I’ll narrow the terms of reference and spare you the history lesson.

That Catholics in particular tend to be social conservatives is no surprise. But in an age when even the Holy Father himself seems to lean a little to the left one really has to ask on what celestial plane does the idea of a loving, compassionate Christ converge with a government whose sole agenda seems to be the conscious and deliberate persecution of the sick, the weak, the poor and the dispossessed?

It was in the early 16th century that Martin Luther, a German monk, nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Wittenberg church, an act which marked the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, and was ultimately responsible for the separation of church and state, which has since become a cornerstone of secular society. And yet in 2014, on the other side of the world in a former colony established under British rule, we find the machinery of state in the hands of a group of right-wing religious extremists who see fit to decide on who can marry whom, who withdraw foreign aid in countries where it might be used for family planning. All of this fits neatly into the paradigm of an extreme right-wing Christian world view, and from this assertion one might draw a number of reasonable, if unsavoury conclusions.

One of this government’s earliest moves in office was to officially side with the US position that Israeli occupied territories in Palestine are not illegal, in the face of overwhelming dissent from 158 other UN countries. While this could certainly be seen as cosying up to one of our traditional allies, there may be more to this decision than meets the eye.

It is worth noting that the UNHCR was originally founded without the wider global mandate under which it currently operates. At the end of WWII, the overwhelming social issue was the displacement of European Jews after the Holocaust. Yet while Australia remains a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, we now find ourselves facing a global epidemic of displaced peoples of an altogether different (though intrinsically the same) faith, due almost exclusively to US war mongering the middle east.

Although the spectre of terrorism still casts a long shadow over the western world, could it be that perhaps the real reason for our mistreatment of refugees is more one of religious discrimination than simple xenophobia? Am I drawing too long a bow here? Or is there another reason that we seem to be much more sympathetic to Judaism than to Islam?

Another of this government’s opening moves, which took most of us by surprise was for the first time since the creation of the portfolio in 1931, not to appoint a science minister. It would seem that science is as much an affront to God now as it was in the 16th century, which may also go some way to explaining Abbott’s denialist position on climate change. Once again, religious ideology trumps all. (No doubt Abbott would also like us to believe that the Jesuits had no part in introducing Newton to calculus.)

This is a dangerous government, dangerous largely because their political ideology would seem to spring from the same well as their religious beliefs. That they lied and cheated their way into office may be the subject for another debate, but what is abundantly clear is this. With policies and practices that sit in stark contrast to their espoused Christian values, this government is waging war on the very morality from which our society is woven. It’s been observed that the disproportionate survival rate of Australian prisoners of war compared to our French and British allies was largely due to the fact that the Aussies, even in their most desperate hour, refused to turn on each other. Yet somehow it seems the fairness and egalitarianism which would seem to be encoded in our DNA are not even in the Coalition’s vocabulary.

I admit to both a strange apprehension and a morbid fascination with this government. On the surface they appear as a lying scheming steaming cesspool of corruption and guile. But to label them as cruel, conceited and contrived lacks explanatory power. There is a greater evil which lurks beneath the facade of mere conservatism, the nature of which may prove to be more innate than contrived.

A case in point is the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse, an inquisition which would certainly not have come about under this government’s watch. Aside from the obvious social taboo of paedophilia, there are all manner of brazen contradictions here, but most paradoxical of all is this. How does one begin to explain how the most heinous of crimes could have taken place under the auspices of God’s representatives on earth?

I would suggest that this is the logical conclusion of a religion which first and foremost demands we be disgusted by our own sexuality, and is not so much a dysfunction as a malady, a natural consequence of a profoundly unnatural education. That is to say it is religious belief itself which ultimately undermines the individual’s capacity to determine right from wrong. In the words of Randy Walker “You don’t need religion to have morals. If you can’t determine right from wrong, then you lack empathy, not religion”.

This keen distinction is most befitting of our current government. Their inhumane attacks upon the weak, the poor and the disadvantaged belie all of our collective ideas of what is acceptable in civil society. That such cruelties are perpetrated by those who would claim the moral high ground is absurd, yet wholly unsurprising.

At the core of this contradiction lies a rational human mind, asked to believe in a god which is all seeing and all knowing, yet which can neither be seen nor known, thus requiring an act of faith. What faith demands is more than a willing suspension of disbelief. It is, in the words of H. L. Mencken, an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable.

Clearly reason and faith are entirely irreconcilable concepts. According to our best scientific evidence homo sapiens has probably lived on earth for about 250 000 years. From fossil records we can speculate on the history of our planet and its many inhabitants. We can look at the sky through giant telescopes and see an infinite number of planets and stars, the light from which has taken millions of years to reach us. In contrast Christian scholars would have us believe that the earth was created in six days and is only 6000 years old.

Similarly morality and religion are fundamentally incompatible. This is a necessary truth, since religion denies us moral agency. In fact if we are to believe Christianity, it is moral agency itself which is original sin. “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” – Genesis 2:17

There are of course a great many aspects of Christian faith which are at odds with what most of us would consider ethical. As has been observed by Christopher Hitchens, the very notion of atonement for sin – whether by animal sacrifice in the old testament or by the sacrifice of gods own son in the new – the outrageous proposition that one can be absolved of blame by the punishment of another is not only primitive and barbaric, but a grievous assault on morality. Christianity rests upon a core belief that we were born into original sin and that only the sacrifice of Christ can absolve us, effectively taking away personal responsibility, responsibility upon which all morality depends. I submit that anyone who finds it reasonable to accept the sacrifice of another person to justify their own sin is wholly without conscience. And yet it is on this very principle that the religious base their moral impunity. They are indeed a privileged class.

All of this puts the case firmly that religion is not only irrational, but fundamentally immoral, and must therefore lead to a profound state of cognitive dissonance. But my intention is not to refute design and intervention as incompatible with reason. This case has already been made. My argument is that anyone who believes such in utter nonsense is fundamentally broken and morally flawed. I posit from this that what is primarily wrong with our government is not that they are malicious, greedy and cruel (although this seems certainly the case), nor that they are fanatical ideologues (a mere symptom of a much deeper ailment), rather that these are people who have quite literally lost their grip on reality.

The same cognitive dissonance that allows a person to hold, for example, the belief that man was made from a handful of soil by a divine celestial being; that the earth was created in six days and subsequently destroyed by a great flood; that two of every species survived by climbing aboard a giant wooden boat to defy basic common sense, to deny the evidence of their senses and basic reasoning, to believe something contrary to what they must surely know to be true – all of this speaks to a permanent state of disbelief.

The same I believe can be said for the political ideology of the right. Take the simplest example: Capitalism as an economic model demands constant growth. How can such a model be applied to a closed system with finite resources? Answer: It cannot. Trying to explain to Abbott or Hockey that neo-liberalism taken to its logical end means that capital must ultimately consume itself is like trying to argue natural selection to a dinosaur. No matter how strong your case, no matter how certain your facts, no matter how infallible your logic, you will never win. Political ideology is not a science, it is an article of faith. It is not to be examined, but affirmed, its practice perfunctory and its purpose aesthetic.

And yet out of this empirical vacuum is reflected a religious and ideological certainty so grotesque as to threaten all that is decent and good in humanity, a moral absolutism which is the product of a mind unable to think for itself, whose cognitive processes are trained to accept a predetermined outcome and ignore all evidence to the contrary.

All of which goes a long way to explaining the conservative response to the certain and catastrophic risk of climate change: Nothing.

Take these words from Abbott’s speech to the Australian Forest Products Association:

“When I look out tonight at an audience of people who work with timber, who work in forests, I don’t see people who are environmental bandits, I see people who are the ultimate conservationists”.

Meanwhile the CSIRO have been de-funded to the tune of $100m while $250m has been provided for a school chaplaincy program. Mining companies continue to receive billions in diesel rebates while the rest of us are slugged with an increasing fuel levy. Key environmental protections are labelled as ‘green tape’ begging the question that they should be cut, the clean energy industry has been abandoned wholesale, Tasmania’s old growth forests are once again under attack and plans are afoot to dump dredge spoil into the Great Barrier Reef, and on it goes, but don’t worry, it’s all part of God’s plan.

Perhaps for them but what about the rest of us? Those of us who engage directly with our world rather than through a fiction, who understand the concept of action and consequence, who realise and take responsibility for our actions tend to see the world much differently. We acknowledge our responsibility to each other, to our ecology, and to future generations.

Most fundamentally of all, we know right from wrong, good from bad, and false from true. Why? Not because we are told so in a 2000 year old book, but because empathy is a fundamental part of human nature. Of course there are better, more sensible, more sustainable ways we could be doing things: bether ways of doing economics, better ways of living together, and better ways of governing.

Alas all the well founded argument in the world will not convince a conservative that conservation is a good idea. A mind that is closed to the evidence of its own senses will not be convinced by anything short of a damascene epiphany. Sadly, I doubt this is on the cards for Tony Abbott.

Abbott denies that the Pope is a Catholic; says that bears use rest rooms!

The other job Tony Abbott wanted (image by

The other job Tony Abbott wanted (image by

Interviewer – Good afternoon, we were promised an interview with the Prime Minister, Mr Abbott, but unfortunately he’s had to cancel. In his place a spokesman, Polly Gist will be answering the question that we were intending to put to the PM.

Gist – Excuse me, but I don’t think that you can say that you were “promised” an interview by the Prime Minister.

Interviewer – No, we actually said “with” not “by”. We didn’t actually speak to Mr Abbott.

Gist – Because it’s important that the public isn’t misled about the actual situation. Mr Abbott is an extremely busy man and he wouldn’t go around promising interviews. He has more important things to do.

Interviewer – Such as fixing the Budget?

Gist – Yes, that’s his number one priority.

Interviewer – So about the broken promises in the Budget…

Gist – Let me just stop you there. What broken promises?

Interviewer – Well, you said that there’d be no new taxes…

Gist – And there aren’t.

Interviewer – What about the increase in the Fuel Excise?

Gist – That’s not a new tax.

Interviewer – It’s not?

Gist – No it’s an increase on an old tax.

Interview – Well, what about the levy on high income earners?

Gist – That’s not a new tax because it’s only temporary.

Interviewer – Wasn’t the Carbon Tax only temporary?

Gist – What’s your point?

Interviewer – Well, if the levy doesn’t count because it was temporary, why should the Carbon Tax?

Gist – Look, I’m here to answer questions, but if you’re just going to show your true colours by making speeches on behalf of the Labor Party.

Interviewer – I was just wondering if you could explain the difference between one temporary tax and another.

Gist – It’s simple. The Carbon Tax was A GREAT BIG TAX ON EVERYTHING and the levy on high income earners only affects a few. Besides it’s there to help our budget bottom line.

Interviewer – Doesn’t the Carbon Tax help the Budget bottom line?

Gist – No.

Interviewer – Why not?

Gist – Because it’s a tax on everything.

Interviewer – But the government collects it. Doesn’t it help to reduce the deficit?

Gist – Of course not.

Interviewer – Could you explain that?

Gist – I already have.

Interviewer – When?

Gist – Before.

Interviewer – Befpre? When?

Gist – When I said, “Of course not”.

Interviewer – That’s not an explanation.

Gist – Is that a question?

Interviewer – All right, moving on. Before the election, when Tony Abbott was Opposition Leader he made a number of commitments.

Gist – I don’t think that’s true.

Interviewer – You don’t think that he made a number of commitments.

Gist – No, I don’t think that Tony Abbott was ever Opposition Leader.

Interviewer – You’re denying Tony Abbott was ever Opposition Leader?

Gist – If he was it was definitely Labor’s fault so he can’t be held responsible for something that Labor did, can he?

Interviewer – As for the commitments he made…

Gist – Any commitments he made before he was Prime Minister don’t count.

Interviewer – Why not?

Gist – Well, he was doing a different job. When you change your job, you’re no longer responsible for what you used to do in your old job, are you?

Interviewer – Yes, but surely a politician is responsible for the commitments he makes before an election, isn’t he?

Gist – Only the one about getting the Budget back in the black.

Interviewer – So why did he make the others?

Gist – Labor lied about the Carbon Tax, you know.

Interviewer – Even if that’s true, what’s that got to do with your promises?

Gist – Labor created this mess, Labor created this mess. And they drowned a thousand asylum seekers.

Interviewer – That’s all we have time for.

Gist – But you haven’t even asked me to explain about how we didn’t cut funding to Health, Education or the ABC…

Seminary similarity



Recently I came across an extraordinary article published in the Bulletin magazine (reproduced at nofibs) written by Tony Abbott in 1987, six months after he left St Patrick’s seminary.

Before I go any further, I realise that is 27 years ago and that people change or “grow” as Tony likes to put it.  The disturbing aspect of this story is how much it reflects the Tony we see today.  All quotes come from the article Tony wrote, and an article published in response a week later written by Bill Wright, a priest and church historian, who was vice-rector at St Patrick’s whilst Tony was there.

From the start, 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”.

In his article, Abbott blames the church for not living up to his ideals.

“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 and the more I wanted to participate in worldly activities which were much more to my taste.

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.”

Contemporary Catholicism did not sit well with Tony who said his was “a hard-headed, worldly faith ill-wed to the “softer” kind of Catholicism predominant at St Patrick’s.”

“At university the need to defend Catholicism in a hostile environment had led me to an extremely naturalistic defence of traditional beliefs and disciplines. Abortion was wrong, because it violated instinctive respect for life; contraception, because it was usually part of a “me now” mentality. The Mass was a chance quietly to restore one’s energies; confession enabled embarrassing problems to be discussed safely before they became crippling. ”

Whilst at the seminary, Tony was very public about his criticism, speaking on radio and writing an article about St Patrick’s that was published in the Northern Herald , giving the “real reasons why people leave — which include ennui, psychosomatic illness and an unwillingness to conform to whatever model of the priesthood happens to be momentarily fashionable.”

Tony’s lack of empathy was highlighted when he was given the role of infirmarian at the seminary, a job that involved supervising the medicine cabinet and ensuring that the ill were not forgotten in their rooms.

“My view was that I knew nothing about medicine and that those too sick to eat in the dining room ought to be in hospital.  Anyway, I thought, most were malingering. So I encouraged “self-service” of medicines and suggested that meals would be better fetched by the friends of the sick. Many deeply resented this disdain for college’s caring and communitarian ethos. And, I confess, I did not have the courage to refuse room service to members of the seminary staff.”

Inevitably, Tony fell out with seminary authority.  Fr Brian Wright said

“The study of theology did not capture Tony’s imagination.  He did passably well; not as well as his academic background may have indicated.  I do not recall that he ever talked about theology while at Manly.  His concern was with churchmanship, how the Catholic Church could better commend itself to the hearts of Australians; how the individual priest could enliven and uplift those who were turning away from uninspired ministers.”

In other words, he was interested in the politics and in attracting the swinging voters even then.  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.”

What an astute observation about our current Prime Minister by a man who knew him well and watched him in action.

With a growing concern about Tony’s motivation and suitability for the priesthood, the head of the seminary suggested that Tony do a “pastoral year” living in a presbytery and working in a parish.  Tony, after initial resistance, spent some time out at Emu Plains about which he said “I found it difficult to believe that this was meant to be my life.”

After a few months Tony was sick of it.  He wrote to Patrick Murphy, the new Bishop of Broken Bay, spelling out his demands.

“My preference was to live at Emu Plains and to study theology at Sydney University. Alternatively, I wanted to study at St Patrick’s on a part-time or quasi-correspondence basis.”

The bishop had other ideas. “Along with others,” he wrote, “I admire several qualities which you obviously have shown. However, there are some radical attitudes about Church and priesthood … which will have to be worked through before you would be accepted for the diocese or profit from seminary formation.”

Tony was asked to see a psychologist who concluded that he had developed an inability to be really intimate and that without the warmth and trust of real intimacy he would find life in the celibate priesthood too frustrating and lacking in peace”.  Rather than interpreting this to mean fellowship with his brothers and empathy for humanity, as it was intended, Tony’s mind turned to sex.

“Lack of sensual intimacy is something that priests have always had to handle. In my case, this had become a heavy burden because I was not naturally drawn to the life of the priesthood and because the modern Church — by minimising its mystique and spiritual elan — had eroded any other basis for its undertaking.”

But Tony didn’t want an analysis of his difficulties and especially not an analysis couched in the terms of psychology, saying “it was really the seminary staff who needed psychological investigation”.  He wanted tangible support for his agenda.  The Bishop of Parramatta eventually agreed to accept Tony as his student and offered a return to St Patrick’s on a full-time live-in basis or studies at the Marist seminary at Hunters Hill and residence at another presbytery within the diocese. By the Church’s lights, it was a generous and radical proposal, one that had never been offered to anyone before.  They were bending over backwards to accommodate Tony but it wasn’t good enough.

“I think I had subconsciously stipulated that the Church needed to forget the usual considerations of prudent caution and simply agree, just once, to what I wanted.”

Father Wright suggests 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.”

A commenter at nofibs summed up Tony’s article well.

“As a catholic myself what struck me about Abbott’s account here was his overweening self-importance and sense of entitlement. There must have been many quiet prayers of thanks when this restless soul left the seminary. He seems to be a man driven by the need to oppose. Debating, boxing, rugby, student politics marked him in youth as a formidable adversary. He took that fighting spirit to St Patrick’s which let him down because it did not offer enough ‘bravura’ to sustain him. Now of course the admiration for belligerence as Opposition leader has probably provided a new yardstick for assessing the success or failure of future incumbents of that position. I would like Tony Abbott to explain why he wanted to be a priest rather than why the church did not meet his expectations. I would also like to know why he wants to be PM and whether this country will have enough ‘bravura’ for him or whether he will have to reshape us in his own image.”

Father Wright finished his article with some advice for Tony which is chillingly relevant today.

“I only know that we must try to make things come out right, in the full knowledge that it may serve some higher purpose for them to come out wrong”.

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