He’s been this way for years. Like a kid playing a violent video game such as Call Of Duty, he has aimed his high-powered rocket at his opponents, forcing them to duck or blowing them to smithereens, destroying them utterly. And then he claps his little hands in delight. Destructiveness has consistently been his modus operandi
. He has no equal in Australian political history.
When looking for a scapegoat for the Wentworth by-election catastrophe, several columnists targetted Peter Dutton as the culprit. Bad a result as it was, they canvassed how much worse it would have been if Dutton had succeeded in wresting the prime ministership from Malcolm Turnbull. Of course their proposition was valid. But it missed the point. It was not Peter Dutton who conceived the coup – it was the master of destruction, Tony Abbott. Dutton was simply a compliant proxy for Abbott in his quest to utterly destroy his nemesis, Malcolm Turnbull. I suppose we are fortunate that Dutton’s mates didn’t understand simple arithmetic – they couldn’t count. I suppose we should be grateful that doing simple sums eluded them. Otherwise, it may have been PM Dutton at the by-election urging voters to vote Liberal!
Destructive Tony was delighted when Malcolm Turnbull was upended on 24 August. Although his dream was always that he would replace Turnbull and assume the leadership that was taken from him on 15 September 2015 so abruptly, so indecently, so disrespectfully, even his over-inflated ego could not fully accommodate that eventuality. But if he couldn’t be PM again, if he could at least dislodge Turnbull, that would be an acceptable bonus.
Abbott’s destructiveness goes back a long way. As Kevin Rudd said in his recent interview with Jon Faine on ABC Melbourne radio about his new book: The PM Years
, ”Ninety-nine percent of Abbott’s political life has been about destroying things.”
During his university days he smashed a glass door when he lost an election. He threatened a female opponent. At Oxford, where as a Rhodes Scholar he won a university blue in boxing, he said that smashing a bloodied opponent to the canvas gave him great delight.
Jumping to his parliamentary days, think back just a few years. Remember how he verballed Julia Gillard over and again until she came back at him with the full force of her angry rhetoric in her famous ‘misogyny speech’, which attracted worldwide acclamation.
When he couldn’t destroy her with his oratory, he set about destroying her policies. Peta Credlin, Abbott’s Chief of Staff, admitted
that the climate change policy promoted by Julia Gillard was never a carbon tax; he simply used that label ”to stir up brutal retail politics…Abbott made it a ‘carbon tax’ and a fight about the hip pocket rather than the environment, and it took him only six months to cut through and when he did, Gillard was gone. "
Who will ever forget ‘Axe the Tax’? This climate policy – a price on carbon pollution – was, and still is, central to reducing carbon emissions. Abbott destroyed it, and much of Julia Gillard’s reputation with it.
Abbott extended his destructiveness to demolish other policies, notably the mining tax
. He cast himself as the nation's saviour, putting the tax on mining super-profits at the centre of the his campaign to win the election, pledging to wind it back if he won government.
His three word slogans became a hallmark of his campaign: ‘axe the tax’, was joined to ‘stop the boats’, ‘repay the debt’, and ‘stop the waste’. In these trios, Abbott was able to put his destructiveness in a nutshell. Each carried a punishing condemnation of Labor’s policies, and by implication Abbott’s remedy. The electorate embraced these easy-to-remember slogans. ‘Stop the boats’ remains a powerful slogan even today.
Unable to topple Labor in 2010, the election resulted in a hung parliament. Abbott was incensed that Julia Gillard outmanoeuvred him to obtain the support of two rural independents, Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott, who, with a Green and another independent enabled her to govern successfully for the next three years, passing around six hundred pieces of legislation. Abbott’s anger was palpable, his desire to destroy her unabated. His sexist language continued, climaxing in her ‘misogyny speech’ in October 2010.
Abbott eventually grasped the prize in 2013 when the Coalition won and he became PM. His destructiveness continued.
Not satisfied with his victory, Abbott continued his campaign of destruction as he attacked Labor policies relentlessly. His retaliatory 2014 budget, one that he and Joe Hockey fashioned, was designed to hurt those on welfare, and punish Hockey’s ‘leaners’. It is still regarded as the most punitive budget in recent times. It was widely condemned by economists and progressives. Yet Abbott revelled in its destructiveness.
But as Abbott continued on his destructive path, he failed to look over his shoulder to see that Malcolm Turnbull had his measure, until that fateful day, 15 September 2015, when Turnbull challenged him for the Liberal leadership, and won. Abbott’s upending of Turnbull in December 2009 by one vote over Turnbull’s support for an ETS, was avenged. Abbott was forced onto the backbench, where he vowed there would be ”no wrecking, no undermining, and no sniping.”
The promise was hollow; Abbott continued with his unrelenting destructiveness. His prime aim was to destroy Malcolm Turnbull, no matter what the cost to his party.
So it came to pass that Abbott and his conservative mates were able to persuade the party room that Turnbull could not lead them to an election victory, and therefore had to be replaced. Abbott realized that he was unlikely to be chosen as Turnbull’s successor, so he worked on Peter Dutton’s over-inflated ego long enough to persuade him that he was ’a better man’ to lead the party to victory. Once Turnbull threw down the gauntlet, Dutton’s innumerate colleagues began to do their sums, but managed to get their numbers so wrong that Dutton lost to Scott Morrison, who unexpectedly came through the centre of the field to win the race. But although Dutton failed, Abbott was delighted – he had at last destroyed his nemesis.
But in the process, aided and abetted by the party’s conservative dinosaurs, Abbott had destroyed the Coalition. Perhaps he didn’t see it coming, so hell bent was he destroying Turnbull.
The result of his destructiveness is writ large in the outcome of the Wentworth by-election. Although there were many factors that led to this disastrous result for the Coalition, there is no escaping the naked truth that behind this calamity was the phantom of the nation’s most destructive politician, Anthony John Abbott.