How Malevolent Buffoonery Became The New Normal Of Australian Leadership

Tired of watching our so-called leaders aspire to mediocrity, and fall short? Join the rest of us.

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Remember when Tony Abbott won the Liberal leadership by a single vote and said he reckoned he could win the next election? Remember how we all laughed and laughed? Good times.

Then he fucking won, and we knew it would be terrible, but as bad as we thought it was going to be, the reality ended up being so much worse.

The first budget was when it all came crashing home. Abbott and Hockey, denied the focus of their collective tantrum when Rudd finally overthrew That Woman, thought that losing the election slightly less than Rudd gave them a mandate to break everyone’s toys. The poor, disabled, indigenous, sick, unemployed, disadvantaged and young were punished for being the playthings of what we laughably call “the left”.

Such is the Abbott government’s capacity for self delusion, they’re still bewildered by the strength of the backlash over that first budget. As Shorten turned over and mumbled at the alarm clock a bit, grassroots Australians turned out in their thousands to protest. The reaction was so strong that Abbott came within inches of losing the Prime Ministership. Our Minister for Looking Cool in Leather Jackets danced and twinkled across the top of a wave of outrage, and came within a heartbeat of control of the party.

But it’s politics, and factional alliances would rather be dead than right, so Abbott clung on to the sinking ship and all he’s had to do to stay there is convince an all too compliant Bill Shorten to lash their masts together.

We’re two years in now, the second coalition budget was marginally less destructive than the first and outrage is too exhausting to maintain for years on end. Numpty fatigue has set in.

Politics has always made a welcome home for the venal and mendacious, but past leaders seemed to require something more than an egomaniacal lust for power — and I don’t think that’s just nostalgia speaking. Leaders had to have some modicum of charisma and intelligence, or at least the ability to fake those things to get to the top of the stinking pile.

When we bemoan the loss of Keating, it’s not because he was a model of moral rectitude or benevolent perfection — he wasn’t.  But even his most vehement opponents would never have thought to question his ability to understand or articulate his government’s policies. It’s should be truly terrifying that the people given responsibility for managing a national economy don’t even seem to have a grasp on the basics, but the metronomic battering of idiocy is so constant that it’s just faded into background noise.

Laura Tingle called the Prime Minister a fool and an idiot a while back and no one really noticed. Think about that for a minute. One of the senior members of the Canberra Press Gallery and a person of some considerable gravitas, called a sitting Prime Minister an idiot in the Australian Financial Review — which despite its insistence on publishing Mark Latham, likes to think of itself as a Serious Publication for Serious People — and no one cared. No one complained about the lack of respect for the office if not the man, no one stepped forward to defend him or refute her arguments. Even Greg Sheridan kept schtum. Because the truth is, we all know he’s an idiot. Even his supporters accept the premise that their leader is an idiot, because what alternative do they have? He is Kennett without the courage, Howard without the brains and Fraser without the heart. Despite that, he will lead the coalition to the next election and my guess is that he will probably win, because (and may all the gods save me from ever having to write this sentence again) Abbott was right. All they needed to do was ride out the swell of outrage after the first budget and malevolent buffoonery became the new normal. The rage of 2013 has sullenly ceded ground to apathy and despair, there is no viable alternative, and that will be enough to win Abbott the next election.

It used to make me angry, but now I’m just tired. Tired of watching our so-called leaders aspire to mediocrity and fall short. Tired of watching them wrap the tattered costume of good government around their failure and rebrand it as success. Tired of watching the alleged leader of a moribund Opposition link arms with Abbott and march proudly down the path of least resistance. Tired of being too tired to be angry.

Because there is so much to be angry about.

By any standards, a high suicide rate in a community has got to be a pretty damn good indicator that something is severely wrong. The Kimberly region has one of the highest suicide rates of any nation on the planet. Most of those suicides are, of course, Aboriginal people suffering the loss of their culture, their kin, their past and their future.

The recent Amnesty International report on indigenous youth incarceration in Australia found that while Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people make up just over 5 per cent of the Australian population of 10 to 17-year-olds, they make up 59 per cent of people in youth detention. As Charlie Pickering said, we are in danger of losing another generation — but Abbott’s funding cuts roll ever on and Aboriginal Legal Service’s Custody Notification Service is just one of the many services, proven to save lives and dollars, that will lose its funding at the end of this month.

Asylum seekers, under what could laughably be called the “care” of the Australian government continue to suffer and die, and such is Abbott’s ideological dissonance, he proudly spruiks our atrocities to the world while enacting legislation that criminalises disclosure of those atrocities. His government blithely ignores evidence of corruption and illegal brutality (as opposed to the brutality they’ve been hurriedly decriminalising) and demands the resignation of Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs with sincere outrage.

Australian women are being murdered at a rate of two a week, most of them by men who claimed to love them, and while Abbott mouths platitudes in response to Dorothy Dixers from the Leader of the Opposition, he is defunding refuges and refusing aid to the few agencies that are able to offer help to women in danger.

The United Nations takes Australia to task for “withdrawing from the community of nations seeking to tackle dangerous climate change”, but Abbott is still bragging about removing the price on carbon and gifting the Galilee Basin to Gina Reinhart and presiding over the final destruction of the Great Barrier Reef. Because intellectual rigor is suspect and science is the work of the Other Side.

Rich people should be excluded from tax office requirements because of their riches; Human Rights Commissioners should resign if they speak actively about human rights; poor people should just get high paying jobs and stop being poor; ministerial fiat will fix terrorism; putting a price signal on primary medical care will reduce the cost of health care; superannuation is only a tax dodge if you’re rich but we can’t afford to keep paying pensions to the poor; unemployment is increasing; the housing bubble is getting bigger; relations with our nearest international neighbours are getting shakier, and the list goes on and on. And on.

The most damaging thing this triumph of malignant inadequacy has given Australia is a deathly torpor. It will cost lives and steal futures, but the weight of it will crush all opposition and that’s really all it needs to succeed. However bad things are now, they will almost certainly get worse. A moribund Opposition and an exhausted electorate will not be enough to stop them.

Jane Gilmore is a Melbourne-based writer and editor. She blogs at, and tweets from @janetribune 

Feature image by Stefan Postles, for Getty.