Should one call it pathocracy?
The record of the devious, nay false, statements which preceded a turbulent period of tenure and of the two years of the Abbott Government – 18 September 2013 to 14 September 2015 is too well-know and too recent to be resumed here – although certain aspects will be dealt with further on, in attempting to respond to the question: was it a Fascist government? There is of course the already mentioned list of breach of promises, diligently collected by Sally McManus. It goes, punctiliously, from Abbott’s first default on 14 September 2013: on spending the first week as Prime Minister with an Aboriginal community – as he had solemnly promised to Indigenous elders and participants at the Garma Festival on 10 August 2013 – to the last failure on 14 September 2015: to provide a stable and unified Government. This is No. 478 of Abbott’s broken promises. Credit also should be given to a recent contribution by Mr. John Lord: ‘Day to Day Politics: ‘Remembering Abbott’s Past’ 51 Reasons why he should move on’, 30 March 2016).
There were also very important voices from overseas.
The New Statesman of 23 April 2013 called Abbott’s campaign “a disturbing example of politics at its most crass and exploitative.” It added that “Though Abbott has arguably been driven by a genuine belief in the common good and the Biblical “golden rule” – “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” – his deep faith is often at the mercy of his ambitions for power. Indeed, the main reason he entered the Seminary was because he wanted to become the Archbishop of Sydney, no less”, noting how “a dangerous degree of certainty and hostility has permeated some influential sections of Australian society, creating the backdrop on which to build a narrative of Manichean extremes; where morality is black and white, and the ‘good’ can win only by destroying the ‘evil’. Politics is zero-sum. Compromise is failure.”
The New Statesman concluded: “Abbott is a man for everyone and no one, a flatterer of the rich and powerful, and an open vanguard for neoliberal hawks to pull apart the social contract. If he is elected, Australia will no longer be “the lucky country”.
On 6 September 2013 The Los Angeles Times spoke of Abbott as a “gaffe-prone conservative” given to “occasional buffoonery” who has “mused publicly that it may not be ‘a bad thing’ that men have more power than women”, “scandalized political circles by praising a fellow candidate for her ‘sex appeal,’ denounced abortion as ‘a question of the mother’s convenience’ and dismissed the notion of climate change as ‘absolute crap.’ ”
Abbott had been labelled “unelectable” by stalwarts within his own party and was branded by a former American ambassador to Australia – in a 2010 diplomatic cable made public by WikiLeaks – as a ‘polarizing right-winger’ with a ‘propensity for insensitivity and controversy.’ ”
Two days after the election The Sydney Morning Herald was reporting that views from overseas were still undecided whether Abbott was a “compassionate conservative” in the tradition of George W. Bush, or a “bigoted airhead.” More reassuring was the opinion of English Tory M.P. Douglas Carswell who said that “Mr. Abbott’s victory should inspire his U.K. counterparts. Abbott’s views are throughly [sic] modern. He seems to have seen through global warming fad, wants less government and is pro Anglosphere.”
Labour politicians were caustic. “Oz has elected a bigoted airhead to drag them backwards into mean prejudice and vainglorious chauvinism.” wrote M.P. Paul Flynn.
Meanwhile, columnist Tim Stanley of the U.K.’s Daily Telegraph proclaimed Abbott’s victory a “win for the Christian conservatives” … “Whereas some Western conservatives seem to be entirely motivated by the desire to win (Mitt Romney, Cameron), Abbott has a philosophy and – almost unique in our materialist age – a theology” he wrote.
Closer to home, The Jakarta Globe queried what an Abbott Government would mean for relations with Indonesia, particularly in relation to foreign aid, defence and the handling of asylum seekers. The paper quoted Mahfudz Siddiq, head of the Indonesian House of Representatives’ foreign affairs commission, saying that a Coalition proposal to buy back Indonesian fishing boats was “crazy” – “the idea is degrading and offensive to the dignity of Indonesians.”
By 23 May 2014 The Washington Post had formed the opinion that Abbott was becoming ‘one of the world’s most hated prime ministers, who was going from “one scandal to the next.” On 21 May 2014 Abbott had been caught winking mid-interview to an Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio host when a phone sex hotline worker called in with her comments on the Budget. Abbott had forgotten that the interview was also being filmed.
What the newspaper called a ‘latest Abbottism’ was far from isolated, and it proceeded to recall that, over the years the prime minister had managed to raise more than a few eyebrows with his comments, particularly those relating to women and gender issues. So, in the wake of what it called the ‘winkgate scandal’, the paper looked at some of his most controversial remarks in recent memory.
On women: “I think it would be folly to expect that women will ever dominate or even approach equal representation in a large number of areas simply because their aptitudes, abilities and interests are different for physiological reasons.” Written by Abbott while he was a university student in the 1970s.
On sex:“I think there does need to be give and take on both sides, and this idea that sex is kind of a woman’s right to absolutely withhold, just as the idea that sex is a man’s right to demand I think are both, they both need to be moderated, so to speak.” 19 March 2002.
On virginity: It “is the greatest gift you can give someone.” In response to a question about what advice he would give his daughters about sex before marriage. 12 January 2010.
On gender roles: “What the housewives of Australia need to understand as they do the ironing is that if they get it done commercially it’s going to go up in price and their own power bills when they switch the iron on are going to go up.” 8 February 2010.
On homosexuality: “I probably feel a bit threatened.” 5 March 2010.
On Ms. Fiona Scott, candidate M.P. for the seat of Lindsay: “They’re young, feisty, I think I can probably say have a bit of sex appeal and they’re just very connected with the local area.” 13 August 2013, during the lead up to the election, when asked what Ms. Scott and her predecessor Ms. Jackie Kelly had in common.
On WorkChoices, and the resulting Workplace Relations Act 1996 (Cth): “It’s dead, buried and cremated”, in that order, 17 July 2010.
On climate change: “Climate change argument is absolute crap.”, 2 February 2010.
On the carbon tax: “Let’s be under no illusions the carbon tax was socialism masquerading as environmentalism.”, 26 October 2013.
The Huffington Post of the U.K. went further. On 17 March 2015 it collected ‘The 14 most fecking stupid things Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has ever done’.
He had just come under fire for making a ‘patronising’ St. Patrick’s Day message. Abbott was criticised by his Irish counterpart, Enda Kenny, for perpetuating the “stage Irish” stereotype that the country’s ‘culture’ is synonymous with alcohol after he mentioned having “a Guinness, or two, or maybe even three.”
The paper listed Abbott’s other top thirteen gaffes:
- Saying “Shit happens” when learning of the death of a soldier … and then being utterly unable to defend himself when questioned about it.
- Winking during a phone call from a sex line worker.
- Giving Prince Philip a knighthood, thus proving just how in touch he is with the mood of the Australian people. Still, it helped the Republican movement…
- Saying that climate change is “absolute crap”. He also clearly remains unconvinced that it is “the most important moral issue of our time.”
- Calling abortion “the easy way out”. Just one of the things which resulted in the blistering take-down by Julia Gillard.
- Saying he felt “threatened” by gays and lesbians. And espousing these views on same-sex marriage.
- Saying that he won’t get his daughters vaccinated. “I won’t be rushing out to get my daughters vaccinated [for cervical cancer], maybe that’s because I’m a cruel, callow, callous, heartless bastard but, look, I won’t be.”
- Eating a raw, unpeeled onion. Who needs cutlery ?! Or for the onion to be cooked ?!
- Saying it is “a lifestyle choice” for indigenous Australians to live in remote communities. Aboriginal leader Noel Pearson called it “a very disappointing and hopeless statement by the prime minister.” No change there, then.
- Remarking on the “sex appeal” of a female political candidate. And justifying by saying he was “a bit exuberant.”
- Whingeing about his domestic political problems when welcoming the G20 leaders.
And telling people like Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin that they could only speak for five minutes at a time. And should use each others’ first names.
- Saying that the women of Australia “do the ironing”. To be exact, in 2010 he said: “What the housewives of Australia need to understand, as they do the ironing, is that if they get it done commercially it’s going to go up in price – and their own power bills when they switch the iron on are going to go up.”
- Using Jesus to defend his views on immigration. “Jesus didn’t say yes to everyone. Jesus knew that there was a place for everything, and it is not necessarily everyone’s place to come to Australia.”
“Fecking stupid”? Such ‘robust’ language, while quite un-edifying, is not surprising. Indeed it is perfectly attuned to the way some Australian politicians speak of and about each other.
On the other hand one cannot forget that very often some politician’s professional view precisely reaches the target.
Consider for instance the opinion expressed by Dr. Brendan John Nelson AO, a former Member of the House of Representatives and former Opposition Leader for a short time in 2007 and 2008. Nelson was coming from a ‘traditionally’ Labor family. His membership in the Liberal Party was perhaps a matter of convenience against conviction. He was able to secure a position as a minister in the third and fourth terms of the Howard Government, serving as Minister for Education, Science and Training in 2001-2006 and Minister for Defence in 2006-2007.
Following the defeat of the Howard Government at the 2007 federal election, Nelson was elected Leader of the Opposition on 3 December 2007, narrowly defeating Malcolm Turnbull, then Minister for Environment and Water Resources and presently the prime minister, in a 45 to 42 vote, and after the withdrawal of Tony Abbott from the competition. On 16 September 2008 in a second contest following a spill motion, Nelson lost the leadership of the Opposition and of the Liberal Party to Malcolm Turnbull.
There was quite possibly no love lost between the two.
On 25 August 2009 Dr. Nelson announced his forthcoming retirement from politics. The following month he became the Ambassador of Australia to the European Union, Belgium and Luxembourg as well as Australia’s Special Representative to the N.A.T.O.
On 10 October 2012 Nelson resigned as an ambassador having been chosen Director of the Australian War Memorial, a position he took up on 17 December 2012.
Altogether Nelson seems a person of mild manners, modest political ambitions and relatively well-balanced judgment.
In an interview with The Sydney Morning Herald on the last weekend of August 2009 – 29 and 30 of the month – Nelson, drawing on his medical experience, diagnosed Malcolm Turnbull with narcissistic personality disorder. By pure coincidence, on 30 August Tony Abbott weighed into a little pop psychology, suggesting that it was then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, not Turnbull, who has narcissistic personality disorder.
According to Professor Henry Jackson, of the University of Melbourne, a personality disorder expert, such condition is one of the ten types of personality disorders outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The disorder is “characterised by patterns of grandiosity, a need for admiration, and most importantly, a lack of empathy for others” said Professor Jackson. “These people are pretty entitled and pretty exploitative of others” he said. “They can also be quite envious of others.”
Narcissistic personality disorder is a “disorder of self not a disorder of other” and these people “don’t give a damn about others” said Professor Jackson. This can mean that, when the person affected by the disorder is disappointed by the people they require admiration from, they can turn quite nasty.
People affected by narcissistic personality disorder come from all walks of life, says Professor Jackson, and personality disorders such as this generally develop during childhood and over a period of time.
When asked, Professor Jackson declined to comment on whether Turnbull could be categorised as having narcissistic personality disorder – of course. But, does Turnbull exhibit patterns of grandiosity? In February 2009 Labor MP Lindsay Tanner spoke of Turnbull’s “breathtaking arrogance” with regard to blocking government legislation in the Senate. The Sydney Morning Herald columnist Annabel Crabb likened Turnbull to a chest-beating Tarzan “more comfortable with grand gestures” than the realities of political compromise.
And would Turnbull feel a need for admiration? – of course. Most politicians and people in public life do. According to Abbott, “no one goes into politics without a pretty solid ego.” (‘The Nelson diagnosis: does Turnbull suffer from narcissistic personality disorder?’).
On 20 May 2014, shortly before assuming her office in the Senate, Ms. Jacqui Lambie from Tasmania was interviewed by a journalist of the 7.30 programme of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
On being asked: “You said that the Federal Budget proves that Liberals are – and I’ll quote you – gutless sycophants led by uncaring psychopaths. On reflection, did you go too far calling them psychopaths?” Senator-elect Lambie replied: “No, I don’t think so, I don’t think so at all. I think when it comes to Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott that – I mean, the truth be said, they’re nothing less than a pair of deceitful, lying, political politicians and that’s exactly what they’ve done: they’ve been deceitful and they’ve lied to the public and they’ve lied to the nation.”
Sarah Ferguson, the interviewer: “Psychopath is a pretty strong term though.”
Lambie: “Well, I’m just saying that politically they’re like they’re psychopathic.”
On 3 July 2014 Senator Lambie criticised Prime Minister Abbott for “parading his daughters around” during the 2013 election campaign and, as noted, she had previously called Abbott a “political psychopath”. She also called the Prime Minister a “bare-faced, uncaring liar”.
Senator Lambie took another swipe at Abbott, declaring the Prime Minister needs “a bucket of cement” to toughen up if he could not cop her criticism.
In the last instalment of a series on ‘The story of the Abbott government’ – 29 November-3 December 2015, Peter Hartcher of The Sydney Morning Herald recorded that, during the February 2015 government crisis “Turnbull commonly told colleagues that Abbott’s capacity for self-delusion, his lack of comprehension for the feelings of those around him, showed that he was “basically a psychopath”.
And Hartcher quickly observed: “Turnbull had been described by an earlier Liberal leader, Brendan Nelson, as suffering “narcissistic personality disorder”. Now it seemed the narcissist was calling the psychopath crazy.” (‘Shirtfronted: The story of the Abbott government‘).
Tomorrow: Abbott & Co. = “a bunch of psychopaths?”
* In memory of my friends, Professor Bertram Gross and Justice Lionel Murphy.
Dr. Venturino Giorgio Venturini devoted some sixty years to study, practice, teach, write and administer law at different places in four continents. In 1975 he left a law chair in Chicago to join the Trade Practices Commission in Canberra. He may be reached at George.Venturini@bigpond.com.au.