Voters need seriously to contemplate what it would be like to have an Abbott Government. They need to dig deeper than the slick slogans, the oft repeated mantras, the weasel words, the deviousness, and the blatant lies that escape Abbott’s lips day after day. They need to ask what makes this man tick? More importantly, voters need to ask who influences Abbott, and how those influences shape the attitudes, the ideology, the behaviour, and the actions of this potential Prime Minister of our nation.
For immediate answers, voters need not look much beyond a momentous event last week – a Gala Dinner to mark the 70th Anniversary of the foundation of the Melbourne-based Institute of Public Affairs (IPA), a right wing organization that grew up in 1943 after the collapse of the conservative United Australia Party. How much will those attending the Dinner shape and mould the nation’s alternative leader? To what extent will Abbott be clay in the hands of the many potters who attended?
The IPA describes itself as “an independent, non-profit public policy think tank, dedicated to preserving and strengthening the foundations of economic and political freedom".
It claims that it “has been at the forefront of the political and policy debate, defining the contemporary political landscape.”
To get a feel for its political orientation, read its 75 radical ideas, and note those already adopted by the would-be PM, Tony Abbott
. In his address at the Gala Dinner
, Abbott heaped praise on the organization: ”The IPA, I want to say, has been freedom’s discerning friend.”
He lauded its director, John Roskam, previously a Liberal staffer who once ran for Liberal pre-selection.
The IPA was influential in the formation of the Liberal Party. There is no doubt about its ultra conservative orientation
, and its support of the Liberal Party.
It says it is ”funded by individual memberships and subscriptions, as well as philanthropic and corporate donors.”
We know Rupert Murdoch is a large donor, as was his father, but outsiders can only guess whom the others are. We are told that ‘big business’, and perhaps ‘big tobacco’ is among them, but the list is kept under wraps
The list of invitees to the IPA Gala Dinner is not public, but we do know that the guest of honour and keynote speaker was Rupert Murdoch, that Gina Rinehart was a distinguished guest and speaker, and that Andrew Bolt was Master of Ceremonies. Apart from Tony Abbott, other Liberal luminaries were there: Victorian Premier Denis Napthine, Melbourne Lord Mayor Robert Doyle, and Shadow Attorney General George Brandis. None of these names are surprising. What I expect though came as a surprise to many outside the IPA was the presence of the most senior Catholic in Australia, Cardinal George Pell, Archbishop of Sydney. What does his presence mean?
This piece suggests that among the many influential people present, none will exert more influence on the man who wants to be our Prime Minister than Rupert Murdoch, Gina Rinehart and George Pell; no others, not even party members, have shaped, and will shape Abbott’s clay more decisively than these master potters.
Let’s deal first with supremo Rupert Murdoch. Is there anyone with eyes to see and a brain to reason that would deny that Murdoch is intent on removing the Gillard Labor Government and replacing it at the September election with a Coalition Government led by Tony Abbott? All his utterances, all the inflammatory words his tabloids use, make this abundantly clear. It is really not worth spending more words ‘proving’ this assertion; just glance at his rabid, malevolent News Limited tabloid headlines, day after day, and at the subtler broadsheet articles that Murdoch uses to influence the business community.
Where does Abbott stand? Of course he is rapt with Murdoch’s objective. Why would he not be? When he first met Murdoch over lunch in New York shortly after he became Opposition Leader, Abbott said: “I hope he liked me”. Whatever else his critics say about him, Abbott cannot be accused of being stupid. He knows on what side his bread is buttered. Around the time of that meeting, Abbott instructed Malcolm Turnbull to ‘demolish the NBN’. Was that a coincidence, or was it carrying out Murdoch’s instructions? The threat to Murdoch’s empire that the NBN constitutes is acknowledged. What will happen to Foxtel when real-time viewing of movies and other TV content online via the NBN is a reality? One thing Murdoch does very well is to protect his interests. What Abbott does very well is to obey his master’s instructions.
With Murdoch supporting Abbott and the Coalition’s push for power, Abbott will obsequiously go along with him. Why would he knock back all the muscular support Murdoch can provide?
Murdoch is the master potter; Abbott is eager clay in his hands
Abbott’s obsequiousness screams out in the words he uttered in his IPA address last week: ”John Howard has said that Rupert Murdoch has been by far Australia’s most influential international businessman; but I would like to go a little further. Along with Sir John Monash, the Commander of the First AIF which saved Paris and helped to win the First World War, and Lord Florey a one-time provost of my old Oxford College, the co-inventor of penicillin that literally saved millions of lives, Rupert Murdoch is probably the Australian who has most shaped the world through the 45 million newspapers that News Corp sells each week and the one billion subscribers to News-linked programming.”
Abbott went on to say of Murdoch: ”For our guest of honour, as for anyone deeply steeped in reporting, experience trumps theory and facts trump speculation. His publications have borne his ideals but never his fingerprints. They’ve been skeptical, stoical, curious, adventurous, opinionated yet broad minded. He’s influenced them, but he’s never dictated to them…”
, which shows just how far Abbott will stray from the truth to stroke his master. Those who have written books about Murdoch’s commercial life testify that his editors know exactly what their master wants, and to keep their jobs, give him just that.
Who can dispute Murdoch’s influence?
What about Gina Rinehart?
She too knows how important the media is in politics, how one’s objectives can be better achieved using the power of the media. She has large shareholdings in Channel Ten where she is on its Board, and was instrumental in the creation of the ultra right wing Bolt Report
. She also has shareholdings in Fairfax, where she seeks to increase her influence via Board membership, something she has not yet accomplished because of her insistence that she be able to exercise oversight of editorial orientation.
But apart from any media influence on Abbott, she clearly influences him on mining issues and minerals policy. She joined with Twiggy Forrest in public protests against the minerals tax, and in support of Abbott’s promise to abolish it. He embraces her anti-minerals tax efforts. He would give her whatever she wanted for her political support. He fawns over her when they meet. Look at the visuals here
Their ideas about the development of an economic zone in the North match. Did Abbott embrace Rinehart’s ideas, which would be to her enormous commercial advantage, or was that just a happy coincidence?
Some of Abbott’s shadow ministers are already in her debt – in 2011 Rinehart flew Julie Bishop and Barnaby Joyce in her private jet to an extravagant three-day wedding of a prominent Indian industrialist in Hyderabad
. Martin Ferguson was also invited, but declined, indicating that his attendance would have been inappropriate. But the Coalition shadow ministers obviously thought it was appropriate for them and the Liberal Party.
Does anyone doubt the profound influence Rinehart has on Abbott? He is malleable clay in her hands.
So we have master potter Murdoch moulding Abbott ideologically, philosophically, economically and commercially, and Rinehart moulding him in crucial areas of the economy, mining and development of the North.
What about Cardinal George Pell?
To me, his influence is the most alarming. No one would criticize Pell for receiving an invitation, but why would this most senior Catholic clergyman be willing to associate himself publically with an ultra conservative think tank that works hand in glove with the Liberal Party. Pell is entitled to his own political preferences, but what is he saying to his ‘flock’ when he fronts at this IPA event? Is this his way of saying to his people that Tony Abbott, the Coalition, and its conservative IPA-oriented ideology, is now ‘right’ for this nation?
I am reminded of my early days when Daniel Mannix
was Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne, a position he held for 46 years. He exercised enormous influence politically. His sway over his flock was profound; there was many a story of how he used his clerical authority to persuade his parishioners towards his political viewpoint. In those days, his stature was a powerful inducement for his supporters to follow his lead; they had little else to guide them.
Whether Pell could exert such power over his flock today is debatable, especially with the aura of priest pedophilia and abuse that permeates the Catholic Church, a scandal that is driving Catholics away from it in droves.
Mannix's best-known protégé in his later years was B A Santamaria, a Catholic most admired by Tony Abbott, a man whose writings Abbott acknowledges still influence him profoundly.
Abbott concedes that George Pell is one of his most prominent mentors, although on one infamous occasion on the ABC’s Lateline
, in the lead up to the 2004 election, Abbott lied to Tony Jones about a meeting he had had with Pell, and was subsequently caught out
. Why was he so keen to deny the meeting? Perhaps to neutralize any charge that Pell was influencing him?
Abbott still consults regularly with Pell, whom he considers to be ”one of the greatest churchmen Australia has seen.”
Abbott is a good Catholic boy. He attended primary school at St Aloysius' College at Milson's Point before completing his secondary school education at St Ignatius' College, Riverview in Sydney. Both are Jesuit schools. He takes his religion seriously but claims that he is able to keep politics and religion separate, something many in the health field would question. Read though the words he spoke at the Gala Dinner: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is the foundation of our justice. “Love your neighbour as you love yourself” is the foundation of our mercy. Faith has weakened but not, I’m pleased to say, this high mindedness which faith helped to spawn and which the IPA now helps to protect and to promote.”
As readers reflect on the behaviour Abbott exhibits day after day, some will smile at his ‘Do unto others’ proclamation, but that’s another matter.
It seems as if faith is important to Abbott. That is understandable and acceptable, but it does highlight the potential for Abbott being influenced politically by his religious mentors. That is worrisome. What is Pell’s agenda? To what extent is Pell a devotee of the IPA and its extreme conservative agenda? We know he shares the IPA’s skepticism about global warming. Will Pell exert his influence on contemporary politics, not directly over his flock as did Archbishop Mannix, but via his pupil Tony Abbott, a Jesuit boy, a past seminarian who once studied for the priesthood, but now in the supremely powerful position of aspirant for the highest political office in town – Prime Minister of Australia? We shall probably never know, but we are entitled to be suspicious and deeply apprehensive about this prospect. This piece suggests that three of the most influential people in Abbott’s political life are media mogul Rupert Murdoch, mining mogul Gina Rinehart, and Catholic Cardinal George Pell, all of whom coalesced at the 70th Anniversary Gala Dinner of the ultra conservative Institute of Public Affairs, which openly boasts about its political influence, which in truth is its raison d'être. This is not an inexplicable coincidence.
In the run down to September 14, we can expect these three to redouble their efforts. Murdoch and Rinehart will exercise their influence overtly. These master potters will fashion the soft malleable Abbott clay shamelessly to suit their own ends, commercial and ideological.
We can anticipate too that Cardinal Pell will continue to exercise his influence, yet subtly and covertly. This master potter will mould Abbott with as much authority as the others, perhaps even more profoundly. Yet we, the voting public, will likely never be the wiser. Therein lies our predicament.
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