Tony Abbott deserves neither sympathy nor respect

Prime Minister Tony Abbott today resigns as leader after a leadership spill yesterday.

He criticised the media for printing gossip and smears anonymously, something was gleefully supportive of when he was in opposition. Something to which he had previously responded “If you want better media coverage, be a better government”.

If I were to sum up Abbott in one word, it would be “competitive”. He recognises this himself, which is the only positive trait I can attribute to him. For him, winning is everything. He claims to have a vision, and he does have ideas of how he things should be, as leader, he did everything in his power to get his way, regardless of the views of the public, the parliament or the Liberal Party. This is not, however, a vision. He has no strategy, no plans, no policy framework. For him it was about beating the Labor Party, about winning by any means necessary. So he lied, he slandered, he shouted down all opposition. He was disruptive, he made claims in order to incite panic and distract from the message of his opponents. Some say this makes him a good opposition leader. I disagree. It may be effective, but effective and “good” are not the same thing. You can stop someone dying from cancer by decapitating them. It’s a very effective way to stop cancer, it’s not a good way to treat cancer though.

Abbott is a blunt instrument. He will batter and bludgeon until he gets his way. This is fine if you’re a boxer, this is not so good as a political leader or government minister. Some are surprised that he failed, expecting him to grow into the job of Prime Minister. I believe these people are either desperately hopeful, or completely ignorant of Abbott’s record.

Abbott is belligerent, ¬†vindictive and bigoted. He does not merely embody these traits, he revels in them. This was evident as Health Minister in the Howard Government, as a member of the opposition, as leader of the opposition. There was no evidence that he would grow as a leader, as a person, that he would change his attitude. If anything, his belligerence grew. As leader, he was even more arrogant, as there was no one to keep him in line. Some people say that he lost the “real” Tony Abbott, talking about his honesty and up front attitude. I believe that while these are traits of Tony Abbott, it’s only part of who he is. The real Tony Abbott, is the Abbott unchecked, the man who would do anything “except sell his arse” to be Prime Minister. The arrogant, bigoted, dishonest, vindictive, malicious leader that we saw is the true Abbott. He worked hard to punish anyone who he disagreed with, or who did not do what he wanted, to the extent that the federal police attempted to uncover media sources reporting on refugees. The sacking of Peter Reith as Liberal¬†whip similarly was punished when a spill motion was brought against Abbott seven months ago.

Tony Abbott is credited as the man who brought down Labor. I do not believe this is a warranted claim. Tony Abbott was an obstructionist, disruptive leader. He was very fortunate that he faced Kevin Rudd, a man so indecisive and difficult to work with that his own party decided they could work under him no longer. The removal of Rudd and subsequent destabilisation of the Gillard government by Rudd are the true reasons for the collapse of the Labor government. Abbott was there to spread lies and disruption at a time when Labor was busy fighting themselves. Even in a hung parliament, Abbott was unable to secure a government due to his inability to negotiate or truly lead. He put ambition before government, yet again, and it cost him the job he coveted.

Labor’s implosion was seen as a victory for Abbott, yet Abbott’s performance in the polls and the Liberal party’s position remained poor. Abbott was never seen as a real leader by the Australian people, the Coalition could have put forth a muddy stick as leader and they would have won the 2013 election. Abbott contributed nothing but confusion and misinformation to policy discussion. He came to government offering none, and this caused him significant troubles, particularly the first budget. It went against all their promises because they had no policies. It has been noted that the Abbott government cabinet meetings were very short because there was no policy on the agenda. So it is obvious that Abbott was never a suitable leader, and it reflects very poorly on the Liberal party to have had such a man as their leader for five years without realising his unsuitability.

There is some truth to Abbott and Gillard’s criticisms of the media and their contribution to the destabilisation of governments, where any disagreement is treated as a soap opera. I remember Tanya Plibersek giving a press conference, announcing a Labor government health policy. Not a single question was asked about health or health policy. All they wanted to ask was about leadership speculation. How can any government communicate their message when the media chooses to IGNORE policy in favour of drama? In the lead up to the 2013 election, Labor was working to communicate sophisticated policy and policy outcomes, the Liberals offered absolutely no policy, just slogans. The media barely even noticed this. There was no discussion of policy, no alternatives from the Liberals when they criticised Labor policy, no analysis of the claims made by the Liberals, many of which were patently absurd claims that were so dishonest that they should have been hammered for them, but the media dutifully reported and quoted the Liberals with no analysis. The media does contribute heavily to the poor quality of political discourse and leadership in Australia.

But all in all, I have no sympathy for Tony Abbott and his public disgrace. He was an unfit from the start, a malicious bigot determined to win at any cost. He deserves all the criticism he gets and should go down in history as the worst Prime Minister we have ever had.