A dangerous addiction to discipline

Australia’s alternative Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, has come under renewed scrutiny in recent weeks as a bemused electorate wonders what we have to do to get leaders we actually admire.

We don’t particularly like Prime Minister Julia Gillard and we think her administration is rather lacking in capabilities and competence. But when we run our eye over the alternative team we suffer an involuntary shudder as well. And, the Greens? Well, you’re basically either in love with them or think they’re mad, bad and dangerous.

All of them reckon they’re great but no matter how hard we look, we cannot see much in the way of proof. Certainly it’s a real a difficulty for those in opposition but this lot have been under the microscope for a couple of years now and we are still trying to find a silver lining.

Things have become so deflating that people are starting to ask for policy debate. Seriously, how bad can politics get when Aussies are so disenchanted with the theatre of leadership that discussing policy seems like a more entertaining alternative?

And much of this swings on Tony Abbott. When the nation was presented with a hung parliament at the last election, the Opposition Leader got into full swing. He raised merry hell the length and the breadth of the country, protesting that Labor had failed to win enough votes to secure legitimacy and that we needed him to save us.

Labor leader, Julia Gillard, spent her time wooing the independents until she had their support and became Prime Minister. That her wheeling and dealing cost us taxpayers billions of dollars to prop up the independents’ sectional interests should not be forgotten when the next vote comes around.

Tony Abbott was left frustrated and cranky: the man whose destiny was denied by a whisker. And he gave vent to his frustrations with a vengeance. He did what his role dictated: he opposed. Relentlessly, manically, and effectively, it must be said. Julia Gillard’s supposed legitimacy crumbled like a stale biscuit. But her numbers held. And Tony kept repeating his mantra like an old, broken record. Until, as one does, we tuned it out. If you can’t turn down an intrusive and insistent noise, you simply adjust your hearing until you fade it into the background.

Which is the bind Tony finds himself incapable of escaping from currently. His determination to remain fixated on that which initially delivered him success is now causing him grief. So one-dimensional is his role-playing that even Gillard has been able to turn it back on him and lambast him as a thug. A sexist, misogynist one at that.

He’s not, really, and the potential proof of that is to consider how Abbott would be opposing Kevin Rudd if he were still Labor leader and Prime Minister. The carping criticism of the Opposition Leader would be just the same. Gillard is simply fortunate that she can use her gender to great effect in highlighting the serious deficiencies in Abbott’s approach.

So, can he change?

The odds are not good. Because it’s when we examine the core values of Abbott – and his lifestyle – that we can portend how he would be as Prime Minister.

Tony is a rabid fitness freak. He is obsessed with it. It is what gets him out of bed in the dark every single day without fail to cycle up a near-mountain no matter the weather conditions. And, in the national capital, they are rarely that pleasant at that time of the day. Not that it matters where Tony is, he still exercises. More than most humans can do, marathons and ultra marathons. He has nothing left to prove.

But still he does it with manic determination and, it can be said, a religious fervour. It is this self-flagellating discipline that is Abbott’s defining characteristic. He can no more relax his fitness regimen than he could denounce his god. And that is the nub of the problem.

For all his intelligence and, even, personability, Abbott is unidimensional. To an extent that is alien to the vast majority of Australians. He is an addict to the endorphins released by his exercise. He knows no other way to gain the same satisfaction and he will sacrifice almost anything to get his fix.

He plays politics the same way. Ruthlessly determined, utterly fixated on the goal, and willing to push himself to lengths others simply cannot comprehend.

Which leaves him the odd man out. We simply do not understand him. Even if we accept him for what he is, we cannot come to grips with him. His determination to win at any cost is not a quality that Australians find attractive. Oh, we love to win, make no mistake. But we can lose with a shrug of the shoulders and a belief that next time, we might be victorious.

Tony doesn’t get that and we don’t get Tony. Something has to give. One side or the other needs to change. The polls are suggesting it will not be the majority of voters who are willing to change their views. Which leaves Tony with the sternest challenge yet to his defining beliefs. Can the conviction politician modify his articles of faith? The fate of the nation hangs in the balance.