Among the shadowy cabal known as the brotherhood of Australian satirists (mainly me, Jonathan Biggins, and Bob Katter), there are a select few occurrences that we speak about in hushed tones. These are "the motherlode" of humour writing: the rare moments in public life that cause us to fall to our knees, tears welling in our eyes, and shout out thanks to the Almighty for the gift they have laid before us.
Basically, these are the events that make our lives easier as satire writers. They allow us to switch to autopilot because our subjects write the jokes themselves. These longed-for events are generally marked by headlines like these: "Prime Minister In Bed With Sheep"; "Pope Admits He Is Gay"; "President Abducted By Aliens" and "Steve Fielding Does Something". And, of course, the most eagerly awaited of them all: "Tony Abbott Becomes Opposition Leader".
So God bless you, Liberal Party. God bless your dear little hearts for finally doing the right thing by political jokesters everywhere and making Tony Abbott your leader. I may not need to have another actual idea for the next 12 months.
Of course, it’s wonderful news for the Liberal Party too. After months of division and infighting, they have finally found a "white knight" to bring the party together and present a united front by a vote of 42–41. A dramatic vote it was too, with the favourite Joe Hockey knocked out in the first round. MPs were, I’m told, overcome with terror at the thought of a free vote on emissions trading. It all harked back to Menzies’ original motto for the Liberal Party: "Freedom — It’s Scary".
And so the new leader, safe in the knowledge that as long as Fran Bailey keeps calling in sick, he will have the support of the party room, can finally put the internal bickering behind him and get on with the serious business of gazing with barely disguised hunger at Julia Gillard.
It was perhaps the most courageous party-room decision seen in Australian politics since the National Party controversially voted to make insanity a requirement for pre-selection. The Liberal Party has decided that it will end the days of choosing the "fashionable" candidate, or the "politically correct" candidate, or the "possible that people will vote for" candidate, and make a return to good solid Liberal values like swearing and opposing abortion.
But what does this truly mean for Australian politics? Electing new leaders is great — that’s why the Liberal Party does it every year — but to some degree, it also matters who those leaders are. Who is Tony Abbott?
Well, as some of you might know, he is a devout Catholic who has always been guided in his political judgment by his religion. There is, for example, the anti-abortion thing as well as his close friendship with Archbishop George Pell. And of course, like all good Catholics, he is a staunch supporter of the English monarchy, not to mention his commitment to fulfilling Christ’s biblical commandment to repeal unfair dismissal laws.
It’s very easy, of course, to disparage a religiously minded politician. If it wasn’t, I sure as hell wouldn’t be doing it. But is it really fair? Is it just cheap sport to sneeringly smear Abbott with epithets like "The Mad Monkey" or "Frigging Tony Abbott"? Can trivialising him in such a manner ever be justified? Is it really necessary to fill page after page of major daily newspapers with huge photos of the man emerging from the ocean clad only in a scanty pair of Speedos and a luxuriant mat of chest hair? Is that kind of gutter journalism fair — either to an experienced and accomplished politician or the terrified public who find themselves unable to tear their eyes away?
All this is extraneous. It doesn’t matter what Abbott looks like, or how much he likes to go about semi-nude, or what sort of religious mania he is prone to, or whether he would, given the chance, steal your children and hold them prisoner in some sort of dank subterranean kingdom. What matters is what he’s going to do to haul the Liberal Party up by its bootstraps and make it a relevant, vibrant force once again. What can we expect on that front?
Well, firstly, a rejig and revitalisation of the frontbench. Already word is filtering through that Barnaby Joyce is likely to finally take up the cudgels and move to the frontbench and that Kevin Andrews is likely to be given a key post. These moves will ensure that the Opposition never again neglects the crucial inbred yokel or humourless racist segments of the base.
Liberal insiders are also relieved that Abbott has moved to codify in the party’s constitution the convention, hitherto only an "unspoken rule", that Julie Bishop will remain deputy leader in perpetuity. Indeed, Bishop can now proudly state that she has served as deputy to three different Liberal leaders without ever compromising her integrity by taking sides in factional disputes, leadership tussles, or parliamentary politics.
"Stay well clear and let the fellas sort it out" is Julie’s motto. It’s served her well as she has steadily risen through the ranks like a sort of political ninja: silent, shadowy, almost undetectable by either opponents or colleagues. In fact, several times during the leadership vote, fellow MPs tried to have her thrown out of the party room, believing her to be a lost tourist. However, as her colleagues say, Bishop is like a cockroach, inasmuch as she would be able to function just as well without a head.
It is also good news that Abbott’s ascent has led to a stream of utterly hilarious jokes about the party being led by an Abbott and a Bishop. Early signs indicate that these will endure for the rest of recorded history, which means paroxysms of ecstatic laughter for us all for many, many, many, many years to come.
Perhaps most importantly of all, Abbott will finally take a strong and determined stand on climate change, the "hot-button" issue that well-known climatologist Andrew Bolt has dubbed "the fraud of the century", and science buff/working mother Miranda Devine describes as "the greatest con since speed limits".
Abbott has been pilloried in some quarters for once saying that climate change is "crap" — but this actually seems a pretty fair assessment to me. I mean, it is crap, isn’t it? I know when I found out that the Earth was warming and would soon become uninhabitable, I said to my wife, "Well, that’s pretty crap, isn’t it?"
And Abbott shares my view, having clearly and concisely stated on various occasions that climate change is crap based on science that is not yet settled which means we must take urgent action, but not quite yet, because, even though an emissions trading scheme should be implemented as soon as possible, it is completely unacceptable to the Australian people.
A straight shooter is our Tony, in stark contrast to Malcolm Turnbull, who apparently mistook the title "Leader of the Opposition" for that of "Leader of the Do Whatever Kevin Rudd Says".
Not that Abbott can afford to disregard climate change. Given the Prime Minister’s deeply held and fervent belief that using climate change to prevent the Liberals getting elected is "the great moral challenge of our generation", it would be remiss of the new Opposition leader to simply ignore the issue. For one thing, as he well knows, catastrophic global warming will pose a threat to unborn children, and that will not do.
But unlike Labor, which seeks to live out its feverish Marxist fantasies by crippling Australian industry and starving the babies of coal-miners, Abbott wants to address climate change in a realistic and effective manner. His approach recognises the need for action, but also recognises that any action taken should by no means disadvantage business, cost Australian jobs, or be particularly noticeable. Most of all, Abbott objects to saddling Australians with a "massive new tax", since this would represent an enormous betrayal of Liberal principles. If there’s one thing the Liberal Party would never ever do, it’s introduce a massive new tax.
So these are the policy implications of the elevation of this new Liberal leader as he attempts to drag the party into the 21st century, or one of its more recent predecessors. But I think the most important result of these developments is that politics will become exciting again.
No more will we suffer sad-sack Turnbull standing mournfully at the dispatch box, sighing wistfully to himself and mumbling shyly about reckless spending. Now we have a bona fide, five-star, rolled-gold, wild-eyed Bible-thumping bomb-thrower, as likely to institute the death penalty for single mothers as he is to commando-roll across the floor of the House of Representatives and kneecap Petro Georgiou. We have a man who we can look forward to watching sail confidently, chest hair bristling, into the next election beneath an enormous banner reading "Abort Labor, Not Babies". It could be the most thrilling epoch in Australian politics since Ben Chifley’s "Doobie Years" (1945–1948).
So enjoy the ride, citizens. I don’t know what he’s packing inside those Speedos, but whatever it is, it’s about to rock our worlds.
You may want to bite down on something for a few months.
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