Tony Abbott has not changed, not even the speedo pose looks different | Van Badham | Opinion
It’s hard to stop staring at the dripping chest hair in his video tweet criticising the portaloos at Manly surf lifesaving club, and not because he’s a wet, half-naked man pitching toilet improvements as an election promise in a country where the rivers are dying, the forests are on fire and inequality is at a 70 year high.
It’s because only four years ago, this same man was the Australian prime minister.
Desperate to retain his blue-ribbon seat of Warringah in the upcoming poll, the 25-year incumbent has been blazing a publicity trail for himself, his dripping tweets and even dribblier op-eds railing against those local portaloos, demanding a new commuter tunnel, chastising overdevelopment.
Expressed sentiment suggests these are things he should have addressed a while ago, had he not otherwise occupied himself with matters he considered more pressing. He spent his past political half-decade trying to prevent marriage equality, pretending climate change didn’t exist, and turning Kevin Rudd’s dangerous mistake with refugees into a full-blown human rights disaster. And this is in the wake of his infamous 2014 budget, whose extremist neoliberal cruelties inspired even suburban Australia to fresh dreams of the guillotine.
In his historical trajectory of three-word-slogan politics that included “Stop the Boats”, “Axe the Tax” and “Ditch the Witch” I didn’t see “Improve the Toilets” coming, but Warringah is suddenly a strange new country for us all. An independent female candidate – female! imagine! – is a serious threat to a seat once so safe it’s had but two Liberal MPs in the last fifty years. And her danger is that not only does she think marriage equality is no problem, climate change is a massive one and refugees, my lordy, may indeed be human… but the seat of Warringah now does, too. Warringah registered a 75% vote in favour of marriage equality, even as its representative campaigned against it.
Tony’s clearly been told that “all politics is local” and with a verve only those with the most profound lack of self-awareness can ever muster there he is, online in the weekend papers, complaining about “traffic jams” and demanding that he be returned to Canberra.
Seeing it is like unearthing old photos of a good friend’s unpleasant ex-boyfriend – the one who was loud and told boorish, sexist jokes, who provoked a chorus of “Jesus, what does she in him?” whenever they departed the room.
You smile at those photos, knowing what the grinning fool who’s in them can’t – your friend’s about to dump him, and move on. But stare a little longer and nausea builds for travelling backwards. You remember the time he ate that onion. The time he got the name of Canada wrong. Prince Philip’s knighthood. The nutty business about shirtfronting the Russians.
Before the 2013 election, Abbott made a campaign pitch to the Big Brother household. “If you want to know who to vote for, I’m the guy with the not bad looking daughters,” he said, flanked by the girls all in white.
As cut off as that household was from the community are contemporary mores to this past; watch the video now, in horror.
Because MeToo has happened. So’s marriage equality. An Indigenous Treaty bill paving the way for negotations passed in Victoria. Meanwhile, the old jokes, the nods, the winks, the smiles, the conservative values, the ancient, gendered, historically ignorant assumptions remain inseparable from the Abbott persona whether he’s damp in his Speedos talking toilets or defending a right to not “dilute his ideas”.
Oh, Abbott’s made one or two apologies for aspects of his conduct, over time. But never a big one, for himself or his prime ministership. There’s never been change. Not even the speedo poses look different.
He’s denounced the campaign in Warringah against him as one of “negativity”. “They don’t know what they’re for,” he said this weekend, “but by God, they know what they’re against.”
Yes, they do, Tony. And it’s enough. For all of them, and us. Against you, it is enough.