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06 October 2014
by Kaye Lee

Self-belief is no substitute for accountability

“A body of men holding themselves accountable to nobody ought not to be trusted by anybody.” ― Thomas Paine

Self-belief is a powerful tool in achieving success and there is no question that Tony Abbott has it in spades. But does he have the substance to justify it?

At high school, Tony was in the seconds for rugby, something that did not sit well with him or his father who both believed he should have been in the First XV.
After average results at university and an uninspiring football career, with the help of the Jesuit network, Tony headed off to Oxford to take up his Rhodes Scholarship. It only took a couple of games for him to be dropped from the rugby team with suggestions that his prowess had been somewhat exaggerated. Tony was strong on physicality but short on speed or finesse.
Tony’s certainty about himself led to him knocking Joe Hockey out at training one night when Joe had had enough of Tony’s autocratic style as captain/coach/selector for the seconds at Sydney University.

Student politics at Sydney University saw Tony, a callow youth straight from a Catholic boys’ school, given a platform to preach loud and long in his opposition to homosexuality and feminism. Further, he denounced contraception, labelling it part of the “me now” mentality. Ironically, whilst eschewing the use of contraception, Tony was an avid partaker of “me now” activities, if not the responsibility that went with them.
Even at the seminary, Tony was convinced that the Church was headed in the wrong direction and that he knew better, as he wrote in articles in the Bulletin at the time.

“Looking back, it seems that I was seeking a spiritual and human excellence to which the Church is no longer sure she aspires. My feeble attempts to recall her to her duty — as I saw it — betrayed a fathomless disappointment at the collapse of a cherished ideal.”

When Tony entered his first full-time job as manager at a concrete plant, it only took a couple of months for the plant to be black-listed and shut down.
“I got to the plant in the morning, marched up and down the line of trucks like a Prussian army officer, telling owner-drivers who had been in the industry for longer than I had been alive, that that truck was too dirty, and that truck was filthy, and that truck had a leaking valve and had to be fixed. Naturally enough, this wasn’t very popular”

In 1992, he was appointed director of Australians for Constitutional Monarchy, a position he held until 1994, when he was elected to parliament at the Warringah by-election.
Abbott was first appointed to Cabinet following the 1998 election, as part of the Second Howard Ministry, becoming Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business, an interesting choice since he had little to no experience at all in these areas.
In 2003, he became Minister for Health and Ageing. This was also an interesting choice. When he was given the role of infirmarian at the seminary, a job that involved supervising the medicine cabinet and ensuring that the ill were not forgotten in their rooms, Tony objected saying:

“My view was that I knew nothing about medicine and that those too sick to eat in the dining room ought to be in hospital. Anyway, I thought, most were malingering. So I encouraged “self-service” of medicines and suggested that meals would be better fetched by the friends of the sick. Many deeply resented this disdain for college’s caring and communitarian ethos. And, I confess, I did not have the courage to refuse room service to members of the seminary staff.”

Apparently he still considers sick people malingerers who should be discouraged from seeing a doctor.

Tony has displayed this absolute certainty that he is right all his life so, when he was elected leader of the Liberal Party in return for becoming a climate change denier, I started getting concerned. When he became Prime Minister I felt alarmed. Twelve months in and I am horrified. I am afraid for the present and for the future.

Tony Abbott is only one man, but this man’s unwavering belief in his own judgement has seen him surround himself with advisers who tell him what he wants to hear. Experts are sacked, independent advisory panels disbanded, oversight and freedom of information curtailed, journalists and the National Broadcaster threatened.
In the space of a year we have gone from world leaders in action on climate change to being called the “Saudi Arabia of the Pacific”.

‘In the year since they took office, Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his Liberal-led coalition have already dismantled the country’s key environmental policies. Now they’ve begun systematically ransacking its natural resources. In the process, they’ve transformed Australia from an international innovator on environmental issues into quite possibly the dirtiest country in the developed world.’

Instead of looking forward to every home being connected to the NBN and school funding bridging the gap of disadvantage and inequity, we have record numbers of new coal mines to enjoy. Instead of universal healthcare and unemployment benefits, we see people on pensions feeling very afraid about their future. Instead of affordable tertiary education and housing, we see places being sold to the highest bidder.

We have moved from bringing our troops home from Afghanistan, to a war in Iraq and Syria that will inevitably lead to civilian casualties and destruction of homes and infrastructure, a move that has seen us specifically named for revenge attacks. The “humanitarian mission” line has been exposed for the lie it always was.

Instead of strengthening laws against discrimination, we now see Australian Muslim women persecuted everywhere from parliament to shopping centres. Bronwyn Bishop has been on this tirade for years, calling for the hijab to be banned in 2005.
“It’s not about headscarves per se, it’s about a clash of cultures where there are extremist Muslim leaders who are calling for the overthrow of the laws that indeed give me my freedom and my equality as defined by the society in which I live.
Now, this morning on a debate with a Muslim lady, she said she felt free being a Muslim, and I would simply say that in Nazi Germany, Nazis felt free and comfortable. That is not the sort of definition of freedom that I want for my country.”

Independent MP Andrew Wilkie, who formerly worked in intelligence, has accused the federal government of exploiting fears about terrorism to rush through new national security laws that push Australia towards a “police state“.

“It is clearly overreach by the security services who have basically been invited to write an open cheque. And the government, which wants to beat its chest and look tough on national security, said, ‘We’ll sign that’.”

The laws include jail terms of up to 10 years for journalists who disclose details of ASIO “special intelligence operations” and provide immunity from criminal prosecution for intelligence officers who commit a crime in the course of their duties.
David Irvine, retired head of ASIO, has wanted this green light for years as this interview from 2012 shows:
Australia’s domestic spy agency says it’s just trying to stay up to date but critics say ASIO’s request for new laws is a blatant power grab.

  • ASIO has put several proposals to the Federal Government, including allowing its officers to commit crimes and not be charged.
  • It also wants to hack computers of people who haven’t committed a crime.
  • And most controversially, it wants telcos to store our phone and internet data for up to two years so it can be searched without a warrant.

ASIO director-general of Security David Irvine bristles at the suggestion that he is empire building.”
That was well before the rise of ISIS.
Last year I read an essay about the responsibilities of government.
“The government of a democracy is accountable to the people. It must fulfil its end of the social contract. And, in a practical sense, government must be accountable because of the severe consequences that may result from its failure. As the outcomes of fighting unjust wars and inadequately responding to critical threats such as global warming illustrate, great power implies great responsibility.”

Tony has great power but no sense of responsibility. He has confidence but no conscience. He has determination but no commitment. He is willing but lacks the skills. He attacks and blames but resents oversight and has never accepted accountability, and this is what scares me most.

The consequences of being wrong could/will be catastrophic and I don’t share Tony’s confidence that he, Maurice Newman and Cardinal Pell have all the answers.