Before the September 2013 election, Prime Minister Tony Abbott, a staunch Catholic who once embarked on training for the priesthood, revealed that he prayed to God every day that he would win the contest, and form the next Australian government.
It would be interesting to ask the PM how much of his victory he attributes to God hearkening to, and answering his prayers. I assume Abbott gives no small measure of thanks for achieving his deepest desire.
I also assume that as well as a believing in his mandate from the people, Abbott believes he’s mandated by God. At least, it feels safer to assume that is the case, than to pretend it couldn’t be thus. Know thine enemy.
This aspect of Abbott occurs to me every time I hear he has declared war on yet one more issue. His ‘wars’ seem to be based on moral assumptions infused with traditional Catholic morality, argued like the crafty theologian he almost became. As an example his statement on November 15 2013, on torture: ‘My government deplores the use of torture but we accept that sometimes in difficult circumstances difficult things happen.’ This sentence seems to me to encapsulate the trickiness of being simultaneously moral and amoral, a talent I have long associated with some theologians, most recently those who’ve argued for the Catholic church in the matter of child abuse.
Perhaps it’s being too generous to assume any morality in the statement at all, rather it gives merely a token nod in morality’s direction.
So far we’ve had the war on scientists and the entire body of climate change science, the war on education, the war on drunken louts ‘king-hitting’ innocent bystanders, the war on Holden, the war on NDIS, the war on the NBN, the war on same-sex marriage, the war on everything the previous ALP government introduced for apparently no reason other than that it was introduced by them, and then we have the war on people smugglers. This latter war is perhaps the only ALP policy Abbott has chosen to retain and build upon.
I imagine Abbott envisioning himself as a war-time PM, chosen to implement the policies his deity wants to see enacted, some of which include a good deal more attention to said deity’s alleged preferences than we are used, as a secular state, to allowing. What little we are allowed to hear the PM say is invariably infused with moral references, even the ‘liberation’ of those sacked by Holden has moral overtones in its implication that an opportunity for self-improvement has been offered to the newly unemployed, and it is their moral duty to avail themselves of it to the utmost.
There is much in Abbott’s sanctimony and righteousness that reminds me of Tony Blair at the height of his zealous and wickedly dishonest prosecution of the invasion of Iraq. The notion of a ‘just war’ got all Blair’s boyish juices flowing, and I imagine the same can be said of Abbott, even if he has not, as yet, had any war of global significance that he can use, as did Blair, to thoroughly establish his faux gravitas at home and on the world stage. We have as yet seen only glimpses of Abbott the unctuous moral crusader, disguised in the garments of a benevolent guardian, solemnly assuring us that it, whatever it happens to be, is for our collective own good. I suspect we are in for a good deal more.
Abbott also appears to hold a traditional conservative Christian perspective on the natural world, that is, it is here for man’s [sic] use, not as a source of wonder, pleasure and enrichment, but rather as a resource for exploitation. So there’s a war on the natural world and all its sentient beings as well.
The war paradigm would seem to be Abbott’s central organising principle. His natural state perhaps, a mentality born of the confluence of ignorance, fear, prejudice and profit, a mentality shared by enough of the voting public to get him into office. This paradigm is closely related to the law and order paradigm so enthusiastically embraced by that other Liberal head of state, Campbell Newman. Deterrence and incarceration are its hallmarks, supported by the Christian virtues of teaching, reproving, correcting, cracking down with the full force of the law, and training in righteousness for those who are conspicuously lacking in these qualities.
Whether or not Abbott will wage a war on women remains to be seen. His views on abortion are well known, as evidenced in this piece authored by him and titled ‘Abortion rate highlights our moral failing.’ Personally, I doubt anything dramatic will be done by this government to offend women, rather, there will be a slow erosion in the form of the reduction of services with a timely dollop of theatrical distraction so we hardly notice what’s happening until it’s too late and they’ve changed the legislation enough to cause us inconvenience and distress. With Cory Bernardi and DLP Senator John Madigan doing all the dirty work, Abbott doesn’t have to say much. There’s also a strong group of anti-choicers in the ALP and we’ve learned, to our amazement, how certain moral panics can bring about the allegiance of very strange bedfellows, such as the Christian right and radical feminists in the matter of pornography.
By far the most cruel war currently being waged by Abbott is his sustained and increasingly vicious attacks on asylum seekers. Abbott and his Minister Scott Morrison, another Christian, though of different variety, unashamedly use the full-blown rhetoric of war when justifying the government’s position on refugees arriving here by boat. The efforts of these two publicly religious men to beat hapless asylum seekers into submission, as detailed in the above link, beggar belief, from a secular point of view at least.
When asked what is the best piece of advice he could ever give anyone, Abbott replied ‘Avoid the occasion of sin.’ So if he is committed to his war mentality, one can only assume that for him every war he’s fighting is a just one. This, for mine, makes him a dangerous man.
Or as Yeats observed in The Second Coming: The best lack all conviction, while the worst/ are full of passionate intensity.