Political Animal

David Marr

Political Animal
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Political Animal

David Marr

Tony Abbott is poised to become the nation’s next prime minister and, more than ever, Australian’s are asking- what kind of man is he and how might he run the country? David Marr’s Political Animal, with its revelation of ‘the punch,’ triggered intense scrutiny of Abbott’s character in 2012. Now this expanded and updated edition of Marr’s dramatic portrait gives the clearest picture yet of Abbott the man and politician. Marr shows him thriving on chaos and conflict. Part fighter and part charmer, Abbott is deeply religious and deeply political. What happens when his values clash with his absolute determination to win? That is the great puzzle of a career than began as a wild university politician in the 1970s and seem destined to end in the Lodge. ‘David Marr is as brilliant a biographer and journalist as this country has produced.’ Peter Craven, Spectator Australia

Review

This updated and expanded edition of David Marr’s 2012 Quarterly Essay of the same name includes a more in-depth account of Tony Abbott’s time at Oxford University, as well as an analysis of the public and political reaction to ‘the punch’ revealed by Marr in the original QE.

Despite Abbott’s comment in an ABC radio interview that the piece was ‘a more fair-minded and more generous assessment’ than he had expected, and the credit he gave to Marr for his ability ‘to step outside the standard leftist critique and appreciate that here was a more nuanced and complex character than perhaps many of the standard left-leaning critics would concede’, Abbott still did not allow Marr to directly quote him on anything they discussed in the months that Marr spent with him (aside from his denial that he punched the wall beside Barbara Ramjan). Marr has since called this refusal ‘gutless’, although you won’t find this kind of overt negative judgement in Political Animal, where I think Marr does make a genuine attempt at a ‘fair-minded assessment’. Several reviewers of the original Quarterly Essay found it to be a predictably partisan account, but for me the end result contained much more objectivity and balance than I had expected.

Particularly interesting was the fact that in 1987, after several years in a seminary training for the priesthood, Abbott decided instead to enter politics but was unsure of which party to join. He wrote at the time that the Liberal Party was ‘without soul, direction or inspiring leadership’. If Abbott wins the 2013 election, Marr concludes that Australia can expect his particular brand of ‘toxic politics’ and brutal negative style of Opposition to continue long into the future. Abbott’s views might not have much soul or be inspiring, but he has certainly taken Australian politics in a new and unsettling direction.


Kara Nicholson is currently completing a masters in environmental studies and spends her time reading novels to avoid doing any of the actual study part. Her favourite book of all time is George Eliot’s Middlemarch and she urges anyone who hasn’t to read it to do so immediately.

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