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Abbott's animal charms

  • 03 May 2013

Political Animal, David Marr, Black Inc. Publishing, April 2013


David Marr's Quarterly Essay 'Political Animal' (September 2012) set felines squarely among the critical pigeons.

Mined for its curiosity factor by Crikey, panned as partisan by Quadrant (Marr is a 'ruthless, steely-eyed ideologue of the Left') and dismissed as overblown by the Sydney Institute, most discussion revolved around the 'she said, he said' defamation proceedings (delayed until February 2014) concerning physical intimidation Abbott allegedly used in his salad days of university, counter-reactionary opposition to social change, and rugby.

This Black Inc. edition, with inflamed legal context and increased depth, is Marr's essay on steroids.

He scours the dank recesses of Australian political life with new insights into Student Tony and comments on disputed turf, in a surprisingly sympathetic portrayal of a deeply fissured figure bifurcated into Values Abbott (largely pre-leadership) and Politics Abbott (the new women-friendly soundbiter).

It sizzles with post-essay responses, Abbott's arbitrary use of language and rejection of criticisms, lending new light to Abbott's ongoing approaches to media and issues (such as his continued labelling of boatloads of asylum seekers as 'illegals').

Marr's is a necessarily partial view of Abbott's psyche. Balanced? Mostly. Critical? Assuredly. Presenting former journo Abbott as junkyard dog and supreme negator is one thing. Citing former PM Paul Keating's statement — 'Tony Abbott's policy is: "If you don't give me the job, I'll wreck the place"' — however, is overkill.

How do you find the overt warnings, Jen? I find Marr more effective when he wields his stiletto, as with his take on Abbott's jeremiads: 'His pitch to the fearful is the nameless dread of change in a fragile world ... [in] a profoundly conservative brand of politics that deals in panic and threat.'

Casting a Victorious PM Abbott as a puppet of Pell and Howard, or a fiddler with women's rights, seems risible; Abbott is bound by social restraints. Still, Marr ominously cites Abbott's mantra: be guided by principles but don't spook the cattle: 'sufficiently impress the public [but] don't worry the public [into thinking] you would be a risk if you found yourself in a position of power'. (How does Marr's Abbott come off to women, Jen?)

Perception counts; choice looms. 'On most ... social issues that define modern Australia Gillard's party and Abbott's party see eye to eye,' Marr opines, accurately. His Abbott is a disciplined pugilist, refraining from wild counterpunches, lest he soil his scorecard and lose the bout.

I still