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Federal

Sep 15, 2015

The 10 worst moments of Tony Abbott

Was it the patronising misogyny face? The onion? The constant references to the Nazis? Here's how Tony came undone.

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And today, it is all felicitation to Malcolm Turnbull and the crack campaign team that came up with the “advocacy not slogans” slogan that was sufficient to win a party room. Tan, lean and more expensively groomed than any non-French statesman has any business being, the new Prime Minister will spend the next several days celebrating in the only way he knows how. Which is pompously Mal-splaining his “consultative” vision for the future at day-long press conferences and getting really cross when focus groups return the request to “please stop sounding so fancy” and “lose the Windsor knot”.

But, even as this well-dressed devil poses as an angel of reason and light, we should spare a thought for the darkness in which the nation’s greatest boat-stopper finds himself. Poor Tony, who will be remembered for his enormous deficit. Poor Tony, who will be remembered as the shortest-serving prime minister since William McMahon. Poor Tony, whose self-appointment as a friend to women — to be fair, he never actually dared call himself the Minister for Women — remains the most inappropriate casting decision since Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

It is in this effort to remember the good times and do away with the bad that we pause to remember the former prime minister’s 10 finest media moments as they played out before and within his all-too-brief term. You are welcome and, indeed, encouraged, to add to this record of merit. After all, as Abbott’s successor might say, we must embrace the wisdom of the crowd! Well, right up until that proximate date Mal’s approval ratings take a plunge.

10. Misogyny face

Abbott’s first appearance as a champion-league sexist did not occur in office, but its countenance was so singular, it would haunt him throughout his term. When then-PM Gillard delivered her well regarded “misogyny” speech, Abbott was unable to settle upon an expression that showed the mix of humility and a sporting nature a previous Liberal opposition was able to muster seated across the floor from Keating. Instead, his features took on an arrangement with which any woman who has ever left the house has miserable familiarity. It says: “Look here, little lady. You’re really testing my patience,” and it would translate to a long battle with the female vote.

9. Impure heart

Another pre-PM blast that would blight Abbott’s future came in 2007 after his refusal to meet with asbestosis victim and advocate on behalf of those afflicted by James Hardie Industries products Bernie Banton. Banton called the then-minister for health a “gutless creep”, as a man so close to death is surely entitled to do. In reply, Abbott said that the activist might have been sick but was not by necessity “pure of heart”. You can think this stuff, but you do not say it in public office, and that history permitted this inelegance led Abbott to believe that Australians just loved his candour.

8. Unfitting shit

It is not my personal view that Abbott’s comments about the battle that claimed the life of Lance Corporal Jared MacKinney in Afghanistan were especially Tone-deaf. In fact, MacKinney’s widow, Beckie, reportedly had no problem with the weakly articulated condolence “Shit happens”, and I suspect many Australians had none, either. It was intended as an ontological shrug — “who among us can explain life and death?” — but it was reported as a gaffe. Either way, this casual-Friday kindness made in opposition primed him to become a figure perceived as useless in the Middle East as he was in eulogy.

7. Sympathy for the devil

Abbott was so eager to depict Islamic State as the worst threat ever to humankind, he committed a textbook Godwin. “I mean, the Nazis did terrible evil but they had a sufficient sense of shame to try to hide it,” he said to a nation that he had not, despite his best efforts, managed to whip up into such a froth of loathing that they forgot what they learned in school: the gravest shame of the Nazis was precisely that they tried to hide it, and succeeded in hiding it for too long. This last blunder happened to coincide in the news cycle with pictures of the drowned Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi, which turned up, for many, an evidence of a shame the West could no longer hide. For a man who had gone to so much costly effort to hide his own shame at Manus and Nauru, this was an incongruous statement. (It also struck me that if he was such a fan of organisations that “tried to hide” things, he could have spared us the $80 million wasted at the trade union royal commission and simply congratulated the nation’s handful of mildly corrupt officials for not flaunting their wealth as gaudily as our business leaders and former champions of WorkChoices.)

6. The devil’s advocate

This previous comparison was preceded in February by Abbott’s assertion that Labor had enacted a “holocaust of jobs” in, of all places, the defence industry. Let’s set aside that youth and long-term unemployment has grown under Abbott and just wonder for a minute what leads a public figure to reference the worst moment of Western history so often. This is a man for whom a diagnosis of binary thinking seems a bit too nuanced.

5. The wink/the onion

Tedious accounts of these incidents speak more adversely of local commentators than of the former PM himself. Who gives a rat’s if his tastebuds are shot and why, in the name of all that is news, is one man’s wink worse than another man’s raised eyebrow? It is rarely that I am given to form the sentence “Andrew Bolt has a point”, but in the case of Abbott’s supposed prurience before ABC radio host Jon Faine, Bolt really did. That these meaningless moments stood in for a “scandal” that unfolded in everyday policy, and will continue to unfold under Turnbull, is disgraceful and just the sort of thing that happens in a listicle-driven … oh, oops.

4. Ice destroys political careers

Although not widely critiqued by media otherwise occupied with the bigger business of wars, dead bodies and spills, the Ice Destroys Lives government campaign was destined to do little social good and so, a great deal of political harm. Methamphetamine, to be clear, does destroy lives, as anyone familiar with its regular abuse will know. But as users and those intimate with them also know, a piss-weak “don’t do it” advertising campaign launched by Abbott this year and taken straight from 2007 (by way of Nancy Reagan) will not make a dent and was never intended to make a dent in anything but polling. With youth jobless rates approaching hopelessness and methamphetamine abuse rising in concert, it doesn’t take a cynical statistician to know that this was self-interested bullshit. This was a slap in the face to families already bruised.

3. Choose your choice

Abbott rarely had the “shame” to “try to hide” his ideology, and never was it so stripped bare as when he described residents of remote Aboriginal communities as entirely responsible for their own lack of everything. The “lifestyle choices” remark fails contemporary liberal political standards, which tend far more subtly to blame the private individual for getting screwed by public policy. A shift in tactics for the Northern Territory is unlikely under Turnbull — nothing changed under Rudd-Gillard-Rudd, whose shame on indigenous policy was partially concealed by an emotional apology. But Turnbull’s shame is that he will hide the effects of this identically inert policy with absolute style.

2. Cancer schmancer

In one of his other barely reported but deeply resonant policy snafus, Abbott initially elected not to approve the HPV vaccine Gardasil for subsidy by the PBS. This Australian innovation, which led, as predicted, to a dramatic decrease in those high-grade abnormalities that precede cervical cancer, was not treated by the then-health minister as a cost-effective preventive marvel for a very common virus. Instead he misread it as an indulgence. Actually, it would prevent 70% of all future cervical cancer and Abbott was either wilfully misreading medical reports on its effectiveness or being a moralising turd. Howard stepped in, after female MPs from all sides protested, and approved the subsidy. But many of us ladies were left with the profound impression that this man was prepared to put our poonannies at risk. The incident may be forgotten and winks and unfortunate faces may be seen as the reason for his unpopularity with female voters. But our true revulsion for him came from a muscle deep inside.

1. Reza Berati

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16 comments

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16 thoughts on “The 10 worst moments of Tony Abbott

  1. Altakoi

    All, as I count them, 1092 days after his victory speech. Those were the worst.

  2. Jaybuoy

    ..and Hamid Kehazaei who was allowed to rot to death on Manus after cutting his foot… both men died as a result of bi-partisan negligence..

  3. Kevin Herbert

    Gee Helen…

    in 10. you’re statement re Abbott being a misogynist is way off, and indeed labels you as a misandrist. The woeful Gillard’s attempt to gain some political traction with her cheap shot misogyny speech, was clearly the starting point of her eventual demise. For many of my informed female acquaintences, it was an act of desperation.

    In 6, your assertion that an event in WW2 was “…the worst moment in western history” beggars belief given the genocidal deaths of 11 million Congolese at the hands of the Belgian Government between 1894 & 1905 as well as the starvation of 7 million Bengalis by the British Government after 1945. Of course, I’m not allowed to mention any other holes in your assertion because free speech in Australia doesn’t exist.

    In 4, you appear to be blaming Abbott for the ice epidemic…huh!!!

    However, all in all Abbott was a dill I agree. Bad policy & bad politics are what he’ll be remembered for. As for Turnbull, who knows what he’s learned since his last disaster as Leader…looks good in suit though!!!!

  4. MJPC

    10?
    What about the honours list and Prince Phillip’s elevation to a knight (more farsical than strange); all of the sincere expressions of concern for climate change yet all of the examples that it was BS (windfarm comments, solar panel rebates, the current misadventure in the making being administered by Hopeless Hunt).
    I reackon you would still be remembering more when you get to 50 examples.

  5. Helen Razer

    Kevin I did not state that I believe Abbott to be a misogynist. I stated that I believed his perceived response haunted him throughout his career and compromised his reputation with female voters. I said this clearly. And even if I had made the very serious accusation of misogyny, which is a term I rarely use, this does not make me by necessity a misandrist as you state. Please rethink your formal logic. Finally, I have written extensively here, in two books and elsewhere that I believed Gillard’s advice from McTernan on gender was poor and led to her downfall. I did not mention that view, which I still hold, in this piece but nor did I counteract it. Please. If you’re going to yell “irrational feminist” at someone, find an actual irrational feminist. There are several I can recommend.
    Second. Your pick-n-mix history claim that the brutal, modern organisation of Nazi Germnay was not the west’s worse is not something with which I need to argue as plenty of venerable historians and thinkers have done it for me. Stop embarrassing yourself.
    Third, I do not blame Abbott for widespread methamphetamine abuse. I state that his lack of meaningful policy to stop this problem is evident to all those touched by it. I also make the not-especially-outrageous claim that poverty leads to particular kinds of drug abuse. Hardly a crazy perspective.
    This was a piece, and clearly introduced as such, that lists just a few of the policy snafus and media blunders that led to Abbott’s low poll numbers. That you are unable to see the difference between an account of these mistakes, most of them largely chronicled by others of all political stripes, and my personal views is your failing. It is not mine. Behave before the time of your next comment.

  6. Dogs breakfast

    “For many of my informed female acquaintances, it was an act of desperation.”

    I don’t know Kevin, that statement just doesn’t pass the pub test.

    Meh, HR has provided sufficient response.

  7. Kfix

    Wow Kevin, that’s a whole lot of fail in one comment. Perhaps you should work on your reading comprehension, which does not appear to have progressed since primary school. HR let you off easy.

    Great piece Helen, especially on 10 and 5 where the less able of mind often let their (understandable) loathing for Abbott lead them to dribble.

  8. AR

    Surely his blocking of RU486 had a similar origin and right up there with Gardasil?

  9. Helen Razer

    No. Not all women face the decision to terminate a pregnancy. But all women face the risk of HPV and cervical cancer. This is not to say the RU486 nonsense is forgivable. It is just to say that it is not “right up there”.

  10. AR

    Would not lesbians be less prone to such problems? The best solution is to ensure that nothing is inserted beyond the labia that has not been sterilsed, preferably by boiling for at least 5 mins.

  11. Carlene Colahan

    AR the short answer is no. All sexually active women face the HPV & cervical cancer risk. This is one of the very few times I would ever recommend Dr Google but please do some HPV research – the only solution is 100% abstinence.

    On another note – great listicle Helen. Have placed at top of my must read listicle list

  12. Kevin Herbert

    Helen,

    10. Misogyny Face: Based on your response, I must remember to in future read all of your published works before commenting on your individual articles. I foolishly believed that journalism included the given that each piece is written on a standalone basis. To anyone not familiar with your body of work your comments clearly inferred/insinuated that Abbott is a misogynist, particularly given your use of the tabloid-type stitch up that “any woman who has left the house……”
    However, I’m glad to hear that you’re not of that view.
    6. The devil’s advocate
    Your flat earth response is surprising. While you may place unshakable faith in orthodox accounts of modern history, I certainly can’t share your faith based on my research of the past decade. May I suggest that you read the eminent scholar Dr Norman Finkelstein’s ‘The Holocaust Industry’ as a starting point, and go from there to other Jewish writers such as Gilad Atzmon, Amos Oz. & Paul Eisen. You could even visit the website of the Jewish orthodox rabbis Neturai Karta, who represent the views of those roughly 50% of orthodox rabbis globally who reject that narrative out of hand. But of course, you won’t be hearing about any of that in Australia’s State sponsored MSM including the sad old ABC.
    That the narrative of certain events leading up to WW2 & beyond remains under the control of a global criminal elite is, in my view, beyond reasonable doubt. It remains indisputable that the veracity of that narrative has yet to be independently tested, given that to date there is no reliable evidence in the public domain. If I’ve missed that evidence, please let me know….and while you’re there let the estate of the eminent Shoah scholar Raul Hilberg know also, cos up to his death in 2008, he couldn’t find the data either. Until the said narrative is tested, it cannot be accepted. Legal process can be so annoying. That said, I doubt the Romany & even the great majority of innocent German citizens of the period, along with those historians who dare quote the available facts in support of their views, have much faith in legal process to this day.
    4. Ice destroys political careers.
    You clearly verballed him, with unsupported tabloid-esque allegations. No further comment is necessary.
    As for your closing comment I suggest you read it again, and wonder why you bothered. May I respectfully suggest that now is a good time for you to think closely about the difference between news commentary & satirical and/or vertical pronoun commentary….along with the perils of accepting writing jobs on a tight deadline.

  13. Helen Razer

    AR. If you laid off the sexist comments for a month or so, it’d be okay. The world will still punish my gender in October so you can take a well-earned break.

  14. AR

    Sexist? moi? What’s the deal with October that we need fear?

  15. Helen Razer

    Kenny. Although I think you’ve done a first-rate job of detonating yourself, permit me to maintain our exchange to a point where you show your season ticket to the films of David Irving. I can’t resist.
    1. No. I do not believe that my assertion that Abbott is popularly understood as sexist or my view that Gillard mishandled her response to this popular perception badly needs to be read in the context of my previous works. This is why I clearly stated in my response to you “I did not mention that view, which I still hold, in this piece but nor did I counteract it.” I was simply stating that you could not have misinterpreted more and providing extra evidence. It may please you to accuse me of absolute self-involvement. Sir, I charge you with very poor reading comprehension. Further, the claim that all sighted Australian women have seen an expression of sexist condescension on the face of a man at one time or another is one by which I stand. With the obvious exceptions of every woman of your personal acquaintance all of whom know sexism to be a powerful myth maintained by narcissistic women on “tight” deadlines.
    2. You may find it entertaining to read quasi-academic accounts that dispute the numbers of Jewish lives lost in Nazi Germany and, please, continue to knock yourself out. But, before you reference “thinkers” who are largely regarded as charlatans, first think to what is this addressed. Did I, at any point, make the claim that it was only Jewish lives lost in German camps? No. Did I, at any point, set the terms for my claim that this episode was the “worst”? No. It is your assumption that I am thinking solely in terms of the apparently fabricated numbers disseminated by “state-sponsored MSM”. If, perhaps, you could extend your reading to works beyond those endorsed by Ukip, you will find that it is a very wide view that this was the “worst” period in western history for reasons other than volume. We still view this time as a horror because it is modern rationalism taken to its extreme. We still view this as a horror as we intimately know the terms that produced it. We still view this as a horror as we understand how it happened and know very well that it could unfold again. Added to which, the entire atrocity changed the world and produced, the UN Security Council. Which I only mention as I am pretty sure you’ll go to town on “world government” when next you post, which will be super fun.
    3. What ”verballing”? I said that methamphetamine was a terrible problem. I said that the Abbott government had done little to meaningfully address it save for a recycled ad. I concluded that those affected by methamphetamine abuse would be cynical about this. None of these are outrageous claims. Then again, what would I know as a self-interested bot entirely funded by the Israel Lobby.
    Mate. You are so fun.

  16. Kevin Herbert

    Miss Helen,

    While admittedly entertaining in a downbeat sort of way, your confected outrage achieves little but the obviously mistaken feeling on your part that you’re making sense.

    Your classification of the eminent Norman Finkelstein et al as ‘charlatans’ shows just how little you understand the topic in question. In particular, Finkelstein is one of the most impressive scholars I have encountered in any field of study. Describing the other dissenters as ‘quasi-academic’ reflects more on your ignorance of their work, than on them. In 50 years from now, the treatment of these brave dissidents – many of them Jews – will be viewed as a stain on academic freedom.

    If I were to attempt to answer your ‘We still…” trilogy of claims, I’d need to gas up that 18 wheeler truck I keep handy to drive through fatuous claims. Your Time/Life & New York Times/ 7.30 Report view of modern history does you a disservice, as it does for most of the West who’ve been brainwashed 24/7 for the past 70 years. However, such a mindset can only be modified from within, so good luck with it.

    Maaaaaate. You are so disappointing on this occasion…although I must say that your Charlie Hebdo piece at the time of the shootings, was the best that I read anywhere.

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