A photo in the current issue of The Monthly shows Bob Hawke and John Howard seated together at a public event to honour the memory of a deceased Prime Minister. Their old faces deeply creased, their bodies close, Hawke’s right arm entwined with Howard’s left, the picture of two old men united in deep sympathy – and in Hawke’s case at least – showing characteristic demonstrativeness, as his hand gently grasps Howard’s thigh. The image arrested me. I thought of Yeats’ Lapis Lazuli:
‘There, on the mountain and the sky,
On all the tragic scene they stare.
One asks for mournful melodies…
Their eyes mid many wrinkles, their eyes,
Their ancient glittering eyes…’
In the same issue of the magazine I was arrested by an equally unexpected image: Noel Pearson the leading Aboriginal intellectual seated close to Tony Abbott, our Prime Minister. Pearson looks past the PM, gazing severely into the distance; Tony Abbott, smiling tightly, looks upward to Pearson’s face. I spent some time interrogating their expressions. In Pearson I found depth, a sober realism. In Tony I saw yearning. I wondered how it was the PM appeared to be the supplicant, the client, while the man from disadvantage wore such self-assurance.
Tony Abbott is co-author (along with predecessor PM’s and a succession of underlings) of our World’s Worst Practice towards human beings who arrive in Australia by boat and seek asylum. That policy is cruel by calculation; it is calibrated torture. Our practice is a precise antithesis of the parable of the Good Samaritan. Now, would-be-good Tony knows this and only by a sustained effort of moral contortion and will can he manage to unknow it.
Along with Morrison, Ruddock, Howard, Beasley and Rudd, Tony Abbott is an avowed believer. He belongs to a claque of believers who perpetrate this unchristian – indeed antichristian – policy. How do they all do it? What do the believers believe?
In Tony’s case the face I see is an innocent face. He gazes towards his grownup interlocutor, his expression seeking approval: he seeks a word or a sign: “Good boy, Tony, you’ve done well.” Like a small boy Tony seeks affirmation. By means of sustained effort he has gained this, successively from the ghost of Bob Santamaria and from Cardinal George Pell. From such firmly formed personages Tony learned notions of goodness. He would be good and thereby be approved.
The child looked for affirmation from John Howard and the Liberal Party. He sought our approbation too and, in opinion polls and at the last federal election we gave it. We became complicit in sustaining the ego structure of this needy child. Patently we no longer show approval to this immature person. He locks himself inside a tightening circle of insecurity, looking to spouse, offspring and advisors, some of them women, to whom he seeks mothering.
On Mother’s day I will muster all the compassion I am capable of and try to think kindly of Tony Abbott, the child leader who just wants to be good (just so long as we’ll approve).
I am always baffled by those who profess religious beliefs and then act contrary to known scriptures, and still are able to rationalise their actions. Even worse, perhaps are those who use religious texts to sanction their own aggression. If you look for some smiting in any of the great religious tracts, you are going to find it, but I still don’t see how that gives you permission to smite other’s in some god’s name. I prefer people who take responsibility for their own actions and don’t pass the buck (to god, or anyone else).
Wonderful credo, Hilary!
I think all immigration ministers and maybe their PMs have faced the long dark night of the soul in which they realised that their portfolio is a confrontation with death and cruelty. Only Amanda Vanstone, who cleared out the Augean stable of Woomera has some honour. Ruddock is hollowed out, Bowen was frozen into cruelty by the disastrous deaths on Christmas Island. I fear Morrison the most because I think he enjoyed his role,
I’ve hardened myself against all those humans who have whilst being in positions of power and authority over other humans behaved in a false and damaging manner; and I refer particularly to politics, and religions! and when a young believer Dear Howard, I too liked the story of the “good Samaritan” xxxx