It really would be a one horse race if such a trophy were to be awarded. Tony Abbott would be so far in front it would be declared ‘no contest’. What is it that earns him such a dishonorable label? This piece puts together the pieces of this grotesque jigsaw, so grotesque that the prospect of Abbott becoming PM is abhorrent not just to Labor supporters, but to a significant proportion of Coalition supporters as evidenced by his relatively poor rating as preferred PM compared with the strong support for the Coalition in the same poll. Among those polled who want the Coalition, most prefer to not have its leader.
This piece sets out to support the contention that Tony Abbott is the worst Opposition Leader in Australian political history with evidence derived from his eighteen months in the job, and then compares his record with Opposition Leaders from past eras.
As predicted way back when he was elected to Leader of the Coalition in The pugilistic politician
, he has been relentlessly pugilistic in his approach since unexpectedly being elevated to Leader. He has aggressively attacked Julia Gillard and her Government over and again, calling her election to prime ministership illegitimate and her Government illegitimate too. He has labeled her Government the worst in Australian political history. This piece returns that ‘compliment’!
We know that politics is a rough and tumble pursuit, and at times brutal. We know that oppositions are entitled to hold governments to account, but does that entitle them to behave like bare knuckle street brawlers, ready to viciously wield offensive weapons if fists won’t do? Is there no room for a modicum of decency, decorum and respect? Judging from Abbott’s behaviour such conduct is strictly restricted to motions of condolence. Even when addressing the same forum as the PM, no matter if this is a social event, Abbott cannot resist the sly, and sometimes not so sly dig, evoking the lame and totally insincere excuse: ‘the devil made me do it’, as he did when he recently took a poke at Kevin Rudd at such a social occasion. He’s very much a believer in the Catholic tradition of confessing ones sins and asking for forgiveness, a poor substitute for behaving properly in the first place.
My condemnation of Abbott comes in several categories: Aggression
He exhibits disproportionate aggression towards PM Gillard, and her senior ministers, and engenders the same in others. The inevitable consequence is vitriolic hatred.
One has only to watch Abbott’s face in QT and when he is in full flight with neck veins protruding and rage contorting his face to realize the anger and aggression in the man as he maliciously addresses questions to the PM. Her calmness in response angers him all the more. His pugilism is unbecoming in any potential leader.
If you need any reminding of Abbott’s parliamentary behaviour, take a look at this, yet another quasi censure motion.
How could the electorate choose the floridly aggressive Abbott over the calm Gillard?
This anger has been picked up and amplified by shock jocks like Alan Jones and those who appeared at the carbon tax rallies with their offensive placards that Abbott had as a background as he addressed the throng of angry people full of hate for Julia Gillard.
Cautioned against a repeat performance at the second rally, this is how Abbott urged the participants to ‘keep it civil’!
He couldn’t resist saying that he agreed with a lot of the placards but smilingly added: “some signs I don’t necessarily agree with”
. ‘Don’t necessarily’ indeed!
Abbott’s aggression is not recent. In a 2004 article in the Sydney Morning Herald
by Kerry-Anne Walsh and Candace Sutton about Abbott’s university days they wrote: "He was a very offensive, a particularly obnoxious sort of guy," said Barbie Schaffer, a Sydney teacher who was at Sydney University with Mr Abbott. He was very aggressive, particularly towards women and homosexuals".
Nothing has changed. Nastiness
He is nasty. Reflect on the images of him addressing malicious questions in QT, his face contorted with anger, and at times rage when PM Gillard turns her back on his spitefulness. Is that gross degree of malevolence necessary in our political scene?
He is a nasty thug, just as he was in his university days. Negativity and destructiveness
He is unremittingly negative about almost everything the Government proposes, and fights virtually every attempt of the Government to govern the country. He attempts to obstruct government at every turn. He is destructive. Paul Keating summed him up well: “Give me what I want or I’ll wreck the place”
Abbott is a target for cartoonists with his No, No, No, to everything. He is determined to get what he wants no matter how much wreckage he leaves in his wake. He has no concern for the welfare of the country or how much destruction he spreads, or how much uncertainty and apprehension and fear he generates, so long as he gets his prize. He wants just one thing, prime ministership and will ruthlessly pursue that no matter what the cost to the nation. That is wholly reprehensible for someone who purports to be acting in the best interests of the nation.
Again, from the SMH
article: “Published university reports show that after a narrow defeat in the university senate elections in 1976 - Mr Abbott's first year of an economics-law degree - he kicked in a glass panel door. In the ensuing two years, he was repeatedly accused in the university paper of being a right-wing thug and bully who used sexist and racist tactics to intimidate his opponents.”
Has anything changed since then? Same man, same tactics! Habitual lying
He lies. Every day he is out there distorting the known facts, omitting facts, cherry picking the facts that suit his case, and misrepresenting them. He is a bald-faced liar, yet has the temerity to build his case for another election solely on his assertion that Julia Gillard ‘lied’ to the public about the carbon tax. He lies daily, but insists PM Gillard and her Government ought to be thrown out on the basis of her one ‘lie’.
By his own admission we should not believe him unless what he says is written down, scripted. He has demonstrated the truth of that over and again. Although he shares bipartisan support with Labor for a 5% carbon mitigation target by 2020, he recently described that target as ‘crazy’ to an audience of pensioners. Since that is inconsistent with his own party’s policy, it is a lie, but few pull him up.
Recently on Alan Jones’ program he was drawn by Jones to taking the side of farmers against coal seam gas exploration by stating: "If you don't want something to happen on your land, you ought to have a right to say no"
to it being accessed for gas exploration. But by the next day Abbott was telling miners in the West that he supports their rights for exploration. A Coalition spokesman came to his rescue claiming he was only ever talking about farmers' rights on 'prime agricultural land'. Even The Weekend Australian
had a headline “Abbott wedged over mines”
; wedged by his own lies. Opportunism
He is opportunistic in the extreme. He doesn’t care what he says, and readily ‘clarifies’ any contradiction the next day as if nothing unusual had happened. If PM Gillard were to go through such contortions she would be condemned by all and sundry.
In response to Nick Minchin urging him to support good policy, in fact policy proposed by John Howard, Abbott stated that in a contest between policy and pragmatism, pragmatism would always win the day. In other words, principle always bows to pragmatism, to opportunism.
He changes position not occasionally, but often, sometimes on the one day, and sees no inconsistency in this. He will say to anyone or any group what he thinks will earn him support, and the opposite to others with the same intent – garnering votes, and often on the same day, richly earning him the ‘weathervane’ tag. And he does this shamelessly, almost thumbing his nose, with a smug smile on his face, at anyone who pulls him up. He is the epitome of hypocrisy.
If you need any reminding of his hypocrisy and weathervane attributes, look at this: Time wasting
He wastes the time of the parliament with repeated censure motions, stupid questions and points of order in QT. He seems to care nothing about the cost to the nation of having 150 members of the House distracted from governing by his infantile shenanigans. The YouTube
clip above of the Abbott motion to suspend standing orders shows this starkly in living colour.
He wastes the time of the media pack every day with his mindless stunts for the evening news: snuggling up to men in hard hats, driving trucks or front end loaders, riding horses, selling bananas, cutting meat or kissing fish. Everything he does subserves just one purpose – getting the keys to The Lodge. Talks down the economy
He talks the economy down constantly. Consumer and business confidence is down for a number of reasons, many overseas, but some of it can be attributed directly to Abbott’s continual denigration of the economy, his talk of ever increasing prices, household costs and the costs of living, his prediction of massive job losses, whole industries going under and ghost towns, all resulting from a tax on carbon pollution by the big polluters. Economically illiterate
He is illiterate at economics and bored with it. Worse still, he doesn’t give a damn about this grotesque deficiency in a would-be PM as shown most starkly in his budget reply speech and subsequent press conferences where he handballed the figures to Joe Hockey who in turn passed them onto the hapless Andrew Robb. He is only too willing to hand over financial responsibility to Joe Hockey who has shown by his recent utterances on the subject that he too is either illiterate, or worst still, deceitful in his presentation of financial information, or both. Paul Keating called Abbott an 'intellectual nobody'. Incompetence
He is incompetent. Have you ever encountered an Opposition Leader so ill equipped for prime ministership? He has almost no policies, what he has exposed have been poorly articulated, inept and subject to change without notice, and he fobs off questions about his policies, plans and budgets with an airy wave of his hand and an assurance that we will be told well before the next election, despite the fact that he insists there must be one right away. He thumbs his nose at those who question him about this, and in turn he thumbs his nose at the electorate. We see his incompetence daily as he avoids the tough interviewers, sidles up to sycophantic shock jocks like Alan Jones, answers questions in press conferences and interviews superficially and often not at all using obfuscatory language, and walks away or becomes mute as soon as the going gets tough.
This attribute was most starkly exhibited in Abbott’s head-nodding encounter with Mark Riley over the ‘shit happens’ remark in Afghanistan.
A most telling indicator of his incompetence was his inability to negotiate an arrangement with the Independents to take over government, where he exposed to them his naked ambition to become PM at any cost – he would do anything they wanted to capture that prize. They saw through him, and contrasted his self-seeking approach with the sincere line of negotiation used by Julia Gillard. He lost.
Before anyone jumps on here and say I’ve said all this before, yes I have. I’ve written: What have we done to deserve an Opposition Leader like Tony Abbott?
and If Tony Abbott were PM
. Since Abbott repeats his condemnation of PM Gillard and her Government every day, often several times a day, so will I.
Is there any Opposition Leader who was worse? In my opinion, No! Let’s look at a few, beginning with the most recent.
Although many who comment here have little time for Malcolm Turnbull
, especially after the disgraceful Grech affair, few would prefer Abbott. Only his party preferred Abbott, by one vote! And that was because of Turnbull’s advocacy for an ETS, which evoked bitter opposition from the climate skeptics that abound in the party room, along with some overt deniers. In my opinion, Turnbull was, and still is far the better man. Whatever downside he has, it could not match Abbott’s. Brendan Nelson
was not a success as Opposition Leader, harassed as he was from day one by Turnbull, who believed that he ought to have had the position. He was kind hearted enough, had difficulty simulating outrage, which comes so naturally to Abbott, and never succeeded in establishing himself before being struck down by Turnbull and an eager media bored by Nelson’s ordinariness. But he was not a nasty or aggressive man; he was simply naïve and ineffectual. Kevin Rudd
was a popular Opposition Leader. He was full of ideas for reform, fresh-faced, energetic, full of enthusiasm and articulate. The contrast with the aging incumbent was stark and politically potent. No matter what people now think about Rudd and his performance as PM, there would be few who could mount a convincing case that he was a worse Opposition Leader than Abbott, no matter how prejudiced. Kim Beasley
was a benign Opposition Leader in both his terms, universally liked as a decent man. Many would criticize him for not being aggressive enough in countering John Howard. He went along with Howard’s ‘Tampa’ escapade, declining to be ‘a carping opposition’. Had he become PM he would have been a decent one, but perhaps his lack of ‘mongrel’ would have been a drawback. Would anyone other than a blind Abbott sycophant believe he was worse than Abbott? Mark Latham
was a mixture. He started well and soon had John Howard on the back foot over parliamentary members’ superannuation. He had many good ideas that he wrote about in his first book, and kept up the pressure on Howard. But he turned out to be a loose cannon, shooting from the hip, notably with his off-the-cuff on air announcement in June 2004 that he would bring back the troops from Iraq by Christmas, a remark that earned him rebukes from US Defence, our own, and many commentators, particularly Paul Kelly who saw this as the beginning of the decline of his leadership. He was abrasive, sometimes pugilistic, often used bad language, and had a fractious relationship with his party members, labelled them in his Latham Diaries
as dysfunctional and disloyal, and his campaign staff as non-communicative. He turned out to be an unpleasant man whose judgement was suspect, and in the end after failing to publically express sympathy at the Indonesian tsunami, and several bouts of pancreatitis, he had a giant dummy-spit, resigned and took himself out of the political scene. Despite his many defects, he comes nowhere near Abbott in disingenuousness, aggression, opportunism and plain nastiness. In fact most of his nastiness has emerged in recent times when he took an anti-Gillard, anti-Labor stance in reporting for Channel Nine during the 2010 election.
In my view Simon Crean
was a good Opposition Leader, but was hounded from office by poor polling and an antagonistic media which heightened the growing discontent with him within the Labor Party until he was ‘tapped on the shoulder’ and resigned, becoming the first Labor leader not to take his party to an election. While in office he opposed Australia’s involvement in the Iraq War, but was unable to mount serious opposition to it against John Howard, determined as he was to go to war alongside George W Bush. Crean continues to fill a portfolio in the Gillard Government with distinction as Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government. He is always articulate and convincing. He seems to be well liked, and accepted by the regional communities. He certainly has none of the nastiness and naked aggression that Abbott exhibits every day.
To assess other Leaders of the Opposition
we need to go back a long while to the days in opposition of John Howard (twice), Alexander Downer, John Hewson, Andrew Peacock (twice), Bill Hayden, Bob Hawke, Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Fraser.
Any objective appraisal, no matter by whom, could scarcely paint a picture of these men more damning than the portrait Tony Abbott paints of himself every day for all to see – aggressive, nasty, unremittingly negative, destructive, habitually lying, opportunistic, time wasting, talking down the economy, economically illiterate and incompetent. There could scarcely be a more damning catalogue of unpleasant attributes than that.
Of course his supporters regard him as a great leader who has elevated the Coalition close to Government – anything else is purely incidental. Winning is all that counts – no matter how.
The worst Opposition Leader in Australian political history – and the winner, by a country mile, is: TONY ABBOTT.
Is this the man Australian needs or wants as its PM?
What do you think? Postscript
Two video clips were offered by contributors to this piece as evidence of Tony Abbott’s propensity for lying. Because of their potency, I add them here as a postscript.
The first is a YouTube clip titled Phoney Tony caught out
that captures his infamous interview with Kerry O’Brien in May 2010 where he conceded that he does not always tell the truth, and that his word should be taken only if his message is written down – ‘scripted’. In the last few days though he has gone back on even his written word over ‘pairing’ arrangements in the House of Representatives. Nothing seems to be sacred to him; no lie is too gross for him.
To show that nothing in this man’s lying behaviour has changed since then, take a look at Lyndal Curtis’ interview of him on 25 August this year.
Click on the link below:
Lyndal Curtis interview of Tony Abbott 25 August 2011 ABC News 24
Observe his demeanour and language. In a past era, his bearing would have been described as sly and slimy. I can’t think of more suitable words now. Can you?