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I went to see David Marr talk about his latest Quarterly Essay ‘Political Animal: The Making Of Tony Abbott’ which is about Tony Abbott, his motivations, formative influences, career to date and what he would be like as Prime Minister, which is a high probability event at the time of writing.

The event was held at Mosman library which is located in Tony Abbott’s electorate. Most attendees appeared to be in the 55+ demographic.

Marr is a youthful, fit-looking 65 year old. His talk was a delight, beautifully phrased and balanced in its appraisal of Abbott despite Marr’s evident wish that Abbott not become PM. Marr spoke completely without notes.

In praise of Abbott, Marr said that ‘we could do a lot worse as PM than he’, that Abbott is a decent man, ‘eloquent’ and ‘can be a great speaker when he wants to be’, that he has been a notable political journalist in that he has written regularly for newspapaer and magazines all throughout his political career, that he was a good and effective Cabinet Minister, that Abbott ‘has done a great deal of growing up’ since his university days and is ‘not the same man as yesterday’.

The Punch

The hysterical invective directed against Marr’s essay notably by Christopher Pyne and Greg Sheridan but in general by News Corp publications and Coalition parties was completely divorced from the reality of Marr’s essay which ,in line with Marr’s talk, was a very balanced account of Abbott the man, his career and achievements.

The invective was aroused because of the now infamous incident from Abbott’s university days related by Marr in which young Abbott, defeated by a leftist female opponent for the SRC Presidency, approached her at the declaration of the vote, crowded her against a wall and then punched the wall menacingly each side of her head.

Marr, for his part, said he was a little disappointed that the whole other content of his 90 page essay has subsequently been ignored except for the one or two paragraphs about this incident, but in my opinion he appeared gratified by that same overblown attention which triggered panic in Abbott’s camp (which of course includes News Corp). Marr is only human to be gratified if his investigative research and factual reporting affected the political climate with such immediacy.

But neither do I think that Marr was being disingenuous to speak of a slight disappointment. Naturally, he would prefer the full content of hisd essay discussed.

Marr spoke about the hyperbolic reaction by the Right to his essay and analysed it this way: since popular polling (Newspoll etc.) has been in existence in Australia (since approx WW2), Australians have never voted out a government to elect a leader who is significantly less liked than the incumbent PM. It has never happened.

While the LNP currently controls a 53-47 lead on the 2PP polling, Abbott trails as preferred PM 36-43. Abbott is not liked by the general public. Indeed, one-in-five of LNP voters, Abbott’s own people, prefer Gillard to Tony Abbott as Prime Minister. Overall, Abbott’s unpopularity is a drag on the LNP vote.

So, while the LNP is well in the lead, that lead is fragile because the electorate does not like Abbott. If he stuffs up, and Marr says that Abbott’s minders believe that could conceivably happen at any moment, that 2PP advantage could easily evaporate. ‘The Punch’ was just the thing to reinforce the negative perception of Abbott. It had to be vociferously denied. Which it was. In exceedingly shifty tones by Tones and in hyperbolic fits by his cheer squad and official supporters.

Marr said he asked the publishers of Quarterly Essay to specifically invite Greg Sheridan, given the intensity of his criticism of the essay, to craft a detailed respond to ‘Political Animal’ to be published in the next Quarterly Essay. Sheridan, showing the paucity of his position and hollowness of his criticism, declined.

Abbott’s fragility, specifically commented on by Marr, is a reason why Abbott declines tough interviews. Foe example, he has not been on Lateline for almost a year and his appearance on Insiders on July 12 this year, his first there for 16 months, was notable for the extremely tight and wooden nature of Abbott’s responses…and a remarkably soft performance by Barrie Cassidy as interviewer. Perhaps Cassidy wants Abbott back.

On the subject of The Punch Marr simply states ‘I’m a professional journalist’. He might have added that he is a highly decorated one. It is plain Marr would not trash his hard-won reputation as a quality journalist on some make believe.

Marr stated that the great and necessary challenge confronting LNP strategists is how to make Tony liked. He thinks we are on the cusp of seeing that strategy unveiled, whatever form it may take.

Other Abbott

What Abbott learned from his student politician career was that you can win power without being liked. The Great Suggestion with which Abbott courts the electorate is that when the right time comes he will divest himself of his junkyard dog persona and metamorph into Winston Churchill. Says Marr: ‘I doubt that’.

Abbott is not a misogynist. He is, says Marr, in Anne Summer’s apt summation, a chauvinist.

male chauvinist 
noun
a male who patronizes, disparages, or otherwise denigrates females in the belief that they are inferior to males and thus deserving of less than equal treatment or benefit.

On Turnbull

The scuttlebutt is apparently that Turnbull will never accept leadership of the LNP unless the LNP embraces a genuine commitment to act on Climate Change.

Marr said his friends, by which I understood he meant the gay community, have a fond hope, a fantasy, that the LNP will use Abbott to gain power and then dump him for Turnbull. Marr’s opinion is that this is wishful thinking of the most starry-eyed nature. If Abbott wins, he wins and he stays.

On Turnbull and Rudd

Backbenchers in the respective parties speak of Rudd and Turnbull in a surprisingly identical manner. i.e. ‘That son of a ##@@!%. He ripped our guts out. Wouldn’t have him back for quids.’ To the backbenchers the enduring popularity of the ex-leaders is inexplicable and to coin a Pyne-ism, vomitous

Marr believes the popularity of Rudd and Turnbull is because they look like the kind of leaders that Australians want as opposed to the kind of leaders – Gillard and Abbott – whom they currently have, both of whom are almost irredeemably unpopular, Abbott due to his aggression and Gillard, well Marr didn’t say, but I would venture Gilllard’s gender in combination with her ‘knifing’ of Rudd (illegitimacy) and untruthfuless (Ju-Liar Carbon Tax).

On The Standard and Direction Of Political Debate

The freedom to speak hate is being actively claimed by radio hosts. And what can be said of the sheer idiocy of those elements claiming that the Macquarie Dictionary adding a new definition to ‘misogyny’ is proof of some leftist conspiracy in cahoots with the ABC.

Question Time

Q. Why didn’t Abbott gain the support of the Independents in the minority government negotiations ?
A. Two reasons. Libs were on the upswing at the time. Abbott as leader would have dissolved parliament, called new elections and the Independents would have vanished like morning dew. This has been confirmed by Bronwyn Bishop. Secondly, Windsor and perhaps Oakeshott were personally repelled by the pitiful, begging manner in which Abbott conducted the negotiations. They didn’t like the man they saw.

My question, which I didn’t feel Marr liked very much was this:

Q. Since Political Abbott always trumps Values Abbott then can we assume that secular Australia has nothing to fear from Abbott’s relational with Cardinal Pell ?
A. [paraphrased] Since Abbott’s values are always expendable then even his good values can be ditched at any time. For example, Abbott did not support Workchoices since they’re opposed to his DLP values (Kevin Andrews also ex-DLP also opposed Workchoices, but Abbott will implement it if his paymasters insists and he can get away with it.

I didn’t find Marr’s answer very good, but like I say, I don’t think Marr liked my question very much. Marr does not hate Abbott but they are very different people. As Marr says in ‘Political Animal’ Abbott as PM will not pursue and will resist many issues Marr cares about such as

‘gay marriage, drug reform, euthanasia, a republic [and] a bill of rights’ [‘Political Animal’, p.91]

to which could be added humane treatment for asylum seekers and serious action on Climate Change. Its not like Marr thinks that Abbott will transform Australia into a Catholic fiefdom (much as he may like to), its that Abbott will ignore or reject the entire ‘progressive’ agenda.

And Marr is obviously deeply hurt by what he has experienced as the rejection of gay people by Catholics and conservative Christians exemplified by Abbott and Pell. So my question relating secular Australia and Pell would have had a personal salience for him.

But I speculate.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable talk and discussion.

See you at the next one.

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  1. […] David Marr’s Quarterly Essay #47 “Political Animal” on Tony Abbott and attended his writers talk on the essay at Mosman Library. I was therefore gratified to discover his talk David Marr on Tony Abbott at the Brisbane Writers […]

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