New Tony — the hollow man

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The real Tony Abbott has disappeared and all that's left is an empty shell, doing everything possible to become prime minister on behalf of his billionaire backers, says Dr Eric Athurson.

(Caricature by John Graham / johngraham.alphalink.com.au)

THE REAL TONY is gone.

Whether he becomes Prime Minister, or whether he fades away after losing the unloseable election, the Tony Abbott that was: the bumbling, aggressive anachronism from 1950s Australia – will never be seen again.

But we shouldn’t get excited — he hasn’t been replaced by an upgraded, superior model. He has been replaced by Tony the automaton. Tony the political functionary for vested interests. Tony the hollow man.

It all happened during Tony’s marathon run for political office.

Credit where it is due, for more than three years Tony has chanted the same slogans, he’s spruiked his talking points and walked away from the media before questions could be asked, he has kept his aggressive temperament in check, and he most assuredly has not said what he really thinks on just about any subject. That takes extraordinary political stamina.

The problem is the trek to the prime ministership has been so arduous it has utterly effaced Abbott’s identity. He has so completely given himself over to the discipline imposed by his advisors that any vestiges of his core beliefs have long since gone.

He has become the hollow man of Australian politics.

He is an empty vessel from which slogans can be poured in until they overflow. Everything he actually believes is sublimated to his will to power, and the will to power of his backers, in particular Rupert Murdoch and Gina Rinehart.

We won’t hear Tony talk about abortion — something he was once so passionately against he compared it to Nazi Germany. We won’t hear that. We won’t hear his views, articulated over decades, that woman are physiologically inferior to men. We won’t hear about his political inspiration, the far-right conservative catholic Bob Santamaria, nor will we hear about his relationship with his contemporary mentor and confessor, Cardinal George Pell.

We won’t hear about his true views on the science of climate change, which he believes is crap (coincidentally also the view of Cardinal Pell).

And, of course, we won’t hear about his actual view of paid parental leave, which as a minister in the Howard government, he said:

Compulsory paid maternity leave, over this government's dead body, frankly. It just won't happen.”

Rather, we’ll have precisely the opposite: an extravagant, fiscally irresponsible PPL — the sort of policy you introduce when you are trying way too hard to convince everyone you believe in women’s equality.

We won’t hear from the real Tony — the socially conservative, political head-kicker.

What we see instead is the stilted, hesitant, slogan reciting alternative Prime Minister, night after night. We see a guy with too much make-up and suspiciously smooth skin, engaged in an inner battle to remain calm and rational. We see someone at war with his true character.

Or we did, anyway. In my view, that war is over. The real Tony is long gone. What we have now is a Manchurian candidate for billionaires.

Certainly, there are many in the media who will try to say there is more to him that meets the eye. Gallery journalists are wont to tell us this automaton on our screens isn’t the ‘real Tony’.

The journalists will tell us that Abbott is a down-to-earth, knockabout bloke. He’s friendly and engaging and warm, in person, they'll say.

Well, I’ve known a few knockabout blokes in my time, but none of them have stood in front of a sign saying a woman was another man’s bitch. The blokes I know never punched a wall either side of a woman’s head to intimidate her. Nor have any of them ever given a character reference for a priest struck off the clergy after a child abuse case, or mocked a man dying of mesothelioma, or were charged with indecent assault. None that I know would make light of the death of a parent, as he did with Julia Gillard.

And I certainly don’t know any knockabout blokes who dine with billionaires. But maybe the press gallery’s definition of ‘knockabout’ is a little different from the rest of us.

But I digress. Knockabout Tony only exists in the imagination of journalists in Canberra.

We’re talking about the New Tony — the Tony we’ll all get if the Coalition wins the election.

What really matters for Australia is what the New Tony will do as Prime Minister. A number of the political editors from major papers have been saying Tony will be a lot less radical than people think. That economically − because of his catholic roots − he is not a survival-of-the-fittest free marketeer; that socially, his regressive social views need to be kept in check in order to claim the political middle ground.

But these editors are missing the point completely.

The fact he has sublimated his real political character only means he will be more inclined to take on the political character of those around him. Or, more to the point, the character of those who put him in office.

There isn’t more to Tony Abbott than meets the eye — there’s less. That’s what makes him so dangerous.

Let’s be clear: the LNP will be heavily indebted to billionaires should they win the election. We don’t know, exactly, how much Gina Rinehart and the other mining magnates have donated to the LNP — but we can assume it is generous.

However, we know exactly the sort of support been given to Tony Abbott by Rupert Murdoch. We know because it has been on the front pages of his papers – particular the Daily Telegraph and The Australian – for the past three years. We know because the Daily Telegraph – presumably tasked to win Western Sydney for the Liberals – exhorted its readers to ‘Kick This Mob Out’ the on the first day of the election campaign, and then compared the prime minister of Australia to a Nazi the next. We know because Murdoch has tweeted about getting rid of Labor, and we know that Murdoch’s lieutenant, Col 'Pot' Allan ordered his editors to declare war on Kevin Rudd.

We also know some of the things the vested interests will receive in exchange for this support. The NBN will be downgraded to copper-to-the-home and Murdoch will get a slice of that juicy broadband pie via Foxtel. The mining tax will go and a bizarre plan of government subsidies to build up Northern Australia will be implemented. We can expect the ABC to have its funding drastically cut, public services to be outsourced to friends in the private sector, and atavistic attacks on our cultural institutions to commence.

We know some of these things because they are self-evident. They are either declared policy, or, in the case of the ABC and outsourcing, a conservative manoeuvre so obvious blind Freddie could see it coming.

The real concern is what we don’t know. The real problem is what a heavily-indebted hollow man will allow to be done to this country.

How far he will go, and what this may mean for Australia, is something we will only discover after the election, should the Coalition win.

The Old Tony, though an unsavoury character for a majority of Australians, was at the very least a known quantity.

The New Tony will be a damn sight worse.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License.

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