One of my daughters, a wise young head, when describing certain individuals of less than stellar intelligence, uses the phrase “he (or she) will never be Prime Minister”. It is a curiously descriptive phrase, because it says everything about limits, of intelligence, of ambition, of drive, of the ability to think conceptually, to radiate warmth, to believe in service to our community .
Of course it relies on an old fashioned sense that, had we personally really tried, perhaps we could have done anything; but then reality steps in, and we realise our time is past. But contained within the idea is an admiration for those who did possess those attributes, those character traits which, for good or evil, elevated them above their peers.
A closer look at some of those who DID make it to Prime Minister, however, is cause for concern. Let us consider Tony Abbott as a recent exemplar of people who achieved arguably the highest office in the land, and yet they seem to embody the phrase “he’ll never be Prime Minister”.
Tony Abbott has a ‘highlights package’ which is truly impressive. Of course I use the phrase ironically, because there are literally no highlights from his twenty five years in parliament, and in public life. Here are some of his more horrifying moments, any of which should have torpedoed his career, and yet he defied the gods:
- explaining that much of what he said should be disregarded or disbelieved, unless it was carefully prepared and scripted
- describing Australia prior to European arrival/invasion as “nothing but bush” and following up by describing Aborigines living in remote communities as having made a “lifestyle choice”
- being voted the world’s worst ever Health Minister (although Peter Dutton has put in a late bid to contest that award)
- listening to an elderly caller on talk-back radio, who explained that the only job she could obtain, to mitigate cuts to her health care, was working on an adult sex-line, Tony winked at the host, presumably a variant on “ooh-la-la”
- rejecting a meeting with a dying asbestos victim, who wanted to present a petition asking for subsidies to be paid on medications for their condition, on the grounds that the man was not necessarily “pure of heart”
- destroying any chance of Australia having an adult conversation about climate change, and sabotaging our response to it, for nearly a decade now, by removing a carbon price, and describing the science as “absolute crap” and exercising his control of the troglodytes in the Liberal Party, years after being removed to the back bench
- his seemingly inexhaustible number of ways of describing women’s engagement with the world as being tied to domestic chores like ironing, and looking after the household budget, and sometimes having ‘sex appeal’
- the classic video clip of him being unable to speak, on live television, to justify his “sometimes shit happens” remark, when discussing the death of an Australian soldier in Afghanistan
- his re-introduction of knighthoods into Australian life, with the inaugural gong going to Prince Philip of Great Britain
- his remarkable take on immigration, where he surmised that Jesus would understand that not everyone can find a place in Australia. This was a surprise, as Jesus died almost eighteen hundred years before Australia even existed
- his openly stated fear of homosexuality, even though his sister is openly gay
- his insistence on a postal ballot legalising gay marriage, even after he had been deposed from the Prime Ministership, and which cost $122 million
- University of Sydney psychologists found that the increased exposure to negative messaging during the long and divisive debate on gay marriage caused “psychological distress” for gay, lesbian and bisexual people.
The most distressing thing about this remarkable list is that it barely scrapes the surface of his hopeless quarter century in public life. But there is another disturbing aspect to this situation. Now that he has been removed from office, I would be willing to bet that some awful sinecure will be found for him, at the public’s expense, so that he can continue to blunder along, and after enough time has elapsed, he will retire with honours and accolades, as an ex-Prime Minister.
But despair not. This is to be an occasional series of ruminations on the performances by Australia’s leaders, and how they appear to be, as a group, uniquely unsuited to leadership. Consider some of the names – John, Kevin, Malcolm, Scott. Wow!
Mark Buckley has variously been a merchant seamen in Gibraltar and a metal worker in Finland.. He has now settled into a business career in Melbourne