It’s early days, but the political passing of Tony Abbott as Australian Prime Minister is a hopeful sign.
Mr Abbott is credited by many as being a great opposition leader. In contrast, I see his foremost achievement in that role as the sullying of politics. The negativity, sloganeering and bullying approach he adopted had an adverse impact not just on the Rudd and Gillard governments, but on the population’s regard for politics and politicians. He set a tone (pardon the pun) which occasioned disdain and even disgust for politics among Australians. He wasn’t alone, of course, but he was ring-master.
In government as well, Abbott could not shake the negativity and bullying; arguably, this led ultimately to his downfall.
Abbott’s reign as PM has much in common with religious fundamentalism. It was authoritarian: the ‘adults’ were in charge and weren’t about to share information (on asylum seekers, for instance) with the ‘children’. It was black and white: there was one right way and, by God, it was Abbott’s. Women had a definite place, and it definitely wasn’t in Cabinet. God-given Christian standards needed to be aggressively reasserted in education. Christians from the Middle East should be given preference in our refugee intake. (Only because there’s no safe place for them over there… Funny, though, that line didn’t extend to gays and lesbians from that region.) A failure to live up to his own high standards of truth – remember the ‘Ju-liar’ of Abbott’s attack-dog Alan Jones? – was denied outright in a performance of breathtaking hypocrisy.
We’ve seen this certainty, this secrecy, this misogyny, this for-me-or-against-me rhetoric and this hypocrisy manifest many times in religious fundamentalist movements.
But now, to the future. The change to a Turnbull-led Coalition government appears to mark a shift away from binary, black-and-white politics. It won’t be easy: the fundamentalist Right still constitutes a significant slab of the party. In theological terms, though, and perhaps even in political ones, it appears to be a move from fundamentalism to liberalism and greater openness. Let’s hope appearance reflects reality.