The winners, they say, write history.
Tony Abbott is Australia’s biggest loser so he doesn’t get to write history. And he sure as hell doesn’t get to re-write it either.
But that’s precisely what the conniving bastard set out to do earlier today in his final speech as Prime Minister, delivered in the garden outside his former office, to applause from sections of the Canberra press gallery (and a few well placed staffers).
If you missed his valedictory, you can read the transcript here. But a warning: if you’re prone to anger and offended by naked, macho gall, then you’d be best advised to avoid it.
I didn’t – that’s one of the hazards of my job. So here’s my perspective.
Watching Tony Abbott ‘woe is me’ his way through his mercifully last performance reminded me of American serial killer Ted Bundy’s final media appearance, just hours before he was executed for the murders of at least 30 women and children.
Except that amongst his own deep self-pity, Bundy also showed contrition – or at least made an effort to feign it – and acknowledged his own level of personal responsibility.
Needless to say, Abbott committed no such crimes. But he sure as hell hurt a lot more people than Bundy could ever dream of.
Watching our ex-PM, I was left to wonder what happened to little Tony Abbott. What turned him into such a ruthless, aggressive, bullying, divisive political head kicker?
What could warp a young mind so much that he would go on to lock up innocent men, women and children fleeing wars that he helped start?
What could shape a child to grow into an adult who laughs about the effects of climate change on Pacific Islanders, having just returned from a summit with Pacific Islanders who are staring down the deaths of their countries – and citizens – as the seas rise?
In particular, I was left to wonder why Tony Abbott, in the course of his last hurrah, showed no contrition, and accepted no personal responsibility for his own downfall.
Instead, he laid the blame for his demise squarely at the feet of unnamed traitors, and the media.
Before we return to that, let’s look briefly at his record.
When Abbott was Health Minister in the Howard Government, he pointedly refused to spend $40 million to roll out low fragrance petrol to Aboriginal communities decimated by petrol sniffing. This, while he presided over an Aboriginal health budget that was under-funded by half a billion dollars a year, at a time when the Howard Government was delivering record surpluses from the mining boom, and raking in billions in additional fuel excise from the GST.
Public and political pressure ultimately forced Abbott to capitulate – Opal fuel was eventually rolled out, and the petrol sniffing was eliminated. But not before numerous blackfellas died, many more suffered permanent brain injury, and more than 600 suffered other varying degrees of harm.
As Opposition leader, Abbott reminded the housewives of Australia, as they did the ironing, that abolishing the carbon tax would save them money. And once Prime Minister, abolish the tax he did, despite the fact that climate change will not only have dire effects on our economy, but it’s already killed many people, and will kill many, many more.
Safely ensconced in government, Abbott also wasted no time in choosing Muslims as the chief target for his campaign of fear-based politics, whipping up bigotry and hysteria at every opportunity. And the worse the polls got, the more frequent and shrill the rhetoric, until finally he took us to war to battle an invisible enemy that posed us no immediate threat, but which would ensure we were less safe on our own shores.
What price the destruction of a cohesive society you say you love, Tony?
Of course, Abbott’s memory of his time in government is quite different from mine. Earlier today, he didn’t describe it in anything like these terms.
Instead, he described it like this.
“We’ve responded to the threats of terror and we’ve deployed to the other side of the world to bring our loved ones home.”
And this: “And despite hysterical and unprincipled opposition, we’ve made $50 billion of repairs to the budget.”
And then this: “The boats have stopped. And with the boats stopped we’ve been better able to display our compassion to refugees.”
No way. You do not get to rewrite history, Tony Abbott. You don’t get to distract and distort, and pretend that you let 12,000 Syrian refugees in for anything other than pure, base political opportunism.
If you cared about refugees, you wouldn’t have sent fighter jets to bomb their country. And if you cared about refugees you wouldn’t have locked them up in indefinite detention, and then made the conditions of their obscene confinement deliberately cruel and hopeless and degrading, not just to deter others, but to win votes.
And then, there was also this: “I am proud of what the Abbott Government has achieved. We stayed focused, despite the white-anting.
“The nature of politics has changed in the past decade. We have more polls and more commentary than ever before, mostly sour, bitter, character assassination.
“Poll driven panic has produced a revolving door Prime Ministership, which can’t be good for our country, and a febrile media culture has developed that rewards treachery.
“And if there’s one piece of advice I can give to the media, it’s this – refuse to print self-serving claims that the person making them won’t put his or her name to. Refuse to connive and dishonor by acting as the assassin’s knife.”
To paraphrase a former Prime Minister, as a journalist, I will not be lectured on the media by this man, even if I happen to agree with some of the sentiment.
Surely, this man is kidding? Surely he can see his key role in it all?
Abbott is right that the political culture in Australia has changed, but more than any other, he is the politician who changed it.
Abbott is the reason that parliament today is so toxic. He is the virus. He may have been ably assisted by a band of conservative white men, but he is the chief host. The descent into today’s bovver-boy politics started with him.
Abbott is also right that the mainstream media is a problem. Indeed, it’s a big problem. But it was not the cause of his downfall.
No Prime Minister in history has received more support from a morally bankrupt media than Tony Abbott. None. Not one. And I’m not just looking at you News Corporation.
When there’s money to be made, Fairfax, all of the commercial networks, the ABC and even SBS will race-bait our nation as hard and loose as any Australian politician, Labor, Liberal or otherwise.
So on that front, I also have a message for the media. Do your f*cking job.
Objectivity is not cutting a man some slack while he’s down. Reflecting wistfully on the ‘positive achievements of Tony’ is not balance. It’s hackery and it’s cowardice.
Call it what it is. Call Abbott what he is.
A wrecker, and a man who pursued the highest office in the land with no moral compass, and no desire to acquire one.
A man who was prepared to play wedge politics on Aboriginal issues, dog whistle on Muslims, denigrate women, deny equal rights to the queer community, verbally bash and threaten champions of human rights, and jail the world’s most vulnerable people.
That is Abbott’s legacy. That is what he did. I know it, the press gallery knows it, we all know it. Any other depiction is a fraud.
It was always all about Tony, always all about political expediency, and always all about his vainglorious pursuit of power, and bugger the consequences.
The last word belongs to Ted Bundy: “I take full responsibility for all the things that I’ve done.”
And Tony Abbott’s last question belongs to me: If one of America’s worst serial killers can acknowledge the reasons for his downfall, then as an elected leader of a nation of people, why can’t you?