In the 1990s, Tony Abbott once jokingly described himself as the political love child of John Howard and Bronwyn Bishop. And Like a lot of good jokes, we laugh because it's funny and we laugh because it's true.
The relevance of Bronwyn Bishop to that equation has faded over time, as Bishop's career has faded, but Tony Abbott remains very much John Howard's progeny. It's written all over his political career, in letters too big to miss.
Abbott got his start in politics working as Press Secretary for, then Opposition leader, John Hewson. Hewson would subsequently claim that he hired Abbott based on a recommendation from John Howard, then in the wilderness on the back bench, and that Abbott had repaid him for this by acting 'pretty much as a spy for Howard.' After Hewson's demise following the 1993 election, Abbott would then head up 'Australians for Constitutional Monarchy,' - The only institution in Australia that has the courage to tell the truth: that everything is just fine! - an organisation dedicated to preventing Australia from becoming a republic. A cause always close to John Howard's political heart. Or, at least, close to the dead black thing that sits in the chest cavity where Howard's heart ought to have been.
Abbott would then move into parliament after a by election in 1994, into the ultra safe Liberal seat of Warringah. After the 1996 election, won by Howard in a monumental landslide, Abbott would be rewarded by his father figure with promotion to a cabinet secretary position, from where he made a relatively rapid rise up the ranks into the senior ministry.
Abbott would remain a loyal acolyte of Howard's throughout his time as Prime Minister, one of the very few not to tell him to resign immediately prior to the 2007 election when all indicators pointed to Howard being beaten badly. And, in the aftermath of that surprise outcome, probably the staunchest defender of Howard's legacy from Opposition.
The careers of the two, political father and son, are deeply entwined then, rooted in far in the past and consecrated over time. It is impossible to consider Abbott's political persona without considering Howard's, and Howard's influence over his 'son.'
Which leads us to last weeks debate over asylum seekers. And whether it was appropriate for the government to pay for a handful of them to attend a funeral for family members in Sydney. The dead were victims of an awful tragedy, when a flimsy boat carrying refugees disintegrated on rocks at Christmas Island:
Abbott, and his suddenly rabid immigration spokesman Scott Morrison, held that flying these people cross country and back was a waste of public money. Morrison lead the attack, stating that having tax payers foot the bill for this expense was 'unreasonable.' This on a day when the news was filled with images of utterly distraught people, weeping and hysterical as their relatives were buried, after a shocking tragedy:
How anyone could look at this footage, or read about it, or hear about it on the radio, and not feel anything other than sorry for the people involved is almost beyond comprehension. But Morrison saw it strictly in terms of dollars and cents. Our dollars and cents, wasted on some ratbag darkies from some faraway place he'd rather not know about.
The Government would later reveal the cost of flying these people to and from the funerals as $300 000, or approximately what the Parliamentary canteen in Canberra spends on sticky buns in a year. In other words, not that much money in an economy valued at about $300 billion.
Abbott looked on approvingly at Morrison's performance, and added some slightly toned down criticism of the Government of his own. When Morrison subsequently made a half hearted, heavily qualified 'apology' for what he had said - apologising for the timing of his remarks but not the content - Abbott heaped praise on his head, labeling the shadow minister 'courageous.'
All of which could have come straight from any period in Howard's time as Prime Minister. The whole business was straight out of the JWH 'Dog Whistle' playbook. Absurdly exaggerated demonisation of a handful refugees, tough talk to the press about what to do with them, having one of his ministers put the really tough line out (with Morrison standing in for Phillip Ruddock) while he appeared to offer a more nuanced position and then finally the palms up 'It's not like we hate refugees or are racist or anything' semi sofetning of what had been said done with a straight face to the press.
In style and substance, Abbott really followed in his father's footsteps this time.
And it could well be that he will get the same kind of political benefit from his hard line, cold hearted, blatantly racist stance that Howard used to get. A couple of days after the comments of Morrison and Abbott had been batted back and forth in the media, and in the face of the now usual limp, gutless response from the Government, 'Crikey' offered evidence that indicated public opinion was strongly behind the two Coalition cunts... sorry, leaders, on the issue.
An online poll in 'The Australian' reportedly showed 98% of respondents opposed to taxpayer funds being used to fly the asylum seekers across country. While a similar poll in 'The Herald Sun' had %70 opposed. 'Crikey' also offered a sample of talkback callers who had phoned in on the topic. Some highlights:
* Caller Carole says she’s angry over the taxpayers having to foot the bill for asylum seeker funerals yesterday. She says the Muslim community should have been able to do it. She asks where they get money for mosques and schools.
* Caller Chris says a lot of money has been spent bringing asylum-seekers to Sydney, and asks whether the Federal Government paid for the Australian flood victims or the VIC fire victims to go to funerals.
* Caller Debra says she wishes to air her disgust and disappointment at the decision to use tax payers money to pay for the asylum seekers funeral. She says she doesn’t believe these people are paying taxes when they get here. She asks if they are going to pay for her bridge climb.
* Caller Michael says most people in the community are sick of paying for things such as this.
* Caller Lenti says Asylum seekers should be sent to North Korea.
Compassionate bunch, aren't we?
'Oh people died? Fuck them! Send 'em all to North Korea! Where's my Government handout?' In fact, I'm surprised that Abbott didn't say this himself, although perhaps he's saving it for another time.
It's also important to bear in mind, in relation to the bleating commentary about how the Government never does anything to help decent white folks with the costs of a funeral or tragedy, that there are any number of Government benefits that do exactly that. Among the more prominent:
BEREAVEMENT ALLOWANCE: Fortnightly payments after the death of a partner.
BEREAVEMENT PAYMENT: Lump sum payment after the death of partner.
FUNERAL/MEMORIAL ASSISTANCE: Up to $10 000 to help with funeral costs associated with a natural disaster.
FUNERAL BENEFIT: Up to $2000 to help with funeral costs for a member, or former member, of Australia's armed forces.
And this is literally the tip of the iceberg. A comprehensive list of assistance after someone passes on would go on longer than this blog entry, which is already long enough.
So we are a compassionate bunch, or can be, when our better instincts are roused. Which is not going to happen while Abbott continues to emulate his political father. Hopefully he realises that it is every childs duty to break away from their parents at some point and forge their own identity, and realises it soon.