JavaScript disabled. Please enable JavaScript to use My News, My Clippings, My Comments and user settings.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

PM makes us nation without honour

'Respect does not come with titles - respect is earned. That belief, as much as any, defines me as an Australian.'

'Respect does not come with titles - respect is earned. That belief, as much as any, defines me as an Australian.' Photo: Andrew Meares

Who is Tony Abbott? Do we know him? I would not ask these questions, for example, of John Howard. His family was very much fashioned by World War I – both his father and grandfather enlisting (one incredible story has them meeting up, on the battlefield, a few hours before the lethal hostilities resumed). John Winston Howard, born in 1939, got his middle name from Winston Churchill. John Howard is what was once known as an Australian Briton.

Born in England, Abbott is a Catholic monarchist – a curious combination. One of his close friends, the late Christopher Pearson, used to hear the Mass in Latin. For a time, I likened Abbott to Guy Crouchback, a character from the pen of the English Catholic novelist Evelyn Waugh, a man with a reactionary and religious bent – hence Abbott's spell in the seminary as a young man.

But how do you square Catholic theology with wealthy Australia offloading its asylum-seeker problem to impoverished countries such as Papua New Guinea and Nauru? Cambodia? I'm sure one Catholic who wouldn't buy it is Pope Francis.

I always thought Abbott shared, with Julia Gillard, an awkwardness with Australian culture that was expressed, in Gillard's case, through her exaggerated accent, and, in Abbott's case, through the countless interviews he gave as opposition leader in his budgie smugglers.

When Rupert Murdoch tweeted his endorsement of Abbott before the last federal election, he described him as a conviction politician. Is he? By his own account, Abbott nearly joined the Labor Party and, prior to him becoming Prime Minister, I always understood him to be a DLP type. Not any more.

The DLP has always been clear about what it deems to be moral issues – for example, West Papua. Last year, Abbott described the actions of three West Papuans who climbed the wall into the Australian embassy in Bali to protest about the plight of their people as grandstanding. He then declared that conditions in West Papua were improving. DLP senator John Madigan flatly told him he was wrong.

In 2011, journalist John Van Tiggelen wrote an extended profile on Andrew Bolt after the case in which Bolt was found guilty under the Racial Discrimination Act. I saw that case up close through the eyes of a friend, Anita Heiss. Irrespective of the argument about that particular legislation, Bolt's treatment of Heiss was journalistically indefensible and caused deep and repeated hurt. I saw that as clearly as I've seen injuries on the football field.

In the aftermath of the case, Bolt was apparently thinking of stepping away from the media when a "very influential person" (Bolt's words) arrived at his house and urged him to keep going. Van Tiggelen established the very influential visitor was Abbott.

Abbott's government is now seeking to alter the Racial Discrimination Act. As has been observed elsewhere, the government's original proposal would have meant that indigenous AFL star Adam Goodes could be called an ape everywhere in Australia but on the football field. Then, this week, Abbott reintroduced knights and dames and, like Henry VIII, the decision was his alone.

The Anzac legend becomes more distorted and hyperbolic every year, but there are elements of the story that are important to me. One is that Australian soldiers wouldn't salute the English officers. Why should they? Respect does not come with titles – respect is earned. That belief, as much as any, defines me as an Australian.

Now Tony Abbott has reinstated a vain and empty honours system from another time and place. The country, which is outsourcing its asylum-seeker problem to its poorer neighbours, has just reinstituted an order of knights and dames in its society. Where is our self-respect?

167 comments

  • Well said, Martin. I've always had difficulty with the proposition that Abbott is a man of clear convictions. In opposition he struck me as a man who would do anything to gain power; in government, it seems he would do anything to maintain and increase it.

    Commenter
    Jones
    Date and time
    March 29, 2014, 1:25PM
    • One cant earn respect when they lie and backflip. Such inconsistency and deception once done, becomes beyond proof. Shady deals with greens also after saying they will never deal, then gifted approval for a huge uncosted $200 raising of debt borrowing. Dirty campaigning bought a liberal domain specifically to know the PUP party in fear, bribes with Murdoch favourable press in return for relaxing media ownership, Mr INFRASTRUCTURE but none seen, Mr JOBS none seen but record numbers disappearing, and like election policy "its coming" and recently on anything, where is it, oh its coming. so is the next decade. If one had a plan they will say what it is when in progress. Not one policy even in WA election on the economy or jobs, the saviour and betterment of struggling Australians and the economy etc was to name people SIR. Is this the level of Government for the future, create Sirs and deals with press magnates, and ALP with their cures for all this was a policy to teach gayness in all schools. RESPECT? no, only a new untainted innovative party arrival can help us and be given chance trust.

      Commenter
      Brian Woods
      Location
      Glenroy
      Date and time
      March 29, 2014, 2:39PM
    • Lets get something straight here:
      Liberal Coalition have no mandate for anything! 54.4% of the Primary vote did not go to them! They got 45.6% of the vote.
      So please if anyone says Liberals have a mandate to introduce anything, it is absolute garbage.

      Let's celebrate the past and never think about the future, lets sell all our assets, give up the worlds best socially equitable health system, privatise all schools and let foreign communications owners tell us what to think with monopolisation of the communication medium. And while where at it lets destroy our advanced industries and ban science.

      I'm ashamed of our so called leaders they are not for us the people. Funny I thought being a statesman or knight meant having some sort of honor or chivalry. I guess not, I guess it means ripping off the people and making a mockery of their institutions and their way of life.

      Please send Abbot back to England on an orange boat and please don't forget to burn his hands on the exhaust if he complains. He and half his cabinet should be tried for treason.

      Commenter
      Immune to Slogans
      Location
      Terra Australis
      Date and time
      March 29, 2014, 2:41PM
    • Well said Martin.. maybe u can also focus your future attack on whether our PM is a Australian citizen or not and maybe find another conspiracy theory to keep the left entertained. also on how climate change has worsened after 7th sept..
      thanks Fairfax - Independent Always

      Commenter
      Disgruntle reader
      Date and time
      March 29, 2014, 2:42PM
    • Abbot may call himself a Christian, but he doesn't act like one. I would go so far as to say the majority of his policies and actions are wicked in their treatment of the disadvantaged. poor, low-income earners, and those seeking asylum. Christ would most certainly not treat his fellow humans the way Abbott and his so-called Catholic colleagues do. How they reconcile their actions with their espoused religious beliefs is a mystery.

      Commenter
      Mythbuster
      Date and time
      March 29, 2014, 3:02PM
    • @ Martin. There was an interesting article by David Marr on Abbott (GW, The Age, 8 September 2012). It spells out exactly who Abbott is. Further, Abbott's side-kick Credlin (some say she is the 'real' PM) has an article explaining exactly who she is (Who's the boss - The Australian 5 November 2011). Add those two exposes together and this is what you see, today.

      Commenter
      Jump
      Date and time
      March 29, 2014, 3:16PM
    • Sticking to ones' day job is always advisable !

      Commenter
      Flying Spagetti Monster
      Location
      Around and above
      Date and time
      March 29, 2014, 3:17PM
    • He has my respect.

      Commenter
      Coconutdog
      Location
      Wodonga
      Date and time
      March 29, 2014, 3:33PM
    • @disgruntled reader - he is the leader and he should/will be subject to as much scrutiny as Gillard and Rudd ever copped. Funny how you weren't on here moaning when it WAS Gillard or Rudd getting roasted. Go back to your Murdoch rag!

      Commenter
      mark
      Location
      melbourne
      Date and time
      March 29, 2014, 3:40PM
    • Disgruntle reader, it's quite likely actually that climate change has got worse since September 7. Or since last week. Or since 25 years ago. Come on.

      As for your snide implications about independence, the fact that somebody publishes commentary you disagree with doesn't make them biased. Bias is certainly demonstrated when the whole newspaper arranges its layout, headlines and commentators to have a particular emphasis. Over time, this leads to a nice self-selection in the reader feedback page too. The odd token different opinion is published but not given prominence. People are selected for the nature of their bias rather than their professional credentials. All that may be News to you.

      Commenter
      RichardJ
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      March 29, 2014, 3:48PM

More comments

Comments are now closed
Featured advertisers