The ‘No surprises here’ case
The important thing to remember about Tony Abbott is that nobody wanted him. Whenever he intervenes in public debate, this fact should overwhelm all others.
It was by accident that he was ever leader: a single vote, determined after Joe Hockey’s clod-handed intervention in the ballot. When Abbott won the 2013 election, he did so in spite of himself. The Coalition triumphed over his deep and sustained unpopularity.
Tony Abbott is a champion of lost causes, none more so than himself. When he joined the National Civic Council at university, the Democratic Labor Party was already a spent force. His first great political mentor, B. A. Santamaria, was preaching the end of days without realising that only his were over. Ever since, Abbott has given his life to failed institutions.
In Tony Abbott’s mind, he is the vanquished leader of a silent majority. In reality, he is a fringe figure who has spent his life clinging to the leftovers of debates other people have won.
There is a simple reason for his unpopularity: very few people want what he wants. The Australia of his imagination is largely uninhabitable. It is a place of exclusion and nihilistic priorities. This is quite deliberate. Power for people such as Abbott is about disenfranchising anyone who is not like them. Theirs is a fantasy of simple values and white convention. The great struggle of Abbott’s life is that it is happening in the present.
When he says he will cross the floor on energy policy, it is not because the Liberal Party has betrayed itself. It is because he never belonged in it. There is no real place for a person such as Abbott in contemporary society, which is why he is still in the parliament. Business would not have him and nor would the community sector. The church in which he first discovered his failings could not find room for him among its charities.
Abbott is a man contemptuous of the planet on which he lives. He is fearful of equality and totally unfeeling in his rejection of it.
The tragedy of this is that Abbott will forever have the imprimatur of the office he improbably held. His lies are held as truths because people in his position are not supposed to lie.
He says: “There is a big agenda here for many of the people behind same-sex marriage. This is the thin end of the wedge, that’s why we should think long and hard before we vote and I certainly think the only safe course is to vote ‘No’.’’
He says: “If things are as bad as this before same-sex marriage has happened, just think how much worse it could be in this brave new world the politically correct left would force on us.”
Tony Abbott is smart enough to know that this is nonsense. He doesn’t care. The problem for a man so used to being on the losing side is that he will do anything to win. He cares for nothing but himself.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Sep 23, 2017 as "The ‘No surprises here’ case". Subscribe here.