To make it to the top of Australian politics today, writes Eric Athurson, you really have to dial the crazy up to 11.
WELL, there you have it. The 2013 election will be a contest between two gentlemen who fit the old Australian colloquialism of ‘psycho’ — that brand of weirdness and intense volatility that leaves the rest of us shaking our heads.
Both Kevin and Tony are blue-tie wearing men with anger management problems: Abbott punches walls after losing a vote; Kevin kicks a hole in the wall of his office after a bad interview. Kevin screams at a young RAAF cabin attendant when the wrong meal is delivered; Abbott nods his head up and down in apoplectic rage, silent and staring for half a minute at a reporter that asked him the wrong question. (Seriously, remind yourself how creepy that moment was here.)
Kevin spat the dummy in 2010 when he was deposed and didn’t stop until last week; Tony hasn’t stopped since losing the 2010 election.
They are both proof positive that, to make it in Australian politics, you have to be crazy in the first place or get a little bit crazy along the way.
But just saying so doesn’t give voters an informed choice at this election. What we really need to do is compare and contrast the different brands of nuttiness these boys have to offer.
We know, of course, the stories of Kevin’s first term as Prime Minister: we’re heard about the callousness with which he treated his colleagues and public servants. We know of the indecision, the chaos, the sound and fury of a workaholic that yet signified nothing.
What hasn’t really been dwelt upon is the accusation by one of Labor colleagues, Steve Gibbons, that Kevin is
“...a psychopath with a giant ego.”
A pretty damning assessment, to be sure, and one that really requires a second look.
We start, of course, with some of the symptoms of psychopathy:
1) Superficial Charm — check. Kevin, while quite popular with people who have never met him, is reportedly loathed by those forced to work closely with him.
2) Grandiosity — check. Kevin has a habit of referring to himself in the third person as “K Rudd” in interviews. Third-person disorder is a sure sign someone has drunk a little too much of their own Kool-Aid.
3) Pathological lying — I’ll leave this to Barrie Cassidy and his coverage of Rudd’s 2012 leadership tilt. The context was Rudd’s public denial that he was trying to usurp Gillard.
“Rudd is campaigning. Rudd is talking to journalists about the leadership despite his astonishing denial.
I know the names of some of those he has spoken to… He told them a challenge would happen; he told them he was prepared to lose the first ballot and go to the backbench; and, in one conversation, he laughed about the prospect of Gillard stumbling again.
Yet the Foreign Minister [Rudd] has categorically denied ever having spoken to any journalist about the leadership.”
But it gets better.
After destabilising his own party and briefing against his own leader ‒ after three years of hate ‒ Kevin had the temerity to say "I will not tolerate anyone trashing Julia's reputation," during his first press conference as PM.
Oh the delicious irony. Oh the chutzpah.
4) Unfazed if caught out lying — certainly looks like it. After his initial challenge in 2012, and his aborted challenge in early 2013, Kevin said several times he wouldn’t run and there’d be no circumstance where he would run for the leadership again. Listen:
"As I said in a written statement today, there are no circumstances under which I would return to the leadership of the Australian Labor Party in the future."
Then, of course, he simply went ahead and challenged again anyway. He was unfazed and the press, rather strangely, said not a word of his previous pledges. Maybe they were so inured to his habits they never took his word seriously in the first place. Maybe because they’d been baying for Gillard’s blood for three years, it would be somewhat hypocritical to criticise him for doing as they demanded.
Without a professional diagnosis, I’m not about to suggest Kevin Rudd is a psychopath. But I would suggest that putting oneself between Kevin and the seat of power is a little like standing between Justin Bieber and a screaming mob of his fans.
When it comes to the alternative Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, we start with the obvious: his nickname is the ‘Mad Monk’. As Paul Keating has said, he had always been regarded as the “resident nutter” of the Liberal Party.
Anthony Albanese delights in saying of Abbott:
“In your guts, you know he’s nuts."
But let’s not listen to his enemies for a diagnosis; let’s consider Tony in his own words:
1) “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 they are both they both need to be moderated, so to speak.” (ABC Q&A "Religion, Sex and Politics" on abc.com.au (19 March 2009))
Wuuuh? What the…? His views, I guess, are very modern – in rural Afghanistan. But this is 2013 dude, and no means no – wife or otherwise.
2) In response to someone expressing concern that there weren’t enough women in leadership positions, he said the following:
“what if men are by physiology or temperament, more adapted to exercise authority or to issue command?” (1998)
Imagine for a moment, that Tony Abbott is not talking about women in the above statement, but ‘Asians’ or ‘Jews’. Now a person expressing such racism would not only be considered unfit to be PM, they’d be kicked out of parliament. I’ve always found it passing strange that sexism ‒ which is just as invidious as racism ‒ doesn’t seem to attract the same condemnation.
3) “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.” (2006)
Woah! Dude. It’s cancer. It’s your daughters.
4) “I believe that there is a vast moral gulf which separates modern Australia from Nazi Germany. But can we be so sure that, under pressure over time, we will not slide down the same slippery slope. We only have to look at the abortion situation in this country. (1995)
It doesn’t end there, of course; Tony has also variously said it is OK to smoke in a car with children (this from an ex-health minister), has repeated conspiracy theories about the science of climate change (which he famously called "crap"), and said that homeless people "choose" to be that way. The list goes on. To paraphrase Yoda: the wing-nut is strong in this one.
Maybe Kevin and Tony are like most politicians, who have, as Annabel Crabb put it,
'...a vexed cocktail of idealism and mild to moderate megalomania.'
Or maybe, just maybe, to really make it to the top of Australian politics today, you have to dial the crazy up to 11.
Whichever way you slice it, it seems the 2013 election will be a tale of two psychos.
(Coming up tomorrow: IA publishes an exclusive column by Greg Rudd, Independent candidate for the Senate from Queensland, as well as Kevin Rudd's brother.)
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