Two very different people have told me this week that I’d probably like
Tony Abbott. I suspect I would, too. I envy his faith and
his self-discipline. I liked the Rover he was driving round in
earlier this week – though I’d go for the slightly older model favoured
by Edward Tudor Pole, of “Over the Hills with the Swords of a Thousand Men” fame.
I definitely like The Australian’s Sam Maiden. She gave me
a copy of Julie Burchill’s autobiography, after all. And Sammy’s
piece in the Oz’s Media section today – not online, grrr! – gives us
plenty to think about regarding the Monk, media and manipulation.
Abbott, remember, was a journo. A journo for The Australian and the Bulletin. He’s also been a press sec. He knows all about media and media manipulation.
We’ve canvassed the Bulletin/Garry Linnell versus the Telegraph/Piers Ackerman issue and how Abbott played the pair already this week. Sam looks at it in more detail.
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Sam’s also picked up on some of our hints about Abbott’s manipulation
of Michelle Grattan, how he killed another story by playing on
Sydney/Melbourne rivalry within Fairfax and threw her a bone with a
pseudo-exclusive from Michael Duffy’s Abbott and Latham.
What emerges from all of this is a pretty nasty picture of media manipulation.
Abbott is a devout Catholic – yet was prepared to lie to journalists
over his encounters with the head of the Church in Australia, Cardinal
Then there are the dealings with Paddington Piers – or Woollahra Piers,
in this case – over his anti-Hanson project, Australians for Honest
Surely Abbott didn’t just found AFHP didn’t just exist for high moral
purposes, despite its name. There must have been an element of
salving wounded pride in there, giving the way he was taken for a ride
by that shameless shonk David Oldfield, always ready to hitch his star
to whatever group he though would propel him into Parliament.
Ackerman has always sought to defend him over the project. Have a
look at the chapters that cover the issue in Not Happy John.
Yep. I’ve done it. I’ve mentioned Margo. Much of Not
Happy John is pure polemic – but Kingston is no yamp. She’s a
passionate, prescient reporter – and her coverage of the Australians
for Honest Politics is the best part of the book. It’s also
Abbott’s approach to the media and the Australian Electoral Commission
over AFHP as outlined by Kingston looks like standover tactics.
His approach was sinister and scary – not full and frank.
That’s the Monk, media and manipulation – and mendacity?
Well, I suspect I might like Abbott, but I don’t understand him.
In Latham and Abbott, Duffy referred to Mark Latham’s description of himself as “a maddie” – in the Tony Benn sense.
It’s a reference to the veteran British Labour leftie – and near leader
of his party – who divided politicians into maddies, fixers and
straighteners. “Maddies,” Duffy writes, “challenged conventional
wisdom and came up with new ideas, and the voters were hungry for this”.
Abbott always strikes me as a maddie of a different kind.
Bob Santamaria is an unlikely inspiration for a middle class boy of his
generation with a professional background and a Jesuit education.
I say so because I’m a middle class boy from a professional background
with a Jesuit education less than eight years younger than him. I
don’t understand why he thinks like a Grouper.
Then there’s Abbott’s political record.
His successes as Employment Services and Health Minister have required
around $5 billion of extra funds between them – and a lot of help from
the Prime Minister, his mentor.
Duffy in his book correctly emphasises how significant Howard’s
patronage has been to Abbott’s career, how it compensated for Abbot’s
lack of formal involvement with the Liberal Party and how, no doubt, it
will be crucial to his future. The Prime Minister looks like the
father of the bride in the picture of the two facing page 217.
Duffy also made much of Abbott’s attempts to re-invent welfare and taxation to create a new work and family package.
Abbott’s efforts have come to nothing. The closest we hade at the
2004 election, despite all its flaws, was Labor’s Tax and Better Family
Payments Plan – credited to Mark Latham.
That’s the political maddie. What about the personal?
One wants to give Abbott the benefit of the doubt over this whole
business. It must overwhelming for everyone involved – but…
Look at this week’s interviews.
Kathy Donnelly, Daniel O’Connor’s mother, seems ready to have been a
mother and prepared to have kept her baby if Abbott had agreed to
marriage. She spent several days with her baby, probably hoping
for a different answer, deliberating and the said goodbye. This
woman has spent 27 years wondering about her baby boy on a daily basis
and 27 years later her love for him is obvious and steadfast, as if
there were no interruption or parting.
Adoption doesn’t seem like much of a choice here. Donnelly
carried a mother’s burden of love and grief. That sounds like
some sort of 27 year hell.
Abbott got to walk away, periodically wonder about his son and start
over like so many men seem to be able to do. When you compare
their experiences and reactions you see the gap. He went off and
did what he always intended to do, uninterrupted until now.
This story is about character about responsibility, duty and honour in male terms.
Has Abbott put spin on it so many years later to turn him into the good
guy and add a thinly veiled advocacy of adoption over abortion?
Is he simply in denial? Doesn’t he realise that every other
parent in the country can see right through to the heart of the matter.
Is he perhaps admitting to flaws. Is he trying to say to us, “I
didn’t do the right thing but I am better than the guy who walked away
completely or the guy who supported an abortion and at least Daniel
exists and that’s better than nothing”? Does he suffer his own
hell so much that he wants the entire nation to judge him? That
would be very Catholic. It would also explain the spell in the
Some men have the decisiveness and cowardice to do the bolt much
earlier on. This means the woman at least gets a clearer view of
her options – or lack of them. But…
Abbott heard from his son on Boxing Day. That’s several weeks
ago. Time to come to terms with remarkable and shocking news –
and time to spin it.
The media coverage seems to have been strategically managed – barring the Bulletin/Telegraph spat.
Abbott must have known the story was going to break sooner or
later. That makes good media management understandable, given the
Why aren’t the media demanding to know who put the story out in the public arena, how and why?
O’Connor’s first comments from Britain – that he and his adoptive
parents found it unfortunate and would like it to go away – were so
telling, but everyone ignored it.
Why hasn’t anyone asked if Abbott tried to find his son? Didn’t
New South Wales set up a central adoption register some years ago,
where both the relinquishing parents and children can put their names
down if they want to find each other?
Did Abbott ever try to find O’Connor – “my boy”, as he called him on the 7:30 Report?
My generation doesn’t know parents who put children out for adoption –
thanks to procedures, pharmaceuticals and medical devices Abbott
I know adopted children – and they speak of their and their parent’s
anguished desire to find, to know, to have some idea of each
other. Why didn’t Abbot act?
It is a remarkable story, but the mesmerising impact of Abbott’s sudden
on the observers, on the entire Australian media is bizarre. Why
aren’t they doing more.
We are dealing with a remarkable human interest story here – but we are
also dealing with a brutally ambitious Cabinet Minister. A
brutally ambitious Cabinet Minister who seems to be using the story for
his own ends. Does he realise it?
Perhaps that’s another issue Abbott needs to confront.