I do, however, claim to be more intelligent than Tony Abbott, BEc, LLB (Syd), MA (Oxon), Rhodes Scholar.
With the most sincere respect to those institutions who found Mr Abbott suitably qualified for these degrees, the degrees themselves have more to do with his ability to assimilate and regurgitate the required information, than with any innate ability to think, understand, extrapolate, explore options or appreciate possible outcomes other than the one he desires. They indicate book-learning. This is not intelligence in the broader sense: the constructive, flexible and socially aware intelligence essential in a nation’s leader.
It is also depressingly obvious that no aspect of Mr Abbott’s lengthy education taught him a thing about his fellow man. (Women, we gather, occupied their Proper Place.) All the hard hats, budgie smugglers and buddy beers in the world cannot disguise his ignorance about the other half, or his indifference to how they live.
After almost eight months in office, Mr Abbott’s broad-stroke objectives seem clear: stop the boats, save money and protect the interests of the upper middle class. No surprises, really. And given the zeal with which he undertook his crude and brazen campaign to bring Julia Gillard down ‘whatever it took’, neither is it surprising that he is pursuing these objective with a ruthless disregard for what I’ve no doubt he considers ‘collateral damage’. Whether he understands, or cares, that collateral damage is more than a calculation – that in this case, it involves living, breathing human beings – is a judgement only his God can make.
Let’s start with the always-vexed question of money. First of all, I’m sick of hearing that the previous government ‘got us into this mess.’ Which mess? Oh, right. The one that means that although the budget isn’t as healthy as we’d like, we avoided the recession that still haunts other developed nations as a result of the GFC. That one.
No, I’m not an economist, before you ask, but I do understand the wisdom of closing the stable door before the horse bolts (as did Kevin Rudd), so I appreciate the need to check the budgetary locks. But is it necessary to slash and burn with such cavalier indifference to public welfare? Of course in political terms, it makes sense to attack those least capable of fighting back. If CEOs, board managers, retired pollies on fat pensions (and Kerry Packer) were asked to contribute a little more to the national coffers, the outcry would resonate all the way to the next election. But those dependent on free health care, public schools and aged pensions (all flagged as targets in next month’s budget) have neither the money nor the power to pull the strings that might force him to change his mind. Presumably he’s hoping we’ll see cuts to education, the dismantling of Community Health and working to 70 as brave moves in the face of hovering disaster. We won’t. We’ll see them as cruel and short-sighted. Unless, of course, you’re one of his ilk, cushioned by private education, private health care and a healthy superannuation fund. In that case, you might see them as a neat way of reducing the life expectancy of the less affluent who cause this irritating drain on resources…
Resources so much better spent, it would seem, on 24 billion dollars’ worth of stealth fighter jets.
If Mr Abbott was under the illusion that this would make him look like a world player, it would perhaps be a kindness to point out that that ship sailed along with the first boatload of refugees returned to Indonesia.
Any sweeping promise to ‘stop the boats’ should have sent shivers through every thinking Australian’s heart, suggesting, as it did, that the solution was simple. It could never be simple. The fact that the majority chose to believe it might be, should be a source of shame for generations. But then again, could any layman have anticipated how quickly a ‘well educated’ man could alienate our neighbours and destroy a detente that had taken years to build? And can the average safe, well-fed Australian fully appreciate the desperation of those who will take their chances on the ocean in an overloaded, unseaworthy boat rather than stay where they are?
Imagine this. It’s Saturday night, winter, driving rain outside, you with your feet up, stubby in hand, DVD on the box, kids in their warm beds, wife dozing by the fire. There’s a knock on the door. Outside are two skinny kids drenched and freezing, bruises on their bare arms, blood on their clothes diluted by the rain. You’ve seen them around: the scruffy pair who lower the tone of the neighbourhood. Then one says, Please, sir, Dad’s run mad and killed my mum, he says me and my sister are next, please sir, can we come in? What do you do? Do you say, Yes, you’re safe here, we’ll work something out, or do you take them both by the ear, drag them down the block to where they came from, shove them through the gate and go back to the telly? And if you take the second option, what will the neighbours think of you?
Exactly what the world thinks of our esteemed Prime Minister: that here is a man without a humanitarian bone in his body; a man apparently incapable of compassion. And by association, the world would be quite justified in thinking the same of the rest of us. Short of blowing the boats out of the water, Mr Abbott could not have come up with a more brutal and inhumane response to a complex and deeply tragic problem. And given the secrecy surrounding the operation, who’s to say that blowing up is not his next step?
Mr Abbot might go on collecting academic degrees for the rest of his life. I’m sure he will, in fact: a Prime Ministership alone is good for an honorary one or two. But until he learns at least the rudiments of what some might call emotional intelligence – the ability to perceive and understand the feelings and needs of others, and by extension, one hopes, to respect them – I will always be more intelligent than he is.