TONY ABBOTT AND THE TIMES OF REVOLUTION
Reviewed by Michael Gilchrist – News Weekly, 19 October 2019
After years of inaccurate and negative treatment of Tony Abbotts political career and image, both by the media and in assorted writings, a positive corrective is long overdue.
Many Australians accept as fact the crude caricatures and inaccuracies regarding Abbott: that he is a “wrecker”, a religious fanatic, a bully, anti-women, a far-right knuckle-dragger.
Gerard Wilson’s latest book, Tony Abbott and the Times of Revolution, will be welcomed by those who, despite all the media misinformation, continue to admire the former prime minister and parliamentarian as a thoroughly decent individual as well as a fearless, forthright champion of mainstream conservative values and the positive role of Western civilisation.
Wilson’s book comprises four sections: Abbotts school years and the 1960s cultural revolution; student radicalism at Sydney University 1973-75, the prelude to Abbott’s arrival on campus; Abbott’s pushback against the far-left monopoly of student politics, 1976-80; and the media and Abbott.
Like this reviewer, Abbott’s admirers have found inexplicable the hatred and ridicule the very mention of Abbott’s name can evoke among otherwise intelligent people. The knifing of Prime Minister Abbott in the 2015 Malcolm Turnbull coup was welcomed in many quarters, despite Abbott’s massive election victory in 2013. Turnbull in turn foolishly denied Abbott a ministerial portfolio, despite his experience and expertise, relegating him to the backbench.
This folly and unfairness drew not a murmur of protest from the same media outlets, notably the ABC and Fairfax newspapers, which would later gasp with horror when, with poetic justice, the incompetent Turnbull was replaced by Scott Morrison in 2018.
Not surprisingly, as Turnbull and his Labor-lite “moderates” tilted the Liberal Party leftwards, Abbott, with the freedom of a backbencher, reminded his party of its grassroots centre-right traditions while offering constructive policy suggestions. For his pains he was pilloried as a loose cannon and divisive by the media and his opponents inside and outside the Liberal Party.
To top this off, in the eyes of his critics, Abbott’s unforgivable crimes included opposition to redefining marriage and scepticism about global-warming alarmism.
Wilson’s book traces the origins of this situation via the influences on Abbott’s intellectual and moral development in Catholic primary and secondary schools through to the end of his time at Sydney University (1963-80).
The author is well equipped for his task, being a contemporary of Abbott’s and sharing a similar background. Wilson draws on his own experiences and reactions to the turbulent times of the 1960s and 1970s while providing copious documentation of the cut and thrust of student politics at Sydney University and Abbott’s involvement and responses.
Wilson’s outline of what a Catholic religious education entailed during this period rings true with this writer, as I attended Catholic primary and secondary schools during the 1940s and 1950s. Later, during my part-time studies for degrees at Melbourne and Monash universities in the 1960s and 1970s, I was aware of the destructive impact of far-left student activism, then at its height in Melbourne as it was in Sydney.
Gramsci’s “long march” through the nation’s institutions was already well under way in the 1970s, especially at Australia’s universities, when Abbott entered the lists as a champion of mainstream conservative values. He placed himself in opposition to the left’s monopoly on the Sydney University’s Student Representative Council and its blatant misuse of student fees via a shameless promotion of pet causes.
Many of that period’s young leftists would later take up key positions in the media, politics, the judiciary, academia and other major institutions.
The aggressive tactics of the far left at today’s Australian universities against conservatives, including guest speakers and their audiences, or indeed anyone with whom they disagree, was already well under way in the 1970s, as Wilson documents.
The author also examines the writings of two anti-Abbott literary smears: Susan Mitchell’s 2011 crude hatchet job, Tony Abbott: A Mans Man; and David Marr’s more polished Political Animal: The Making of Tony (2013). Wilson’s thorough analysis nails and refutes the errors and distortions in these works.
Those involved in university politics or simply attending university during the 1970s and later will find much that resonates in Wilsons blow-by-blow coverage. The general reader might prefer to skim through some of the more lengthy details to get the overall picture, which often becomes obvious after a few pages.
What comes across is that little has changed over the past 30 or 40 years. Those who regarded Abbott, with his leadership of the conservative pushback, as the enemy in the 1970s, still do so today with a mixture of fear and hate. The foundations had been laid.
Abbott’s crime in the eyes of so-called progressives is to be one of the best equipped, multi-talented individuals ever to enter Australian politics; but one who also happens to be a conservative, with religious values – a dangerous combination indeed.
As a postscript, should there be a second edition, I offer a few suggestions. An index would be helpful; appendices to withdraw some of the lengthier documentation from the main narrative would make it easier going for the general reader. Some hyphenation problems need fixing: at the start or middle of a line we find such examples as “funda-mentalism”, “spectacu-lar”, “Marx-ism’s”, “ef-ficient”; and the left and right-hand page numbers have markedly different fonts, which should be standardised. These are minor quibbles in the context of a well-researched and timely corrective to today’s too widely accepted caricature of an outstanding, far-sighted public figure.
Alan Jones discusses TONY ABBOTT AND THE TIMES OF REVOLUTION with Ross Fitzgerald on Radio 2GB
James Murray in Annals Australasia