In 2013/14 I wrote short stories, then, in a mood of political disgust, I wrote about Tony Abbott. Here’s what I wrote at the time:
The Abbott years
Tony Abbott defeated Malcolm Turnbull by 42 votes to 41 to become the party’s leader and Leader of the Opposition.
He was sworn in as the 28th Prime Minister of Australia on 18 September 2013. He was, in my opinion (at the time), the most unqualified man politically and psychologically ever to be elected to the position.
And so began a period that has seen our country move to the far-right of politics. A move that could only be described as disastrous for the nation and our future.
Whoever eventually replaces the existing Coalition government will be charged with righting the wrongs of a succession of failed leaders over a generation together with the enormous problems forced on us by a very destructive pandemic.
Successive leaders, blinded by their crimes of complacency to what was apparent and ignorance of what was not, have shown an absence of any ability to think beyond self and power.
What is fundamental to the political observer is following the progress of a changing tide in political discourse, trying to work out the how and why of so many complexities.
Tony Abbott, after his years in Opposition, created a negative image of our nation. He never had a positive word to say about his country. As Opposition Leader, he used simplistic slogans to talk about complex problems and, in doing so, suggested he had answers when he didn’t. He spread negativity like rust throughout the community because he saw a need to promote a sense of crisis, an Armageddon about everything.
He, if nothing else, was a very colourful character. He was aggressive both physically and in the use of language. His negativity was legendary, and he had little consideration for ideas other than his own and said NO to his opponent’s policies regardless of their worthiness. He was by evidence and his own admission a liar of some regularity.
Added to that, he had a political gutter-mentality and little respect for the institution of Parliament and its conventions.
Everything is wrong, and he is the only one who can fix it. There is a budget crisis when none exists. There is a debt crisis (while adding to it) when none exists. There is a crisis about the cost of living when Australians have never had it better. It’s a deliberate tactic of social engineering. Create an illusion of disaster, and people will believe that perception is, in fact, a reality. And of course, keep on doing it when you attain government.
In terms of leadership, he was a failure. Many said that he was the most exemplary Opposition Leader the country had seen, but he could never bridge the gap of Leader of the Opposition to Prime Minister. On the international stage, he was a dismal failure.
He attacked the price on carbon, which he misnamed the “carbon tax,” stating that:
“Let’s be under no illusion. The carbon tax was socialism masquerading as environmentalism.”
Abbott’s former Department head later admitted that his mission to “axe the tax” was only about politics. Nothing whatsoever about reducing our emissions and honouring our commitment to the Paris accord.
When Abbott repealed the “Carbon Tax,” a tax that had been working well and emissions were dropping, the Coalition, who had put ideology before the common good, staggered like drunken adolescents from one side of the street to the other. They have been unable to put together a comprehensive environmental and energy policy since. It was arguably the worst policy decision in Australian political history.
When looked at in isolation, the lies and indiscretions of Tony Abbott, his problems with women and even his negativity could perhaps all be written off as just Tony being Tony. Alternatively, that’s just politics. However, my focus here is on character and whether Abbott had enough of it to be the leader of our nation.
Julia Gillard – our first and only female prime minister – was subjected to the most obnoxious and depraved attacks that, in a political sense, were unnecessary if gaining office was the only objective. However, it seems that some men cannot help themselves, so they went for the jugular and, in so doing, he may have set back the political aspirations of women for generations.
I contend that because we are looking at a litany of instances of lying, deception and bad behaviour over a long period, he did not have an essence of a character, which is one of the main ingredients in the leadership recipe.
Some would argue that it was John Howard who sent us spiralling towards the right of politics. But conversely, I put the case that it was Abbott’s force of personality, following Labor’s revolving door leadership that the electorate liked. The mood was for a mongrel, and in Abbott, they got one.
They didn’t consider the baggage that he carried with him.
When Barak Obama visited, he broke long-standing conventions by politicising his speech as Opposition Leader.
He did the same when the Indonesian President visited.
He did the same when the Queen visited.
He would not allow pairs (another long-standing convention) so that the Minister for the Arts could attend the funeral of painter Margaret Olley, an Australian icon. Malcolm Turnbull, a personnel friend, was also prevented from attending.
He refused a pair whilst Prime Minister Gillard was on bereavement leave following the death of her father.
Tony Abbott is far, far more mean-spirited. His 2014 Budget reflects his incapacity to understand inequality. He demonstrates this in the way he ignores human misery and how he belittles those suffering from it.
He is, in a nutshell, nasty to the core. Stories surface that he has been inherently vicious for as long as people have known him. Still, it was not until 2005 that I first noticed his extreme level of nastiness and lack of compassion for human misery when it was hoisted onto the national stage. It came only hours after the NSW Leader of the Opposition, John Brogden, had attempted suicide. The Age reported at the time that:
“The day after Mr Brogden was found unconscious in his electorate office with self-inflicted wounds, Mr Abbott publicly joked at two separate Liberal Party functions about the disgraced leader’s career-wrecking behaviour.
Mr Abbott was asked at a fund-raising lunch about a particular health reform proposal and reportedly answered: ‘If we did that, we would be as dead as the former Liberal leader’s political prospects’.“
Smutty to the core. And to a mate.
He also claimed that Bernie Banton was a mate. Not that he acted like one.
When Abbott was the Minister for Health, the dying asbestos disease sufferer Bernie Banton obtained a petition containing 17,000 signatures of those who supported listing the mesothelioma drug Alimta on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.
This petition was to be presented in person to Tony Abbott. If it was not disrespectful enough to snub the petition, then his verbal response certainly was.
Mr Abbott was quick to dismiss the petition:
“It was a stunt,” Mr Abbott said on the Nine Network.
“I know Bernie is very sick, but just because a person is sick doesn’t necessarily mean that he is pure of heart in all things.”
It would appear that he likes making fun of dying people. Does he expect we will all laugh along with him?
He even has a go at deceased people. Margaret Whitlam was not even in the grave before Tony Abbott used her death to score cheap political points.
“The death of Margaret Whitlam caused such an outpouring of saddened fondness that comments by Tony Abbott linking her passing with the sins of the Whitlam government appear to have struck an incredibly wrong note.
He said she was a ‘woman of style and substance and a marvellous consort to a very significant Labor leader and an epochal Australian prime minister’.
‘There was a lot wrong with the Whitlam Government but nevertheless, it was a very significant episode in our history and Margaret Whitlam was a very significant element in the political success of Gough Whitlam’ Mister Abbott said.”
The answer to “what took place and why” is that, in our apathy, our indifference, we allowed and are still allowing a laconic attitude toward our politics to dictate who wins. We do so in the forlorn hope that we will, also.
When on earth will we wake up?
Leaders on the extreme right of politics seem to have the same human characteristics of nastiness, offensiveness, spite, resentment, malice, contempt and bad manners. Abbott, like others on the conservative right, seemed to fit into a slot in history. One that was utterly rejected by his colleagues who, in due course, sacked him. He was subsequently replaced by Malcolm Turnbull, who was not right-leaning enough. He, in turn, was replaced by Scott Morrison, who had planned his ascension in precise detail where he continues the work of Abbott.
My thought for the day
Character is a combination of traits that etch the outlines of a life, governing moral choices and infusing personal and professional conduct. It’s an elusive thing, easily cloaked or submerged by the theatrics of politics. But unexpected moments can sometimes reveal the fibres from which it is woven.
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