In 1976 two extremely significant events occurred in the history of Australia: The Angels released their pub anthem “Am I ever gonna see your face again?” and Tony Abbott lost an election. The impact on Australian society and (pub) culture of the former was readily apparent; the impact of the latter, however, would not be felt for quite some time.
Tony’s first experience of a political loss was for the University of Sydney Senate. Obviously disappointed at the result, he took out his frustrations by kicking in a glass panel of a door to the Student Representative Council (SRC) building. But this first bitter taste of defeat did not kill off Tony’s political ambitions. Instead, it was an ignominious start to what would prove to be a long, divisive and ultimately successful career in both student and federal politics.
Many commentators from the left have bemoaned that the next three years (at least) are going to be a dark time for anyone not cut from the same cloth as big Tony. Only time well tell, but the Liberal/ National Abbott government are off to a flying start at proving those lefties’ fears correct. Highlights include a cabinet that has fewer women in it than Afghanistan’s (a country well known for it’s endearment towards women in positions of power), and a folio reshuffle that has axed the Minister for Science whilst creating the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Centenary of ANZAC.
But in perhaps the most bizarre cabinet appointment, Tony has chosen himself for the role of representing women and their interests in Australia. Which is pretty much akin to crowning Cory Bernardi as Grand Marshall of the Mardi Gras Parade. Although I am stoked as a white straight middle class male to have my interests fully represented in the new cabinet, it begs the question of Tony: where all those lovely ladies at?
To begin to understand the real answer to this question, we need to hop in a time machine (possibly the same one that Bob Katter uses to get his policies) and travel back to the 1970s when an undergraduate Tony Abbott was cutting his teeth and making his mark on Australian student politics. He was tearing through the radical left and any walls, door panels or people that happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was a fierce political writer and used the student newspaper Honi Soit to voice his various views, including in 1979 where he was quoted as saying “I think it would be folly to expect that women will ever dominate or even approach equal representation in a large number of areas simply because their aptitudes, abilities and interests are different for physiological reasons.”
In 2010 when pressed about this quote Tony replied that “Ah, I don’t want to repudiate what was said, but I don’t want people to think that what I thought as a 21 year old is necessarily what I think as a 52 year old.” Whilst I am inclined to agree with Tony that 30 years is enough time for views to evolve or mature, values expressed in such a formative stage of life are still relevant in understanding the person they create many years later. This is especially so when they’re unwilling to renounce those views.
What relevancy does this have to the upcoming Monash Student Association (MSA) elections? Ultimately, the student politician of today is the potential federal politician of tomorrow. It’s where many learn the skills for politicking but not necessarily the skills to govern or to lead. The argument cannot be made that all student politicians are raving political hacks hell bent on getting to the lodge, quite the opposite in fact. There are many dedicated, hard working and intelligent people who see the positive impact they can have on the student body by running for elected office. But the problem is, if you let a vociferous minority of student political hacks set the tenor for discourse now, then 30 odd years later you get guys like Tony setting the tenor for political discourse nationally.
Further to this we must raise the current standard of political discourse whilst stamping out the grubbiness and aggression that’s seen within elections for the MSA every year. This needs to be done for the sake of current students and for potential positive impact it can have on the state of politics in the future.
So before you cast your vote this week ensure you scrutinise the policies of each candidate. But more importantly, scrutinise their character. You never know, they could be Prime Minister one day.