CANBERRA OBSERVED: by national correspondentNews Weekly
The origins of Labor's visceral loathing of Abbott
, March 31, 2012
It is becoming more evident with each passing week that the Labor Party wants the coming federal election to be a referendum on Tony Abbott and his fitness for office, when it should in fact be a referendum on Labor and its worthiness for office.
Now that the Labor Caucus has “resolved” its leadership difficulties, settling on a leader deeply distrusted by the electorate to lead the party to the next poll, attention is being turned to its real enemy in the form of the Member for Warringah.
Despite the unresolved internal disunity and rancour, Labor has embarked on a strategy of demonising and destroying Abbott at the expense of diminishing its authority as the government of the day.
The rationale appears to be that, no matter how problematic its governance has been, the people need to be warned of the dire consequences of electing Abbott prime minister.
And rather than concentrating at working hard to reduce the number of policy mistakes and bungles that have characterised its short period in office, the Labor Government, from the top down, seems intent on making Abbott the focus of its attention.
It is a deliberate but, in some ways, curious position.
Even the articulate “new” Foreign Minister Bob Carr, after having been plucked out of retirement, has portrayed Abbott as a “cheap circus act” and “a hypnotist” using tricks to deceive the Australian people into voting for him.
It is an odd role-reversal in contemporary politics. Usually, it is the Opposition that sets out to destroy the Government, not the other way around.
Getting to the heart of Labor’s antipathy towards Abbott takes a little unpacking, but still remains a mystery.
It cannot simply be attributed to Abbott’s effectiveness as an Opposition leader; it runs much deeper.
Labor’s enmity toward Abbott is visceral and in part goes back to Abbott’s aggressive tactics as leader of the House.
Abbott’s current devastating effectiveness in exposing Labor’s flaws and his populist politics have exacerbated this antipathy towards him. Labor hates the way Abbott refuses to declare his hand on his own policies, but criticises all the hard decisions the Government feels it is being forced to make.
But there is nothing in Abbott’s track record that suggests he would be a threat to the social fabric of the nation should he be elected.
As a minister in the Howard Government, Abbott tended to be one of the more conservative (in the traditional sense of the word) members of the Cabinet.
Abbott is (regrettably) a centralist, but hardly a radical one.
At the very end of the Howard era, Abbott made a symbolic move to federally run the Mersey Hospital near Devonport in Tasmania, but it was tokenism compared with Kevin’s Rudd subsequent plans for a full federal takeover of the hospital system.
When it came to WorkChoices, Abbott together with Kevin Andrews tried to mount a rearguard action against the policy. But the pair were outnumbered by ministers supportive of John Howard and Peter Costello who were blind to the political dangers of embarking on a US-style deregulated industrial relations system.
Overall, Abbott was a competent, but a rather unadventurous minister (in a policy sense) in the Howard Government.
Perhaps his biggest blunder was an error of judgment in hiring a staffer, David Oldfield, who deserted him to become an ally of Pauline Hanson and, eventually, a One Nation MP in the NSW Upper House.
But, even then, Abbott worked overtime to redeem himself by leading the push to demolish One Nation as a political force — something the Labor Party would presumably applaud him for achieving.
Yet Labor’s loathing runs deep and relates (in no particular order or rationality) to Abbott’s adherence to orthodox Catholicism, his pro-life views, his association with the late B.A. Santamaria, and his views on women and family.
A whole book (Tony Abbott: A Man’s Man by feminist author Susan Mitchell) has been written on Abbott’s supposed attitudes to women — a book that largely reflects Labor’s perception of the man. Though Ms Mitchell declined to interview Abbott during her research, she concluded that he was both a misogynist and a dangerous threat to women rights.
This is despite the fact Abbott’s office has always been run by women.
Perhaps, as the Labor Party has been feminised, radicalised and environmentalised, and taken over by careerist apparatchiks with no sense of real Labor tradition, Abbott stands for many of the values that the Labor Party once held.
Today Abbott appears to be winning the hearts and minds of the traditional conservative working-class, who are abandoning the Labor Party in droves.
Perhaps Abbott’s very presence is a reminder to the party of many of the things that it has abandoned.
If this is true, it is no wonder they don’t like him.