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Australia’s #Libspill: The Regicide of Tony Abbott

Let it be known that at midnight on 14 September 2015, the bile ducts of the entirety of left-leaning Australia (and portions of the right) gave a collective sigh of relief. In a coup de grâce delivered by his lieutenant, Malcolm Turnbull, the 28th prime minister of Australia, Tony Abbott, was voted out of his leadership by his party.

Abbott had nearly broken the record for the shortest term of an election-contesting Australian prime minister (narrowly eased out by Harold Holt, who beat Abbott by drowning 22 months into his term). Turnbull became the 29th prime minister of the neo-colonial capital of the south pacific. What a time to be alive.

The standard term of an Australian government is three years, which makes it odd to observe that Turnbull will be the fifth prime minister in five years. Indeed, he’s the fourth in two and a half years. Since 2013 Australia has run through a number of PMs:

  • Julia Gillard as 27th PM, who had ousted Kevin Rudd previously and won an election;
  • Kevin Rudd as 26th, who re-ousted Gillard in slightly later in 2013;
  • Abbott as 28th, who beat Rudd, again in 2013;
  • and Turnbull, as 29th, who ousted Abbott this month.

As many have noted online, the last time an Australian PM sat for a full term, the first iPhone was being released.

The left was practically rapturous with the news that Turnbull was going to take Abbott down. As a friend noted at the time, “he must be so humiliated right now… This makes life worthwhile.” The question is, why is Abbott’s end so welcome?

It’s partly the irony of the situation: his tenure as PM has ended four days short of being eligible to receive a prime minister’s pension, which is relevant in the context of the extreme and unnecessary austerity measures he implemented during his term. While I expect something will happen such that he is able to actually receive that pension, the possibility alone is delightful. That’s not enough on its own, however, to enjoy his departure. The fact is he’s run an incredibly hostile, unlovable, and disgusting government over the last 24 months.

Abbott is affectionately known in some corners of the press as the ‘mad monk’, and is, by contemporary standards, excessively socially conservative in his outlook. Indeed, in many respects Abbott had more in common with the British Empire of the 19th century than the global multicultural and inclusively-neoliberal democracies of the present. He revived the Australian system of knighthoods (granting one to Prince Philip for no particular reason), he really, really loves coal and imprisoning children.

Despite appointing himself minister for Aboriginal affairs, he withdrew all the funding he could from indigenous communities, specifically access to water and sewage treatment (at a cost of approximately $50k per annum). In doing so, he was essentially leaving those communities to either seek unbudgeted money from state governments or effectively die of thirst in a cesspit of uncleared garbage and pollution. Despite appointing himself minister for women, he seriously lacked a response to a national problem of violence against women. I wish I had a joke about all this, but it’s just so fucking depressing. He cut national media funding, and saw the arts funding system go from a council of Australian artists, curators and cultural critics, to the practically solitary oversight of his friend George Brandis.

He led a budget which cut so many services from the welfare state it would be futile to list them all here. You might as well just make them up at this point, because the chances are you’ll be on the money. Sucks to be poor, to be unemployed, ill, somewhat young, somewhat old, etc, etc, etc. Unsurprisingly, he hates unions. His predictable, racist, tone-deaf, contradictory insults directed at Muslim Australians were so out of touch with reality that it would have been comical, if it weren’t for the fact his vitriol led to a genuinely worse state of affairs for Muslim men and women, to the extent that some people felt essentially unwelcome in the country. He dislikes gay marriage, and gay people generally. Heaven forbid he should ever discover the queer community at large.

His commitment to an irrelevant English pseudo-feudalism has not gone unnoticed. He emigrated as a child from England, which led to a minor but notable ‘birther’ controversy over his nationality (a la Obama and the Tea Party), except Abbott never actually disclosed his documentation, so for all we know his premiership may have been illegal. The cronyism and dysfunction under his rule goes on and on and on. There are numerous lists of broken election promises that go into far more detail than is possible here.

But more than all of this, he has been a buffoon. His national image is summed up as the onion-eating, speed-dealer sunnies-wearing, budgie smuggling, political attack dog who suffered random, debilitating critique from random members of the public.

In contrast to Abbott, Turnbull is a slick, Don Draper-type business mogul. He is socially liberal but sticks to the party guidelines, economically he’s extremely liberal, and unlike Abbott he knows how to use a computer. Turnbull is an absolute danger to anyone on the left in Australia, because people will be convinced by his affable personality and competent oration. He is contemporary and technologically aware. He will be the PR prime minister many on the right have been waiting for.

In his attacks on Medicare, Abbott made everyone realise the government actually pays for their healthcare. In his attacks on the ABC, he made everyone realise there’s actually a useful social institution operating here. In claiming it was necessary to lock up children in an offshore concentration camp run by private security officials, it caused people to question… “is it actually necessary to lock up children?”

By all accounts what he has done has been awful, but he had all the savoir faire of the reptilian lizard-person that he is (he ate a raw onion on camera, my god), and that meant everything he did was patently obvious, with no one under any illusions about what he was up to. In fact, he was so bad at everything he did that the Labor party was polled as the preferred option thirty times in a row! By doing nothing!

With Turnbull, everything will be smoke and mirrors. He will probably win the next election as a result – not that it matters, given how disappointing the Labor party has been in recent years. And for this reason, I will miss Abbott. In Abbott we had a PM who made apparent what the right stands for: monstrosity. The King is dead, long live the King.

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Published 16th September 2015

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