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Sep 10, 2015

How Abbott could go down in history as one of our greatest statesmen

Abbott has managed the incredible feat of turning a serenade to the base and an act of unproductive war into significantly increased approval. God help us all.


The Sydney sun may not be visible through the labour camp smog on this 2037 spring day, but a gale force wind loop has just cleared the stink of fracking from the harbour. The editor of our nation’s most storied publication, BuzzFeed, is the first to reduce the flow from his respirator, and Iggy Azalea, Red Bull-Nobel (TM) laureate for side-boob, acknowledges this act of courage by the press. “#SoBrave,” says President Azalea to Bob Irwin. “Journalism is not a crime,” he says, as he shares his top 10 dick-pics to the Peter Greste for Gatorade (TM) Freedom app.

It’s a cool 47-degree November morning but even so, temperatures are running high for this event. On any ordinary day, the My Kitchen Rules summit is an act of national importance, but this birthday cake edition is exceptional. “It’s, like, so bae,” says Azalea as she introduces the best friend asylum seekers have ever known in Coke Zero Australia (TM). Tony Abbott turns 80 today!

As the great humanitarian adjusts his carbon fibre Speedo, Pete Evans, Minister for Strong Feelings, reminds us all that this man saved many Syrians and the nation’s reputation. We each recall with pride that day in 2015 when 12,000 refugees began moving into a repurposed basement carpark co-managed by the Wilson Group and Hillsong and begin, as one, to chant the phrase for which this noble man is known, “Shit happens!”

Empowering images of Druze children, free at last to clean petrol stains from Australian concrete, are projected onto the sails of the Opera House, and there’s not a dry eye on the foreshore of this magnificent, brown harbour. The former prime minister acknowledges the traditional owners of the land, BHP Billiton, and is clearly choked not only by the emissions from nearby hydraulics, but real emotion as he accepts the Malcolm Fraser medal for creative revisionism.

Welcome to my nightmare.

It started last night and is bound to recur many times as the man who may be legitimately called our worst prime minister began his journey to be falsely remembered as our best.

This time last week, Abbott was screwing up tighter than a bottle cap. While the nation reeled from images of dead or homeless Syrians, he met great apolitical emotion with great political stupidity. When he offered that Nazis looked better compared to Islamic State, he managed not only to reopen the greatest wound of the 20th century and gravely insult many Jewish Australians, he completely misread the humanitarian majority who didn’t, momentarily, give a hoot who was responsible for these crimes. They just wanted to stop them from happening.

By last Friday, it became clear there was diminished support by foreign policy strategists for Australian military involvement in the region. By last Monday, it became clear that there was enlarged public support for emergency intake of Syrians. Despite all of this, Abbott continued to talk about airstrikes and even refused to rule out the possibility of land combat. His refusal over days to talk meaningfully about a refugee commitment was painful, his eventual hint, filtered through Eric Abetz and Julie Bishop, that these refugees would be Christian was obscene, and his solo dance to the sound of boots on the ground was pure foreign policy fantasy.  The United States, which has only limited land involvement in the binary conflict in Iraq, is yet to flag the possibility of sending its troops into the multilateral Syrian mess. Nothing Abbott or his ministers said made any sense.

This is due, in part, to the fact that Abbott cannot himself produce sense on the matter of warfare and that Kevin Andrews and Julie Bishop appear to have an understanding of conflict that is formed largely by the films of Clint Eastwood. I have come to believe in recent weeks that these people are profoundly ideological when it comes to the Middle East. I have also come to believe that they are profoundly cunning when it comes to fighting battles at home.

Abbott might not know how to fight a foreign war, or even commit efficiently to the US. But, he sure knows how to win elections.

This time last week, many Australians were expecting an immediate no-nonsense response to the horror disclosed by pictures of a dead Syrian toddler. Instead, Abbott seemed Tone-deaf. But this gross insensitivity is now beginning to look like the strategic beginning of a re-election campaign — one that might not only return him for a second term but redeem him, however wrongly, by history.

Abbott’s response yesterday to the Syrian crisis was strategically, and not accidentally, delayed by bigoted umming and aahing. By declaring first the superior value of Christian lives, even if this was not eventually enacted in policy, and by then declaring war, he plays to the people who can keep him alive. The hard right of his own party and a voting minority can be sure he still doesn’t like foreigners.  Perhaps he hasn’t stopped to consider that the unpardonable things he and his ministers have said about Muslims might work to increase the threat of domestic terror, thereby the hope of his continued leadership. But he’d know, at least, that divisive political speech is an effective means to provoke local jihadism, because he should have learned that from this expert report.

He’s played it well. The racist minority can be happy with the war and the prelude to the intake decision. The humanitarian majority can be happy we are welcoming refugees at a rate slightly north of embarrassing.

This is not to dismiss the importance of those 12,000 lives that will now be lived in Australia. This is not even to begrudge Abbott his likely future moment as a great man. A man even more grossly misrepresented as a saviour of refugees than Malcolm Fraser.

My nightmare of Abbott’s certain future salutation as a friend to persons of concern is, of course, of no matter. It will haunt me alone. But Abbott’s ruinous domestic and foreign policy will haunt the nation for decades to come. He has managed the incredible feat of turning a serenade to the base and an act of unproductive war into significantly increased approval. If only he were as shrewd a policymaker as a politician.


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19 thoughts on “How Abbott could go down in history as one of our greatest statesmen

  1. Carlene Colahan

    A nightmare shared is a … nope it’s still a nightmare. FWIW you are not alone

  2. Carlene Colahan

    Of course having said that I totally agree that how I feel is of no matter & that it is current domestic & international policy that will be our haunting for years to come

  3. Johan Nemo

    I expect that Abbott does not believe in karma – but he is making plenty for Australia and we and future generations will have to deal with it.

    As you sow, so shall you reap.

  4. Draco Houston


    I don’t think he’ll get a second term out of this. You are probably right about this being a talking point in a few decades, though. I don’t look forward to hearing it.

  5. klewso

    Don’t know much about history, don’t know much biology, don’t know much about a science book, don’t know much about the French I took, but the sooner he goes down, what a wonderful world it will be.

  6. Jaybuoy

    Persecuted minorities around the border region of the conflict is still code for Christians and in any case the damage has already been done with our Moslem citizens who have heard the racist dog whistling loud and clear..

  7. Russ Hunter

    I wouldn’t give Abbott all the credit for the strategy. But he certainly deserves all the blame when there is a terrorist attack here.

  8. James O'Neill

    Brilliant stuff Helen. Just one question: where in this warmongering chorus from the government does one listen to hear principled opposition from Shorten and his mates. No, I didn’t think so either.

  9. Lord Muck

    Yes, but only a politician by a modern definition. Years ago, it was defined as one who strives to enhance our social welfare, so shrewdness was not a key attribute. Maybe instead he will be remembered as one of the great practitioners of casuistry.

  10. graybul

    Palpitations Helen! Palpitations is what your comments Headline has given me . . . SHAME!

  11. Dogs breakfast

    I’m nos so convinced that these decisions will lead to greater popularity, god help us if they do.

    It has led to some pretty silly reporting in the SMH this week.

  12. Helen Razer

    Oh, James. I KNOW. There are so many opportunities for Shorten to object on practical and ethical grounds and so many political opportunities he leaves undisturbed. I have NO IDEA where they are on foreign and asylum policy. I suspect they don’t, either.

  13. AR

    Too, too truly possible, if mudorc discovers another source of Wendy’s snake venom elixir of vitality.
    Wonderfully evocative, Mz Razer, more of this and less of your … other stuff.

  14. Nigel Stanley

    My god I hope that the picture you paint stays in the realm of fantasy. The creature, Abbott, is a disaster for Australia for generations to come.

  15. Decorum

    How are atheists treated in Syria? Are they an oppressed minority whom we might favour?

  16. Ken Lambert

    Helen could not in her wildest fantasies compare herself with sadly departed special minister Lee Kwan Yew; he of the famous comment that Aussies risked becoming the white trash of Asia.

    Yet Mr Lee had remarkably simple direct solutions to problems…and dare I say as a double first from Oxbridge he had some claim to look down on a large portion of the Australian population including its Leftist faux intellectuals.

    When long hair was a sure sign of devotion to Ho Chi Minh and his Viet Cong associates, Mr Lee had a direct and simple solution. He banned long haired types entering Singapore. Because those types cared more about their hair than troubling Mr Lee by getting a haircut, he effectively kept a tranche of Trots, Maoists and leftist running dogs out of his beloved city State.

    Tony Abbott and most of Australia have a potential problem with young islamic men who have some potential for jihad. Mr Lee’s solution – don’t let them in.

    Christians and other minorities being butchered by both Shia (Assad’s sect included) and Sunnis in the name of religion, are clearly not going home for some time if ever. They don’t preach jihad, and might fit into a country with a Christian heritage; with many Christian churches dying to help them.

    Mr Lee’s solution – lets take these people and not others who might be a potential risk as amply demonstrated so far in Martin Place and elsewhere.

    As for an Abbott master stroke – not in the class of Whitlam, who famously rejected Vietnamese refugees (Comrade these people will never vote Labor), and suggested Canberra be re-named Whitlamabad, ensuring that ethnic cohort voted Liberal for a generation.

    No, Abbott will never suggest renaming Canberra Abbottabad, if only for that curiously named place of bin Laden’s demise already exists in Pakistan.

    Tony has fallen on a policy which lacks the simple honesty of Mr Lee, but will probably win 12000 votes for the Liberal coalition for a generation at least.

    And Shorten, he bid 10000 and Tony saw and raised him 2000. Poor Bill didn’t have a good enough hand.

  17. Lord Muck

    I’m confused, Ken. Don’t let in young men. Don’t let in long hairs. Man Haron Monis, the Martin Place gunman, was bald and 50. So don’t let in any men, only let in Christians, only take some (a very small percentage) of the women and children – a kind of stolen generation. Do you genuinely see this an effective solution? A lot of us would not meet your criteria for humanitarian help.

    Also, you mention “jihad”. So, you must prefer to take heathens over taking muslims. Hmmm.

  18. Norman Hanscombe

    Lord Muck, of course as you say, you’re confused. One need to do more than read your quaint ‘interpretation’ of what Ken wrote to realise this; but you’re far from alone in Crikey Land. Despite the article being a mere regurgitation of material published previously in Crikey, look at how many faithful devotees of Crikeyspeak have gathered to heap praise on the article, many of them possibly not even aware it’s not new ‘information’.

  19. Russ Hunter

    “…look at how many faithful devotees of Crikeyspeak have gathered to heap praise on the article, many of them possibly not even aware it’s not new ‘information’.”

    Norman, I’m not sure what you’re on… but can you get me some!


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