MUNGO MacCALLUM. Tony Abbott shoots first and asks questions later.

In all, [Tony Abbott’s] program is for a regime which can best charitably be described as a socialist theocracy, somewhat along the lines of Abbott’s mentor, Bartholomew Augustine Santamaria – although the Abbott version would be considerably more totalitarian.  

If Tony Abbott was still playing his favourite sport of rugby union, he would now be sitting on the sideline nursing a yellow card.

Actually, of course, he would have been expelled from the team long ago for consistent disloyalty and indiscipline, but let us assume that he had remained on the field until last week, when Christopher Pyne became a little tired and emotional among his colleagues at the Black Hand pissup, and boasted about how well his mob were doing against Abbott’s own team..

Pyne’s musings were deliberately leaked to Abbott’s friend and supporter Andrew Bolt. This was an indiscretion – perhaps a penalty, but certainly no worse than that; after all Abbott’s mates have undoubtedly said more and worse in their regular sessions in their den, the Monkey Pod room of notorious memory.

However, it was enough to provoke Abbott into a frenzy, and the former leader charged across the oval, swinging in all directions. Clearly a sin bin offence, if not an immediate send-off. But the sideline critics of the right insisted it was all Pyne’s fault and that he was the one who should be sacked.

And it gave Abbott a great platform to address the secretly funded right wing lobbyists of the Institute of Public Affairs about his latest Trumpian manifesto: Make Australia Work Again, or, more accurately, Battlelines 2.0 – revisionism that contradicts and repudiates much of Battlelines 1.0, but who cares, that was years ago.

The IPA speech was less a vision than a declaration of war – on Malcolm Turnbull and his supporters specifically, but more broadly on moderates everywhere and anywhere. This has always been the way Abbott operates: shoot first, ask questions later.

But despite the sniping, the undermining, the wrecking and the carnage, there are glimpses of an agenda which might inform a resurgent neo-conservative Liberal platform, led either by Abbott himself or by one of his acolytes, and that prospect should make us very nervous indeed.

Much of it is sheer populism – slash immigration, abandon the clean energy target, stop the wind farms, build a new coal fired power station (several, in fact, enthuses Abbott’s ally George Christensen), stop all new spending (except, of course, defence – preferably nuclear – and possibly some infrastructure), get tougher on terrorism and be more patriotic – definitely more patriotic than Turnbull and his wimps.

But behind the Hansonite bombast there is a more sinister, authoritarian overtone. Among Abbott’s demands is a referendum to neuter the senate, which won’t happen and which would be defeated soundly if it did. But that is just the start of it: the Abbotistas, and even some of the Liberal so-called moderates, are mounting an attack on the separation of powers which would make Joh Bjelke-Petersen look like Thomas Jefferson.

It is not just a matter of George Brandis stacking the Administrative Appeals Tribunal with his Liberal cronies; all parties indulge in patronage for the jobs for their boys and girls. Peter Dutton wants to be able to override the independent Tribunal altogether and replace it with his personal ministerial caprice. And we have seen three ministers – Greg Hunt, Alan Tudge and Michael Sukkar – abuse the Victorian judiciary as divorced from reality, ideologues, hard left activists appointed by Labor.

They were forced to back down and grovel – if they had not, they may well have been convicted, barred from parliament and left the government without its thin majority. But the intention was clear enough: get rid of the judges and let the politicians get on with their job. The conservative attacks on the Fair Work Commission for failing to reduce or abolish the minimum wage follow the same pattern.

And they even dragged in the cops: Paul Kelly (the pompous pontificator in The Australian, not the great singer-songwriter) reckons the Victorian police should be on trial over charging his spiritual idol George Pell – Abbott’s fellow rugger bugger – whom, absurdly he classes as a victim – perhaps potentially a holy martyr, agreeing with the primate’s description of his travails over the saga of child abuse within his church as “ character assassination”.

Well, if he really wants to see some character assassination, he night look at some of the campaigns in his own rag – Gillian Trigg will do for a start. But this is not about consistency, let alone principle. It is an increasingly desperate attempt to shore up the crumbling edifice of the far right.

And this means abandoning what were its most cherished shibboleths, most notably private enterprise. Turnbull, the Labor Lite traitor, has already intervened in the market for gas and is intent of buying (read: turning into a national monopoly) Snowy Hydro. He is seriously considering a special loan deal for the Adani mine and using public funds to set up the inland rail line, and that’s just for starters. But Abbott, with his coal fired power stations which no private investor will touch., is going way beyond that.

And then there is the science – crap, of course, but whether it is real or not is beside the point. What matters is the politics: so alternate facts are adduced to dismiss any serious action on climate change. Although to be fair, there are genuine fundamentalists within the Liberal Party – at least one has his doubts about evolution. This perhaps, is why the far right is talking about a struggle for the soul of the party. Their opponents are more likely to call it a struggle for the arsehole of the party.

In all, it is a program for a regime which can best charitably be described as a socialist theocracy, somewhat along the lines of Abbott’s mentor, Bartholomew Augustine Santamaria – although the Abbott version would be considerably more totalitarian. The demand for a strong leader – the fuhrerprinzip – is at its core, and oddly enough Captain Catholic, the Mad Monk, knows just the man for it.

And it is worth noting that Santamaria always rejected the Liberal party – he distrusted it and never in his long life did he vote for it. He did not like capitalism as such, but he found the modernity, the trendiness, of its leaders from Menzies on, even more distasteful. So perhaps Abbott is following that tradition as well.

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Mungo MacCallum is a veteran political journalist and commentator. His books include Run Johnny Run, Poll Dancing, and Punch and Judy.

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