To Judge a Man who would be Prime Minister

11 Mar

Liz Hayes interviewed Tony Abbott for 60 Minutes. The piece is almost 16 minutes duration. The style, expectedly, is magazine style with opening shots of Abbott surfing. We also get to see him barbecuing steaks, dressing a salad, engaging with family: his wife, daughters, sister and partner. All women. He is a man surrounded by women. Even the sister, Christine Forster, included in the piece has a partner who is a woman. They all had parts to play and they played them well – other than one moment but more of that later.
The questions were far from incisive nor expository. They were particular, about Abbott’s attitude to women, but they did not once come close to putting him on the spot or reveal anything important either about the man’s views or his policy position. They did what they were designed to do: meet an agenda but one strictly limited, specific and on a tight rein.

As with most things Tony Abbott, I’m far more interested in the body language than I am in the words. his words, by his own reckoning never mind the evidence, are unreliable. He obfuscates, panders, pronounces, wheedles, stammers, denies, denies denying, laughs, derides, and by his own admission lies. And he has degrees of lies – lying to the ABC apparently is not the same as lying to the Parliament – however, what no-one bothered to question further was he was admitting lying to Parliament. To the incessant liar, the one real sin in lying is not what, nor to whom, nor why, it is in being caught and called to account.

The words in this piece were virtually inconsequential. I was interested to hear from his lesbian sister, Forster, and her partner. Abbott said he was now/had been ‘convinced’ on homosexuality, whatever that exactly means, but  his general and specific attitude within the political/public sphere belays no fear that his tolerance extends to nor the broad ramifications for so many people on the national scale. Family love, loyalty and tolerance is one thing, it is not a demonstration of policy attitude or of embracing difference in the very community which you aspire to lead, a community as broad as it is young, fair as it is free and one which is position-ally secular from a governance/legal perspective.

It was his Forster who said her brother’s views to gay marriage might shift in the future. Tony Abbott did not say or hint in that direction as I heard said in today’s media. Even if he did, without a follow up in the public sphere, it is nothing more than calming rhetoric within his family sphere.

 Both Forster and her partner seemed uncomfortable to me, but Forster appeared more intent and willing to the expected requirements. As a mayoral hopeful in the last Sydney mayoral election, she is also more practised. Love can, and apparently does, transcend this difference; I’m not going to speculate on possible motivations. Forster did grow up in the same environment as her brother, and no doubt has a deeper understanding and acceptance of his views. No doubt some of you will have read essays on Abbott and the family ethos where he was concerned. Plus, she is his ‘baby’ sister. One wonders how it would be for him if one of his daughters announced she, too, was gay.

Forster’s partner was even more uncomfortable, but that’s not a reflection one way or the other on what she truly thinks or feels about Tony Abbott because it could have been no more than being placed in the spotlight. And, of course, being with the ‘in-laws’ and an natural desire of wanting to fit in and be accepted, i.e. acceptable.  One thing is indisputable, however, both she and Forster were far more comfortable in the spotlight at Mardis Gras than they were at the family table.

 Body language accounts for the majority of communication, approx 85-90%. That doesn’t leave much room for the words, but even then there is a larger component than the words, the tone in which they are said. Basically, tone incorporates the ‘major’ categories of emotion, e.g. love, anger, happiness, disgust, surprise, fear etc and account for approximately 5-7%. That leaves a minuscule 3% to the words.

Mostly, we listen intently to the words spoken, and are frequently consciously aware of tone, especially if it is strong, without even realising how much we rely on body language, i.e. the visual cues. I’m no different. However, when it comes to Tony Abbott facing ‘scrutiny’ I focus consciously on body language. Now, I’m not an expert in that I’ve studied the field in depth. But, like the rest of us, I am an expert in practice just because I’ve had many years of interacting with others plus the added bonus of trusting my ‘instincts’ when it comes to reading people – that’s how I survived a very difficult childhood. That said, like others, I sometimes fail to listen to my instincts, but not when it matters.

The Sixty Minutes segment was not scrutiny. It was not political expose, but then, it wasn’t designed to be. It was to question his sexism and homophobia. Or lack of. Or change from? Has he been unfairly labelled as his supporters claim? Is he a victim of a hate campaign? Is he a man who has learned, grown, changed? Is he merely misunderstood? None of these questions were answered in fact, leaving viewers to still wonder or, more likely, to feel more convinced of whatever their position was before the piece.

Fifteen minutes plus is not 4Corners or the like. It’s not a David Marr essay. It is not a Susan Mitchell polemic It is not a one-on-one analysis. And it contained no tough questions. And, when presented in magazine style format, with few questions, much chatter and giggling around him, and domestic or surfing scenes, is little more than a puff piece.

So, there remains little to be learned from that piece other than what we knew. Tony Abbott is a man surrounded in his home life by women and they are all ready, and it seems willing, to support him. So, if that is a basis for his suitability to lead 22+ million people, Australia is riddled with suitable prime ministers. It means little if anything on the political stage in Australia. Unlike so many countries, USA for example, we are not all that interested, beyond perhaps the peripheral, in a politician’s home life. Nor should we be. If there is crime happening, abuse for instance, that is a different matter entirely. The everyday nitty gritty, ups and downs, loves and loyalty of a politician’s family is irrelevant.

Tony Abbott has a family, a home life,  no doubt with the same inherent problems we all have, and the pluses and joys we (hope) we all have. Open, shut. Irrelevant.

The family and Abbott in a staged domestic scene were on display. I’d like to add ‘and open to scrutiny’ but as there were very few real questions, and nothing of deep analysis or investigation of either man or family, there is little to be taken away from watching it. I am no less convinced than I was that he is a man who will do or say anything, hurt and use anyone, to achieve his goals. What I saw was a family put on display, acting their assigned parts, and now and then giving away pertinent insights through body language.

Abbott, as usual, was shaking his head no when he said yes but that’s no more than default position. He leaned in close to Liz Hayes when he wanted her to believe him and not question further, and he looked intense when he commented on things he didn’t ‘necessarily’ want asked. At one stage, just briefly, he looked furious and vengeful at a question he then laughed at, in that defensive manner he has, but it was not at Liz Hayes, it was at someone else outside the primary context of the show and who did, or no doubt will, pay for whatever indiscretion they are guilty of. 

As an aside, it is interesting to compare that lean in ‘intimate’ position he sometimes uses compared to the ramrod straight look down the nose position he also uses. Meeting other leaders, dignitaries, etc is a time worth watching Tony Abbott to gauge body language. He moves in close then, too, but it’s nothing to do with intimacy, nor sharing, nor confidence.

The penultimate moments of the show talk about hair product, and one daughter saying (blurting out) he uses moisturiser. The look of shock on Forster’s face is what you might expect from a sister who didn’t know her brother used face cream, but the look she then gave her niece for spilling that particular bean demonstrated the exact agenda of what the piece was about: the so-called gentle, reformed and ‘real’ Tony Abbott.

A man, surrounded by women, who appoints no more than two women to his own shadow front bench yet is frequently seen surrounded in the public sphere by them, and oft with sycophantic expressions, proves little of good or worth about any man. At the very least, it speaks to insecurity and persuasion – a ‘look at me, I’m a good man’ and ‘women like and support me’ plea. Or, at worst, it speaks of a man who has ‘persuaded’ a following of woman in the style of a guru or cult leader.

As we near the election countdown proper, men and women who are Liberal/National voters will rally round and I both expect and understand that. They will do this despite Tony Abbott and what they think or know or suspect of him. Some, of course, will not vote for him, finding it untenable. This does not mean they will automatically vote Labor, although some might. However, I do not see many being swayed nor convinced by last night’s expose to vote for the Liberals/Nationals.

If there had been an equal, or almost equal spattering of men, family men, close friends of the other family members, the piece might have seemed more natural. The two surfers on the beach, friends supposedly of Tony Abbott’s, was hardly convincing of anything, except the possibility that they agree with him because they think the same way and, therefore, cannot see anything wrong with him.

Obviously, I have my bias and I am very much against Tony Abbott. One of the comments he made last night was that he must be judged by ‘what the considered view today is’ (of him). In other words, he advised us to judge him by what his supporters say not by what he himself either says or does. That, in my opinion, far from qualifies him from being a man of substance, let alone a man suitable to become Prime Minister.

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