The ongoing embarrassment that is Tony Abbott in government

There were, and are, far more important daily outrages again today than the umming and erring of the Australian Prime Minister. But I couldn’t come at them, having depressed myself stupid by reading Robert Manne’s wise and prescient profile of Tony Abbott circa 2009 in The Monthly. The article, written during the first Rudd government, draws on Abbott’s record as a Howard government minister, and was re-linked today by my blog of choice (daily loonpond doses available at in the wake of the horrific news streaming from Iraq this week. In it, Prof Manne references at length the Abbott manifesto Battlelines, a copy of which I am the proud owner, courtesy of a 40th birthday present from the remaining Liberal party member with whom I can bear to speak (if he wasn’t married to an altogether more intelligent and compassionate person, I would probably fall out of touch completely, or at least for the duration and reconstruction).

It was a timely reminder. I had forgotten, for example, that the ham-fisted gold-plated Paid Parental Leave Scheme Abbott cooked up to encourage more babies from “women of calibre”, and his nasty proposal to impoverish and dehumanise unemployed people under 30, first appeared way back then. Anyone could have done their homework and seen this LNP train wreck coming from the day Abbott won the leadership by a single vote. And that is precisely what Prof Manne did. What cold comfort then that he has only ‘I told you so’ rather than ‘phew, thank goodness Abbott shared what he really thinks and we all ran a mile from that’.

Prof M starts with the Santamaria legacy, making a persuasive case that it is core to understanding Abbott the man and politician (as David Marr concurred a week or so ago, in The Saturday Paper). He then canvasses the general inconsistency of the Abbott mind, building to a crescendo of criticism that in my secret dreams I, too, am capable of writing and seeing published in a reputable magazine:

“….in defending the Howard government’s Iraq record, Abbott argues that “it was to liberate other people, to advance everyone’s interest and to uphold universal values that ‘the coalition of the willing’ went to war.” Does he not understand that he has just given us a kindergarten version of neo-conservative strategic doctrine, albeit one from which the explicit ambition for undisputed American global hegemony has been conveniently excised?
Abbott’s discussion of the Howard government’s involvement in the invasion of Iraq points to something in his political personality altogether disconcerting. As a con-sequence of Iraq, certainly tens and possibly hundreds of thousands of people have died. Abbott was a member of the government that took Australia to war on the basis of a false intelligence trail. There is, however, no trace of anguish or even defensiveness in his discussion. A similar moral imperturbability is found when he discusses the Howard government’s treatment of asylum seekers or the question of Indigenous reconciliation. Despite the fact that the prolonged detention of asylum seekers inflicts grievous suffering and serious mental illness on very many innocent people, Abbott is apparently untouched. The rights of the asylum seekers, he tells us, have to be balanced against the rights of Australians to protect their borders. No more needs to be said. Abbott has reluctantly come to accept the apology to the Stolen Generations. His grudging tardiness is explained by the fact that, as he makes clear in Battlelines, he regards the dispossession and destruction of the Aboriginal people as merely a failure “to extend to Aboriginal people the kind of sympathetic understanding that was readily extended, say, to the Irish and their predicament” and the decades-long forced removal of Aboriginal children as “a mild enough form of racism”. No less disconcerting are his unbelievably superficial discussions of the Global Financial Crisis and the impending catastrophe of climate change. Although the ideological folly and the material greed of the most respectable brokers and bankers of Wall Street were responsible for the most devastating global economic collapse since the Great Depression, Battlelines shows Abbott’s naive faith in the beneficence of market capitalism altogether untouched. Even more seriously, Abbott must know that if the climate scientists are right, there is a chance that the very future of the Earth is in peril. Yet, because the issue has been thoroughly politicised and because his fellow conservatives in Australia and abroad have opted for do-nothing climate change denialism, Abbott is content to thoughtlessly follow their lead.”

See the full article in The Monthly at

So there it is, it’s all there, out there on the web for anyone and everyone to see, the jabbering incoherence, the radical religionist, and the relentless mendacity of all free market ideologues who babble about small government while spending taxpayers’ money with the kind of thoughtless abandon that comes to those who have never actually earned their keep at all. As pithy truth detector George Monbiot points out, if wealth really is “the inevitable result of hard work and enterprise, every woman in Africa would be a millionaire.”


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