All posts by Mark Buckley

I am a native of Melbourne, now based in regional Victoria. My interests include politics, history, ethics and literature.

Tony Abbott Will Never Be Prime Minister (Again)


One of my daughters, a wise young head, when describing certain individuals of less than stellar intelligence, uses the phrase “he (or she) will never be Prime Minister”. It is a curiously descriptive phrase, because it says everything about limits, of intelligence, of ambition, of drive, of the ability to think conceptually, to radiate warmth, to believe in service to our community …

Of course it relies on an old fashioned sense that, had we personally really tried, perhaps we could have done anything as well; but then reality steps in, and we realise that our time is past. But contained within the idea is an admiration for those who did possess those attributes, those character traits which, for good or evil, elevated them above their peers.

Tony Abbott Got through the Character Check

A closer look at some of those who DID make it to Prime Minister, however, is a cause for concern. Let us consider Tony Abbott as a recent exemplar of people who achieved arguably the highest office in the land, and yet they seem to embody the phrase “he’ll never be Prime Minister”.

Tony Abbott has a ‘highlights package‘ which is truly impressive. Of course we use the phrase ironically, because there is a curious consensus that he, over twenty five years in parliament, really had no highlights, but more a dazzling array of cringe-worthy moments, piled on top of each other. Here are some of his more horrifying efforts, any of which should have torpedoed his career, and yet he defied the gods.

Tony Abbott’s Highlights Package

  • explaining that much of what he said should be disregarded or disbelieved, unless it was carefully prepared and scripted
  • describing Australia prior to European arrival/invasion as “nothing but bush” and following up by describing Aborigines living in remote communities as having made a “lifestyle choice”
  • being voted the world’s worst ever Health Minister (although Peter Dutton has put in a late bid to contest that award)
  • listening to an elderly woman calling in on talk-back radio, who explained that the only job she could obtain, to earn extra cash so as to mitigate cuts to her health care, was working on an adult sex-line. Tony winked at the host, presumably a variant on “ooh-la-la”
  • rejecting a meeting with a dying asbestos victim, who wanted to present a petition asking for subsidies to be paid on medications for their condition, on the grounds that the man was not necessarily “pure of heart”
  • destroying any chance of Australia having an adult conversation about climate change, and sabotaging our response to it, for nearly a decade now, by removing a carbon price, and describing the science as “absolute crap” and exercising his control of the troglodytes in the Liberal Party, years after being removed to the back bench
  • his seemingly inexhaustible number of ways of describing women’s engagement with the world as being tied to domestic chores like ironing, and looking after the household budget, and sometimes having ‘sex appeal’
  • the classic video clip of him being unable to speak, on live television, to justify his “sometimes shit happens” remark, when discussing the death of an Australian soldier in Afghanistan
  • his re-introduction of knighthoods into Australian life, with the inaugural gong going to Prince Philip of Great Britain
  • his remarkable take on immigration, where he surmised that Jesus would understand that not everyone can find a place in Australia. This was a surprise, as Jesus died almost eighteen hundred years before Australia even existed
  • his openly stated fear of homosexuality, even though his sister is openly gay
  • his insistence on a postal ballot legalising gay marriage, even after he had been deposed from the Prime Ministership, and which cost $122 million
  • University of Sydney psychologists found that the increased exposure to negative messaging during the long and divisive debate on gay marriage caused “psychological distress” for gay, lesbian and bisexual people.

What Will Unfold For Tony Abbott in Retirement?

The most distressing thing about this remarkable list is that it barely scrapes the surface of his hopeless quarter century in public life. But there is another disturbing aspect to this situation. Now that he has been removed from office, I would be willing to bet that some awful sinecure will be found for him, at the public’s expense, so that he can continue to blunder along, and after enough time has elapsed, he will retire with honours and accolades, as an ex-Prime Minister.

But despair not. This is to be an occasional series of ruminations on the performances by Australia’s leaders, and how they appear to be, as a group, uniquely unsuited to leadership. Consider some of the names – John, Kevin, Malcolm, Scott. Wow! But at least we missed a bullet when Peter (Dutton) failed. And to the conspiracy theorists out there who think I left Julia out of that list of no-hopers, I did. At least she actually did her job, which was to LEGISLATE.

The Narrow Road to the Deep North, by Richard Flanagan.-A short review


This is a long book. At first glance it appears to be based on the life of Sir Weary Dunlop, and it is written in a formal style, even slightly academic. Its title is taken from a 17th century haibun, a Japanese literary form, which synthesises haiku and prose. The range of haibun is broad and frequently includes autobiography, diary, essay, prose poem, short story and travel journal. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haibun The author has steadfastly included an example of each element, as if ticking off in a catalogue.

Each of its parts is interesting, in its own way. One part serves as a catalogue of the horrors of the building of the Thai Burma railroad, by mainly Australian prisoners of war, after the fall of Singapore. Other parts are hit and miss, but the main message I take from the book is that worldly success does not make one happy.

It also leaps about in time, from the present, where the ‘hero’ is now an elderly, bored rake, looking back, mournfully, to the beginning of his journey, when his eye was not so jaded. There is, however, no credible depth, no real sense of despair. The best, but also the most tedious passages, document the inhumane treatment of the prisoners by their Japanese, and Korean guards. It can read as a cross between a translated diary and an unedited historical treatise.

While it pays due respect to the suffering of the prisoner/slaves, it suffers from being too wordy. Richard Flanagan lacks the elegance of a Henry James, who allowed his readers to provide their own versions of hell: Mr Flanagan provides episodes so overly-detailed that one almost begs for relief. In one memorable scene the guards beat a prisoner for page after page, after page, until it appears he is indestructible. (This sentence is not meant in any way to minimise the real suffering of those who were there, but to highlight the relentless, over writing.)

Preceding the hero’s memories of the war, and interposed, into and throughout, there is a ‘great love story’, wherein the hero chooses the woman he loves, based mainly on a preference for blue eyes over brown. This love story is at best perfunctory, and has very little in it in the way of passion, or credibility, apart from the fact that it is conducted with his uncle’s wife.

Similarly his marriage and subsequent family life are characterised by descriptions of adultery and failure, and a type of nostalgic longing, with flashbacks to the war, earlier love, self-disgust at his continuing philandering, and at his growing celebrity.

He is in an existential hole until he is miraculously rescued by the great Hobart bush-fires of 1967. He not only drives through road blocks onto the burning mountain, where his wife and children are on foot, but he finds them, amidst the firestorm and the smoke and the panic. This rescue is not only highly unlikely in such tremendously hellish scenes, and over such treacherous ground as an out of control bush-fire, but it appears to do duty as another box-ticking exercise, and to fulfil the need in the narrative for some selfless heroics. It lacks credibility as action, and also as redemption.

This book is not really a novel, in the sense that it does not project as a conscious work of art. It is almost an oral history, unedited, verbose, well meaning, and above all else, sincere.

The book seems to have garnered almost universal praise as an Australian classic, which is really more to do with the packaging, the subject matter, and the size of the project.