David Marr candidly addressed a sold-out crowd at Shearer’s Bookshop last week. In true laconic Marr style he left little corner untouched, yet didn’t waste a word.
He warned the audience that if they were after ‘a spirited sectarian attack
on Catholicism’ or a blind attack on Abbott, they would be disappointed, as he
had aimed instead for a biographical study on a ‘fascinating and complex
politician.’ Marr explained that most of the writing he does, he does it because
he doesn’t know the answers when he begins, but is curious to find out…to find
out what the ‘through-line is with this man [Abbott]’.
In the latest Quarterly Essay
entitled Political Animal: The Making of Tony Abbott, award-winning
author and journalist David Marr discusses what he sees at the many
contradictions of the enigma of the Opposition Leader. For someone who is
largely viewed as the most successful Opposition Leader in the last 40 years,
he remains fascinatingly deeply unpopular.
The Essay summarises
the contradictions of Tony Abbott as [a]n aggressive populist with a sharp
tongue; a political animal with lots of charm; a born protégé with ambitions to
lead; a big brain but no intellectual; a bluff guy who proved a more than
competent minister; a politician with little idea of what he might do if he
ever got to the top; and a man profoundly wary of change.
Since the release of the Quarterly
Essay on the 10th September, the contents has spread like
wildfire, with many superstitious whispers about the dire impact such a
drilling in the Quarterly Essay has had in the past on polling results –
particularly in marking the end of Kevin Rudd two years ago. Marr joked that
there are those who blame him for not doing his job well enough last time
around enough as Rudd keeps on appearing all over the place.
Tony Abbott has the enthusiastic warm-hearted support of News Limited, which
Marr claims largely controls the press in this country. Yet Abbott generally
avoids the trap of difficult and hard-hitting journalists and interviews with
the agility of a hare being hungrily pursued by a pack of rabid sabre-toothed
wild dogs. Marr joked that Tony Abbott and Alan Jones have ‘the greatest
unconsummated love affair in Australian politics’.
Marr discussed his first and ‘simply bizarre’ confrontation with Abbott in
1991 on Four Corners, with his ‘arch
of experience with Tony’ ending with the demand that nothing be reported from
an hour-long interview except for the words ‘I didn’t do it’ in regards to
claims that after having being defeated by Barbara Ramjan for the SRC
presidency during his time at Sydney University, he physically intimidated her.
Marr explains that Abbott’s wrecking strategy ‘works’ but leaves the
challenge of winning government with a highly disliked leader. The difference in
opinion between the major parties on ‘the boats’ is narrow, and the carbon tax
is proving Abbott to be less believable, and subsequently the wrecking ball is
facing problems. Abbott hones lines and mantras, and with only 15 words as the
mantra for the election - it nearly got him there.
When Marr was queried about Abbott’s apparent aggression towards women, he
responded by commenting that he doesn’t agree but thinks Abbott has aggression towards
people in positions of authority in general. ‘His blokiness disguises that he
is the absolute product of Killara [on Sydney's upper north shore]…and
three sisters and a mother that adore him and forgive him…he does not dislike
women…people like working for him… His physicality sometimes scares women (although
laughing that it sometimes scares men as well).’
Marr’s prophesy is that despite the flicker in the polls this week, Liberal is
still in the strong position to win against Labor hands-down. Abbott would have
to plummet in the polls and Julia would have to be replaced with Rudd. The
polls currently show that Malcolm Turnbull is twice as popular as Abbott, yet
both leaders of the major parties are there because their parties want them
there rather than the public. The other hurdle for Turnbull is that the Liberal
party has been seized by and is being run by ‘climate change deniers.’ Marr
concluded by claiming that the principal goal for the Opposition should be
Abbott’s 2013 charm-offensive - just as rigorous as his ‘wrecking campaign’ in
Marr flirted around saucy political commentary with the confidence and spunk
of the seasoned intellectual that he is – declaring that Peter Costello is ‘the
most gutless politician any of us will ever see’ and that at Sydney University
Abbott ‘was loathed…on lavatory walls’. David Marr took questions from the
audience with charisma and confidence before flitting through the wine-sipping
audience, sharing antidotes and advice.
The Quarterly Essay ‘Political
Animal: The Making of Tony Abbott’
by David Marr is available now in store at Shearer’s Bookshop.