After reading Michael Duffy's (he's a conservative columnist and publisher) very well done double bio Latham and Abbott, I can't help but think of Tony Abbott as some sort of politically naive character out of Dostoyevsky's The Devils.
When you read some of the painfully embarrassing encomiums Abbott heaps upon John Howard, you have to wonder, what sort of drugs is this guy on? I am presuming that Abbott is in dire need of a father figure, or that Abbott has set up his own mystical cult around the unimpeachable character of the father, placing Howard in that role. As I read the Abbott parts of the book, all I could think was, this guy is Howard's dupe, and Howard is clearly happy to have such an unbelievably loyal foot soldier.
I say that Abbott appears to be such a political dupe (I know a lot of people would say this is over the top) for many reasons. Obviously, he is a skilled and hard working politician. Nor do I question the validity of any of his intellectual and moral pursuits. What I don't get is this: how did he have uber-creep and Pauline Hanson advisor, David Oldfield, working for him as a staffer? Didn't the penny ever drop that this guy was on the nose? He even wrote a reference for him, lauding him to the skies.
A funny example of Abbot's naiveity is when he entered St Patrick's seminary to study becoming a priest. As I was reading this part I thought, aren't these seminaries hotbeds of homosexual activity? Surely enough, a few pages later I'm reading about all out brawls between men over their male lovers at St Patrick's. I wonder what Abbott - a man's man - made of all of this? When Abbott was a boxer in England someone had taunted him, calling all Aussies 'poofters'. Apparently this helped him to fight more vigourously. On page 16 we learn that the young Abbott was told off by a priest for holding the hand of another boy whilst in year three at Catholic school. Later, to Abbott's own surprise, he would become a close friend of openly gay writer Christopher Pearson. I was staggered by the amount of homosexual references linked to his name. (I am not suggesting he's a closet case, it's just funny that they kept on popping up, especially considering Abbott's such a he-man, and that his party introduced the ban on gay marriage.)
For me, what highlighted the complications of Tony Abbott's relationship with John Howard was the whole Justice Kirby scandal of 2002. Tony Abbott worked leading the pro-monarchy campaign, and through this work came into contact with pro-monarchist Justice Kirby. Abbott had nothing but praise for his character, calling him a man of 'integrity, intelligence and candour'.
Obviously Abbott must have known that Howard sent his best mate, Bill Heffernan, out to attack Kirby as a sex offender, an attack that was based on forged documents. What on earth went through Abbott's mind at this time? Didn't he start to think, my God, something is rotten here, what has Howard been up to? Why didn't a few doubts enter his mind about Howard's character?
About the affair, Abbott said, 'I think we are in the presence of tragedy. This is a tragic situation for both the accuser and accused.' See how we're all supposed to feel sorry for Heffernan? Both men, we are supposed to believe, are entwined in this dreadful tragedy. Come off it!
When Abbott was asked by a journalist why Howard had not stopped Heffernan, he replied:
'Well, look, Simon Crean could have stopped Mark Latham making a speech about me in the House of Reps the other night [and he didn't].'
As Michael Duffy says in the next sentence (although I don't know why he admires Abbott so much): 'The lack of perspective shown by such statements is striking.'
Here is another example of a striking lack of perspective. In a speech at the Centre for Independent Studies he said:
'The sensuality, licence and frivolity (which so enrages the authors of September 11 and Bali) is still on display but at least some countries have shown a newfound ability to call things by their true name and take their commitments seriously. It would be a happy paradox if the terrorist threat prompted a rediscovery of sterner and higher virtues and thereby renewed the West's appeal to a wider world.'
There you have it. Such terrorists do seem to have a point. Wouldn't it be great if the result of such attacks was to wake up from our torpor and enter a 'sterner' age. Pur-lease! This is the guy who talked Ross Cameron into entering parliament. (See what I mean, the Tony Abbott is someone or other's dupe. Ross Cameron was another family values man who looked down his nose at Australia's permissive culture, only to end up a fornicator himself!)
I've left a lot of Mark Latham out. I enjoyed that part of the book too. The guy is coarse and crass, and I don't like him at all. Truth be told, he freaks me out. Yet I thought he had more substance than Abbott. At least he blazes his own trail, whereas Tony Abbott???
One last word. I think Abbott is just a drifter, and that explains why he fawns over the PM. He was a member of the Liberal party for two years before entering parliament. During that time he took little interest in the party, not going to many functions or meetings. Offered a seat, it seemed like something to do. The guy's got oodles of energy. Seems like he needed a place to spend it.
Mark Latham? A mixture of snake oil merchant and angry young man. You can't use the nation, though, as a place to work out your own personal drama.