Sep 21, 2017

Inside the terrifying mind of Tony Abbott

While Tony Abbott is bent on destroying Malcolm Turnbull, it pays to understand how he views the world.

Bernard Keane — Politics editor

Bernard Keane

Politics editor

“I probably feel a bit threatened, as so many people do. It’s a fact of life.”

— Tony Abbott, 2010

Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott is committed to the destruction of the man who replaced him, and is willing to use any issue (and adopt any position, no matter how hypocritical) to do it. But it’s also worth reflecting on his psychology and that of men (they’re mostly men) like him, given they are likely to play a continuing role in parliament until the Liberal and National parties decide to enter the 21st century and start resembling contemporary Australia a little more closely.

The psychological basis for climate change denial has attracted increasing academic study in recent years, as researchers try to work out why one particular demographic — older white males — tends to dominate the ranks of climate denialists (compare, say, vaccination denialism, which has a younger and more female demographic). A 2015 study that has drawn considerable attention identified that “denial is driven partly by dominant personality and low empathy, and partly by motivation to justify and promote existing social and human-nature hierarchies.” That is, climate denialists were partly motivated by concern that climate action would undermine existing hierarchies, which, as white males, they tended to dominate. And because they see the world in terms of hierarchies, the only alternative they can conceive of is a hierarchy in which they are not dominant.

As it turns out, this kind of fear — that one is being threatened with losing one’s dominant status — is applicable across a range of issues. While he later said he chose his words poorly, Abbott saying that he felt “threatened” by homosexuality accurately conveyed a similar sentiment: he sees LGBTI people as threatening — not, of course, to his physical self, but to his social status. He put it even better when he explained his “threatened” comments by saying homosexuality “challenges orthodox notions of the right order of things”, revealing how LGBTI people conflicted with his hierarchical, “right order” view of the world.

Get Crikey FREE to your inbox every weekday morning with the Crikey Worm.

This deep-seated, hierarchy-based fear can also be seen in Abbott’s monarchism; he described any push for a republic as “the latest instalment in the green-left’s war on our way of life”. It even explains his bizarre claim, while Prime Minister, that he was a kind of fiscal fire brigade and the mere fact that he was in office was enough to address the fiscal emergency, just like the arrival of the fire brigade at a fire showed that everything was under control. This peculiar image only makes sense if you see the world as a hierarchy in which the restoration of the right people to the top of the hierarchy ensures all is well, no matter what action they might take, or even if they take no action at all.

Much has always been made of Abbott’s Catholicism, but it’s hard to see religion as playing a particular role in this worldview; Catholicism is no more hierarchical than Anglicanism, for example, or some other Christian sects. But through a prism of hierarchy, it becomes easier to understand why Abbott clings to the heterosexual, coal-fired, monarchical Australia he believes he grew up in, because that delivered him, as he sees it, to the top of the “right order of things” and anything that contradicts it must be fought as a kind of existential threat.

This is a key reason why Abbott is so adept at exploiting the politics of fear. All politicians traffic in fear, of course, but Abbott’s time in public life has been defined by it because his unparalleled genius has been to tear down or halt the achievements of others. From the republic to a carbon price and terrorism to, now, coal and marriage equality, Abbott uses fear and the belief that we are under threat to prevent change to the “right order of things”. He’s able to do so because he knows fear so well, because it’s not an artifice for him, but something he feels at the very core of his being. It’s a frightening world for Tony Abbott, and he wants you to be frightened, too.


Leave a comment

76 thoughts on “Inside the terrifying mind of Tony Abbott

  1. Robert Smith

    I have always thought it was an attitude of “we’re in charge here & we will tell you when SSM, addressing climate change & a republic will be allowed”.

  2. bob evans

    Tony Abbott’s irrational vendetta IS frightening and if he succeeds in prioritising coal-fired power over non-polluting sustainable energy technologies, the environmental and climatic consequences will indeed be frightening.

    1. Barbara Haan

      Pity the majority of us aren’t listening to his fear vendetta then. His black flips and sheer dishonesty when PM so discredited his brand of fear that he’s annulled his own brand.

  3. leon knight

    Quite possibly an accurate analysis Bernard, but insufficient in my view – the man is simply a hate-filled nut-job for mine (but quite likely catholic dogma set the madness going inside his feeble brain).

    1. Awkward

      So now for Tony, a man of faith, the only issue is to oppose the ALP, however he can. His life only has meaning by the measure of his opposition to things. It’s why the jihadis cause him so much concern. He recognises their psychology, and like all enemies, it’s their similarity which causes the most heartburn.

      If spirituality can be defined by the absence of the self then there is nothing spiritual about Tony.

      1. Murray Scott

        Its not only the ALP, don’t forget the “the green-left’s war on our way of life”

        1. Awkward

          Yep, that one too. This is the Greens who bleed votes to the Liberals in surprising numbers. Abbott needs to be attacked with satire, nothing else. Rationality is lost on him, but derision is not. He might finally realise how much people hold him in contempt. The late, great Bob Ellis was brilliant in his Tabletalk blog. For about a year it was an almost daily, boisterous cackle.

          1. graybul

            Govt. Spokesperson: No! They met whilst out ‘taking the air’ and . . .

            Prime Minister: We shook hands, and then as I raised my head . . . .

            Ex Prime Minister: . . . . as he was raising his head, I just stepped up to shake his hand and . . . .

            Leader of the Opposition: Would you describe this . . . as a terrorist incident? ZINGER!!

    2. michael r james

      You are certainly correct about that “catholic dogma” setting it up. I have just finished reading, in my cafe’s Weekend Australian Magazine, about the next-gen conservative Andrew Hastie and in some ways it is more shocking that Abbott. Here are some of the highlights:

      Yet while nobody doubts Hastie’s loyalty to the Turnbull Government, the fact is he also remains openly loyal to Tony Abbott, whom he first met n the Canning by-election campaign trail in 2015. The ideological warriors became friends. They are both monarchists nd share similar views on big political issues such as climate change and asylum seekers–Hastie says he hates to see refugees in detention but it’s “necessary” to stop people smugglers and describes himself as a climate “realist” rather than a sceptic.

      Curious how it is the loudest god-botherers (Morrison, Abbott, Abetz) who seem to have no compunction about torturing innocent refugees. And this from a bloke who admits to calling in a US bombing raid on “Taliban” while he was on duty in Afghanistan but then seeing the goat-herder children who were blown to bits “in error”. So, he now gets a second shot at inflicting his abuse of power on them!

      In recent months, it’s been difficult to miss the backbencher in the media as he emerged as one of the most strident opponents of same-sex marriage. Hastie is regularly pilloried over his views on the subject.

      In the recent media fracas over Benjamin Law’s tweet re homophobic elements in the Australian polity, many responded “Start with Hastie”.
      And he loves our democracy so much that:

      If the plebiscite (error; “survey”) produces a Yes vote, he says he will abstain from voting on any Bill that comes before Parliament but will then actively campaign to ensure strong protections for religious freedoms so that “people of faith” can’t be prosecuted for sticking to their traditional views.

      Does this personal philosophy come from deep thought and weighing the alternatives etc? Err, no.

      … revelations that his father, a Presbyterian pastor, was a Creationist who had dismissed evolutionary theory in his writings. … Two years later, Hastie remains touch on the subject. … All he’ll say on Creationism is this: “There’s a range of different views about the origins of the Earthy and my view is that God is the first mover. I believe God exists, and if He does exist, then why would it be beyond Him to be the creator?”

      So the reality is that his positions appear to be entirely from his upbringing (not to say inculcation–polite word for brainwashing) by his evangelical pastor father. After Scots College schooling (the Presbyterian version of Abbott’s Jesuit Riverside College), it wasn’t until he got to university until he met any other ideas:

      Hastie didn’t fit in at UNSWs Kensington campus,where as a Liberal voter and a John Howard fan he encountered the political left for the first time.

      At the same time he apparently claims he came to see the folly of the Afghanistan mission, he doesn’t seem to acknowledge in any way that the Left he so disdains was against it and Iraq from the beginning. And that his hero Howard was pushing known lies to justify invading Iraq–leading to another half million or so humans as collateral damage.
      More on his democratic credentials:

      “So when I call myself a conservative, what I’m really saying is that I want to preserve the good things about Australia and I want to pass them on in the same way they were passed on to me.

      Which, though he seems so gormless and lacking in reflection, simply means he intends to impose on the rest of us (notwithstanding any elections, plebiscites, surveys not to mention rational argument) his personal view of what is “good” though it turns out, it is something he has simply swallowed whole from birth, apparently not questioning a single bit of the toxic fantasy.

  4. klewso

    The throwback that shambled from judging “Bernie Banton’s heart” to winning an election, then justifying breaking promises made (to sway voters – the safety of ABC/SBS funding, Gonski) before that election as “We are going to keep the promise that we actually made, not the promise that some people thought that we made or the promise that some people might have liked us to make.”?
    And you want us to go inside that mind???

    1. Draco Houston

      We’re all going to need a long shower.

      1. klewso

        “Leapfrog with the Abbott”? ….. Make sure your shots are up to date.

  5. John Newton

    Now perhaps an examination of of how a psychopathic loser like Turnbull thinks.

  6. Wexford

    Bernard states it’s “hard to see religion as playing a particular role in this worldview”. It might have been Rundle who raised it (it’s been a while since I read it), but I’ve since subscribed to the idea that Abbott’s Catholicism has him seeking martyrdom in the eyes of his god. If he wins his jihad, he wins, but if he loses then he wins even more.

  7. Susan Anderson

    A frightened bully, yep that about sums him up

  8. Longfulan

    Bernard….’his unparalleled genius’, where is genius in this? Plenty of nastiness, but genius? Yes, he is quite adept at destruction. Abbott is a traitor to Australia and persists with policies that would damage this country. Like Menzies before him, do you think he would favour Australia over England? Remember Menzies left Australia when PM at the beginning of WWII to stay in England for a time where he hoped he would be invited to become PM of England, a more important country and therefore for him to become so much more important in the scheme of things.

  9. Justin

    This hierarchical prism is even best summed up by Abbott himself. In an edited abstract of Abbott’s afterword in Abbott’s Right by Damien Freeman, posted on The Australian, he defined conservatism as “not theory driving practice but practice driving theory”.
    Without knowing it, Abbott masterfully summerised the reactionary, heirarchy based school of thought to which he subscribes.

  10. rhwombat

    He’s not terrifying. He is pathetic.

    1. MAC TEZ

      How about he’s terrifyingly pathetic ?

Leave a comment

Share this article with a friend

Just fill out the fields below and we'll send your friend a link to this article along with a message from you.

Your details

Your friend's details