What joy! An era of Abbott-free governance

What a collective sigh of relief resonated all around Australia as our 28th Prime Minister went on his way after his own Liberal Party ejected him emphatically, despite him imploring it not to be like the dreaded Labor Party.

I have looked for honest appraisals of his prime ministership, but few commentators seem prepared to write them. I suspect those who supported him so consistently despite his multiple missteps, his ill-advised captain’s picks, his poor decisions, his inept public utterances, and his deeply flawed legislative agenda, are still struggling to write anything approaching a complimentary assessment. What good things can they say and still retain their own integrity? The only ones who have gone public to express their disapproval of his abrupt removal have been Murdoch shock jocks.

It seems that very few voters are shedding tears; most are exhilarated. They are looking forward to a new era free of Abbott’s pernicious influence, free of his repetitive slogans, free of his attack-dog approach, free of his vindictiveness, free of his sheer incompetence as a leader of our nation. They look to Malcolm Turnbull, our latest Prime Minister, to elevate the tone of Federal politics, lift the quality of political discourse, get on with the job of governing Australia, and abandon the combative approach that was Abbott’s stock in trade, every day in every way.

But is he the man to do this?

Who could disagree that Turnbull is highly intelligent, articulate, cultured, urbane, sophisticated, even suave? Who can ignore his academic and professional achievements? Educated at Sydney Grammar School and the University of Sydney, he has qualifications in arts, the law, and a postgraduate qualification in civil law. He was awarded a Rhodes scholarship and attended Oxford University.

After graduation he became an able journalist, an accomplished barrister who defeated the British government in the ‘Spycatcher case’, a skilled businessman with technical expertise in communications who was once chairman of Internet Service Provider OzEmail, who purchased a stake in the company for half a million that he later sold for $57 million. He was also an investment banker with Goldman Sachs rising to managing director and partner, and a venture capitalist. He was chairman of the Republican Movement before entering federal politics in 2004. He served as the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources in the Howard government and in September 2008 became Opposition Leader until late 2009, when he was toppled by one vote by Tony Abbott, who then appointed him shadow Minister for Communications, a position he held subsequently in the Abbott government. You all know that part of his history well.

He is married to the very impressive Lucy Turnbull who is a prominent businesswoman and former Lord Mayor of Sydney. He seeks and takes her counsel.

On the face of it Malcolm Bligh Turnbull has virtually all the attributes he would need to equip him for prime ministership. His current personal popularity suggests that at least for now a clear majority of the electorate agree.

So what might we expect, or at least what might we hope for from this impressive man and his accomplished wife?

Already we have seen how Turnbull has changed the tenor of federal politics. He has introduced an era of calm, reasoned discourse. By his own words he will eschew ‘slogans that insult the intelligence of the electorate’, and will substitute a process of explaining his intentions to the electorate that he anticipates will ‘bring them along with him’; his early embrace of action on domestic violence is an example. He has brought more women into his cabinet, and has stopped wearing the once-obligatory blue tie.

Turnbull certainly has the oratory skills; all he needs is plausible, credible and fair policies to promulgate. His colleagues, even Abbott’s previous supporters, are now talking of the ‘new government’; they too yearn for a government that is not continually in conflict with those outside its ranks, a government that gets things done by taking a conciliatory approach, by ruffling fewer feathers.

Labor was slow to respond to Turnbull’s new tone. In a dismal start, it tried to use the remaining week of Question Time to attack Turnbull’s inconsistency on policy positions, but found its questions deftly brushed aside barrister-style, leaving it looking inept and embarrassed. How Labor imagined it could outwit Turnbull with such pitiable questions remains a mystery.

But the Turnbull effect soon permeated the Labor Party. Labor has now channeled Turnbull via sensible dialogue, offers of collaboration on matters where there is agreement, and initiatives of its own. Bill Shorten’s solo performance on Q&A, scheduled prior to Abbott’s departure, was a turn about that pleased Labor supporters, and drew praise even from opponents such a John Roskam from the IPA. In outlining his vision for the nation, he was positive, forthright and articulate. He answered questions with candor and authority. Shorten’s presentation was a vivid example of how political dialogue is enhanced when the pattern of discourse is elevated from gutter brawling to dignified debate. There is now the real possibility of a genuine ‘contest of ideas’ replacing the combative street fighting of the past. In just a few days it has become apparent how counterproductive was Abbott’s jarring approach. The electorate, commentators and politicians themselves increasingly realize how poorly he served sensible political debate. This part of his legacy will linger long in the minds of the people.

The initial gloss of Turnbull’s ascension will soon dull though when the electorate realizes that many, if not all of the policies he has outlined are the same as Abbott’s, the very same ones the electorate dislikes. Indeed Abbott, in the few interviews he has given since his removal, has rather triumphantly pointed this out.

Why has Turnbull not struck out with his own policies, ones that we know about from his past? His approach to global warming is one example. It seems that in order to gain the necessary support of the big C conservatives, who reportedly dislike him intensely, many of whom vowed to never let him come back as leader, he had to guarantee that he would carry forward Abbott policies on a suite of issues; emissions reduction and same sex marriage are but two examples. The question in many minds now is whether he will stick to the assurances he gave to get enough votes, or whether he will slowly and subtly change the government’s approach to such contentious issues to bring them in line with his own. For example, having argued that since the object of emissions reduction is to actually reduce emissions, he insists many approaches are acceptable, including the motherless Direct Action Plan, which he claims is working although evidence is lacking. Will he now argue that since China has joined other countries in introducing an emissions trading scheme, Australia ought to follow by adding that to its suite of climate change actions? With same sex marriage, will he now argue that the promised plebiscite should sensibly be held at the time of the next election at a fraction of the estimated cost of almost $160 million for a separate event? Time will tell.

We know from his previous endeavours that Turnbull is a risk-taker. Risk takers need to be adept at risk minimization. His risky Godwin Grech adventure turned out very badly, exposing as it did his impetuosity and lack of due diligence. But being an intelligent person he has learned from that embarrassment, and is bound to now take more care. Turnbull has taken a substantial risk to his reputation in seeming to embrace Abbott’s policies, ones that we know he either opposes or to which he has a quite different approach. Does his risk minimization strategy include slow, steady and subtle changes to Abbott’s policies, changes that he believes he can convince the public and his colleagues are logical, sensible and practical?

If he sticks rigidly to Abbotts’ policies, which by the way are government policies, he runs the risk of being seen simply as ‘Abbott-lite’, a smooth-tongued advocate, or even more damaging, a cunning man who conned his way into leadership, and who is now prepared to do Abbott’s dirty work, but in clean clothes. Although it was Abbott’s persona and operating style that brought him undone in the eyes of the electorate and eventually his colleagues, it was also his policies that evoked the ire of the electorate. If Turnbull is seen as advancing them without regard to public opinion, he puts his prime ministership and his government at risk of rejection at the next election. Clearly Labor strategists are on to this already. Once his honeymoon is over, Turnbull will not have many months to convince the electorate that he is not simply Abbott’s policy handmaiden, using his suave persona to do what Abbott could not. Unless he can stamp his authority on Abbott’s policies, take off their sharp and nasty edges, and inject his own rational modifications, he may find himself occupying an even shorter period as prime minister than Abbott.

My impression is that his sagacity will be in full display. He is a shrewd operator. He now knows much more about how politics works than when he was Leader of the Opposition. Having audaciously grasped the prize of prime ministership he has sought for so long, he will not carelessly let it go. He will put a new face, a more benign countenance on government policies and will attempt to persuade the electorate to his point of view.

Should he take this approach, the task for Bill Shorten will be arduous. Overturning a smooth operator with credible, appealing policies is a formidable undertaking. Those of us who embrace Labor values fervently hope Shorten is up to the task of lucidly explaining them to the electorate, formulating policies that encapsulate those values, and convincing the voters that these point the way forward to an opportunity-rich, prosperous, harmonious and fairer society that cares for all its members ‘for better or for worse’. That is what Labor supporters want.

In the meantime, let’s all hope that Federal politics, now free of Abbott’s destructive, malicious influence, will enter a new era of considered, honest, polite and helpful dialogue among politicians, stakeholders, commentators and the people, one that brings about betterment for us all.

The title of John ‘Jonnikhan’ King’s poignantly worded song: Wouldn’t It Be Wonderful says it all.

What do you think?

How has Federal politics come to this?

The ejection of the most incompetent prime minister, leading the most incompetent government in living memory, is complete. In the end it happened rapidly just over a week ago; it took just six hours from woe to go – literally. But its inevitability was apparent for many, many months. Indeed, some of us assert that the disaster Tony Abbott turned out to be was obvious well before he was elected in 2013, and we said so in Liberals turn up another dud in December 2009.

Abbott’s destructive period at the top of Australian politics is over. The majority of Australians are relieved. Only a few Murdoch tabloid shock jocks remain enraged at his removal, and the manner in which it took place.

He will not be missed, yet he will not be forgotten. He will be remembered for depreciating politics, for bringing it to its current dilapidated state. Those who follow him have the formidable task of elevating politics to respectability, and uplifting the electorate’s opinion of politicians. Abbott’s legacy will be a difficult and demanding one to erase.

The purpose of this analysis is not to pick over the entrails of a catastrophic prime ministership; you know the details well enough. It is to dissect out the root causes of the calamity that federal politics has become. It took only a week after Abbott’s political demise for it to become apparent what politics in this country has been missing, what affliction it had suffered in recent years, and what healing processes might be available.

We all know that intrigue, double-dealing, self-interest, disloyalty, treachery, assassinations, dishonesty, cruelty and ruthlessness have been part of politics dating back in history to before Roman times. So there’s nothing new in contemporary political behaviour. What’s different now is the way news and political narratives are promulgated, and the way the public is informed about the appalling state of federal politics and how poorly politicians are performing. Social media now play a prominent role.

This piece argues that the majority of the discredit for the decaying and ramshackle state of contemporary politics can be laid at the feet of just one man - Tony Abbott. While we have long known that Abbott is a habitual liar and an unreconstructed ideologue, these are not the attributes that have brought federal politics to its present state of disrepute. In my view, Abbott's twin attributes of unremitting destructiveness and ceaseless vindictiveness towards his opponents are the prime causes of the damage he has wreaked.

The political behaviour of Abbott reaches back to his university student days, where he was first attracted to politics. He has not changed since then. We remember his reaction to losing a political contest then – kicking in a glass door, allegedly hitting the wall close to the head of his nemesis, Barbara Ramjan. We remember his pugilistic behaviour in the political arena, as well as in the boxing ring in which he described himself as the ‘whirling dervisher’, arms thrashing about as he tried to smash his opponent to the canvas, bloodied and defeated, an outcome that gave him satisfaction.

Fast forward to recent times when he was Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business, then Minister for Health and Ageing in the Howard Government, then serving on the front bench under Brendan Nelson and Malcolm Turnbull when in Opposition, until November 2009 when he surprisingly toppled Turnbull by just one vote in a Party Room leadership ballot to become Opposition Leader. It was then that his already-obvious belligerent behaviour intensified as he sought to not just overturn the Rudd Government, but to destroy it and the Labor Party in the process. Complete destruction was his prime objective.

Since his ejection just over a week ago, there has been a parade of commentators and LNP politicians who insist that Tony Abbott is ‘a decent man’ (Chris Uhlmann); ‘a good friend and a good bloke’ (Greg Sheridan); ‘an honourable man’ (Bruce Billson); ‘a decent, honourable man’ (Kevin Andrews); ‘a fine man, and a great Australian’ (George Brandis). While skeptics might doubt the validity of these assessments, it is quite possible that to his close mates Abbott is a good bloke, a ‘hail fellow, well met’. But he is anything but when confronting his political opponents; his aggressive, take-no-prisoners style of confrontation has created the bellicose oppressor he has become.

Was he a ‘good bloke’ when he labeled Bernie Banson, near death with asbestos-induced mesothelioma, as ‘not pure of heart’? Was he ‘an honourable man’ when at a public rally he stood in front of a placard headed 'Juliar' that labelled Julia Gillard as ‘Bob Brown’s bitch’, alongside another demanding the electorate ‘Ditch the Witch’?

Was he ‘a decent man’ when he stood in parliament and cruelly repeated Alan Jones’ indictment that her actions had caused ‘her father to die of shame’? No, he was being his typically vindictive self, determined to destroy his opponent. So gross was his behaviour that it evoked that formidable attack on his misogyny by Julia Gillard, one that attracted worldwide admiration.

Abbott’s twin defects of destructiveness and vindictiveness set the tone for federal politics from the moment of his ascension to high office. He was into adversarial combat, a warrior-like approach to every issue, conflict rather than cooperation, winning at any cost, never giving an inch. Compromise was anathema to him.

His destructiveness became apparent soon after he became Opposition Leader when he ordered Malcolm Turnbull, whom he had appointed Shadow Communications Minister, to 'demolish the NBN'. Note the word 'demolish' - total destruction of this Labor initiative was his aim. His determination to do this was far more pressing than advancing infrastructure necessary for our progress and our competitiveness. To Abbott, smashing was more important than building.

He continued on his destructive way throughout. He sought to dismantle, diminish or destroy anything that stood in his way. Despite mouthing words to the contrary, he remained a climate change denier, and cut funding to any organisation that held the view that global warming was a dangerous threat to our planet and all life on it. He cut funding to our most important scientific body, the CSIRO; indeed he behaved in an anti-science way, and had harsh things to say about scientists with whom he disagreed. Just this week we find that, in response to articles in The Australian that suggested our Bureau of Meteorology was falsifying its global warming data, Abbott tried to initiate an audit of the Bureau to check the veracity of its data, which he believed might be 'exaggerating' temperature records, a move fortunately thwarted by the Environment Minister.

His fervent advocacy for coal led him to demean renewable energy - he found wind turbines ugly and dangerous to health, and proudly boasted that he had curtailed their expansion. During his time the renewables industry suffered a severe downturn at the very time opportunities for expansion needed to be seized. He was prepared to destroy the industry that threatened his beloved coal, which he declared 'good for humanity'.

His hyper-partisan behaviour led him to always look for ways of wedging his opponents. No matter what the issue, Abbott would seek ways of disadvantaging them. It did not matter to him whether or not an initiative was in the public interest, or for the common good; if his opponents advocated it, he would seek to destroy it, and its proponents at the same time. The two Royal Commissions Abbott initiated were designed specifically to demean and destroy Labor, the unions, and its leaders.

Who will ever forget the fabricated 'debt and deficit disaster' and the 'budget crisis' with which he bludgeoned Labor for well over a year, until economists convinced the public it was a hoax, and that the Treasurer was making matters worse. The fabrication was for one purpose - to demean Labor, and to reinforce in the public's mind that Labor was incapable of managing our economy. The opinion polls reflect the success of this strategy - a sizeable number of voters still believe this, despite the success of Labor's fiscal strategy during the GFC. Finance spokesmen still refer to the 'financial mess' that Labor left, and still talk of 'budget repair'. They insisted that only the 'grown up, adult' LNP, which 'has balanced budgets in its DNA', could clean up Labor's mess. Pity that it has made the 'mess' worse.

How has it come to this? You need look no further than Tony Abbott. It is he who has injected destructiveness and belligerent vindictiveness into federal politics. It is he who set about destroying anyone and anything standing in his way. Smashing his way to ascendancy is all he knows.

Of course he made many poor judgements, flawed decisions, and stupid 'captain's picks'; of course he failed to consult his ministers and his backbench; of course he showed his incompetence as a leader and decision maker, depending on his Chief of Staff to prop him up and point him in what she decided was the right direction; of course he substituted slogans and mantras for sound policy; of course he was an abysmal failure as a leader and prime minister. So much so that even his own colleagues realised this within a year and voted on a leadership spill, which he survived, but from which he never recovered. A 'second chance' was not enough. His sheer incompetence and the electoral poison he became, finally convinced a clear majority of the Liberal Party that he was an electoral liability that threatened their survival, and in a flash he was gone; ejected not by the people, but by his own.

Yet his incompetence was not what brought the federal parliament into disrepute; it was his unremitting destructiveness and his vindictive aggression towards his opponents. Even in his last Question Time he aggressively attacked Bill Shorten for 'stabbing two prime ministers in the back'. He exhibited for the last time as Prime Minister all the snarling nastiness and vindictiveness that has characterised his career from its early days.

In my opinion, it is this behaviour that has diminished the institution of federal parliament, and demeaned it and politicians in the public's mind. This is why Federal politics has become what it is today. I wonder how long will it take Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten to repair the destruction Abbott has wrought?

What do you think?


# Light the dark


Photograph: Christelise de Graaf/GuardianWitness

Three year old Aylan Kurdi died and was washed up on a Turkish beach last weekend. In death he has since become the human ‘face’ of the current Syrian refugee crisis. It is a sad fact of life in the 21st Century that people still feel the need to escape from their homes and undertake risky and potentially deadly travel to places that seem safer.

The well-publicised death of Kurdi and most of his family in the Mediterranean last weekend may however be one of the most important events in 2015. Prior to last weekend, the tide of humans attempting to reach a place of perceived safety was treated as an economic problem as demonstrated by the British ITV coverage. The UK Government has been quoted as claiming ‘Britain is a country with a moral conscience – we do not walk on by’. At the same time, Sonya Sceats from the British ‘Freedom from Torture’ organisation claims

‘The UK makes a paltry contribution to such [refugee settlement] programmes. In the last year we offered a new start to only 934 refugees identified by the UNHCR as needing sanctuary. A special scheme for Syrians, created in response to enormous public pressure, has only helped 187 people’.
In the comment on the same article, someone claiming to be from the conservative UKIP (UK Independence Party) asks:

‘Refugee resettlement I have no problem with. But, how do you distinguish between genuine seekers of asylum and those who just fancy living in Britain?
Between 1997 and 2010 the government/border agency allowed 7 million migrants to enter the country. Since 2010, a further 2 million have arrived. This influx has swamped our public services and created an acute shortage of adequate housing at an affordable prices.
What are we to do? Genuine asylum seekers are one thing, unlimited numbers of refugees wishing to settle here is something else altogether’.
So we have a distinction between refugees and asylum seekers? Merriam-Webster defines refugees as ‘one that flees; especially a person who flees to a foreign country or power to escape danger or persecution’. The same publisher defines asylum (in the usage of ‘asylum seeker) as ‘protection from arrest and extradition given especially to political refugees by a nation or by an embassy or other agency enjoying diplomatic immunity’. UKIP’s argument sounds familiar doesn’t it? Apparently there is a difference between one who flees to escape danger or persecution and someone who seeks protection from arrest. Isn’t this a classic case of splitting hairs? The same distinction has been made for years domestically with the refugees and asylum seekers being labelled as ‘boat people’ by all sides of politics to further their political ends. 

The Australian Government has joined the chorus of concern and action over the sheer number of people attempting to leave Syria and surrounding countries – and so they should have - considering that at the same time the announcement was made regarding accepting an additional 12,000 displaced humans, the Abbott Government also announced that the 6 Australian warplanes in the area would commence bombing Syria within a week. If we are ‘assisting’ in bombing a country back to the stone age – with little if any legal justification - of course we should be assisting those who want a peaceful life but were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

However it is somewhat two faced to be throwing justified money and support at those who are alleged to be suffering in overcrowded and inhuman internment camps half way around the world while doing nothing to address reported inhumane conditions in the internment camps funded, staffed and operated by the Australian Government ‘off shore’. In a justification of the inhumanity apparently dished out to people on Manus Island and Nauru, Abbott claims

those on PNG's Manus Island and in detention on Nauru had done a deal with people smugglers to go way beyond the country of first asylum"
Under the Refugee Convention of 1951 (Australia is a signatory) refugees or asylum seekers – whichever term you prefer – do not have to apply for refugee status in the first country they come to as demonstrated by the large number of people traversing Hungary to get to Austria and Germany at the moment.

Tasmanian Liberal Senator Eric Abetz went on the record while the Government was considering its response suggesting that there should be bias against refugees that were not Christians. So did Whitsundays based LNP MP George Christensen. A considerable number of Tasmanians publically and privately have shown they disagree with their elected Senator, which begs the question how ‘in touch’ Abetz is with his electors. Southern Brisbane based ALP MP Graham Perritt produced the ultimate clever response to Christensen.

There have been a number of vigils within Australia which show a large proportion of the population are not only comfortable with an increased number of refugees being resettled in Australia – they are suggesting ‘#there’s room at my house’ . Already political commentators are discussing that the European refugee crisis and how the worldwide coverage of the death of Aylan Kurdi will give both sides of Australian politics the ability to tone down the mutually assured destruction on the treatment of refugee seekers that make it to Australia. The number of refugees currently attempting to enter Europe demonstrate for all that Australia doesn’t and never did have the ‘crisis’ of ‘boat people’ as claimed by various political leaders over the past decade or so. Former Liberal Minister Fred Chaney, writing in The Guardian suggests that there has been a change in direction in the past week.

Just a few months ago, when our region was grappling with refugees from Myanmar stranded on boats, we saw our regional neighbours, countries vital to us, coming together to find solutions. On all reports, we stood back from what became a shared effort at finding a solution, sending yet again a message about our national isolation.
Yet refugee issues, not least in our own region, are beyond any singular national solution. We need the cooperation of other countries if we are to protect our long term national interest, as they need ours. It is not good enough to limit ourselves to putting boots on the ground in Timor or planes in the air. We need to be part of the international networks needed to deal with issues beyond the capacity of any one country. 
Think terrorism, fisheries, drugs, climate change, whatever. Going it alone does not work.

We can only hope that the prime minister, Tony Abbott, can look at these issues beyond a domestic campaign focus and embrace the reality: we must face the horrendous facts and be part of the solution.

Recent polling has suggested that while a small majority of respondents still support ‘off-shore processing’ of refugees attempting to enter Australia, there is a similar level of support for the welcoming of 12,000 additional Syrian refugees to Australia. Interestingly, Abbott’s handling of the crisis is not supported by the majority and a majority of the poll respondents would be less likely to vote for the LNP at the next election over concerns with the current government’s refugee policy.

The pollster’s comment is interesting:

Chris Lonergan, the managing director of Lonergan Research, said: “A clear majority of Australians now support an increased intake of refugees, which suggests that compassion for true refugees now outweighs other concerns such as national security risks, or people taking advantage of the system.
While the death of anyone and the resultant distressing publicity is too high a price to pay – hopefully the ‘green shoots’ of a change in attitude to the ‘bona-fides’ of refugees demonstrated in Australia, as replicated across the world, is a fitting tribute for the life of a small boy – taken way too early. Rest in peace Aylan Kurdi.

What do you think? 

Is the Abbott government sociopathic? You decide!

Ever since it came to power just two years ago, we, the voters, have been assailed with behaviour so bizarre, so erratic, so inexplicable, so incompetent, so harsh, so inane, so cynical, so alarming, that serious observers are asking: ‘Is the Abbott government crazy?’ They also ask: ‘Is its leader incapable of orderly thinking and balanced judgments?’; ‘Is he senseless?’; ‘How could he be so insensitive to others?’; and ‘What makes him behave as he does?’

This piece is not to reiterate the government’s multiple failures, its sheer incompetence, its deviousness and lies, its remorseless pursuit of its enemies and its own ends, and its callous disregard for the common good. You know all about that well enough. Rather it is an attempt to uncover the reasons for its behaviour, to make a diagnosis of the underlying pathology that manifests itself in the weird performance of its leader and key ministers day after day.

While there is value in dissecting and analyzing each piece of extraordinary behaviour as it comes along, what this piece seeks to do is to drill down to the inner core of the party and its key players to explore what there is about their beliefs, values, and their way of operating that has resulted in the most ineffectual, inept, bungling, cruel and hopeless federal government ever.

Doctors, faced with abnormal behaviour, look for a diagnostic categorisation that might help explain the behaviour and point them to possible remedies. While it is not possible in this piece to propose a remedy, it is possible to canvass a diagnosis. So here goes.

Faced with a person with an illness, the doctor collects information from the patient and the family, and from physical examination and tests, with the object of comparing those clinical features with the features of known illnesses to ascertain the best match between the patient’s features and the features of a known illness. When there is a good match the diagnosis is made.

In the following paragraphs I will ask you to match the behaviours exhibited by the Abbott government with the criteria doctors use to diagnose sociopathic behaviour. I will use the following criteria used by the well-known Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, which prefers the term Antisocial Personality Disorder:

Antisocial personality disorder signs and symptoms may include:
1. Disregard for right and wrong
2. Persistent lying or deceit to exploit others
3. Using charm or wit to manipulate others for personal gain or for sheer personal pleasure
4. Intense egocentrism, sense of superiority and exhibitionism
5. Recurring difficulties with the law
6. Repeatedly violating the rights of others by the use of intimidation, dishonesty and misrepresentation
7. Child abuse or neglect
8. Hostility, significant irritability, agitation, impulsiveness, aggression or violence
9. Lack of empathy for others and lack of remorse about harming others
10.Unnecessary risk-taking or dangerous behaviours
11.Poor or abusive relationships
12. Irresponsible work behaviour
13. Failure to learn from the negative consequences of behaviour.


Clearly, as these criteria apply, in full or in part, to individuals, not all would apply to a sociopathic organization. Can an organization be sociopathic? Believe me there are such entities. If you doubt this, Google: ‘sociopathic organizations’, and ‘sociopathic political parties’.

I invite you now to have some fun comparing recent episodes of behaviour of Abbott, his ministers and his government with these criteria.

Let’s start with the most recent, ‘Operation Farce’. Black-shirted members of Abbott’s newly constituted Australian Border Force, branded and armed at an expense of $11 million, joined with Victoria Police, transport inspectors, the Sheriff's office, even the Taxi Directorate, to enter the centre of ‘the world’s most livable city’ last Friday afternoon.

According to its press release, ”…its officers would be positioned at various locations around the CBD speaking with any individual we cross paths with…” ostensibly to detect visa fraud: “ … if you commit visa fraud you should know it's only a matter of time before you're caught out". The press release spread like wildfire in the social media, infuriating so many that a large protest was quickly organized that soon blocked the intersection outside Flinders Street Railway Station, halting traffic.

This so embarrassed the organizers of the ridiculously named ‘Operation Fortitude’, that Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton, realising what a shambles his officers had become involved in, cancelled the Friday operation immediately, and the planned Saturday operation as well. People power crushed it in hours.

You can read all the sordid details of how the blame was deflected to an unnamed person ‘at a low level in the organisation’ who allegedly cleared the ‘clumsily-worded’ press release; how Peter Dutton, whose office was sent the release, denied any knowledge of Operation Fortitude, because no one in his office bothered to read it; and how Tony Abbott, in also denying any knowledge of it, mouthed ‘reassuring’ words about the benign intent of the Operation: “nothing happened here except the issue of a poorly worded press release”! This, the first operation of Abbott’s much touted Australian Border Force, was so poorly planned and executed that it turned out to be an embarrassing shambles, and yet he was proud to say ‘nothing happened’!

Tony Windsor nailed it when he said: “…the Border Force operation was no mistake, but a "deliberate agenda to create fear in the community". He continued: “I've got no doubt that some of these people in Abbott's Government hope that something goes wrong domestically – that they can taunt a Muslim into doing something, so that they can say that 'we're the only ones that can protect you, the Labor Party are too weak to protect you, vote for us'.”

Does this bizarre episode match any of the criteria of antisocial personality disorder listed above?

Did those responsible ‘manipulate others for personal gain’?
Did they attempt to ‘violate the rights of others by the use of intimidation, dishonesty and misrepresentation’?
Did they show ‘lack of empathy for others’?
Did they exhibit ‘irresponsible work behaviour’?

You decide.

Whether Abbott, Dutton or their Australian Border Force will ‘learn from the negative consequences’ of this episode remains to be seen.

Think now of the Dyson Heydon affair.

All except some News Limited journalists are strongly of the view that the Abbott-appointed Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption was designed specifically to damage Abbott’s opponents: Labor and the union movement. Abbott himself said it was designed to clean up the Labor movement. Ex PM Julia Gillard and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten have been placed in the witness box and grilled. It is also widely accepted that Dyson Heydon was appointed to do the hatchet job because of his past history of conservative behaviour and disdain for Labor policies. He has not disappointed, having questioned Bill Shorten’s credibility as a witness in an extraordinary intervention.

Now his Liberal connections have been exposed by his acceptance of an invitation to give the Barwick oration at a Liberal Party fundraiser. Since this revelation, his integrity has come further into question over the piecemeal release of the documents related to this event. Not withstanding all that has emerged in the last two weeks about this man, his attitudes, and his connections, he decided not to recuse himself, so he continues to sit as Commissioner.

So ask yourself:
Has Abbott’s behaviour in this matter shown: ’disregard for right and wrong’?; ‘persistent lying or deceit to exploit others’?; ‘using wit to manipulate others for personal gain’?; ‘violation of the rights of others by the use of intimidation, dishonesty and misrepresentation’?; 'hostility and aggression’?; or ‘lack of empathy for others and lack of remorse about harming others’?

You decide.

Let’s go to the 2014 federal Budget, the details of which you know all too well: a punitive, expenditure slashing attack on lower and middle income earners that left those at the upper end of the income scale almost untouched, with their superannuation, capital gains and negative gearing perks still in place, and no intention to touch them. All of this was in response to a ‘debt and deficit crisis’ and a ‘budget emergency’, that economists and thinking voters knew was fictional. Both have mysteriously evaporated despite much of the Hockey Budget remaining in limbo. Efforts to persuade, cajole, bribe, intimidate Senate crossbenchers into compliance have largely failed.

Think about it and ask: Was this Budget an example of ’disregard for right and wrong’?; ‘persistent lying or deceit’?; ‘exploiting others’?; ‘using wit to manipulate others for personal gain’?; ‘violating the rights of others by the use of intimidation, dishonesty and misrepresentation’?; ‘lack of empathy for others and lack of remorse about harming others’?; ‘failure to learn from the negative consequences of behaviour’?

You decide.

I could go on and on, but let’s take just one more example – the treatment of asylum seekers.

We know that Opposition Leader Abbott saw the arrival of boats laden with asylum seekers as a means to wedge Labor by appealing to those in the electorate who resent boat people. ‘Stop the boats’ became his monotonously repeated mantra; one that most would agree assisted him to win the 2013 election. Boat people became pawns in Abbott’s cynical political game of bringing down the Labor government. His insistence that his primary aim of stopping the boats was to avoid deaths at sea was seen as camouflage for his real intent: stopping Labor. There are scores of asylum seeker events that I could quote, but let’s settle for the most recent episode in this tawdry drama: the spying on Sarah Hansen Young during a visit to Nauru, at first denied, now proven.

There’s no need to go any further describing the asylum-seeker issue – you know it all.

Ask yourself: Did Abbott’s, Morrison’s and Dutton’s behaviour towards asylum seekers exhibit: ’disregard for right and wrong’?; ’lying or deceit to exploit others’?; ‘repeatedly violating the rights of others by the use of intimidation, dishonesty and misrepresentation’?; ‘child abuse or neglect’?; ‘aggression or violence’?; ‘lack of empathy for others and lack of remorse about harming others’?; ‘unnecessary risk-taking or dangerous behaviours’?; ‘abusive relationships’?; or ‘failure to learn from the negative consequences of behaviour’?

To cite all the examples of the questionable behaviour of Abbott, his ministers and his government would make this piece far too long. From the four examples used, do you believe that the behaviour described matches that of a sociopathic organization and sociopathic behaviour, or as the Mayo Clinic prefers to tag it: ‘antisocial personality disorder’?

Let’s have your views. Does the evidence validate such a diagnosis?

If you think so, does it explain other behaviour patterns of the Abbott government?

You decide.