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Friday, September 18, 2020
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The trashing of Tony Abbott

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IT IS open season on the socially conservative Tony Abbott. Reportedly lined up to become a senior trade envoy for post-Brexit Britain, the former Australian Prime Minister has been subjected to a full cauldron of insults by the UK’s sisterhood.

Abbott’s putative appointment is ‘absolutely staggering’, according to Emily Thornberry. Labour’s malevolent matron declared herself ‘disgusted that Boris Johnson thinks this offensive, leering, cantankerous, climate change-denying, Trump-worshipping misogynist is the right person to represent our country overseas’. 

Leaving aside Thornberry’s inane invective, is Tony Abbott a disciple of The Donald? Last January in Washington he gave a speech which was summed up by his line: ‘Somewhat to my own surprise, given my view then that Mr Trump was almost uniquely under-qualified for such an office, I think he’s been quite a success: his style sometimes grates, but he’s been a very good president.’ 

Spoken during America’s pre-Covid economic boom, that seems a moderate and balanced assessment; but for Donald-detesting Emily, Abbott’s slightly backhanded compliment stigmatises him as a ‘Trump worshipper’.

‘Emily Thornberry and I seldom agree on anything, but she’s right,’ concurred cod-Conservative Caroline Nokes, chair of the Commons women and equalities committee. Interviewed this week on BBC’s Politics Live, Nokes noxiously repeated Thornberry’s accusation of misogyny and added homophobia to Abbott’s charge sheet: ‘He has very poor views on LGBTQ rights. I just don’t think this man should be anywhere near our Board of Trade.’

 

Roman Catholic Abbott’s ‘homophobia’ had been to oppose Australia’s redefinition of marriage: ‘We shouldn’t lightly change what’s been the foundation of our society for generations . . . in favour of a new concept that would have been scornfully rejected even by gay people just a generation ago.’ Abbott ruefully observed that his devout support for traditional marriage ‘attracts an instant social media storm and reputational death’.

He certainly got that right. As for his supposed sexism, Britain’s sniping sorority is repeating the accusation made in 2012, in the Australian parliament, by the then Prime Minister Julia Gillard: ‘If [Abbott, then Leader of the Opposition] wants to know what misogyny looks like in modern Australia, he doesn’t need a motion in the House of Representatives; he needs a mirror.’

Gillard’s grandstanding speech was powerful political theatre. But it is striking that her main complaint regarding Tony Abbott was relatively innocuous: ‘He has said, and I quote, in a discussion about women being under-represented in institutions of power in Australia, “If it’s true that men have more power generally speaking than women, is that a bad thing?” And then a discussion ensues, and another person being interviewed says, “I want my daughter to have as much opportunity as my son.” To which the Leader of the Opposition says, “Yeah, I completely agree, but what if men are, by physiology or temperament, more adapted to exercise authority or to issue command?”’

Julia Gillard’s finger-pointing became 15 minutes of feminist folklore, though whether Abbott was damaged by it is questionable. It should be remembered that it was after, and in spite of, Gillard’s celebrated censuring of Tony Abbott that he became Prime Minister.

Because Abbott apparently dared to wonder aloud whether, in general, men and women might have different and distinct qualities, in 2012 Julia Gillard claimed to be ‘very offended on behalf of the women of Australia’. Similarly, during the past week Sky’s Kay Burley has also been self-importantly indignant: here bumptious Burley and Labour’s Rachel Reeves cosily concur that Tony Abbott is a ‘misogynistic homophobe’.

 

And here, being Burley’s patsy, is maladroit Matt Hancock.

Nicola Sturgeon also entered Kay’s coven and, with wearisome predictability, was prompted by Burley to decry Tony Abbott as ‘a misogynist, a sexist, a climate-change denier . . . not the kind of person who should be any kind of envoy for the United Kingdom’.

 

Soon after Burley’s blitz, Boris Johnson let it be known that no decision has yet been made regarding the appointment of Tony Abbott – a depressing announcement which portends yet another capitulation by our invertebrate Prime Minister.

Censorious Sturgeon also found it ‘disgraceful . . . deeply offensive and wrong’ that Abbott had callously commented: ‘It might have been better if elderly people were left to die from the effects of Covid.’

But he said no such thing: that quote was Kay Burley disgracefully distorting part of a speech Abbott gave last Tuesday to the UK’s Policy Exchange think tank, the full text of which can be read here and viewed below.

 

Titled ‘Australia and the Coronavirus’, but more broadly a thoughtful critique of the worldwide response to Covid-19, Abbott intelligently argued that ‘lockdowns can reduce disease but hardly eliminate it; the result is not just a stop-start economy, but a stop-start life’. In that context, the sentence which Kay Burley wilfully misrepresented was: ‘In this climate of fear, it was hard for governments to ask “how much is a life worth?” because every life is precious, and every death is sad; but that’s never stopped families sometimes electing to make elderly relatives as comfortable as possible while nature takes its course.’
If you find Abbott’s grown-up pragmatism to be hard-hearted, he also reminded us that governments, while claiming to be compassionate, imposed unforgivable inhumanity: ‘Sadly, most of the elderly victims have died alone – without the solace of family and friends – because of the measures put in place to protect them.’
Abbott rightly questioned why ‘six months into the pandemic, the aim in most countries is still to preserve almost every life at almost any cost’ – insane safetyism which has led to the current ‘health dictatorship’ in his home country where ‘the Victorian government put five and a half million Melburnians into virtual house arrest’. Australia – particularly Daniel Andrews’s Victoria, which TCW’s Kevin Donnelly describes as ‘the Antipodean Venezuela’  – has become the most execrable example of how, in a hitherto liberal democracy, ‘officials get trapped in crisis mode longer than they need to, especially if the crisis adds to their authority or boosts their standing’.
Tony Abbott’s unarguable conclusion was: ‘Now that each one of us has had six months to consider this pandemic and to make our own judgments about it, surely it’s time to relax the rules, so that individuals can take more personal responsibility and make more of their own decisions about the risks they’re prepared to run.’
Amen to that. Alas, when questioned by cocksure Kay regarding that speech, in which Tony Abbott lamented that ‘we let fear of falling sick stop us from being fully alive’, the former health secretary Jeremy Hunt reassured La Burley: ‘I know those views are not reflected in Number Ten.’
More’s the pity.

 

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Gary Oliver
Gary Oliver
Gary Oliver is an accountant who lives in East Lothian.

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