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Tony Abbott's missing moral core

  • 08 November 2010

Tony Abbott has been in public life for a long time. Some of us remember his forays into student politics in the 70s; his stint in journalism with the Bulletin; his public flirtation with the priesthood; and now his meteoric rise to leadership of the Liberal party and to a hair’s breadth from the prime ministership itself.

It has not always been pretty, but it has always been entertaining – usually comic and at times tragic. During the whole episode of the supposed 'love child' with his university girl friend, he managed to maintain a quiet dignity, particularly in the face of the final revelation that the child he thought he had fathered was not actually his. 

But there is something I find deeply disturbing in the way he carries out his public role. Charming and disarming as he can be, I find myself wondering wherein lies his moral core. Not long after his election as leader of the Liberal Party, Abbott was trying to explain away statements from his past claiming that he sometimes makes 'unreliable statements' in the 'heat of discussion.'

At that time I thought that the way to get a handle on Tony Abbott was to realise that he was like a high school or university debater. He would say anything to win an argument, confident that there would be no consequences to his actions.

Abbott is a natural debater, able to argue whatever position he feels will advantage him at the moment. And it’s not about logic or coherence, but about thumping the table the loudest. Further it does not seem to be about some moral vision that he holds to, providing a consistent pattern of thought.

When the election was on a knife edge, Abbott was arguing that the party with the two-party preferred majority should form government, rather than the party that could form a majority on the floor of the House. Yet media commentators soon pointed out he had adopted the exact opposite position in the recent close elections in South Australia. 

For me the low point in his recent performances was his attack on the proposed military tribunal established to investigate possible war crimes by Australian troops in Afghanistan. This was an issue with some populist traction. An online petition attracted thousands of signatories. But the implication was that Australian troops should not be subject to the rule of law in their military engagements.

He went so