Force of Abbott
Periodically, a fact is so self-evident that to state it can make its obviousness seem startling. This, for example: There is no force in public life more destructive than Tony Abbott.
For almost a decade, since he first became opposition leader, Tony Abbott has held Australia to ransom. He has trashed four parliaments. None were better for his presence in them.
His solitary skill is damage. He has wrecked institutions, torn down careers. He has ridiculed the rule of law and coarsened the realm of debate. He has governed against minorities and indulged himself at the expense of duty.
In opposition, he was driven by entitlement, by a loon-eyed belief that he had been anointed to higher office. Here was a man whose mother believed he would be pope or prime minister. Ill discipline denied him the former and cost him the latter.
Having lost the leadership, Abbott is driven by revenge. He has no interest but himself. His anger is the anger of confusion. Abbott cannot reconcile that the world is not the way he imagined it to be, with him as prime minister and the country docile in its satisfaction. This confusion is greater than simple self-interest: it is driven by the fact Abbott never understood he was living in a contemporary society; he governed for a world that no longer existed, for a fantasy of the past. His leadership was always illusory. His default has always been treachery.
That one man could do so much damage is testament to his corrosive gift for harm. Here is the man who held back the country on climate action, who invented whole electoral edifices to deny marriage equality. Here is the man who weaponised a fear of refugees and later Muslims, who made citizenship a plaything, who fractured the community in the hope of leading its broken wreckage. Here is a man for whom truth is an abstract concept. The most honest thing to be said about him is that he has a working substitute for integrity.
A person of any dignity would resign the parliament. There is no room for him in it and he has nothing to offer if he stays. Each day he remains, he serves only as a lesson in the flaws of the human character. He is a study in male rage.
A byelection is always a fraught proposition, especially for a government in a state such as that which Malcolm Turnbull leads. There is always a risk that an independent might win and refuse the balance of power.
But the risk posed by electors is no match for the risk posed by Tony Abbott. This man is dangerous. He has nothing to lose, not dignity nor esteem. He stands for nothing and that makes him explosive.
The parliament cannot continue in this stalemate. The Liberal Party cannot continue to negotiate with a terrorist. That is what Tony Abbott has become. He has no care for the carnage he creates. He is not troubled by the damage, by the policy stasis, by the landmines he sets between what the country wants and what its leader is allowed to do.
Tony Abbott has never provided good government. He has spent almost a decade denying it. The only decent thing he has left to contribute is his resignation.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jul 8, 2017 as "Force of Abbott". Subscribe here.