Book Nook – Battlelines by Tony Abbott

Tony Abbott is not a smart man. Beneath the thin veneer of political savvy lies a man whose politics are solely derivative of an enormous ego. Tony personally identifies with conservative institutions like the monarchy, family and church, and so his inability to perform any kind of self-reflection extends to these as well. This is a man born in privilege whose greatest challenge in life was when the media once scrutinised him and who claims that being a politician is as hard as a soldier. A man who has been handed every job he’s ever had by an old boys network, yet asserts that folks on disability pensions need more incentive to work. The 28th Prime Minister of Australia.

It’s very hard to see how the government could have been re-elected three times if it really had been as ideologically programmed as Manne suggests.


This book is part memoir, part policy document and part political pamphlet. Much has changed in Australia’s political landscape since 2009, when this served as part of Abbott’s push to the leadership of the Liberal Party and afterwards to Prime Minister. The recollections of Howard’s government serve primarily to illustrate the continuity between Abbott and that government (where he served in various ministries), providing legitimacy to his contemporary leadership challenge. Tony’s lack of self-reflection comes through in these sections, as he continually asserts that Howard’s government was non-ideological and just reflected common sense. The remainder serves as a guide to what is important to Abbott and the values which he holds.


I have always wanted the institutions I identified with to be at their best and have not always recognised how failings could be mine rather than theirs.


Self-respect is a quality of which Abbott has plenty. When he extends this to conservative institutions, he goes even further, raising them to unimpeachable heights. This makes Tony a prototypical conservative snowflake, unable to fathom critique of his, his government’s or traditional institutions’ actions. So rather than taking on criticism and reflecting, he barges on through like the rugby player he once was, adding one more to the enemies list. His politics are the natural result of this, a series of grudges held and culture wars to fight without a coherent worldview to bring them together.


I never began an article with the assumption that there was something fundamentally wrong with our country


Tony isn’t capable of considering that the country, the government or other institutions could ever be made any better. This is the peak of humanity, right here. He is firmly from the conservative side of the socially conservative-economically liberal union which makes up the Liberal Party. Though he throws a few bones to liberal economics in his generalities, his specific policy proposals are all about conservative values. Because he ideologically cannot consider any substantial changes, he instead fiddles around the edges in service of the forever conservative culture war.


(Come 2020,) families won’t break up any more often, because old-fashioned notions about making the most of imperfect situations will have made something of a comeback.


One of Tony’s favourite conservative institutions is the traditional nuclear family. He wants the welfare system to provide more for families with stay-at-home parents. And his maternity leave proposal is actually pretty good – publicly funded for 6 months through a payroll levy. But beyond that, Abbott’s proposals seem to be the kind of social engineering that conservative pundits have made a living from railing against. The parental leave scheme is for mothers only, because dads can’t be parents. He also wants to remove the means testing to extend the family tax benefit to all families. All traditional families, that is – nothing for sole parents or same-sex couples. Tony isn’t actually interested in improving conditions for children, but instead is trying to “send the very traditional message that motherhood is important for all women.” Sounds like a very normal attitude, that isn’t going to give him problems in the future at all.


One of the former government’s significant achievements was slowing the rise in the number of people claiming the disability pension.


How are we to pay for this lavish spending on maintaining traditional gender roles? Abbott, who doesn’t ever appear to have been appointed to a position on merit reckons the only reason disabled folks aren’t CEOs is because they don’t have enough incentive to get work. The euphemism is politically savvy, but he means cracking down on the disabled and forcing them to take jobs for which they aren’t physically capable. Charming. He also plans to raise the pension age to at least 70, even though the savings to government would be modest. Again, its all about providing suitable incentives – or in real terms, forcing those with broken down bodies to keep slaving away inside the capitalist machine.


Because Commonwealth law prevails over state law to the extent of any inconsistency, it would mean that they could not jeopardise policy in areas where the national government was determined to intervene.


Tony want to abolish the states. Because state governments have in the past prevented him from getting his way, he proposes a referendum and constitutional change to allow the federal government to make laws in any areas it pleases. But trust him – the Commonwealth would only seek to force their hand if the national interest demanded it. Sure. While its refreshing to see a conservative who hasn’t bought into the ‘states rights’ ideas from the US, this makes Katter’s authoritarianism look like the kiddy pool.


Conservatism does not start with an idea and construct a huge superstructure based on one insight or preference. … To a conservative, intuition is as important as reasoning; instinct as important is intellect.


Tony has a few more proposals, but they are all blatantly about ripping power away from those who have wronged him. The Commonwealth should take power for schools away from the states, then devolve it to school boards in order to avoid “avante garde fashions in curriculum and pedagogy” which are imposed by the state governments. Similar action is required for hospitals in order to break the back of health service unions. There is hardly an idea in Battlelines which isn’t just Abbott laying out largesse for institutions he identifies with or striking back at those he perceives as the enemy in a culture war. Except extending Medicare to dental – I guess a stopped clock is right once a day after all.


If it’s possible to enage in an altruistic war, (Iraq) was it.


Tony Abbott is an egotistical buffoon, more concerned with striking back at the critics who have wounded his ego than with making the world a better place. Mean, bigoted and utterly incapable of self-reflection, I have to wonder how this man became Prime Minister of Australia. Though I’m not at all surprised that he knighted Prince Phillip – that’s totally in tune with the man who wrote Battlelines. Is this really all that the conservative side of politics have to offer? Given the paucity of ideas and intellect on display, I can see a little of how the alt-right have gained prominence in these circles since. Say what you will about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least its an ethos.


Tony Abbott’s Battlelines was published by Melbourne University Press in 2009. My copy was purchased 2nd hand at a Lifeline Bookfair.