By Ned Hirst
Tony Abbott is a self-described “conservative warrior.” Increasingly it seems as though the “conservative” is just a place-filler. Admittedly, to describe oneself as simply a warrior gives the impression that one is some kind of Braveheart figure (and given Abbott’s obsession with the monarchy he would never be that). The decision to enforce a ministerial boycott of Q&A is symptomatic of Abbott’s broader failure to abide by any of his purported values: he was elected citing support for open government and classical liberal ideals, but as soon as it is politically expedient any philosophy gets thrown out the window.
In the first edition of his book Battlelines, Abbott argued passionately for greater devolution of state powers to the commonwealth, and even included a draft referendum question to that effect, but subsequently realised he could wedge the states on hospital and school funding, and quietly omitted the section from the next edition.
He went to the election arguing for free speech, but abandoned amendments to 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act when it was clear they were unpopular. His government has also presided over the gagging of journalists who report the findings of whistleblowers and of doctors and nurses who work in immigration detention. Incidentally, George Brandis’ free speech commissioner Tim Wilson has proved to be a total dud, not interested in protecting the free speech of fired SBS employee Scott McIntyre (because it was in the context of an employment contract) and even saying with an alarmingly straight face that deporting someone is not silencing or censoring them. Plenty of time for free speech in the gulag, I wonder what all those Soviet artists were complaining about.
One would expect that a conservative government would stick up for the rule of law, but Abbott was more than happy to ditch it where he saw political mileage in changes to the citizenship laws. Which lead to such edifying Cabinet dialogue as:
Joyce: Isn’t that why we have courts?
Dutton: But what if they find them not guilty?
The fact that someone like Dutton, who could actually say something like that and not find it self-evidently ridiculous, is in cabinet is one of the truly scary effects of Abbott’s warrior mentality. Dutton’s not much of a communicator either on account of the fact he looks and sounds like someone about to collapse after a significant blow to the head with a blunt object.
All of which makes Abbott’s call on Q&A depressingly predictable. Insofar as anything Abbott does is predictable, that is. He said after the 2014 budget that he wasn’t in politics to be popular, which appears to be true to some extent given how he was prepared to commit to the deeply damaging measures that document contained. The fact that he isn’t in it for principles either is what makes him truly terrifying.