Recalling the assassination of Prime Minister Tony Abbott

I intend to re-post on this website some of the comments and essays I had posted on another website (they are no longer there). These are comments and essays that I consider important for the understanding of and application of Edmund Burke’s thought. As it turns out, the present commentary coincides with yet another display of treachery by members of the Liberal Party.


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The timeline:

  • 12 September 2015, Saturday, Abbott in Perth campaigning for the Canning by-election.
  • 12 September 2015, Bishop and Turnbull have a meeting at a Sydney hotel “to discuss where things stood’’.
  • 13 September 2015, Sunday, Abbot in Adelaide, meets with Pyne.
  • 13 September 2015, Sunday night, Turnbull and his war room meet over dinner at Peter Hendy’s Queanbeyan house.
  • 14 September 2015, Monday, at 8.30 am, Abbott at the Norwood Traffic Centre with South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill. No idea of conspiracy.
  • 14 September 2015, midday, Bishop tells Abbott there’s a challenge to his leadership and proposes three options.
  • 14 September 2015, 3.10 pm, after question time, Turnbull accosts Abbott.
  • 14 September 2015, in a press conference just after 4 pm, Turnbull declares: “A little while ago I met with the prime minister and advised him that I would be challenging him for the leadership of the Liberal Party…’
  • 14 September 2015, 9 pm Abbott lies bleeding from 54 stab wounds

There were reports that Tony Abbott was completely taken by surprise by the well-organised coup to depose him. He could not have been more surprised than most Coalition supporters. It was beyond long-time Liberal Party supporters’ conception that the Liberal Party would stoop so low – that it would take its lead from the Labor Party in resolving its internal problems. Indeed, the filthiness of Tony Abbott’s assassination must have raised Labor eyebrows in admiration.

It’s happened before, said the coup’s supporters, what are you worried about? Take a deep breath and get used to a legitimate change in leadership. Indeed, one could claim that the act of deposing Abbott was not wholly unprecedented. Prime Ministers Menzies and Gorton suffered a similar fate – Menzies in 1940 and Gorton in 1971. I remember the Gorton affair well. Although it seemed to me at the time not unwarranted, Fraser was not without blemish. He expertly manoeuvred to undermine Gorton.

United Australia Party (UAP) colleagues undermined Menzies while he was away in the United Kingdom to discuss the war effort with Churchill. On his return, those same colleagues beefed up their vicious efforts to get rid of him. Worn down by the incessant white-anting, Menzies uncharacteristically caved in and resigned, saying that he had lost the confidence of the party. The shafting of Tony Abbott resembles that of Menzies’ fate – not Gorton’s – though not in the way his enemies present the comparison, that is, as a justification of precedence. The similarity is in the dirty, treacherous, seditious tactics the party enemies of both prime ministers used. An important consideration in this analysis is that Tony Abbott had a better track record of political leadership than Gorton and Menzies.

Abbott had seen off two Labor Prime ministers and convincingly won an election. He had enormous support among Coalition supporters. Many of us were convinced that he would win the next election despite the polls. He had a difficult job in righting the economic chaos courtesy of the Labor Party under Rudd and Gillard, especially in view of the ignorant ferals in the senate who blocked every move to bring spending under control. He had to persevere, as many of his Liberal predecessors had done. He would win the people over in the long run. They would see tough measures had to be taken and that Tony Abbott, principled and determined, was the man for the job. There is no other politician in Australia with the same moral toughness as Tony Abbott. Indeed, that is a main reason that the leftist media hate him. They can’t stand someone espousing enduring moral principles in a world which their subjectivism must construct to have any legitimacy.

As I say, Liberal Party supporters were utterly appalled at action that was wholly out the character and spirit of the Liberal Party. We did not think the Liberal Party had been so morally weakened. We did not think loyalty, sticking to the job, showing backbone and determination meant so little to a majority of the members. The outrage was immediate. That outrage has not lessened, if talkback radio is any indication. Indeed, the outrage if anything has solidified and become entrenched, especially since Abbott’s enemies in the leftist media have given a clearer idea of what went on behind the scenes. No amount of political prejudice and religious bigotry could hide the essential facts in the telling of the well-organized coup.

Accounts of the deposing of Tony Abbott appeared in the Australian Financial Review by Phillip Corey and Laura Tingle, in the Sydney Morning Herald by Peter Hartcher, and in the Australian by Pamela Williams. Pamela Williams’s account is much longer than Hartcher’s, and Corey and Tingle’s, but there is no disagreement in the essentials. Corey, Tingle and Hartcher are well-known Abbott-haters, all three racked by hatred-inducing fantasies.

Among Abbott haters, Hartcher must take the crown. When he writes about Abbott he loses all semblance of being a journalist. He becomes just another slimy political operative. His writing is hackneyed, clichéd and tendentious, with hardly an argument backed by evidence to be found anywhere. All is assertion and the regurgitation of the leftist narrative about Abbott. He shows no reluctance to make up stories to serve his purpose. His account of the coup is no different. It’s the same narrative that ends in blaming Abbot for his own demise – gaffes, Credlin, blah, blah, blah – it’s all repeated yet again. He borrows Scott Morrison’s ugly self-serving accusation that Abbott was prepared ‘to throw Hockey under a bus’ to keep the prime ministership, without subjecting Morrison’s manoeuvring to the analysis it was crying out for.

But Hartcher unwittingly betrays himself in his sanctimonious gloating over the destruction of Abbott. He writes: ‘It was the worst kept secret in Australian politics that Turnbull, who had the Liberal leadership wrested from him by Abbott five years and nine months earlier, was determined to take it back.’ Never before have I seen in Hartcher’s pulp journalism this admission, an admission that must have coloured any journalist’s writing about Turnbull and federal politics – any journalist worthy of the title. It didn’t.

Hartcher’s chilling lack of honesty and fair dealing highlights the almost insurmountable obstacles that Tony Abbott had to confront as prime minister. The media hates everything about him, especially his religion, and backs away from nothing that would damage him – not even the most scurrilous unfounded accusation. Anti-Catholic sectarianism has not reached such heights since the Prince Alfred affair in 1868. Some newspapers and journalists are devoid of the moral gumption to rise above ridicule, mockery and calumny. Then there were the ignorant senators who showed a clownish perversity not seen before in that fragile institution of government.

One of these representatives of the people did not blush to call Abbott a ‘psychopath’, an outburst that highlights the urgent need of psychological intervention that senator was apparently undergoing. To top it all off, one of Abbott’s own, high in the ranks of government, was busy carrying out a five-year seditious operation to grab the prime ministership from him, all the while giving Cheshire smiles of support. Few men could stand up to such unrelenting hounding. It is a wonder that Abbott did not cave in to the pressure, as Menzies did. He fought until the last moment before the blood spattered conspirators and their fifty-four daggers paraded jubilantly in the glare of an applauding media.

To use a favourite media cliché, it is a delicious irony that the accounts of Abbott’s execution draw the curtain away to reveal Turnbull’s perfidy in all its obscene nakedness. There is now no doubt whatever that the usurper Turnbull never gave up the idea of actively reclaiming the Liberal Party leadership. He was not going to wait for it – to let circumstances flow his way without resorting to backroom deals. By hook or by crook he was going to have his vanity satisfied. We now know that he worked behind the scenes developing his base, wheedling his way into good opinion of some, flattering others, making promises of rewards, and seeking reconciliation with members he had alienated. He did not even resile from bribing that ignorant kid politician from Queensland. This was Cassius in full seditious mode.

The first spill in February 2015 gave us a surface view of what was happening and who were agitating against Abbott. Let’s recall the names of the leading stirrers: Luke Sempkins, Dennis Jensen, Andrew Laming, Warren Entsch, Mal Brough, Ian MacDonald, Senator Arthur Sinodinos, Senator Wyatt Roy.

They appeared again in the confected outrage over Tony Abbott’s decision to grant a knighthood to Prince Philip. That ridiculous Andrew Lamming organised a private member’s bill to end the knighthood awards. None of these people stopped to inquire what motivated Abbott to reintroduce Imperial Honours. Instead, they acted as stooges for those in the media who were out to destroy Abbott. Lamming continued to make a goose of himself by leading a media team around his electorate only to be taken to task by ordinary people whom he could never fool.

Lamming was representative of those in the Liberal Party who don’t know what it means to be a conservative. They have no idea of the cultural links and continuities that were behind Tony Abbott’s decision. We have a prescriptive cultural history that runs back into Great Britain’s history. It’s a mutual history. It is childish to deny it; it is the worst ignorance not to know about it. Those that don’t know about it have no place in the Liberal Party.

Having tasted the blood of the spill and the confected awards outrage, and recognizing the success of their constant white-anting, the conspirators had the confidence to mount the coup. Pamela Williams named the key group at the September 13 meeting in Queanbeyan as Peter Hendy, MalcolmTurnbull, Arthur Sinodinos, James McGrath, senator Scott Ryan, senator Mitch Fifield, and Queensland MPs Mal Brough and the kid Wyatt Roy. Later we learned that Bishop’s chief of staff, Murray Hansen, was at the meeting, as was Craig Lundy. Active supporters were named as Paul Fletcher and Michaelia Cash. Senator Birmingham was among the plotters but could not be present at the meeting. As Williams put it, on the Ides of September the conspirators ‘were preparing to intervene ­brutally in a democratically elected government with an ambush against Australia’s 28th prime minister.’ (In the Roman calendar, the Ides of September is on the 13th.)

If the treachery of the coup was not ugly enough, Tony Abbott had to learn that some of those closest to him were in league with the conspirators. Christopher Pyne’s betrayal seems to have been late in the day when he abandoned his friend without telling him. Morrison and Bishop’s betrayal was of months, perhaps years, duration. The indisputable evidence is there in the accounts of the coup and what led up to it.

In the days before the coup, Morrison and Bishop were desperately manoeuvring to hide their collusion with Turnbull. I always thought Bishop two-faced, but I did not get a glimpse of the extent of Morrison’s betrayal until I watched him walk alone to the meeting room for the denouement of the plan of sedition. He looked uneasy and the question of why he was alone in the corridor hung over his head. He later compounded his dissembling treachery by accusing Abbott of ‘throwing Hockey under a bus’, an expression the inimical media lapped up. What a tragedy that this talented man should let his ambition so befoul his record – and stain his soul.

The whole nasty episode is vividly reminiscent of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar with usurper Turnbull in the role of the ‘lean and hungry’ Cassius. Instead of Et tu, Brute? it was Et tu Scott?Et tu Julie? Et tu Christopher? And, of course, there were the others whose backbone had turned to jelly, presenting the nation with a shameless display of gutlessness.

Whatever the nastiness of the coup and the revulsion Turnbull permanently fixed in the minds of a multitude of Coalition supporters, Turnbull’s seditious action had succeeded and Abbott lay terminated on floor. It had to be accepted. They were the rules, however much they had been manipulated.

But what were conservatives to do? How were we to move forward? How were we to view a party that was in a state of corruption from its first principles? I was of the firm opinion that Tony Abbott should remain in parliament and we conservatives should do all we could to support him and restore him to his rightful position. I had three reasons:

  1. Tony Abbot is a tough determined man driven by principle. The world needs men of principle who are not afraid to make unpopular decisions. It is so now and will be more so in the future as the leaders of the West become increasingly paralysed by indecision.
  2. Tony Abbott still has great support in the Liberal Party and in the general community. Indeed, he represents Menzies’ forgotten people – the salt-of-the-earth Australians the media has contempt for. He is their main voice in Australia’s politics.
  3. The political assassination of Tony Abbott caused a rupture in the moral fabric of the Liberal Party. That rupture has to be repaired. Restoration has to be made. Otherwise the act of assassination will continue to eat away at the Party’s innards.

* * *

As an association devoted to the study of the thought of Edmund Burke, we must inquire how Edmund Burke would have viewed Turnbull’s manner of getting rid of an opponent. In this, we can take our lead from the way Robert Gordon Menzies, the founder of the Liberal Party, dealt with his rejection. Menzies acts as a lead because he was profoundly influenced by the political philosophy of Edmund Burke.

He was essentially a Burkean, despite his few allusions to J.S. Mill’s ideas on liberty that some Liberals have taken out of context to attach an idea of freedom to Menzies he never held. In the chapter ‘Managing Democracy’ in his book Speech is of Time (1958), the reader finds a concept of liberty that is taken directly from Burke’s pamphlet An Appeal from the New Whigs to the old Whigs (1791).

For Burke, there can be no liberty in society without ‘order’ and ‘virtue’, virtue meaning holding and acting on enduring moral principles. Objective moral principle cannot be decided by a principle of utility. Given Menzies’ attachment to Burke’s conception of liberty, there can be no doubt that Menzies also adhered to Burke’s conception of what constitutes political party, for enduring moral principle was again its foundation. Burke’s ideas of the duty of a Member of Parliament were famously laid out in Speech To The Electors Of Bristol At The Conclusion Of The Poll (1774).  Indeed, Menzies made reference to this speech.

In his book, Edmund Burke: Philosopher, Politician and Prophet, Jesse Norman demonstrates that Burke’s thoughts on party in politics set the form and standards for the modern era. As in so many cases, Burke was forced to articulate his ideas in the face of the abuse of power. In this case, it was the abuse of power by the king’s faction in the House of Commons. The only way to defeat the abuse of factional power, said Burke, was for a ‘considerable body of men [to be] united for promoting by their joint endeavours the national interest, upon some political principle in which they are all agreed.’ In the Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents (1770), he said of the corrupting power of the ‘King’s men’,

Government may in a great measure be restored, if any considerable body of men have honesty and resolution enough never to accept Administration, unless this garrison of King’s men, which is stationed, as in a citadel, to control and enslave it, be entirely broken and disbanded, and every work they have thrown up be levelled with the ground.

In other words, men of enduring principle, agreeing on policy and acting in unison, could counter the subversion of party and the control of the political process by men of unstable character and fleeting principle. Edmund Burke, wrote Norman, ‘set a pattern among his political set, combining moral principle with a consistent adherence to a set of core policies, and political patronage and financial support.’ This conception of political party demands loyalty from its members. It’s uncompromising. Riddled with the cancer of disloyalty no party will endure long.

The application of Burke’s ideas to Tony Abbott and his assassination by unprincipled men could not be more obvious. It is equally obvious that Menzies followed Burke’s prescriptions on party in bringing together the non-Labor (conservative) parties in 1944 to establish the Liberal Party.

The prescriptions are there for the restoration of the Liberal Party and the restoration of justice to Tony Abbott.

Finally, it is an indictment of Abbott’s bitter unrelenting enemies that they mock that quality he is so strong in: loyalty. Loyalty is not one-way. The recipient of unfailing loyalty has the strict moral duty to honour that generous protection – and not to spit on it when circumstances require some backbone.

Gerard Wilson