December 16, 2014

Death drive

By Russell Marks
Death drive
Image: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
What drives Tony Abbott's need to fail?

Tony Abbott isn’t the first political leader to be accused of breaking promises made before an election. “By 1990 no Australian child will be living in poverty,” said Bob Hawke during the 1987 election campaign. It was a goal rather than a promise, but it would have been less damaging for him had he chosen the year 2000: politically, the best goal is one to which the leader can’t possibly be held accountable.

Before the 1993 election, which was John Hewson’s Liberals’ to lose, Paul Keating promised two rounds of income tax cuts. He even legislated them to demonstrate his bona fides. When he unexpectedly won and subsequently repealed the legislation so as to redirect that money into superannuation – no doubt a better idea – his opponents never let him forget his “L-A-W tax cuts” pledge.

In an effort to quell fears that the Liberals would simply revive Hewson’s election-losing Fightback! if elected the following year, in 1995 John Howard told a journalist who asked if he’d left the door open for a GST: “Never ever. It’s dead. It was killed by voters at the last election.” In his first term he revived the GST. That was less a broken promise than a confirmation that Howard had technically lied in 1995 – he always intended to introduce a broad-based consumption tax – but at least he took the GST to the 1998 election, which he won.

And during the 2010 election campaign, Julia Gillard repeatedly ruled out a “carbon tax”. She also told Paul Kelly on election eve: “I don’t rule out the possibility of legislating a carbon pollution reduction scheme, a market-based mechanism.” In order to form government, Gillard then negotiated with the Greens a market-based CPRS with, fatally, an initial three-year fixed-price period. The fixed price was (probably accurately) described as a “tax”, and the rest was history.

Then came Tony Abbott. Before the 2013 election he made the following statements:

“We will repeal section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, at least in its current form.” (5 April 2013, address to the Institute of Public Affairs.) On 5 August 2014 he announced a “leadership call” to back down on his promised repeal of section 18C.

“We want to end the uncertainty, by guaranteeing that no school will be worse off over the forward estimates period. So we will honour the agreements that Labor has entered into. We will match the offers that Labor has made. We will make sure that no school is worse off. We think that money is important. It’s very important to educational outcomes that schools are properly funded . . . The essential difference between Labor and Coalition going into the coming election is not over funding. It’s over the amount of control that the Commonwealth government should have. Under the Coalition, you’ll get the funding, but you won’t get the strings attached. So what I want to say today is that as far as school funding is concerned, Kevin Rudd and I are on a unity ticket. There is no difference between Kevin Rudd and myself when it comes to school funding. The differences, if any, is over how schools should be run, how that funding should be utilised . . .” (2 August 2013, press conference.) By the end of November 2013, Christopher Pyne had announced changes to the pledged funding model that would see some schools worse off. On 1 December 2013, Abbott told Andrew Bolt: “Well, I think Christopher said schools would get the same amount of money and schools – plural – will get the same amount of money. The quantum will be the same.” Abbott eventually saw the errors of his ways and retracted the revised policy.

“So my pledge, should I become prime minister, is that I will not neglect – I will not neglect – spending a week a year in an Indigenous place, so that I can sit down with people and talk to them in their country, not simply in my office building in Parliament House. So that I can learn from my own experience what it is like to live in a remote Aboriginal place. So that I can sense something of the heart and soul of the people who still live in places like this, and who still have the beating heart of tradition, who still have everything that makes up the living cultures, the oldest living cultures in our world, in our universe. That’s what I want to do. That’s what I want to do.” (10 August 2013, Garma Festival.) Abbott set up a temporary office in Arnhem Land in September 2014 – just a little after a year since he won the election – but had to cut the trip short to deal with a fast-changing situation in Iraq.

“Why shouldn’t I, if you will permit me, spend my first week as prime minister, should that happen, on this – on your country?  Now I know there’ll be people who say ‘you’re prime minister, you can’t do that. You’re goofing off. You’re not doing your job.’ But the fact is, if these places are homes to the first Australians, why shouldn’t they be home, even if only for a few days, to the prime minister of our country?” (10 August 2013, Garma Festival.) Abbott directed the first sentence – the promise – directly at Galarrwuy Yunupingu. The promise was acknowledged as such by a nod from Yunupingu and applause from those present. Abbott did not spend his first week as prime minister on Yolngu country.

“I want to say that as far as I am concerned, one of the most important things that any new government could achieve, would be the final recognition of Indigenous people in the Australian constitution. Our duty, our responsibility is to remedy the failures of the past according to the best standards of these times, which we like to believe are better standards than those times. As far as I am concerned, Indigenous recognition would not be changing our constitution, but completing our constitution, and until this is done our country will not be whole. Should there be a change in government, there will be a lot to do. There will be border protection issues to address. There will be budget issues to address. There will be all sorts of questions that need, as a matter of urgency, to be addressed. But within 12 months, we will publish a proposal for constitutional recognition, and we will establish a bipartisan process to try to bring that about as soon as possible.” (10 August 2013, Garma Festival.) On 18 September 2014, the first year of the government had passed without a draft amendment. There is still no draft amendment.

“We’ll trim the Commonwealth public sector payroll by 12,000 through natural attrition, because we don’t need 20,000 more public servants now than in 2007.” (25 August 2013, campaign launch.) In June 2014, Martin Parkinson announced that 30 Treasury staff would be made forcibly redundant to meet cost-cutting targets.

“I trust everyone actually listened to what Joe Hockey has said, last week and again this week: no cuts to education; no cuts to health; no change to pensions; no change to the GST; and no cuts to the ABC or SBS.” (6 September 2013, SBS TV.)

On the issue of taxes, of which the “carbon tax” was the big kahuna, Abbott had made repeated statements over the three years of the Gillard government that together created the impression that not only would taxes always be lower under a Coalition government, but also that a Coalition government would not impose any new taxes without first taking them to an election:

Then, after the election:

  • The government announced in May 2014 that a new “deficit levy” would be imposed on high-income earners (those earning over $180,000 a year) between July 2014 and mid 2017.
  • The government also announced in May 2014 that it would seek to reintroduce the twice-yearly increase in petrol excise indexation.

All of these specific promises – clearly made by Abbott himself – have since been broken. Other promises, made by shadow ministers or in election documents, have also been broken, and there are more broken promises on the way (see both Sally McManus’s website and the ABC’s “Promise Checker”).

*   *   *

It’s not just the broken promises that are causing problems for Abbott and his government. For three years before the election, Abbott campaigned on trust. He presented himself as a man of integrity, accountability and unimpeachable honesty. He saw how Julia Gillard’s prime ministership had been destroyed by the perception of a broken promise on the carbon tax, and he traded mercilessly on that destruction himself:

“Let me just say of this government that it’s broken promises. That’s bad.” (28 May 2010, doorstop interview, Sydney.)

“I think what we want are governments and prime ministers who tell the truth and this prime minister just has not told the truth.” (31 May 2010, doorstop interview, Parliament House.)

“I am very happy to put my credibility on the line against Julia Gillard.” (25 June 2010, 7.30, ABC TV.)

“What we’re seeing from this prime minister, as from her predecessor, is incompetence, deception and ideology.” (9 July 2010, doorstop interview.)

“It’s my job between now and polling day to remind the Australian people just what a hopeless, unreliable, untrustworthy, dishonest, deceptive government this has been. It just doesn’t get democracy.” (21 July 2010, interviewed by Alan Jones, Radio 2GB.)

“It’s the government that is faking things, fudging things and ultimately trying to deceive people.” (23 July 2010, doorstop interview, Perth.)

“The last thing we’d ever get from a Labor government is a charter of political honesty, because these guys would be in breach of it every day.” (11 August 2010, interviewed by Alan Jones, Radio 2GB.)

“I think that the Labor Party has trouble with the truth.” (17 September 2010, doorstop interview, Adelaide.)

“This government is built on a lie. This is a thoroughly dishonourable and deceitful government and it deserves to be exposed as such.” (29 September 2010, House of Representatives.)

“Any carbon tax that is legislated by this parliament would be the L-I-E ‘lie’ tax. I would like to think that deep within the heart of this prime minister is the desire not to live a lie.” (2 March 2011, House of Representatives.)

“This is a government which suffers from TDD – truth deficit disorder.” (8 August 2012, doorstop interview, Darwin.)

“It is never a good thing for a government to break fundamental promises and this government has broken its two covenants with the Australian people: no carbon tax and a budget surplus. They’ve broken both of them. You just can’t trust this mob.” (21 December 2012, interviewed by David Koch, Sunrise.)

“We need a government that you the people can trust.” (5 August 2013, press conference, JBS Australia.)

“There is going to be a lie a day from the Labor Party.” (8 August 2013, doorstop interview, Tasmania.)

“We’ve seen scare after scare, lie after lie, from the Labor Party, and look, sometimes it takes people a little while to sift the truth from the lies that have been heaped upon it by the Labor Party.” (24 August 2013, press conference, Adelaide.)

By contrast, Abbott presented himself and his party as unimpeachably honest:

“We are the party of political honesty.” (19 March 2009, Q&A.)

“The great thing about the Coalition is you know exactly what you will get from the Coalition.” (8 July 2013, 7.30, ABC TV.)

“We will be a consultative, collegial government. No surprises. No excuses.” (8 July 2013, 7.30, ABC TV.)

There were, of course, lots of surprises. Neither Abbott nor any member of his government said anything before the election about a GP co-payment, making young people wait six months before receiving an unemployment benefit, raising HECS fees or lowering the pension indexation. Much of the budget was a huge surprise.

Abbott also was very explicit about wanting to be held to account in the same way that he considered he was holding the Labor government to account:

“Look, if I tell the kind of massive fibs that this government has told, I would deserve the most condign electoral punishment.” (25 February 2011, Triple M radio, Sydney.)

And he didn’t just make promises. He made promises about promises:

REPORTER: “All your promises that you’re announcing during this election campaign, they will be implemented in full. That is a rock-solid commitment?”
TONY ABBOTT: “I will do what I say we will do. I want to be known as someone who under-promises and over-delivers.” (13 August 2013, press conference.)
REPORTER: “The condition of the budget will not be an excuse for breaking promises?”
TONY ABBOTT: “Exactly right. We will keep the commitments that we make. All of the commitments that we make will be commitments that are carefully costed.” (13 August 2013, press conference.)

“I want to be known as a prime minister who keeps commitments.” (13 August 2013, press conference.)

“I’ve seen the disaster that this government has done for itself by saying one thing and doing another, Jon. I don’t want to be like that. I really don’t. If we do win the election and we immediately say, oh, we got it all wrong, we've now got to do all these different things, we will instantly be just as bad as the current government has been and I just refuse to be like that . . . Before polling day you’ll know exactly what we’re going to spend, exactly what we’re going to save, and exactly how much better the budget bottom line will be under the Coalition.” (30 August 2013, ABC Radio 774, Melbourne.)

And Abbott was so desperate to appear water-tight on promises that he even denied himself any wiggle-room on the question of not getting his legislation through the Senate…

“The government knew going into the election that we didn’t support any spending associated with the mining tax. So, she knew that we were going to be opposing this because we said we were going to oppose it. Now, she shouldn’t have made a promise that she couldn’t keep.” (4 March 2013, doorstop interview, Auburn.)

. . . and on changing one’s mind with changing circumstances:

TONY ABBOTT: “This is a government which has been spending like a drunken sailor. It is not that revenue is too low, it’s that spending is too high.”
DAVID KOCH: “OK, but as a percentage of the size of the economy, they are spending less than the Howard government did under the Howard government’s reign.”
TONY ABBOTT: “Well, we can argue that toss . . . You cannot spend your way to prosperity. You cannot tax your way to prosperity. But this is a government which is always spending too much and taxing too much.”
DAVID KOCH: Look, there is a time for surplus during boom times, there are times for deficits when governments should be spending more to keep the economy going, otherwise more jobs will be lost and more businesses will go broke. Isn't this the time for governments to be stimulating the economy?
TONY ABBOTT: “Kochie, the Labor Party always thinks it is time to be stimulating the economy.”
DAVID KOCH: “But isn’t right now the time, really?”
TONY ABBOTT: “Well, our terms of trade are still at historic highs. The terms of trade are still considerably higher today than at any time in the life of the Howard government.”
DAVID KOCH: “Yeah, you didn’t have the Global Financial Crisis.”
TONY ABBOTT: “The global financial crisis was four years ago, Kochie.  They can’t keep using this excuse.”
DAVID KOCH: “No, but you are comparing it to the Howard government’s reign which was an incredible purple patch.”
TONY ABBOTT: “Well, let me give you this statistic. In 2004/2005, when unemployment was about 5 per cent, the Howard Government delivered a surplus of 1.5 per cent of GDP despite terms of trade 40 per cent lower than last year when this government gave us a three per cent of GDP deficit.”
DAVID KOCH: “OK, but America was booming, China was booming, Europe was booming. Let me put this to you, though. The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry says it was a good thing to drop the surplus promise and go into deficit. So does the Business Council of Australia, the OECD, the International Monetary Fund praising our economic management in this country. We are an economic miracle. We haven't had a recession since 1991.”
TONY ABBOTT: “Kochie, it is never a good thing for a government to break fundamental promises and this government has broken its two covenants with the Australian people: no carbon tax and a budget surplus. They’ve broken both of them. You just can’t trust this mob.”
DAVID KOCH: “But it is a promise that needed to be broken in the circumstances.”
TONY ABBOTT: “It is a promise that should have been delivered upon.” (21 December 2012, Sunrise, 7 Network.)

The standard that Abbott had set for himself was this: all of his promises would be implemented in full; no “surprises” would be sprung on the Australian public after the election without first taking them to a subsequent election; and there were no excuses – not the budget, not changed circumstances – that would justify breaking a pre-election promise. This was the standard to which he held the Rudd/Gillard government, and he made it clear that it was the standard to which he also expected to be held.

*   *   *

What a mess it all seems now. After each promise is broken, Abbott moves through a sequence of stages – first he denies that a promise has been broken at all, then he downplays the initial promise, and finally he seeks to excuse the broken promise. This month he appeared on the ABC’s 7.30 still in denial: “I think there have been a lot of unjustified cries of broken promise.” For good measure, he repeated it: “I think there really have been a lot of unjustified cries of broken promise.”

Host Leigh Sales directed him to an analysis in the Australian Financial Review that concluded that the government had already broken 14 of its 38 pre-election commitments. “I would doubt very much whether I would end up agreeing,” Abbott replied, and then moved onto the excuse. “On the ABC, for instance, plainly I did say the night before the election that there would be no cuts to the ABC, but again I say that was when the expectation was of an $18 billion deficit or a close to $18 billion deficit turned out to be a $48 billion deficit.” But he’d already played himself out of using the budget as a justification.

He also regaled the ABC audience with his current line: “I would say that we have kept faith with the Australian people because we have fundamentally honoured the core commitments, which were to stop the boats, to repeal the carbon tax, to build the roads and to begin the task of budget repair.”

Putting aside for the moment the mistake Abbott is making by equating an electoral campaign slogan with major policy commitments, the word “core” evokes John Howard’s post-election distinction between “core” and “non-core” promises after discovering – as he put it – that Paul Keating’s government had lied about the true state of the budget. Indeed, Abbott has been keen to remind us all that Howard’s first administration went through some rocky times early before becoming, in his view, the best post-war government. But if the “core”/“non-core” distinction works more than once, it doesn’t work now because Abbott specifically ruled it out before the election.

But why did he so dramatically over-promise? He didn’t need to. Had he said very little at all by way of specific commitments, he would still have been elected: the baseball bats were well and truly out for Rudd/Gillard/Rudd Labor.

*   *   *

Tony Abbott’s “trouble with the truth” in fact began well before the election. He’d spent most of his four years as opposition leader talking down Australia’s economy by telling everyone how badly it was doing. But his rhetoric never stacked up. Australia’s had been one of only four OECD economies to escape the global financial crisis without entering into a recession. In April 2013, public debt was about 27 per cent, compared with an average of about 90 per cent for developed countries. Australia was well down the list of effective tax rates among OECD nations. The national interest rate was 3 per cent, compared with an average of 6 per cent under the Howard government (which claimed that interest rates would always be lower under a Coalition government). And five years after the GFC, Australians were living with an unemployment rate of 5.6 per cent, compared with well over 7 per cent in Canada, the US and Britain.

On most standard economic measures, Australia wasn’t just performing better than the rest of the world – it was performing better in early 2013 than it had been when Labor took office in 2007. Since then, GDP per capita had climbed 13 per cent. Real wages had increased by 27 per cent. Household savings had more than doubled. Labour productivity was at an all-time high. On pension levels, superannuation savings, international credit ratings, the value of the Australian dollar, industrial production growth, foreign exchange reserves, the balance of trade, the current account as a percentage of GDP, the government’s ten-year bond rate – on all those measures, Australia had improved its economic situation since 2007, while the rest of the world had moved in the opposite direction.

Abbott's task as he saw it was to generate the perception of chaos – which he did, very effectively. It just wasn’t very honest. And a year after he assumed office, the picture had hardly improved. Australia’s public debt had climbed from 27 to 30 per cent. After Abbott claimed the 3 per cent interest rate under Labor was at an “emergency low”, it’s now 2.5 per cent. Unemployment has increased to 6.3 per cent. Yet far from the "crisis" of the Labor years, the last year has been one of "substantial achievement".

The backflips also began early. In 2009 Abbott published Battlelines, a kind of manifesto of his own political thought. The most controversial policy position he articulated in the book was a comparatively generous paid parental leave scheme that would define parental leave as a workplace entitlement, thus ensuring that high-income parents would benefit the most. His party didn’t like it from the beginning, for both sexist and economic reasons. But the central idea in Battlelines was that Australia’s federation needed a radical overhaul. He meant to centralise the power of government in Canberra, thus furthering a process that had begun in the early years of the Commonwealth. Battlelines contained substantive chapters on this idea, and even included a draft referendum proposal as an appendix. The radical approach to federalism was repeated when a second edition of Battlelines was published in 2013. But within months of taking office, Abbott announced his new position on federalism: decentralisation. In other words, the direct opposite of what he’d articulated in Battlelines. He now expected the states to take full responsibility for areas such as health and education, which had been left to the states by the framers of the Constitution in the 1890s. In line with this expectation, he cut $80 billion from projected future spending by the Commonwealth in those areas.

Abbott has now backflipped on contributing to the Green Climate Fund, repealing section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, his opposition to an increase in the GST, the means-testing of his paid parental leave scheme, the GP co-payment, the Gonski school funding reforms and defence force entitlements. Perhaps we shouldn’t have been surprised. Before becoming opposition leader in 2009, Abbott had gone on record with so many different positions on climate change and how to respond to it, if at all, that he’d earnt the nickname “weathervane” even in his own party.

*   *   *

Can anything Tony Abbott ever says be taken seriously? That sounds like a mundane, partisan-political question, but it’s one that in his case seriously needs to be asked. Famously, Abbott created a minor storm of incredulity when in May 2010 he told Kerry O’Brien: “Sometimes, in the heat of discussion, you go a little bit further than you would if it was an absolutely calm, considered, prepared, scripted remark, which is one of the reasons why the statements that need to be taken absolutely as gospel truth is those carefully prepared scripted remarks.”  O’Brien had asked Abbott about the incongruity of promising one month to “fund our promises without new taxes and without increased taxes”, and the next month to fund his PPL scheme by imposing a new tax on companies. So Abbott set his “carefully scripted” standard, but then he failed to meet it when he backflipped on federalism. There is no more “carefully scripted” remark than one contained in a published manifesto.

There’s a growing perception that Abbott is simply not a very serious man. By that I mean that he rarely seems to intend that his public statements should carry as much weight as people seem inclined to lend them. He says things, perhaps, because they need to be said at the time, or perhaps because they just pop out. My guess is that he lacks a well-enough worked-out political philosophy that would provide him with an intuitive and rational position on very much outside his traditional areas of passion: the so-called “moral” politics of BA Santamaria’s National Civic Council on abortion and homosexuality.

On most other political issues – economics, climate change, federalism – Abbott could genuinely go either way. His positions on issues like these aren’t the product of decades of thinking about and debating them, as they were for Gough Whitlam or John Howard. Rather, his positions are formed out of political necessity (as with his PPL scheme, formed in a bid to appeal to women) or after being “convinced” by those with the loudest voices (as with his first budget, whose economic “dryness” owes much more to Joe Hockey and the Institute of Public Affairs than it does to Abbott, whose earlier economic positions bordered on protectionist).

Thinking about Abbott as unserious in this sense explains his lack of conviction on most issues. He arrives at a position, plays the committed politician for a while, and then arrives at another position. The problem is not his changing of mind per se – “when the facts change, I change my mind,” said John Maynard Keynes. “What do you do, sir?”  Rather, the problem is the half-baked nature of Abbott’s ideas about any particular issue at any particular time.

Rhodes Scholarships aren’t easy things to get, even for the son of an orthodontist raised in Sydney’s eastern suburbs and North Shore. While the Rhodes committee doesn’t require evidence of genius, Abbott’s receipt of the scholarship reflects more than just the right connections. The PPE course at Oxford is by all accounts demanding, and to finish even in the “second class” suggests an aptitude that is uncommon. A pity, then, that Abbott has spent much of the time since apparently reading not very widely outside magazines like The Spectator and Quadrant and News Weekly and newspapers like The Australian. Somehow, he managed to let himself be convinced that Andrew Bolt represents a kind of middle ground in Australian political thought. For a Rhodes Scholar, all this suggests a kind of intellectual laziness.

Combined with this laziness is Abbott’s almost pathological desire to goad what he sees as the Left into outraged frenzy. Abbott learned the pleasures of doing this early, at Sydney University in the wake of the dismissal of the Whitlam government. Like generations of campus Liberals after him, Abbott took obvious delight in being as provocatively macho, sexist and homophobic as he could get away with being. I saw evidence of his love of this kind of politics of reaction as I sat in the audience in Adelaide University’s Union Hall to see him deliver a now-famous speech in 2004 on the “ethical responsibilities of a Christian politician”, during which he made a number of claims and statements about abortion that continued to haunt him for years afterward. 

I don’t really doubt that his incredulous claim last week – that his colleagues’ recent criticism of his chief of staff, Peta Credlin, was driven by sexism – was less a salvo at his colleagues than yet another provocation of his “Left”, which of course exploded with accusations of hypocrisy and pointed to Abbott’s own thirty-year record of sexist comment and his preparedness to ride a wave of anti-Gillard misogyny into power. The problem was that Abbott’s colleagues are now so pissed off at him that they failed to see the "joke".

Abbott seems driven to ensure that his own criticisms of the Rudd/Gillard administration can be applied with even greater accuracy to his own. This is perhaps the oddest thing about the process by which Abbott’s administration has become so terribly unstuck in just fifteen months. All his accusations of lies and hypocrisy can be applied equally, if not more effectively, to his government. His assessment that Kevin Rudd’s government was too centrally controlled through his office is almost as true of Abbott’s. His constant criticism of “Kevin 747” – parochially lampooning Rudd’s overseas travel both as PM and then Foreign Minister – turned into hypocrisy when he made just as many trips as Rudd during his first year in office. He regularly accused Rudd in particular of meddling in affairs beyond his brief, and then this month overrode his own literary awards panel to ensure that Richard Flanagan shared in an $80,000 fiction prize. “I won’t be doing deals with Independents and minor parties,” he promised a month before the election; since the election he’s done regular deals with the Palmer United Party and Independent Senators to get budget legislation through Parliament. He regularly promised from opposition to lead a “grown-up, adult government” – as a counterpoint to what he presented as a Labor administration split by factional bickering and one that wasn’t really ready for the big league. By “grown-up” and “adult”, it’s doubtful Abbott meant “hypocritical”, “dishonest” and “squabbling”.

And after constantly criticising his predecessors for keeping government information secret, Abbott has led a government determined to keep as much information as possible from public scrutiny. Abbott is currently refusing to release information about how often his Cabinet colleagues have travelled overseas and how much that travel has cost. Legislation is before Parliament to abolish the Office of the Information Commissioner and to make Freedom of Information requests much easier to refuse and much more expensive to make. Abbott and Scott Morrison quickly made official secrecy a central plank of Operation Sovereign Borders. New national security legislation makes reporting on secret “special intelligence operations” a major crime, and allows even the secrecy status of any intelligence operation to be kept a secret. “The last thing we want to do is to hide anything from the Australian people,” Abbott said in August 2013.

Observers assumed that Abbott would simply replicate John Howard’s successful model of Cabinet government. In hindsight, all we needed to do to predict Abbott’s governing style was to listen to his critiques of his predecessors. In Freud, this denial of aspects of himself and attributing them to others is called “projection”.

Another Freudian concept is the “death drive”, the urge to self-destruction that conflicts with our instinctual desire to live. In his later work, Freud suggested that often, the destructive death drive finds expression in an “instinct of destruction directed against the external world”. Abbott is known to attack the institutions that would foster his success, beginning with St Patrick’s Seminary in Sydney, which he did his best to white-ant in public after he discovered that it wasn’t governed according to Santamaria’s interpretation of Catholic doctrine. Beginning with St Patrick’s, and ending with Parliament, which he all but threatened to blow up when he didn’t secure the prime ministership after the 2010 election. As powerful as is Abbott’s drive to succeed, it’s possible that his death drive is even stronger. 

During his first year, Abbott has gotten most major interest groups off-side – students, scientists, teachers, Indigenous people, doctors, environmentalists, women, defence force personnel, pensioners, workers, unemployed people, academics, media, lawyers, business, the foreign aid community, manufacturers, writers, the states, crossbench Senators, even many of his own colleagues. Indeed, the only groups with whom he has truly kept faith are the fossil fuel lobby and intelligence organisations. What, apart from a powerful, unconscious drive to fail as a prime minister, could possibly explain all this?

*This article was originally published under the title 'Own Goals'.

Russell Marks

Russell Marks is a lawyer and an adjunct research fellow at La Trobe University. He is the author of Crime and Punishment: Offenders and Victims in a Broken Justice System (Black Inc., 2015). 

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