Quarterly Essay 47: Political Animal by David Marr
Picture Tony Abbott posing for one of those ceremonial G20 Summit class photos. Second from the back row, his skin-and-bone face – the face of a man well exercised – is wearing a smile. As the cameras move into position, world leaders chatter happily. Abbott exchanges a knowing look with Barack Obama and gives Francois Holland a thumbs-up. Let’s give this hallucination a name: Tony Abbott, Australian Prime Minister. Have you considered the possibility?
Had I been asked that question prior to reading David Marr’s quarterly essay, Political Animal: The Making of Tony Abbott, I would have answered, casually, but in the affirmative (‘Of course, he’s the opposition leader after all’) – and I’d have been wrong. I know that now. Marr’s essay awoke me to a scenario that I’d never really taken seriously, but one that to some people seems unavoidable and to others unthinkable.
Political Animal is a portrait of one of the least popular politicians of our time who also happens to be one of the most successful opposition leaders ever. As Marr states, ‘To be so disliked should, by all the old rules, make Abbott roadkill […] but as things stand now this unlikely man is heading for a magnificent victory.’ For anyone who doesn’t read Marr’s essay, here’s the take-away: the Mad Monk is not to be trifled with.
Marr has thoroughly researched not just Abbott’s career, but also his entire life of enthusiasm for social tradition and religion. Some foot-in-mouth one-liners are revisited. As Marr points out, when Abbott mocked Gillard for attending the royal wedding, ‘in a single sentence, he managed to abuse the prime minister, all de facto couples, everyone who doesn’t believe in God, and republicans.’ But most of the essay is spent breaking new ground, presenting an incredibly up-to-date understanding of Abbott’s values and political ambitions.
Political Animal is a fascinating essay; by November 2013 it may also be an historic document, a portrait of a Prime Minister.
Will Heyward is a bookseller who works for Readings in Carlton and St Kilda. His writing as been published in The Weekend Australian, the Australian Book Review, and on the website of BOMB Magazine. He is a contributing editor of Higher Arc.