Kicking the Abbott
It is no exaggeration to say Tony Abbott is the worst prime minister Australia has had. To the extent that his brief and destructive leadership of the country is remembered, it will not be remembered well.
Abbott is a prime minister without a legacy. In attempting to defend one this week, he came up with not much: some jobs, a few trade agreements, an infrastructure project, a border protection regime founded on human rights abuses, a royal commission so compromised by bias its own commissioner had to consider removing himself.
Abbott governed for the past and the few conservatives desperate to continue living there. He governed against science and in contempt of the environment. He governed in opposition to social equality, in terror of reform. His was a government of fear and avoidance, a rolling sideshow anxiously avoiding the fact it had nothing to add and no idea what to do.
Abbott spent his time in opposition degrading the office of the prime minister. His was a campaign of debasement: a coarsening of debate, a running down of the respect once stored in the institution. Those who say he was a fine opposition leader do so in error. There is no victory in destroying what you set out to win.
On prevailing at the 2013 election, he placed on his head a small and tinny crown. He did nothing to repair it in the years that have passed since. Indeed, he added only to its dents and tarnish.
He treated law like a plaything. He made policy at odds with the country’s own constitution. He fought consensus and held out against change. He refused humility. He let run the island camps where women and children are raped and men killed. He turned in from the world. He mocked treaties. He failed obligations. He fed prejudice wherever he could.
He was a coward with reform. He left the tax system lumbering and unfair. He failed to articulate policy. He hectored the ABC, cowing it and becoming ludicrously involved in editorial processes. He shunned innovation. He craved distraction.
Abbott’s great fear, and the fear of those people left supporting him, is tomorrow. He is fearful of same-sex marriage. Fearful of an economy remade by climate change. Fearful of the fair distribution of taxes. Fearful of power as it ebbs away from the places where it was once concentrated. But tomorrow is always close; his prime ministership was always doomed.
Abbott is an experiment that failed. He is proof that Australia cannot be governed from the far right, just as it cannot be governed from the far left. He was the last hope and final holdout of a group of people wishing desperately against a modern Australia.
His time in the office leaves a hole in this country’s agenda. A period of incompetent stasis. Two wasted years we must now hungrily get back.
He will not be missed. He should not be praised. He was a failure selfishly wishing that the world would fail with him. We can only hope his like will not be seen again.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Sep 19, 2015 as "Kicking the Abbott". Subscribe here.