Even for Abbott, the piece includes some extraordinary comments, claims, and justifications, writes Max Chalmers.
From the charmingly deluded to the obstinately anti-humane, there’s plenty of interest in Tony Abbott’s latest attempt to revive his already dead, buried, and cremated legacy. Coming in at over 3,700 words, Abbott has outlined his proudest achievements in a Quadrant essay, pointing to the turning back of asylum seeker boats, close partnerships with states intent on abusing human rights, and (failed) attempts to find a plane as his major successes.
Here is what the man who led the nation for two years really thinks.
Tony Abbott Thinks Australia ‘Lacks A Complicating Colonial Past’
The Member for Warringah makes the remark in relation to Australia’s foreign policy, which he implies is all the simpler thanks to the fact the nation did not engage in an expansive colonial project.
“Unlike France or Britain, we lack a colonial past to complicate the present,” he says.
At best, that’s a questionable statement to make in regards to a nation whose role in its region has been highly complicated by its legacy as a European colony (on top of the fact Australia did go on to play a role as a minor colonial power in its own right). Perhaps Abbott only meant the remarks in relation to foreign policy, but as it stands the sentence also strikes as a blunt dismissal of the trauma experienced by those already living on the Australian landmass when the colonists arrive. Things got complicated, to say the least. But hey, he’s not the Prime Minister for Indigenous Australia any more, is he?
He Is ‘Pleased’ Aus Didn’t Stand Up Against Sri Lanka’s Alleged War Crimes
This is one of the truly remarkable parts of Abbott’s piece.
In the final days of Sri Lanka’s bloody civil war, government forces are thought to have killed up to 40,000 members of the country’s Tamil minority. While the rebel Tamil Tigers also face accusations of war crimes, the list of allegations against the government is substantial, including the use of sexual violence as torture and retribution, and the herding of civilians into safe ‘no fire’ zones which were then shelled.
Under Abbott, Australia worked closely with Sri Lanka to stop post-war refugees fleeing the country and ending up on our shores, helping the country’s then leaders by voting against a UN proposal to set up an independent investigation into the end of the civil war.
“I’m sure that the Sri Lankan president was pleased that Australia didn’t join the human rights lobby against the tough but probably unavoidable actions taken to end one of the world’s most vicious civil wars,” Abbott writes in Quadrant.
No doubt he was pleased. But the brutal statement looks all the more confusing when you compare it to what Abbott writes later in the essay, justifying Australian intervention in the Middle East.
“The Abbott government’s objective in the Middle East was never to create liberal democracy in a region where (Israel aside) it doesn’t exist,” he states. “It was merely to support or to foster governments that didn’t commit genocide against their own people or permit terrorism against ours.”
Funny, because the former is exactly what Sri Lanka is accused of doing.
Australia Sent West Papuans Seeking Asylum Overseas And Blocked A Peace Flotilla
Incredibly, after the Sri Lanka boast, Abbott does it again, bragging about secretly sending activists back to Papua New Guinea and blocking a peace flotilla.
“As a very early sign of good faith to the Indonesians, I had West Papuan activists, who’d arrived in the Torres Strait claiming asylum, quietly returned to Papua New Guinea. A protest boat seeking to sail from Australia to Indonesian West Papua was prevailed upon never to leave. Quite rightly, the Indonesians regarded vessels leaving Australia for Indonesia without lawful purpose as an affront to their sovereignty—and that exactly matched my government’s attitude to vessels bound for Australia in defiance of our law.”
West Papuan independence was prevented by a sham referendum in 1969, and subsequent domination by Indonesia. A 2004 paper headed by Yale academic Allard K. Lowenstein noted widespread evidence of disappearances and killings at the hands of Indonesian police, finding “even if the acts described in the paper were not carried out with intent to destroy the West Papuans as a group, a necessary element of the crime of genocide, many of these acts clearly constitute crimes against humanity under international law.”
The startling thing about the Wes Papua passages in the Quadrant essay is how proud Abbott appears to be of this complicity in human rights abuses. This is not a justification, it’s an open celebration.
Again, the self-praise implicit looks even worse in light of comments Abbott makes later in the piece. Quoting himself, he remarks: “the bullying of small countries by big ones, the trampling of justice and decency in the pursuit of national aggrandisement, and reckless indifference to human life should have no place in our world”.
That statement was made in relation to Russia’s downing of MH17, but could have just as easily been issued in regards to Indonesia’s treatment of West Papuans. No matter how many West Papuan activists go missing or end up in prison, we won’t be seeing Abbott shirtfront Indonesian President Joko Widodo any time soon though.
He’s Very Proud Of Putting Lots Of Energy Into Not Finding A Plane
It’s almost as if no-one has told Tony that Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 is still missing, because Abbott lists the search for it as one of his great achievements.
“There was no strict obligation to do so but we had a moral duty to help; and it certainly created much good will with Malaysia, and with China, which had lost more than 150 of its citizens,” the essay says.
He also makes it clear he sees himself as the source of this diplomatic wizardry, arguing he was able to personally reach out to leaders in times such as this.
“Personal contact isn’t everything—it won’t change a nation’s fundamental interests—but it can make a big difference where interests might align.”
Government Lawyers Worried Abbott’s Refugee Policies Were Illegal
In relation to Operation Sovereign Borders Abbott writes: “Some government lawyers claimed that the operation was beyond power”. He doesn’t mention whether they were in the majority or not.
Abbott Isn’t A Loner, He’s A Cool Dude With Awesome Friends
If there is one thing Tony loves aside from himself – which he does, a lot – it’s name dropping. Exhibit A:
“As the initial shock turned to fury against the Russians and their surrogates, I spoke many times to international leaders: Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib (as their nations, along with Australia, had lost the most citizens); Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko; US President Barack Obama; UK Prime Minister David Cameron; European leaders Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande; plus—of course—the Russian President Vladimir Putin. My points were always the same: the site had to be secured, the bodies had to be recovered, and the perpetrators had to be brought to justice.”
By his own telling, Abbott used his audiences with the most powerful leaders in the world to lobby them with a three-point slogan. True to form. Elsewhere, Abbott recalls an encounter with US Vice-President Joe Biden for reasons that are entirely unclear aside from the fact they get US Vice-President Joe Biden’s name in the piece. It was good to catch up with Prime Minister Cameron in London.
Abbott writes glowingly of the US, describing at “the world’s indispensable nation”. Sadly, he makes no prediction as to whether that will remain the case if Donald Trump is elected president. Notice also that he refers to an indispensable ‘nation’, singular. Too bad for the other 195-odd nation-states who are, presumably, transient and readily disposable. In the bin you get, Australia!
He’s Still Using The Term ‘Death Cult’
“We were one of the very first countries to help the US in its efforts to fight the Islamic State death cult.”
Old habits, like the career ambitions of monumentally ill-equipped former national leaders, die hard.