Decline and Fall: The Faustian Compact


I wrote this article, which was published on Webdiary, nearly six years ago – just before the 2007 election. I stand by everything in it, including the original final paragraph.

Being an atheist, I do not think we have souls. However, for the sake of the Faustian analogy, let me take the position that Philip Ruddock once had a soul. One interesting question is, to whom did he sell it?

Ruddock was a founder of the parliamentary branch of Amnesty International. He was an advocate of Australia’s increasing its foreign aid budget, and he took part in several peace missions to Cambodia when that country was enduring its civil war. He was also a member (one of the few Liberals) of the Parliamentarians Against Apartheid group. With such principles, it did not surprise me when, in 1988, he and a few other Liberal MPs defied their then leader, John Howard, and crossed the floor to support Bob Hawke’s resolution opposing any immigration policy based on racial discrimination.

In 1996, the Howard government was elected, and Ruddock was made Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs. He was elevated to the Cabinet after the 1998 election, having decided to become, in Andrew West’s words:

… that ultimate political novelty: a surprise. He would be no wuss … [he] became the proud spruiker for locking children and their families behind the razor wire. He referred to a refugee child as “it” and spoke of asylum-seekers fleeing tyranny … as ‘people seeking a different resettlement outcome’.

It was after the 1998 election that I began to think that Philip Ruddock looked like a man who had sold his soul. Soon after that Crikey (thank you, Christian Kerr, for the confirmation) began referring to him as the Cadaver. Then came the Tampa, and the 2001 election: the resemblance to a greenish-skinned corpse grew stronger. His old friend Phillip Adams wrote of him in on 28 June 2003 (sorry, the original link to the Oz doesn’t work):

In recent weeks we’ve seen Ruddock’s hands shaking as he stands in the Reps to answer questions about an international criminal and illegal who jumped queues to gain Australian citizenship, having made generous donations to Ruddock’s election fund. But even before getting the tremors at the despatch box, Ruddock was showing symptoms of a deepening crisis. We’re used to seeing the upper echelons of Australia’s political leadership ageing dramatically in office. One day they’re young and feisty, the next haggard and exhausted.

Yet while Howard remains sprightly, sustained by the aphrodisiac of power, Ruddock recalls The Picture of Dorian Gray. …

Why? Because his policies of mandatory detention, involving the imprisonment of hundreds of children, his ruthless and inflexible imposition of unprecedented cruelties on innocent human beings, have subjected him to more criticism than the rest of the Howard ministry combined.

It’s clearly taken its toll yet Howard has shown no pity, no inclination to reshuffle, no sign of rewarding Ruddock for doing a dirty job by promoting him to a more comfortable portfolio. Worse, in a gesture of staggering cynicism Howard gave him the added responsibility of Reconciliation and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs. Ruddock, who once would have supported reconciliations ideals, has been forced to participate in a slow, cynical process of destruction.

Ruddock knows the Bible far better than I do. But isn’t there a warning against Mephistopheles contracts? What does it profit a man if he gains the world but loses his immortal soul?

That article resonated with me, and helped answer my first question: Ruddock sold his soul to Howard. A Faustian bargain par excellence. And his master has been making him pay ever since. Witness Wayne Errington in Crikey:

After a decade of Howard’s dominance, the right is in the ascendant. Working out exactly who is liberal or conservative after a decade in power, though, is difficult. Nothing has given Howard greater pleasure than watching wets such as Ruddock and Vanstone implement his authoritarian refugee policies. Brendan Nelson, Helen Coonan and Julie Bishop have toed Howard’s line against their ideological instincts.

This raises a second question: why did Ruddock sell his soul? For that matter, why did Vanstone, Nelson, Coonan, and Julie Bishop?

This question is easily answered in Ruddock’s case. He said to Adams: “I’ve been waiting to be a minister for 20 years.” One might expect similar responses from his formerly small-l Liberal colleagues.

Does it all come down to ambition, to power? After all, the effect of power on the character is well-known. Why, then, haven’t people like Georgiou, Troeth, Baird, Moylan, and Payne also crossed over? Their political careers would have been easier, and far more successful, had they too acquiesced. Could it have something to do with integrity?

And that raises a third, and to me fascinating question: what happens to people who so compromise their integrity, their ethics, their principles? In its extreme form it involves what the eminent psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton called socialization to evil through a process of “doubling”. Are they so corrupted by their bargain that they disintegrate – or is redemption possible?

Ruddock is the Member for Berowra, and at the last election received 56% of first preferences (2PP 62%). Almost certainly he will be re-elected. Even if the Coalition is annihilated on 24 November 2007, he will be one of the survivors. And if the Coalition does lose, will Ruddock be able to help rebuild the Liberal Party as a genuinely conservative force, a party that once again reflects the vision and ideals of people like Peter Baume, Ian MacPhee, Fred Chaney, Dick Hamer, Malcolm Fraser, and even Bob Menzies? Will he achieve disintegration, or redemption?

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Well, the question in my final paragraph has been answered: over the past five and a half years Ruddock has done nothing to restore the Liberal Party as a genuine conservative party. Instead he has acquiesced – and thus has been complicit – in the continuation under Abbott (with the willing help of the likes of Bernardi) of what Guy Rundle has described as Howard’s radical right-wing libertarianism.

Is there any hope for the once not-too-bad Liberal Party? I don’t think so. Dystopia, here we come. Have a nice day, and would you like fries with that?

711 thoughts on “Decline and Fall: The Faustian Compact

  1. Does anyone know if Margie Abbott owns that childcare centre? I thought she was a sort of manager. She classed herself in her cycling interview as a ‘small business operator’.

  2. Fess, RNM1953, and Jack Hawks,

    Y’all get a special glass of fizz for linking Andrew Elder’s latest.

  3. Something that struck me about the photo of the hall that Space Kidette linked earlier was the (comparative) youthfulness of the audience. Now we also see the age and the ethnic diversity – great stuff!

  4. ForeverJanice. She is the manager,only. Run as a not for profit by a board

  5. Leftrightout,

    I didn’t realise it was a NFP. That must be anathema to Mr Abbott.

  6. leftrightout.

    But, she definitely described herself as a ‘small business operator’ and referred to ‘my staff’. Lying must be contagious.

  7. Fiona, just repeating what I have read/heard a number of times. I have a feeling BB knows more

  8. Thanks, Fiona, though I was a tad behind the others. Loving the special glass of fizz, tastes exactly like my favourite James Squire Four Wives Pilsener.

  9. Local ABC 1 organising a bucket chain of cold water to pour over Gillard’s Western Sydney trip. Proudly crowing that Abbott (looking more sure footed on their piece than I understand he was, no heels moment for Their Tone) beat her there, which of course is not a stunt. Saying that Gillard’s appearance sure looked like a campaign. I thought our infallible media had declared the campaign had started? so what’s wrong with that? Haven’t got a recording to be sure, but I think the ABC declared that, unlike that flibbertigibbet Gillard, Abbott will be seen for the next week as “getting on with business”. Plus a generous portion of Margie, who can ride a bike!!!!!
    They get worse by the day.

  10. Confessions
    Is that ‘our’ Doyley that posts here?
    Wow, there are some great photo’s of Julia, makes you feel read good.
    Night all, look forward to hopefully getting a report from our intrepid rally goers.

  11. BSA Bob:

    Of course Team Abbott have been campaigning for 3 years, and no problem with this at all from OM.

    We are so poorly served by the media in this country! And what on earth has happened to the ABC? It’s such a player these days.

  12. gravel:

    Not sure if that’s our Doyley, but seeing the pics coming out makes me wish I’d been there!!!

  13. Confessions,

    “Our” ABC is being prepared for slaughter oops sale oops … giving away.

    To the RIGHT person.

  14. Re the creekside fall of CREDLIN’S CREATURE you can bet your bottom dollar that he was wearing dress shoes with leather soles.
    Pure stunt stuff!

  15. Well done, Janice.

    Actually, the entire website AND newsletter are littered with howlers.

  16. fiona:

    I’m almost at the point where I think the ABC should just be handed over to whomever. It is absolutely no value whatsoever as a public broadcaster.

  17. Aguirre,

    I doubt if the author(s) would recognise a predicate if it bit him/her/them.


  18. Sorry fiona, but I have it earmarked for the day after my daughter’s wedding. The parents of my no 2 son’s wife are driving over from Wodonga to look after the baby while the reception is on, They will come and stay the night on the Sunday for the family brunch. Then I can show them what monster shirazes we can make here.

  19. Janice,

    In response to your earlier comment about lack of interest in Mrs Abbott, I share that – to some extent.

    My curiosity was, however, piqued by your comment regarding Mrs Abbott’s assertions with respect to (1) being a “small business operator”, and (2) “her” staff. I also had a vague memory (C@tmomma, I think?) of a description of the centre as being an occasional care one.

    Bingo – found it first try! Moreover, here are some Quick Facts (emphasis added):

    Quick Facts

    St Ives Occasional Care Incorporated is a non-profit, occasional care centre catering for children from birth to 5 years old.

    • We have been in operation since 1973.

    • We welcome all families including those from non-English speaking, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander backgrounds.

    • The centre is licensed for 25 children, and is subsidised by the Department of Community Services (DoCS).

    So, not only is SIOC not-for-profit (anathema to the true libertarian – user pays, daahling, user pays) but it is subsidised by DoCS. Now, admittedly DoCS is a department of the State of New South Wales, rather than the evil Commonwealth. Nevertheless, what this means is that SIOC is suckling on the public teat. Effectively, it is for all intents and purposes an instrument of Teh State. Anathema squared!

    How does Mr Abbott rationalise the source of his spouse’s income? I dunno – oh, maybe I do – a bit the same way that he rationalises his amazing claims for on-the-road allowances …

  20. Leftrightout,

    Mea culpa, yes, I noticed that, and thank you for the reminder … it’s getting late and moi est fatiguée …

  21. Fiona, leftrightout,

    Yes, Margie is definitely a ‘small business operator’ with emphasis on OPERATOR. Her husband has taught her well.

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