Abbott's twisted job application


By Tony Abbott
Melbourne University Press, 2009
$34.99, 187 pages

Tony Abbott, John Howard's health minister, arch head-kicker and stalwart monarchist, said Battlelines is not his Liberal party leadership job application.

His statement is unbelievable. He isn't any different from most of the opportunists that inhabit Parliament House, Canberra.

The sophistication of Abbott's communication style is best illustrated by a recent comment he made while launching an anti-drug use program. He boasted his 18-year-old daughter had told him that he is a "lame, gay, churchy loser".

Abbott wanted to grab a headline, and as a media tart he is up there with the best.

But more importantly, it communicated that he is an old-fashioned family man, though hip to teenaged lingo, and a reactionary Catholic pleased to seize an opportunity to use the word "gay" as an insult.

All this wrapped up in ironic, self-referential post modernist self-depreciating fluff.

What more could the modern Liberal Party want in a leader?

Battlelines gives us more. This is the thinking person's Abbott, showcasing all his intellectual depth as he blazes a new direction for Australian conservatism.

What thinking women might make of his patronising sexism is an interesting question. Abbott supports a national childcare system for working mothers because he saw how useful a Parliament House facility was for conservative women politicians; it is just one of many examples of his insular point of view.

Abbott brings new meaning to the saying "shallow as a cup of tea"; in fact I have encountered many cups of tea more interesting than Battlelines.

His program is to continue John Howard's neo-liberalism no matter that the tide of history is sweeping in the opposite direction.

The soft-soap "progressive conservatism" emerging in the British Tory party is not for Abbott. Global economic crisis, climate crisis, the quagmire of war in Afghanistan — none of it looms large in the Abbott world view.

This is the man who has private meetings with the arch-reactionary Cardinal George Pell seeking wisdom on how to ram the pope's social teachings down our throats.

The most interesting parts of this book are the autobiographical vignettes. For instance, Abbott was a Rhodes Scholar, although there is certainly nothing in this book demonstrating its value. He spent a lot of time at Oxford boxing, which possibly explains it.

After the personal digressions comes a history of the Howard government from the inside. Except that it is an insider's tale with all the important details removed.

This is airbrushed history, a non-story boasting "I was there" while exposing nothing that could embarrass future leadership moves.

More tellingly, entirely missing is any recognition of things happening outside parliament. Everything is presented as a tussle between politicians. The rest of the population are passive spectators.

The rise of the mass-based, right-wing Hansonite movement? Mentioned, but only in passing. The hugely successful high school anti-racist movement that campaigned against Hansonism? Totally missing.

What of the soft-cop, hard-cop routine acted out by Howard and Abbott on Hansonism? The PM reassured the One Nation constituency that he could deliver on racism as long as they abandoned all thought of upsetting the mainstream political applecart.

Meanwhile Abbott slamme Hanson in parliament. This "messy business" rates about one page.

The massive, illegal pickets in 1998 —when huge numbers of working-class people put themselves on the line to stop Peter Reith's conspiracy against the Maritime Union of Australia — simply don't rate a mention.

What about the gigantic people's power mobilisations in 1999 that forced the Howard government to reverse decades of Australian complicity with the Indonesian invasion of East Timor? Completely absent from Tony Abbott's universe.

And the rank-and-file working-class revolt that forced the ALP and the ACTU to go beyond their comfort zone and mobilise massive anti-Work Choices rallies, which ignominiously swept Howard out of power in 2007? Just a publicity campaign in Abbott's jaundiced view.

This is a man who is totally ignorant of the life that most people experience in Australia.

His brave thoughts for a future program for the Liberal Party amount to redrawing the constitution to give the federal government more power.

What could be expected from Abbott centralism? The racist Northern Territory Intervention is "a good illustration of what the national government can do when it's not subject to state-government veto", says Abbott.

Thankfully, Battlelines is short.