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I avidly read 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 Festival 8 September 2012. I watched the video and took some notes.

Discardable Values Abbott

Those who have read QE #47 will know that Marr was motivated to write his essay in order to address the contradiction between the two personae projected by Abbott, the man of values and the political junkyard dog. Marr names these two personae ‘Values Abbott’ and ‘Political Abbott’. Marr’s thesis is that Political Abbott always trumps Values Abbott. Whenever Abbott’s value system is in conflict with the pragmatic need to win votes and power, pragmatism always triumphs and values are discarded.

In his Brisbane talk Marr was more explicit on this saying that he (Marr) finds it inconceivable that Abbott, the loyal and enthusiastic Catholic, should turn his back on Christian values in order to demonize and reject asylum seekers, being comfortable to fan the embers of racism while he does so. Marr also said that, in his opinion, a man of values would not turn his back on Science which Abbott has done in order to prosecute an anti-Carbon Tax and anti-AGW populist scare campaign.

I am in agreement with Marr. Abbott’s ‘values’ on these issues are non-existent. First on asylum seekers, Abbott’s ‘biblical’ justification for rejecting asylum seekers, that the flight into Egypt of Jesus, Mary and Joseph took the family to the nearest sanctuary, not across the seas to a distant land is theological giobberish cynically designed to wring political advantage from the sacred text.

In fairness to Abbott, I suspect his loyalty is not to Christian values or The Bible per se, but really to the institutional survival of the Catholic Church. This distinction means that Abbott is free to manouever how he will on ‘what the Bible says’ without contradicting his value system.

Abbott vs. Polyamorous Cisgenered Woman

To quickly view Jesus’s attitude to pushing-in (as if asylum seeking could be characterised in that particularly revoltingly insular position anyway) I find these tweets listed on Bluebec quite apposite:

zerogeewhiz ‏@zerogeewhiz
Ref 1: Mark 5:21-34 – woman pushes her way through the crowd, touches his cloak. She’s healed. No dramas. Not sent back to Indonesia.
zerogeewhiz ‏@zerogeewhiz
Ref 2: Luke 5:19 – man lowered in through the roof, Jesus heals him anyway. Does not send him to Nauru for processing.

Abbott may be shocked to discover that Bluebec

a white, middle-class, temporarily able-bodied, neuro-typical, bisexual, polyamorous, cisgendered woman

understands the spirit and intention of the scripture far better than he, self-styled defender of Western civilisation.

As to Abbott’s rejection of the AGW scientific consensus, Marr makes the simple point that in the nine months leading up to Abbott’s assumption of the leadership of the Liberal Party he had advocated six distinct positions on AGW and carbon pricing, including support for a Carbon Tax. Abbott’s approach to this issue as with asylum seekers, is entirely populist, entirely pragmatic to the end of winning power and entirely without value(s).


I found Marr’s Brisbane Writer’s Festival talk useful for fleshing out my understanding the role of the 1970’s DLP in Abbott’s political formation. This period is critical to understanding Abbott for it is here that Abbott’s Catholic values pertaining to family and human reproduction were edged, as a sword is edged, by Santamaria’s call to arms.

The DLP was a quintessentially conservative and reactionary organisation very much concerned with the defence of values it saw as foundational to Western civilisation. And it is the concept and romantic ideal of the values of Western civilisation of which Values Abbott pictures himself as the champion, gladiator and paladin.

By 1970 Santamaria and the DLP had changed its focus from rooting out Communism in the unions to rooting out Communism in the universities. As Marr puts it, the true danger to society lay on university campuses and Santamaria could be excused for thinking so given the events on European university campuses in the late 1960’s. So Abbott, freshly graduated from University, was recruited into the DLP by his high school priests and launched on to the campus of Sydney University fuelled by the furious scorn (as Marr puts it) of Santamaria against working mothers, sexual libertarianisn and the entire progesive agenda.

Abbott was here discipled along with Greg Sheridan and Eric Abetz to hold the line against fashionable beliefs and to hold the line against and roll back leftist evil and replace it with DLP good.

Romantic Protege

So, if values are so important to Abbott, why are they so discardable ? Even truth is instantly spurned by Abbott when it becomes a problem. Examples include his lies over the Ramjan punch, his lies in regard to Marr over how he portrayed Marr being fed information by a mythical Labor Dirt Unit (this is detailed by Marr himself in the correspondence section of QE #48), his lies over ‘Australians For Honest Politics’, the slush fund Abbott created to destroy Pauline Hanson, the fraudulent Budget Spreadsheet presented prior to the 2010 Federal Election and his lies over his meeting with Cardinal Pell during the 2004 Federal election.

I believe that the reason why Abbott’s values are so discardable is that in the end he doesn’t have very many. Abbott’s starry-eyed admiration for the values of Western civilisation, the Papacy, the Monarchy and the Enlightenment are a romantic fiction that Abbott tells himself, as he relives the ‘Prince Hal’ [QE #47 p.1] Ladybird books of his childhood, but not much more. Abbott’s heart beats faster at the excitement of imaging himself a new Crusader King, a new reforming Priest or a defender of Western values, but in the end he will not die for any of them. He will fight but he will not die.

Abbott vs. Nile

Fred Nile, the much lampooned leader of the Christian Democratic Party, is what a man of values looks like. Nile will spend his whole life leading a party which gains 4% of the vote or less because Nile will truly fight and die for Right To Life, for Christian values and The Bible. Abbott will not. 4% is for losers. Abbott wants glory without death.

In this I think Abbott’s instinctive role as protege provides an important supporting role to his romantic fiction. Abbott loves heroes: Santamaria, Paul Mankowski, Emmett Costello, John Howard, George Pell. And he loves being approved of (even admired) and liked by them. His mentors and his protege status under them give meaning and excitement to Abbott’s endevours.

In the end I think this protege mentality is what energises Abbott’s campaign to become Prime Minister. If he wins he will present the victor’s spoils (the Prime Ministership and reins of national authority) as trophies to his heroes, specifically Howard, Santamaria and Pell and, in my view, in that order. He will drink the praise and admiration of the Liberal Party elite for the rest of his life. This will be his glorious victory and his defence of Western civilisation. He will then quaff brandy with Pell and they will pretend it is also a victory for the Papacy, though it is not.

Some of Marr’s other points:

Mentors and Heroes

Abbott’s greatest heroes are Sanatamaria and Howard. Yet Santamaria despised Howard. But at the end of Santamaria’s life, Howard visited Santamaria on his death bed. Marr sees this as an important event for Abbott, allowing him to pursue the Prime Ministership in service of both of them. Marr thinks that Abbott learned government from Howard and politics from Santamaria.

Abbott and the Monarchy

Marr believes that the Monarchy, per se, is not ultimnately so important to Abbott. What is important about the Monarchy for Abbott is that Sir John Kerr, who was highly respected by the DLP and made him an offer of membership for his efforts as a lawyer in attacking Communist elements in unions, loved and defended the monarchy. So Abbott’s reverence for the monarchy is really a proxy for his deep commitment to Kerr.

I disagree with Marr on this. Abbott loves the Monarchy. It is one of the institutions which are essential, in Abbott’s woolly and romantic way of thinking, to Western civilisation.

Some Flaws, Some Positives

In Marr’s opinion, and I agree, Abbott is something of a coward. He rarely exposes himself to direct questioning by informed journalists. He would only give Marr one hour for questioning on this essay, and that interview was entirely off the record except for the self-serving deceitful denial of the Ramjan punch. As Opposition Leader he almost never appears on Lateline, Insiders or Q&A. Marr says Abbott’s timidity of him is ridiculous.

But Marr also said Abbott was decent and repeated several of the compliments he made in his essay at at the Mosman library talk.

Marr said, and I fully agree, that it is very important to Abbott that he not be laughed at and that he is discomfited by it . In my view this partially explains Abbott’s loathing of Roxon. She made him a laughing-stock. The ALP would do well to make him a figure of fun. Karl Stefanovic on Channel Nine breakfast television is showing them how to do it.

Just for fun, Here’s a touch more discomfit

Abbott The Intellectual

Marr says that Abbott sees himself as an intellectual, though he is not. Marr says Abbott’s primary intellectual muse is his fascination with Western civilisation which Abbott views as a product of Catholic Europe. Abbott’s special concern is how do hold it together which in Abbott’s view is achieved by seizing authority in order to safeguard it. Which is what he did on the SRC at university.

Who is Abbott ?

Marr opinied that Abbott is difficult to come to conclusions about. I disagree. Abbott’s current approval rating is 27%. Australians have thoroughly decided that they don’t like him.

Abbott has well and truly exhausted the public’s patience for his expectation of forgiveness following public confession of fault or mistake, which Marr notes is an important pattern for Abbott reaching to childhood. Marr does not go on to say this, but there is a plain inference that Abbott was somewhat indulged as a child and young man by dint of excessive admiration and that this has contributed to Tony’s concept that he may basically say and do as he wishes, apologize for any hurt en passant and then expect complete understanding and forgiveness.

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