Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Event: Quarterly Essay with David Marr

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 2012.

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 EssayPolitical Animal: The Making of Tony Abbott’ by David Marr is available now in store at Shearer’s Bookshop.

By Stef.

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