There has been a debate for the last fortnight about the character of Tony Abbott, the leader of the Opposition. An anecdote re-surfaced from his student days that he approached a woman who challenged his leadership aspirations for the Sydney Uni student council; she was leaning against the wall, he approached and thumped the wall beside her face.
When mid last week Abbott’s wife gave New Idea-ish “soft” media interviews about her wonderful husband, this was supposed to refute the assertions that Abbott had a problem with women in politics. Clearly, this is wide of the mark. On Sunday morning the current Attorney General Nicola Roxon was interviewed on the ABC Insiders show. She noted instances where both sides of politics were invited out to a social event; Such affairs were considered time out, when parliamentary competition could be relaxed; instead, Abbott would ignore Roxon, would turn his back on her, to the mortification of their hosts.
Another instance was a debate timetabled to be held on air; Roxon arrived on time but Abbot was half an hour late; clearly he was unapologetic for the lapse, had not tried to contact the organiser. When Roxon berated him for his churlish behaviour he replied “bullshit”.
The argument that has to be made about Abbott’s behaviour is that he is extremely competitive, when he is successfully challenged by an equally or even more articulate woman of the opposite party, like Gillard Roxon or Plibersek, Abbott’s innate misogeny surfaces. Clearly his wife and daughters do not challenge him; presumably over how many years of public life their role has been hammerred out: cherish and support the breadwinner. It is the Labour woman who browbeats him and publicly humiliates him who generates in him the irrational response that women ought not to challenge him in this public arena.
The young woman justly quoted Abbott’s student utterance that women were not physiologically and mentally equipped for a position in public life. She was on the money. Yes, we should be tolerant of a young adult’s mistakes and immaturity; on the other hand, Abbott, as a trained seminarian, would know the words of Ignatius Loyola: Give me a child at 8 years of age and I will keep him for life.
The week’s postscript relates to that moment in federal parliament when Abbott said the Labour Party should have died of shame; using those words meant that he was throwing his lot in with Alan Jones. His later excuse that he was unaware of the connotation of the words does not convince. His may not be the biggest brain on the planet but he has clever speech writers; clearly, it was seen as important to give the thumbs up to the young Liberal club of Sydney Uni: their frolic might have been reported and slightly condemned by some, but good old boys like Abbott were right with them. I look forward avidly to tomorrow’s commentariat in the SMH.