Tag Archives: Tony Abbott

Rebecca Huntley’s Advance Australia

Rebecca Huntley, Australia Fair: Listening to the Nation (Quarterly essay 73)

This Quarterly Essay confirms me in my decision to delay reading each QE until the following issue has appeared. That way I get to read the correspondence while the original essay is fresh in my mind. With this issue, it has an extra advantage. Rebecca wrote Australia Fair in the lead-up to the recent Federal election, challenging Bill Shorten and his team – who she expected to win – to be bold enough to revivify Australian social democracy. The ALP lost, emphatically, and no one expects a Scott Morrison government to be interested in social democracy. So I read the essay shorn of its immediate persuasive goal, and it turns out to be a very interesting argument about where the majority of Australians stand on a number of key issues

Rebecca Huntley is a social and market researcher, involved, as she says, ‘in the “dark arts” of focus groups, polling, surveys, and strangers who ring you in the middle of dinner’. Her husband, when asked what his wife does for a living, replies, ‘She’s an expert in the opinions of people who don’t know what they are talking about.’ She’s been at it for many years, and can speak with some authority about general community attitudes on a number of topics.

She argues in this essay that the mainstream Australian population is much more progressive than our politicians. After some pages discussing the term ‘social democracy’, and research from many sources into community understandings of the role of government in a democracy, she comes to the conclusion that fairness – both for individuals and the collective – matters more to Australians than freedom (the reverse of what we generally believe to be the case in, say, the USA):

The point of democratic government is to do things for people, not to prevent government from doing things to people

(page 17)

She goes onto some detail on housing and homelessness; the environment and climate change (‘the defining issue for voters judging a prime minister’s leadership skills and character’); immigration, refugees and asylum seekers. On each of these subjects she demonstrates – though less clearly on the last mentioned than the others – that the majority of us, as in the case of the postal survey on same-sex marriage, want change for the better in ways that our political leaders simply don’t represent. And politicians are held in very low regard, seen as in thrall to their donors and not committed to the public good.

She pleads with Bill Shorten to step up boldly and restore a robust social democracy, winning back our respect for the parliament in the process. Who knows if he would have done it? On the strength of Anthony Albanese’s recent caving in on the Morrison government’s tax legislation, it seems unlikely. What emerges from the essay, then, is an optimistic view about the Australian population in general, and a deep pessimism about the current state of our democracy.

The correspondence is all dated post election. None of the correspondents takes a pot shot at the pollsters for getting it so wrong, but they all grapple with the paradox of a generally progressive population having voted for a nakedly reactionary government. They are all interesting. I’ll just mention James Walker’s final point. He cites Walter Lippmann (‘one of the pioneers of opinion research’) who warned that we should be wary of ‘the phantom public’. There is no single public out there, but any number of emergent entities, ‘continually evolving in response to political action and representation’. Walker goes on to quote one of Tony Abbott’s most striking pieces of feral poetry:

Thus Tony Abbott, always ready with simplifying binaries, articulates the crucial factor in how belief around climate change was mobilised in the 2019 campaign: ‘Where climate change is a moral issue, we Liberals do it tough. But where climate change is an economic issue the Liberals do well.’ The responses Huntley records might well be construed as answers to a normative question: ‘What should we do?’ But the actions of voters on the day can be thought of as an evaluation of economic interests. The Coalition, in successfully mobilising climate action as an economic issue, created a countervailing ‘public’ to that which Huntley and others thought representative of the zeitgeist.

(Page 80)

Rebecca Huntley’s response to corespondents is elegant, a little mea-culpa-ish but unbowed. ‘The conclusion to draw,’ she writes.

is not that Australia is no longer progressive or no longer cares about equality or is becoming like America, or that all social research lacks credibility. The conclusion is that the lack of trust the electorate has in politicians has undermined its belief that structural reform – whether that be economic, social or environmental – is something that can be delivered by the politicians running the show …
The challenge is to take what the majority of Australians want and connect that with a government they feel comfortable electing. The alternative is a race to the bottom.

‘I remain,’ she concludes, ‘a defiant optimist. Just one who now recognises the scale of the challenge ahead.’

Australia Fair is the thirtieth book I’ve read for the 2019 Australian Women Writers Challenge.

November verse 10: Dear Tony

On Sky News this week Tony Abbott said (and you can scroll to the bottom of the post to listen for yourself):

If you ask yourself what is the pinnacle of human achievement thus far, countries with democratic elections, with liberal institutions, with freedom and prosperity and a measure of fairness for all – in other words, western countries, particularly English speaking countries – this is the greatest human creation yet. We should cherish it, we should celebrate it. Unfortunately, too many of us are ignorant of that which has shaped us. We’re ignorant of the great books; we’re ignorant of Shakespeare, ah, the New Testament. We’ve forgotten so much of our history, particularly British history.

Different parts of that utterance will stick more strongly in different people’s craws. Here’s what I can manage in fourteen lines (I had to leave the tokenising of Shakespeare for another day):

November verse 10: Dear Tony
Come on, Tone, this great creation
was fought for, didn’t grow on trees
and it’s unfinished. Celebration?
Sure, but also honour, please,
the millions worldwide who’ve been murdered,
starved, betrayed, displaced or herded
cattle-like, by Empire Brits.
I know this thought gives you the shits
but how high on your fairness measure
are Don Dale, Manus, PNG,
or Nauru, CentreLink, or Bre?
Yes, history is rich with treasure.
Jesus? History fact for you:
brown, Aramaic-speaking  Jew.

The Farewell: Part Two

Concluding my versification of Tony Abbott’s farewell address. Click here for the first instalment, and here for  video of the speech on the Guardian’s site.

The Farewell (Part Two)
Video 3:11–3:36
‘I’m proud of what we’ve done against the odds.
stayed focussed right until the white-ants’ coup,
though we’ve been men, and women too, not gods
walking the earth, not perfect. Very few
can meet all expectations. [We poor sods
of course have trampled on a life or two,
protected child abusers, bent the knee
to Murdoch – yes, we’re only human, see?

Video 3:37–4:28
‘Politics has changed since I’ve been in it.
Commentary’s hijacked by the trolls.
Soon we’ll have a new PM each minute,
and each one sacked by colleagues spooked by polls.
It must affect our country. I’m agin it.
Don’t help self-serving traitors reach their goals,
O Media, stop conniving with dishonour:
don’t be the knife that’s plunged into a goner.’

‘[For me the press has been more like a bludgeon
– there’s Bolt, Jones, Hadley, Sheridan, Devine
and Photoshopped front pages, all high dudgeon
my office leaks, no treachery of mine
but acts of war. A pintle to my gudgeon,
the press that serves my higher ends is fine.
But steady now, I mustn’t lose my head.
Stick to the script and leaves such things unsaid.]

Video 4:30–5:32
‘I must thank many. First my family
[spot who’s missing from this paragraph],
my Margie for her grace and dignity,
my party, the armed forces, and my staff,
devoted to our country – Oh malignity
with which their chief was savaged. That’s no laugh.
I thank my country [’Tis of thee I sing]:
for being asked to lead is no small thing.

Video 5:32–6:12
‘My maiden speech, I quoted Holy Writ,
the text for the first sermon in this land:
“What shall I render to the Lord … ?” I quit
the top job, knowing I can proudly stand
and say I’ve rendered all. [If modesty permit,
I’d say my all was really rather grand,
and could have been much more with loyal ranks.
I love this country still. God bless it. Thanks.’

Video 6:12–6:15
No weepie script, and read like hard De Niro:
a man for others, no tears on display.
With furrowed brow, a classic Western hero
he turns and does a John Wayne walk away.

Go little poem, I hope worth more than zero,
to mark the very end of one man’s sway.
I’ve added frills to feed my rhyming habit,
but most of what you see is true to Abbott.

Tony goes

the searchers

The Farewell: a versification

On Tuesday 15 September, Tony Abbott gave his final statement to the press as Prime Minister of Australia. Video here. Having rendered Alan Jones and Scott Ludlam into verse, I feel obliged to give Mr Abbott a go. Here’s Part One of what I expect to be two parts:

The farewell
Kings and queens must die before the toast
‘Long live the King or Queen!’ is raised by folk,
but prime (and lesser) ministers can coast
from office still alive – and far from broke.
A vote is not a dagger. At the most
a mobile phone lurks in the plotter’s cloak,
and though the headlines say blood’s on the floor,
in Canberra that’s mostly metaphor.

Video 0:00–0:05
So Monday night last week, when overthrown
by secret ballot in the party room,
our ex-PM, his face as grim as stone,
went to a drunken party, not a tomb,
took fourteen hours to face a microphone.
12.30, puffy eyed beneath the boom,
he started with a frail attempt at cheer:
‘Quite-a-crowd today. Thank you for being here.’

No more ad libs. The rest came from the script
that someone had prepared while we were sleeping
and doing all the morning things he’d skipped,
or so it seemed: there may have been some weeping.
It wasn’t life-or-death, but if he slipped
he’d set a ruthless Twitter chorus cheeping.
This was a chance to dignify his exit,
to bare his statesman muscle and to flex it.

Video 0:05–0:45
‘For many here this is no easy day.
Such things are never easy for our country.
I pledge to make it easy as I may:
not wreck, snipe, undermine [my style’s effrontery
and swagger]. Leaking’s never been my way.
It’s only for our country’s good I’m hungry,
and our government’s success [not my successor’s
whom I won’t name, still less my predecessors’].

Video 0:45–1:16
‘I’ve said the top job’s no end in itself.
It’s all about the people whom you serve.
From Uluru to Continental Shelf,
this country’s wonder, more than I deserve,
I’ve seen. I want to thank [a humble elf]
the voters for this honour. [Oh the nerve
of those who took it from me!] This day’s tough,
but: join the game, play by its rules, they’re rough.

Video 1:16–1:54
‘I’ve held true to what I have believed.’
His head bobs there, a curtsey of the mind.
‘I’m proud of what in two years we’ve achieved:
more folk in jobs, and three free trade deals signed,
huge roadworks under way, and we’ve relieved
mine owners of bad Labor taxes, shined
a spotlight on bad Labor’s Union mates.’
A chopper drowns out half of all he states.

Video 1:54–2:20
‘… terror threats … deployed … the other side …
to bring our loved ones home … the boats have stopped …
compassion … refugees … [I may have lied
or bent the facts a little
] … budget mopped …
billions … without principle the tide
of opposition … [Heaven knows I’ve copped
unprincipled  hysteria for Pell,
and ‘Nope, nope, nope’, and kids in Nauru’s hell.

Video 2:20–3:00
‘Of course, there’s much I had still wished to do:
To move things on for Noel’s and other mobs –
bring recognition, school, work, safety too.
My photo-op weeks broke new ground, no probs.
Ice and domestic violence wait in queue.
The wider world presents us with big jobs:
Wars far away are well within our range.
[But notice I don’t mention climate change.]

To be continued …

If you want to read some real poetry on the subject of our recent change of Prime Minister, I recommend the editorial of yesterday’s Saturday Paper. It begins, ‘It is no exaggeration to say Tony Abbott is the worst prime minister Australia has had,’ and builds from there.

The media and March in March

I wrote this to the Sydney Morning Herald yesterday morning:

Dear Sir
So Prime Minister Tony Abbott was correct after all when he said, as shown on the ABC News last night, that the only big march happening in Sydney was the St Patrick’s Day march. He must have been correct because that’s the only march reported in today’s SMH, and the SMH is a journal of record, or at least it was once.
The March in March demonstration by people wanting their voices to be heard in opposition to the many ways in which the Abbott government is attacking the common good evidently didn’t happen. Their numbers, ranging from 8 to 40 thousand depending on whose estimate you take, were an illusion that took up the whole of Broadway from Railway Square to Victoria Park. The illusion evidently was sufficiently realistic for you to publish two accounts online, the first a derisory and derisive AAP report [sorry, I couldn’t find it on the Fairfax site] saying there were hundreds of people and mentioning a couple of ‘wacky’ placards, the second mentioning a more realistic  figure of 8–10 thousand and giving a somewhat more accurate account of the demonstrators.
A couple of the speakers at this non-event spoke of the terrible effect of cynicism on our public life. Your total silence about this event, and other marches all over the country – not even a by-the-way in your account of the St Patrick’s Day march – is certainly doing its bit to foster cynicism.
Jonathan Shaw

Today’s paper did publish a letter from Antony Mann of Lawson (scroll down at the link) making the same general point much more succinctly. I wonder how many they received?

Paradoxically, I found the Herald‘s near silence oddly encouraging. If they can minimise or ignore what was probably more than 50,000 people in the streets all over Australia, then what else are they not telling us about? How many small acts are being performed in the community every day, invisible to the newspapers, that contribute to a swelling movement to bring some kind of sense to Australia’s responses to climate change, the international refugee crisis, predator capitalism and so on? Maybe the future is brighter than the Fairfax press makes it look. (Pardon me if I don’t mention Murdoch.)

And then there’s this, which I’ll write in spite of Godwin’s Law:

At Belmore Park on Sunday, I met an old friend who had come out in the pouring rain to be part of the march. She was going home before the speeches were finished, because, as she said, she was pooped. She’s 89 next week and the effort had taken its toll, but she said she was greatly heartened by the big turn-out. She was a girl in Austria at the Anschluss, the daughter of secular Jews. It matters to her to see people making their voices heard against injustice, even when the injustice is perpetrated by a democratically elected government.

A young woman with rainbow hair asked to take our photo. As we smiled for the camera, my friend surmised that she wanted us for our white hair. The young woman said she was sending the photo to her parents to show that there were respectable people at the demo – something, it turns out, they wouldn’t have learned from the Sydney Morning Herald.

(Also, thank heaven for the publicly funded SBS and ABC television.)

David vs Tony

David Marr, Political Animal (Quarterly Essay N° 47)

20120914-221620.jpg When David Marr writes an essay about Tony Abbott there’s no point asking if it will be a hatchet job. The question is how well the hatchet job will be done. Abbott is the preserver of John Howard’s legacy; Marr wrote and edited a number of books laying bare Howard’s duplicitous and anti-democratic politics. Abbott is a high-identifier with old-style Catholicism; Marr has been consistently critical of the Catholic Church. Abbott is, well, not comfortable about Gay liberation issues; Marr is, well, cheerfully out as a Gay man.

Marr’s Quarterly Essay on Kevin Rudd drew a fairly long bow – on the strength of Rudd losing his temper with an arguably impertinent journalist, Marr concluded that anger was Rudd’s ‘juice in the machine’. There’s no equivalent stretch here. In fact, he paints a picture completely congruent with a clerihew I wrote some time ago:

Anthony John Abbott
has a habit
when playing for high stakes
of saying whatever it takes.

He does raise a question that could be paraphrased in another clerihew:

Tony Abbott
is making a stab at
becoming prime minister
possibly concealing intentions that are sinister.

Most discussion of the book in the mainstream media has been about an incident that Marr relates from more than 30 years ago when Abbott was a student politician. This looks to me like a clever ploy on the part of Abbott and his journalist allies, giving those who haven’t read the essay the impression that it’s mostly he-said-she-said allegations about ancient history. It’s actually much more substantial, responsible and entertaining than that.

Election Horror

When I turned up to cast my vote this morning I saw something I had never seen before. Yes, there was a raffle and a table groaning with baked goods. Yes, there were people in colour coded T-shirts handing out how-to-vote paper. Yes, the cyclone fencing at the front of the primary school was festooned with images of incumbent Carmel Tebbut,  insurgent Fiona Byrne and maybe others whose names I’ve not absorbed. All of this was as it ought to be. And inside the room, there were the usual tables, the usual ridiculously huge sheet of paper for the upper house, the usual cardboard booths, the usual air of muted celebration as we the people (to use an Americanism) exercise our power.

And then there is was: scrawled on the cardboard of the booth where I was to vote was one of those hideous slogans we’ve seen recently in as backdrop to Tony Abbott addressing his bussed-n revolters. I won’t reproduce it – suffice to say it included a hostile pun on the Prime Minister’s first name, a bit of sexist US jail-slang and a pun suggesting another federal parliamentary party leader is a disease.

Who are these people who think it’s OK to write vile graffiti in a polling booth? Isn’t it illegal? What does Tony Abbott think he’s achieving by validating them?

Election clerihews

First, as a reminder of past glories, here’s a version of a clerihew I wrote in November 2007:

Kevin Michael Rudd
may turn out to be a dud
but at least we’ll no longer be showered
with the duplicitous spittle of Howard.

The present Labor Prime Minister (long may she reign) presents a considerably greater challenge to the aspiring clerihewer, I don’t want to wait until election night, so here you are, the best I’ve been able to manage:

Julia Eileen Gillard
could star in a remake of Willard,
not as a rat or their misfit trainer
but the love-interest trying for something saner

And this:

Anthony John Abbott
has a habit
when playing for high stakes
of saying whatever it takes.

Go on, do better.


Penny is reading Art and Propaganda in the Twentieth Century by Toby Clark and loving it. Every now and then she can’t contain herself and insists on reading bits out to me. This, for instance:

[Fascists] openly rejected rationalism as the arid and soulless outlook of bourgeois modernity, and described their movement as a cult of action and passion free of doctrinal rules. Thus the French fascist Robert Brasillach spoke of fascism not as a theory but a ‘poetry’ of faith and emotion, and Mussolini declared: ‘I am not a statesman, I am more like a mad poet.’ In the book Mein Kampf, … Adolf Hitler … stated that a leader could not gain followers by mere explanation or instruction; these have never moved the masses, he argued: ‘it is always a devotion which has inspired them, and often a kind of hysteria which has urged them to action.’

Now I’m not wanting to call anyone a Fascist, but it’s hard not to see some relevance to current Australian Federal politics. Doesn’t the Opposition spokesman on finance sometimes sound just a little like a mad (and not very good) poet? And how about Tony Abbott as fostering a cult of action and passion, and portraying the Government’s methodical approach to policy as arid and soulless: let’s be photographed in lycra and talk about a Great. Big. Tax. On. Everything rather than apply something approaching thought to the dominant issue of the day. Mind you, at the risk of agreeing with Hitler even a little bit, a little passion from the PM wouldn’t go astray. Even though I’m wearing my ‘Join the Kevolution’ t-shirt as I type this, the idea of devotion to Kevin Rudd seems more deeply ironic than ever. His habitual way of talking to us isn’t even as animated as ‘explanation or instruction’ – more like footnoting and indexing.