Australian politics, society & culture

Tony Abbott

The major parties need ideas for today, not nostalgia for yesterday
By Nick Dyrenfurth
Abbott's warning to colleagues is not backed by history
By Mungo MacCallum
Tony Abbott determined not to repeat Gough Whitlam’s mistakes in Queensland
By Mungo MacCallum
Tony Abbott's political suicide
By Mungo MacCallum
Tony Abbott at the G20 leaders' retreat
By Russell Marks
By Michaela McGuire
Portrait of Tony Abbott by Neil Moore
The brief life and quiet death of Tony Abbott’s love of liberty
By David Marr
By Michaela McGuire
In October 2013, ABC TV and Screen Australia announced a call out for ‘Fresh Blood’, an initiative that offered twenty aspiring comedy creators grants of $10,000 to nurture talent from a new generation of Australian comics. Last week, the fruits of the project launched on iView, and the Australian public were treated to taxpayer-funded vignettes covering the gamut of comedy; some satirical, much of it absurd. This week the Coalition went one better in terms of inexpensive but winning political satire by appointing The Australian's Janet Albrechtsen and far-right ideological colleague Neil Brown to the panel overseeing appointments to the ABC and SBS. Sure, at first it seems counterintuitive to the health of the beleaguered national broadcaster to make one of its principle gatekeepers a conservative commentator who has said that aspects of the ABC's governance structure are reminiscent of a “Soviet-style workers collective” and who has called on ABC managing director Mark Scott – who also sits on the board – to resign for reporting the news. However, when you consider that she sat on the ABC board from 2005 to 2010 at the behest of the Howard government, then the whole adventure fits neatly into the Abbott administration’s ‘Back to The Future’-style reasoning. Same goes for Mr Brown, a former Liberal MP and long-standing conservative apparatchik, who recently wrote an article for Spectator Australia calling for the ABC to be privatised to avoid leftist bias. While history shows that the privatisation of national assets by conservative administrations always works out just tickety-boo, I can’t argue against the logic of two ideological warriors with a proven track record of hostility to the ABC being given the reigns. This will no doubt go some way to addressing the rats’ nest of Bolshevik sympathies that currently makes up the ABC. Whether it’s failing their duty to uphold home-team affection, cravenly lapping up Andrew Bolt’s crocodile tears, or sombrely apologising to Chris “I’ll be remembered as the journalist called a dog fucker who stood up for his rights” Kenny, there can be little doubt in the Australian taxpayer’s heart that the ABC under Mark Scott’s stewardship has become a hotbed of pinko foment. Perhaps, with the clear-eyed, unbiased, Ayn Randian purview of Dr Albrechtsen et al, the ABC can finally steer the national conversation away from the far-left enclave it’s drifted into. And letting right-wing ideologues lead with their moral compass is a proven formula for success. Like that time Scott Morrison saved all those lives by being not at all draconian and insane but actually very brave in standing up to those yucky and inconvenient human rights conventions with his super-effective Operation Sovereign Borders. Or that other time Tony “I think it would be folly to expect that women will ever dominate or even approach equal representation” Abbott made himself Minister for Women, thereby redressing the sexism and misogyny that helped him win office. It’s not like there could be any reason for the Abbott administration wanting to thump the ABC. It’s not like Abbott and friends owe a debt to an aging and irascible media oligarch, whose commercial interests are in direct competition with the ABC, for putting them in government or anything. Relax everyone! Take a load off! Watch some iView! Or if that’s not to your liking, there’s ample lolcats to be found online, or, I hear, some very good images of Chris Kenny.
Detail from St George and the Dragon (circa 1435), Rogier van der Weyden
Tony Abbott's aggressive monarchism
By Mark McKenna
The Liberals' winner-takes-all political payback
By Judith Brett
A bromance for the ages
By Greg Sheridan
The prime minister is sorry about everything
By Don Watson
By Mungo MacCallum
By John van Tiggelen
They say democracy is a serious matter. I wouldn’t know; I’ve never voted.* As a non-citizen for many years, I couldn’t here, and Dutch democracy – with its multi-party governments, supported and criticised by a vigorously diverse press, and consistently high levels of voter turnout despite them being free to stay home – hardly needed me to contribute from afar.  Two years ago I was naturalised, partly for professional reasons and partly because, well, after 35 years of living in this country, my status was starting to bug friends and in-laws. People have died for the right to vote, clog boy, they’d say. Don’t you like us enough? Even I felt somewhat puzzled to be fathering children of a different nationality to mine, so I sat the test, had my de-clogging ceremony, and was surprisingly touched.  Yet now I’m rueing my timing. This federal election, my very first, I’m being asked to choose between Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott. The latter is on the record as advocating that one’s virginity is a gift, but I’ll be buggered if I give him mine. Which leaves Kevin Rudd: a man judged unfit for leadership by his own party after a four-year trial, only to be reinstated for his mascot value. There are other suitors, of course. There’s KAP (Katter’s Australian Party), and PUP (the Palmer United Party) – superhero parties framed around their cartoonish founders. I gather Glenn Lazarus and James Blundell could well join the Senate, as might Pauline Hanson and Julian Assange. So allow me to come back to the initial premise. If democracy really is a serious matter, how has it come to this? The Monthly has tried to take this election campaign seriously. We really have. But to try any harder I’d argue is un-Australian; once upon a time, after all, irreverence prevailed over earnestness in this country. So you won’t get an official editorial position from us beyond that of Don Watson’s penned victory speech, which can be suitably delivered by either Rudd or Abbott on election night. At the same time, we haven’t given up on seriousness: Christos Tsiolkas’ essay reminds us that both parties’ asylum-seeker “solutions” pander to the dark side of voters’ natures. I don’t advocate not voting, mind. At a local level, the choice needn’t be so difficult; in my case I have a fine local candidate. And there’s always the protest vote, though not against the major parties per se. If there’s one subject this election campaign has shone light on, it’s Rupert Murdoch’s ways. As Mungo MacCallum highlights, nothing has been more disrespectful of democracy in this country than the Sun King’s brazen rule in the press, which has bludgeoned the electorate with anti-Labor (and anti-Greens) propaganda not just for the past five weeks, but for the past five years. Perhaps, rather than go through the motions and think of Holland, that’s what it will come down to when I finally make it past the sausage sizzle on 7 September to consummate my right to vote: what wouldn’t Rupert do? *With one exception: in last year’s Victorian local government elections, mainly for reasons of self-preservation, I voted for my wife.
By Anna Goldsworthy
It was my birthday, and I was eating cake with my children, when my father arrived. “It’s Pop! How are you?” “Not so good actually.” He loitered at the door, away from the children. “I’ve just certified Christopher’s death. He didn’t turn up for Mass this morning. They found him in his bed.” For some years, Christopher Pearson had warned me that his end was nigh, but I had not believed him. Self-pity never did anyone any good, but I suspect we only have a handful of proper conversations remaining. Lately, he had said that he hoped I knew he loved me. Did I love him? Christopher was a complicated pleasure. But now I made my father a cup of tea with shaking hands. “All that richness, gone,” he said. I had known Christopher since childhood, when my father began writing for him at the Adelaide Review. The early launch parties in Hindley Street soon gave way to a Gatsbyish fabulousness: Grange Jetty, roped off for private fireworks; the heritage-listed Carclew House with the then-new Australian String Quartet; or – my favourite – the historic Carrick Hill, with a hot-air balloon tethered out the back, like a large captive animal. We arrived late, just as the basket bumped down to earth for the final time. But the Goldsworthy children! Christopher called out. The Goldsworthy children must have a turn! And so we were ushered through the crowd and into the basket: the furnace of hot air against the backs of our necks; the noise of the party receding; the sudden, awkward celebrity. And there was Christopher, king of Adelaide, beaming pinkly up at us. Every Christmas morning we visited him as a family, an act of kindness he later confessed to be as excruciating for him as it was for us. He was not especially interested in children, and it was only later that I became a project. I trace the beginning of our friendship – if that was what it was – to a phone conversation one night when I was a teenager. He had called for my father, but I was at home alone, summoning up the courage to go to a party. You’d be better staying home and reading Dostoevsky, he pronounced, than going to a party and performing a blow job on some wastrel. Clearly he had been drinking, and there was need in that phone call. But it was not only need that kept me there. Christopher was an expert conversationalist: even when he was inebriated, his sentences unfurled in perfect prose. (His occasional stammer only seemed like further expression of fastidiousness, a reluctance to commit to anything other than le mot juste.) Over the course of this phone call he urged me to read more Evelyn Waugh, proffered recipes for the perfect summer cocktail, and divulged former bedroom practices I had imagined were mythical. It was conversation as conspiracy, thrilling and illicit as any high-school tryst. And although his monologues were laden with landmines – hidden references and tests and traps – on this occasion I felt emboldened by his lack of sobriety. A couple of hours later the phone call came to an end, and I considered it a signal achievement of my 15-year-old self. I had held my own against a virtuoso, even if it had required little more than making the appropriate soothing or astonished noises. And if I now see the pathos of such a phone call, I also recognise it as the first of the conversations that followed, and as one of the first times an adult addressed me as an adult. If I betrayed my callowness – by mispronouncing something in French, perhaps, or using the terms humanity or love-making – he would look startled, as if he had swallowed something unpleasant Earlier this year, Christopher wrote that “it came as something of a surprise to me, but a pleasant one, to discover in my 40s that avuncular relations with adolescent girls were possible.” After I finished school, I started proofreading at the Adelaide Review as a sideline to my music studies; at some stage thereafter he began referring to himself as my Uncle Christopher. Occasionally, in the absence of more exalted company, he invited me to join him for lunch, and I would sail around Adelaide beside him in a taxi, to a private table at his restaurant of the month. I would anaesthetise myself quickly with wine, and the confidences and advice would begin. All that remains is for a few is to be dotted and ts to be crossed, he instructed, like a finishing-school mistress. Frequently he warned me against making a bad match, until I suspected him of casting me as a Jamesian heroine. His largest gripe was with people who should know better. If I betrayed my callowness – by mispronouncing something in French, perhaps, or using the terms humanity or love-making – he would look startled, as if he had swallowed something unpleasant. Then he would smile with a beatific forbearance, and perform a slow-motion blink, as if wiping the slate clean. Music came to command more of my time, and I fretted about how best to resign from my position as proofreader. When I did I was duly reprimanded as a feckless scapegrace. But two years later I moved to Texas, and he offered me a monthly column for the Adelaide Review. I wonder now if the character of the first person you write for gets pressed into your writing somehow. Behind the excesses there was a rigour to Christopher; he held you to account. Frequently this was done elliptically, with a remark about that type of young writer who is inestimably kinder in person than on the page. Other times it was done less gently. One weekend when I was back in Australia, he invited me and my father to his country house on the Fleurieu Peninsula with a beautiful young poet. As he guided me through his collection of rare treasures, he provided a detailed curatorial commentary of provenance and worth. I bleated, “You’ve certainly got a lot of wonderful things here,” or something similarly inane, in my best adult impersonation. (And yet: what response could have satisfied?) He threw his head back and roared with laughter until he was weeping. Oh my dear, oh my dear ... I am sorry, but sometimes ... You are just too ... That same weekend, he prepared whiting and hand-cut chips for us, and dug out his recordings of the Liszt concerto I was studying. But it was his raucous laughter that remained with me. One of the first columns I wrote for him from Texas recounted my friendship with some Baptist fundamentalists, and pondered whether friendship was possible across the believer–non believer divide. It was a column that pleased him; he complimented me at the time on its “generosity”. Now I realise that this became the question of our relationship in recent years. I struggled to reconcile the Christopher who professed love to me (which I nervously reciprocated) with his by-line in the Australian each weekend, espousing any number of opinions I did not share. And so I read his columns only when he wrote about poetry, or music, or food, or the joys of teaching. Perhaps this was a type of cowardice, but I did not wish to endanger my affection. Our conversation was similarly evasive. Often he spoke of the jewels he would have me wear on stage. They were marvellous in his telling, as if lifted from the pages of Dorian Gray, and it was clear that he relished the language of jewels almost as much as the jewels themselves: the judiciously mounted emerald, an amethyst encrusted in gold. I was urged never to underestimate the garnet, and warned that jet would be far too ageing, until I wondered whether I was his proxy, whether he would have me wear the jewels he would wear if he had a woman’s neck. The fantasy amused me: I could scarcely afford the rent, let alone to invest in estate jewellery. He had found a most appropriate malachite at Anne Schofield Antiques, and I was to drop in to see her next time I was in Woollahra. But I was never in Woollahra. The last time I visited him, three weeks before his death, he did not offer wine, and we sipped tea instead. “Certain sources have informed me that you were more taken than you expected with Julia Gillard when you interviewed her recently,” he said sternly. “I believe that source was me, in that email I sent you.” “I cannot help but wonder whether Tony might not have the same effect.” There was a particular gentleness with which he pronounced the name Tony – and he pronounced it more frequently in our last meeting than ever before – he handled it as tenderly as a rosary bead. He had suggested to me that certain friends enjoyed the “contact high” of being around him, of his relationship to power, but in every reference to Tony I sensed a small, private contact high. It was the high of the vindicated mentor. I described an essay I was working on, exploring “issues around misogyny”, and he held up a hand to stop me: “Please, dear girl, not around.” This made me laugh. “As I was saying it I wondered whether you would let me get away with that.” And he laughed, too. After his death, Christopher was eulogised as a conservative thinker. Perhaps he was his politics; perhaps we all are. But there was another Christopher that predated the conversion to Catholicism and the conservative columns. It was that conflicted creature of great brilliance and malice and generosity. That guardian of art; that arbiter of taste. One morning, several years ago, I found myself in Woollahra, and I stumbled upon Anne Schofield’s shop. I hesitated for a moment and then went in. “Christopher Pearson sent me,” I announced as an “open sesame”. I sat at the mirror and Schofield brought out necklaces for me to try that might complement a concert gown, astonishing confections of amethysts and turquoises and garnets and tourmalines. The red tourmaline, we agreed, was the best – gold-plated and intricate, with Baroque pearls, designed in the Renaissance style. Then I stepped out of her shop, empty-handed, and my carriage turned back into a pumpkin. Back at home, I reported to Christopher I had finally fulfilled his mission. Shortly thereafter, the necklace arrived at my house by courier, for a “beloved honorary niece”. The necklace is a rare creation, and does not quite belong among my things. I wear it as often as I can when I perform: it is right that it should be worn on stage, rather than hidden away in a cabinet. Its clasp is a little complicated and, if not fastened correctly, the necklace sits askew. But when properly secured it sits true against my skin. It is cool against my neck, and a little heavy. It is the exact weight of generosity
© John Woudstra / Fairfax Syndication
This is serious
By Waleed Aly