MIKE SCRAFTON. Abbott, more than an embarrassment

Former prime minister Tony Abbott’s ignorance of history and of the Europe European Union, and his tragic adulation of all things British, is simply embarrassing. His licensing of a permissive setting for white supremacists and white replacement conspiracy theorists is dangerous, irresponsible, and inexcusable.

In a blaze of appearances in recent weeks the former Prime Minster popped up at the Budapest Demographic Summit alongside Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban, gave a speech to the UK Policy Exchange, and wrote an article for the Spectator. His rants on these occasions have covered immigration, Brexit, Parliamentary democracy, the EU, and British history.

Abbott’s fondness for everything British has never been a secret and he has always worn his monarchist views openly and openly displayed his nostalgic longing for the glories of England’s imperial past. Flying into London for him, ‘felt like more than a homecom­ing’ because it ‘belonged to me as much as to any Briton’. So some of his recent remarks could be taken as hyperbole, except for their capacity to offhandedly foster extremists.

I have argued elsewhere that ‘[W]hite supremacists find their intellectual, psychological, emotional and social bearings in a complex and sustaining ideological, cultural and political ecosystem’ and that ‘[T]he authorising environment for violent supremacists is not in the dark recesses of the web but in the visible sinews of democratic society’. High profile individuals should exercise prudence in their language as their words bring with them long trains of cultural associations that can feed into the white supremacist narrative.

In Budapest Abbott echoed the great replacement theory that sustains white supremacists across the globe including the murderer of 51 Muslims in Christchurch. This theory posits that ‘white European populations are being deliberately replaced at an ethnic and cultural level through migration and the growth of minority communities’. Extremists, envision a crisis and disappearance of ‘the meaningful civilisation which has been created by white Europeans’. Immigration and high birth rates among ethnic minorities are seen as the mechanisms that will bring about this racial and cultural calamity.

Abbot told his Hungarian audience that increased migration from non-Western nations combined with decreasing birth rates would result in a ‘new world order’. It was ‘our failure to produce children that is the extinction reality against which we really need to work against’, Abbott said. Such inflammatory remarks only further fuel the convictions of the supremacist fringe.

Abbott cannot have been unaware that his host Victor Orban is regularly associated with the great replacement theory. Alongside Abbott on the podium, Orban declared ‘If Europe is not going to be populated by Europeans in the future and we take this as given, then we are speaking about an exchange of populations, to replace the population of Europeans with others.”

The key role that the veneration of Western Christian Civilisation plays in the white supremacist narrative cannot be overstated. Western civilisation works as a surrogate for white supremacy. This is a particularly slippery aspect of the white supremacist narrative. It is possible to demur that praising Western civilisation is simply being objective and not racist per se. But in extreme-right milieus and supremacist circles the concept invokes a sense of loss of the previous European world dominance and excites xenophobia and nativism.

Abbott’s association with Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation is well known. While he acknowledges in the Spectator that ‘[G]iven the glories of Christendom, it’s easy to grasp nostalgia for a Europe with a common faith and a common culture’, in itself a vague and contestable notion, he adds with an even greater disregard for historical accuracy, that Britain is:

the country that has seen off the Spanish Armada, the French Emperor, and the German Kaiser. Against Louis the fourteenth, against Napoleon, against Wilhelm the second, and then against Hitler, this country didn’t need Europe. It saved Europe.

An irrelevant and simplistic view of inherent national superiority that not only obscures the complexity of European history and the pivotal role of Russians, the Austrians and others in those events, but which also plays into the distorted view of British-European relations promulgated by Brexiteers.

Britain’s failure to deliver Brexit would leave ‘Britain a permanent colony of an EU that despises it’. He warns that the actions of ‘a gloating EU should not be underestimated’ and about ‘‘Brussels’ politically correct preening’. He excoriates the ’faceless Brussels bureaucrats’ who worship ‘at the altar of climate change and uncontrolled borders’. These are old tropes for Abbott. Not leaving ‘would be defeat on an epic scale, hardly matched since the Norman invasion’ and ‘a national humiliation to echo down the ages’. That this man was once prime minister and responsible for Australia’s foreign and strategic policy now seems inconceivable. He is more Farage than Farage.

More than for his ignorance and Anglophone toadyism, Abbott deserves to be condemned for his cavalier encouragement of white supremacists. Whether intended or not, his language is incendiary. He affirms the prejudices and obsessions of the xenophobes and supremacists. He speaks of ‘a million angry military-age males swarming into a single country in a year’, and praised Orban for calling a stop to ‘the peaceful invasion of 2015’.

The struggle against violent extremists of the white supremacist variety will be testing and endless. The white supremacists exist on, and are nourished by, a spectrum that includes non-violent people with genuine concerns about immigration and European birthrates, and who are legitimately proud of their European, or British, heritage. The balancing act for political, security, and academic institutions is to recognise this and to distinguish reasonable views from the toxic and violent distortions.

Tony Abbott is entitled to his opinions and almost certainly not a white supremacist. However, his language gives them succour.

Mike Scrafton was a Deputy Secretary in the Victorian Department of Sustainability and Environment, senior Defence executive, CEO of a state statutory body, and chief of staff and ministerial adviser to the minister for defence.

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5 Responses to MIKE SCRAFTON. Abbott, more than an embarrassment

  1. John Thomas says:

    A wonderfully insightful and knowledgeable essay.
    Surely if Western civilization is so intellectually powerful and enlightening (and personally I think that it is, although I understand that it is based on cross-fertilization of ideas from other non-European cultures over the centuries), then it will continue to influence the evolving cultures of previously colonial settler societies like Australia.
    I remember V.S. Naipaul’s The Middle Passage in which he describes a Portuguese colony in the north-east of South America. The people had tried to cling to their metropolitan culture and so their little community had become a museum while in Portugal itself the culture had continued to evolve, as they do.
    Our way forward is through rigorous education that opens our country to the future, not a nostalgic past.

  2. Rory McGuire says:

    And he appeared not to know the most basic tenet of democracy: that an elected representative of the people is supposed to represent the wishes of those people. Instead of ignoring a clear majority of his electorate on gay marriage his duty was to engage with those in favour and discuss it until they agreed with him or he agreed with them. That was his style, just push his own agenda. He understood fighting but not negotiating.

  3. Felix MacNeill says:

    Hearing the phrase “extinction reality” from Tony Abbott makes me laugh and vomit simultaneously.

  4. Jim KABLE says:

    Flying in to London WAS – literally – a homecoming for Abbott. Indeed I understand that when he took up his Rhodes scholarship (and one should not make too much of that as a mark of intelligence because it was given/”awarded” upon recommendation from one of his priest mates) he used his then-held British passport to enter the UK. (Having been born in England and then coming – under clearly false pretences with his Sydney University but British-born father and his Australian-born and raised mother – “emigrating” – as 10-pound immigrants to Australia.) As Mike Scrafton writes – he is indeed beyond an embarrassment. I cannot see beyond his demeaning of women (taking that role as a Minister/spokesperson for women while being PM – in addition to his woeful assumption of a similar position re Indigenous Australia) – his raw onion-eating – his rocking backwards and forwards in non-answer to a legitimate question in front of TV cameras – when I truly expected him to flail with his fists in the windmill manner in which he won a sporting blue, apparently – during his Oxford period – or else to hit out like he did at a female student during his Sydney University undergraduate time – or his self-described epithet of being a suppository of wisdom. He embarrassed me as a thinking Australian then – as much as his continued ignorance of history and political dog-whistling does now.

  5. Brian Dwyer says:

    An excellent perspective.
    I think Abbott has been the most destructive politician the country has ever had and all I would like to see is that the media completely ignores him.
    He is an absolute blight on the country, a total irrelevance.

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