Australia’s prime minister Tony Abbott is uncommonly fond of sport metaphors, not least when addressing the domestic terror threat. His latest championing of “Team Australia” in trying to sell his government’s proposed national security reforms symbolically turns Australia into a giant dressing room and stadium.
Presiding over the nation as team captain, Abbott assumes the mantle of unassailable Bradmanesque hero rather than a Shakespearean “scurvy politician”.
Abbott recently told the South Australian Liberal Party’s annual general meeting about a Muslim community leader who:
… said to me on Tuesday in Melbourne, in a booming voice full of exuberance, he said: ‘You know we are all part of team Australia’ – and he looked at me and smiled – ‘and you are our captain.’ I have never been more proud and I have never been more exhilarated than to hear that statement.
Captured smilingly receiving applause in the television lights, Abbott resembles nobody more than (the recently deceased) Robin Williams playing school teacher John Keating in the famous “O Captain! My Captain!” scene from the 1989 film Dead Poets Society.
Beloved by Abbott’s ideological fellow traveller Alan Jones – a former teacher and sports coach and now prominent radio broadcaster – Dead Poets Society’s stirring tale of a maverick teacher in an elite private all-male school chimes well both with their biographies and mutual idealisation of the beloved “captain”.
It is a view of the world shared by another prominent conservative, former prime minister John Howard, who once ruefully observed to another right-wing radio man, the late Stan Zemanek, that the most important job in the country was really that of Australian men’s cricket captain.
Not all teams are of a sporting nature. But there is little doubt that Abbott the pugilist, rugby player and ironman has sport in mind when he describes Australia as a team.