I don't want to play for team Australia, or for team Abbott. And I wouldn't encourage my children to, either. The real community of Australians is not a band of footy thugs ruthlessly enforcing conformity, led by a bully who doesn't hesitate to punch people on his own side, who divides people according to whether they are for or against him, and who wants everyone to defer to his judgment about matters of the general interests of the team.
This is not a partisan matter. I would no more be a happy Vegemite marching for Julia Gillard against the Palestinians, or Kevin Rudd against boat people. A part of the privilege of being Australian is that I don't have to march for anyone, sing to anyone's hymn sheet, or listen to anyone's tendentious and pretentious nonsense about patriotism and duty, respect for authority, honour and sacrifice.
These are people who cannot inspire, whether with their deeds, or by their words. All too often their words pander to selfish instincts of particular members of the team, not to the natural generosity of the human spirit. These are leaders who cannot galvanise, and whose every reach into the abstract should be carefully parsed for hidden self-interest, while at the same time checking that one's wallet is not being stolen.
They may have notions of what is in the public interest, but their right to enforce these notions is contestable, and at best on leasehold. As things stand, the only argument in favour of extending the lease at the next opportunity is the feeling that Labor has yet to learn anything from its last trouncing for failing at exactly the same hurdles.
My own aversion to playing in the team comes in part from Groucho Marx's injunction against belonging to the sort of clubs that would have people like yourself as members. I was once thrown out of school cadets on the grounds that I was bad for morale (the other troops would get dispirited about my being the only one in step).
But my aversion to others playing in the team is not unlike the fears of mothers about letting their darlings play rough games, like rugby, which seem to them brutal, unscientific and managed by bruisers of no conspicuous moral or intellectual leadership values such as Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey, or, for that matter, Bill Shorten or Tanya Plibersek. The only reason I would follow any of them, and then at a distance, would be out of curiosity about which fresh disaster they were leading us to.
One can, of course, be entirely sure that Tony Abbott has no partisan game in mind when he speaks loftily of team Australia – the collective, or family, that we are regardless of our different backgrounds, types, political opinions and disagreements. The squabbling family that is still, nonetheless, a family at heart. And the family that recognises that there are rules for resolving arguments and values we all share. Rules we all agree on, and are bound by.
Team Australia is like a boisterous boarding school, such as Riverview, where Tony Abbott went. Those who go there are the cream of the Catholic crop, having much more uniting them (particularly access to a lot of money) than dividing them (such as how far an ethic of obligation to others has to be taken in real life.) There are prefects and seniors, rules and traditions, and, of course, lots of little factions and friendship groups – but everyone cheers for the same side at the big games.
Members of team Australia might be defined as those who feel a burst of pleasure and pride when Australian wins a gold medal at chess, or the first Ananga child to graduate from high school. (The latter hasn't happened yet, though by the time she should have done so, about $850,000 will have been paid to various non-Aboriginal members of team Australia "helping" her with life's struggles.)
In this Enid Blyton or Frank Richards vision of the world, the example is, of course, set by the senior boys and girls, and the enduring culture of the place. That's a culture that is British, of course, or perhaps particularly English. Certainly not Scottish, apparently. And who could better encapsulate it than Tony Abbott himself, the reason why we are all so delighted when he, as a captain's call on our behalf, anathematised any idea of the end of the 1707 Act of Union and a separate Scotland.
It is never quite clear just when Tony is making a captain's call – when he is presumed both to be infallible and to be speaking on behalf of all in the team. Or when he is simply being a divisive, rancorous and fallible figure leading team Abbott out to play against the leaners and takers.
His pronouncement on Scotland came in the middle of a host of other pronouncements, about the sheer wickedness of the Russians, and of soldiers in the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, where he appeared to be speaking ex cathedra, as it were. I am, for that matter, never quite sure into which category his occasional comments about Indonesia, Israel, China and Japan fit, though I am often uncomfortable with the remarks he has made on those as well.
I have, of course, no objection to his saying what he thinks, to his putting forward arguments in debate, and even to his right, as prime minister, to carry forward into action the things he thinks right.
What I object to is his claim of a right to have us all fall obediently into line behind him when there has been argument and deliberation, on the basis that father Tony knows best. And in saying that this claim of a right sticks in the craw, I would also observe that he was never, either as a leader of the opposition or as a follower of other leaders of the opposition, conspicuous for loyalty either to the leader of the team, or his team.
Abbott has a right to denounce terrorism, and to demand that others do not practise it, here or abroad. I am not so sure that he should be able to formulate, on behalf of all Australians, just what classes of Australians – Muslims say, or Tasmanians – should think about the civic obligations, or their duty not to kill those with whom they disagree, unless Tony Abbott, on behalf of the team, has declared them to be enemies of all Australians.
There are several reasons for caution. Even in my lifetime, some regular Australians – Catholics such as myself, for example – have believed things about our right to impose values on others that we no longer can do in the secular society we have become. Not so long ago Spaniards, in the name of Catholicism, were offering Jews conversion, exile or death. It would be relativism, surely, to say that values and cultures can be defensible in different contexts.
My other reservation is that sometimes I have a slight sympathy for the sentiment of our captain, but contempt for his explanation. Such as, for example, about the problems of Syria being about bad baddies and not-so-bad baddies, or the readiness with which he has assumed that the shooting down of MH17 was a positive act of Vladimir Putin's will.
And much as I tended to agree with his assessment of the need to render urgent humanitarian aid and protection to the Yazidis and Christians in northern Iraq, I was a little concerned at his idea of a fresh and unprofitable war in the area.
For all I care, Abbott can even categorise things as "un-Australian", though, given the things that some "great" Australians have done and won praise for, here and abroad, I have often wondered whether there are any clubs to which Australians cannot belong on the grounds of being too ghastly or too evil.
I think, frankly, he should concentrate on leading team Abbott, which is not doing at all well, and leave the saying of uniting encomiums to governors-general, and other, more natural and uniting leaders, not so obviously muddied by battle on the field.