The unparalleled reliability of the current federal opposition leader’s flair for being publicly dreadful long ago prompted a whole “Abbott Watch” category around these parts, so we wouldn’t lose track of the mind-spinning scope of his ineptitude. Generally, each post detailed one statement or incident. However, as John Oliver so eloquently made an international mockery of us about, our short time-frame for the run-up to an election allows for a virtuosic compression of a vast breadth of fuckwittery into a very. small. space. When Oliver did his piece for the American satirical news program The Daily Show, we had not yet even been blessed with the rich pickings below. I don’t know whether to hope for or dread a follow-up. But in the interests of sound record-keeping here is a collation of some of the awful, awful things Tony Abbott has been saying. I suspect there are plenty more buried in the moosh. And remember this is just in the past week.
Reversing the more conventional order for lists of this kind, I am going to work from most to least significant, because we need this first one to sit at the top of all discussions of this topic. I am talking about when Abbott fronted the Garma Festival in the Northern Territory to talk about addressing problems in local communities, and spoke of Aboriginal women “cowering in their houses or in their huts, in fear of what some drunken relative might do”. Their “huts”? Yes, you did hear that right. The extreme good grace of his audience is astonishing, in refraining from slinging him out right then for the insult he offered them. If that’s how you instinctively characterise any portion of your electorate, you have no business putting yourself forward to be their representative. This is the full speech, the key moment is at 27:30.
Then, according to the man who would be our Prime Minister, the push for marriage equality is “the fashion of the moment”, and not nearly as valuable a thing a “tradition”. Because it’s not as if tradition has ever made anyone’s life miserable, or that it continues to fulfil its role in denying people their rights. Trivialising people’s civil liberties is not a habit any leader should cultivate. You can read along as he digs himself in deeper in the ABC write-up.
Also this week, Abbott listed “sex appeal” as one of the key traits of the Liberal candidate for Lindsay. He also mentioned “young” and “feisty”. The candidate is of course female, because you just don’t hear men spoken of like that by professional colleagues promoting their work. Rebecca Shaw has some advice on how he could have handled it better, that you would think would have reached him before he was allowed to leave the back bench.
There has been little attention given to Abbott’s repeated taunts to the Prime Minister to “man up” and that he is “not man enough” for the job, but we should be making more of a fuss about what this choice of expression tells us. The repetition of these phrases strongly suggests a deliberate strategy, and if so, it shows a willingness to make a direct statement that he thinks only men should be entitled to lead. Especially coming so soon after the person in that job was a woman, this is a pretty explicit shout out to the country that he wants us all to know that the Prime Minister should be a man, that a man is the only kind of person capable of carrying out the job. Someone who believes that shouldn’t be put in charge of an ice-cream stand with more than one employee, let alone a nation.
Lastly, when Abbott spoke of his role as the “suppository of all knowledge” when he meant “repository” it was one of those easy-to-do, excruciating slip-ups that anyone can make, and that probably make plenty of people terrified of the very idea of public life, lest it happen to them. Making such an error is not a reason to write off a person’s character or competence. However. A mistake like this acts as a prompt for us all to stop and think about what standard of public presentation we should be able to expect from our leaders. Who do we want the world to see we have, as a people, elected? If Tony Abbott becomes Prime Minister we will have far worse things to worry about than embarrassment. But in a nation with our human resources, why should it be a worry at all?