“On one occasion, Turnbull found himself in an Adelaide pub drinking beer with a group of workers from the Australian Submarine Corporation.
Abbott, the workers told him, was an idiot.
Of course he isn’t, Turnbull replied. The man is a Rhodes Scholar with a degree in economics from Oxford University. He’s actually very bright.
The argument went back and forth for a bit till one of the ASC crew delivered the line that ended the argument: “If he’s not stupid, why does he keep doing stupid things?”
This exchange appeared in a series of write ups in The Age (Shirtfronted: The story of the Abbott government by Peter Hartcher). 

tony-abbott-1Well, this is an excellent question which has bugged me too. Like any other human, Tony Abbott is also a very complex being and I do not wish to oversimplify the matter here; however if we consider the question in psychological light we’ll surely gain some insight. In particular, I think the Enneagram system would be very helpful in explaining why Abbot keeps doing things which comes across as “stupid” to many people despite him being a very bright man. 

The Enneagram is a system rooted in ancient wisdom yet validated psychologically; it offers a remarkably insightful and useful approach to understanding human nature. For more information see The Guiding Light of the Enneagram.

The keyword in The Age article that opened up a new door for me was instinct. Pater Hartcher writes that Malcolm Turnbull repeatedly asked to be appointed to the cabinet’s national security committee and that Abbott repeatedly refused to do so citing that: “All his natural instincts are contrary to mine on national security. What’s the point of appointing someone who’s going to gum up the works?” Hartcher further comments: “It’s telling that Abbott cited the centrality of instincts.”

Rooted in ancient wisdom and elaborated through modern psychology, the Enneagram is a system describing nine facets of human nature, resulting in nine personality types. Within this system, type-8’s are the most visceral and instinctual types. They are the leader type, action oriented, matter-of-fact people who have a clear idea (based on their gut feel) what needs to be done, they roll up the sleeves and get on with the job, if needed taking followers with them one way or another. Their visceral nature is their gift but if their soul has not sufficiently matured then that gift could be a curse too. The following Type-8 excerpt by The Enneagram Institute explains it well: 

Eights are self-confident, strong, and assertive. Protective, resourceful, straight-talking, and decisive, but can also be ego-centric and domineering. Eights feel they must control their environment, especially people, sometimes becoming confrontational and intimidating. Eights typically have problems with their tempers and with allowing themselves to be vulnerable. At Their Best: self- mastering, they use their strength to improve others’ lives, becoming heroic, magnanimous, and inspiring.


The beauty of the Enneagram system is that it can explain why someone like Tony Abbott acts the way he does which baffles many like the ASC crew in that Adelaide pub. How is it that despite being a very bright, highly educated, physically healthy family man with indisputable leadership qualities of srots, he can become one of the shortest serving Prime Ministers of Australia, staying in the job for less than two years. How can Abbott turn himself from one of the most successful opposition leaders to a national embarrassment as Prime Minister, to the extent that his ousting caused the ratings shift radically in opinion polls to Liberal-National’s favour? The answer lies partially in the fact that he naturally trusts and acts on his instincts but his instincts are distorted by his conditioned mind and his entrenched patterns of behaviour rooted in his life story that he believes to be the real Tony. Like many others, Tony lives his life in an auto-pilot mode, he keeps repeating his mistakes, or if learning from them, it would be in a distorted manner which would take himself even further away from his authentic self. As mentioned, in his authentic self, his curse (distorted instincts) would be transformed back to the gift that it originally was (clear instincts). He will be self- mastering, using his strength to improve others’ lives, becoming heroic, magnanimous, and inspiring. 

Paul Keating is another Enneagram Type-8 example but a much maturer and more sophisticated soul than Tony Abbott. One could investigate why for example Kevin Rudd was not a successful PM despite his incredible popularity. I think Kevin could be either Enneagram Type-3 or 8 with a lot of potential for growing up, if he could give himself a chance to stop and ponder who he really is! Same goes for Tony, will he ever stop and ponder, or will he go on forever doing “stupid things” based on his distorted instincts?

Each of the nine Enneagram types can range from healthy or mature to average and down to unhealthy or immature, so the good news is that we can all improve. The Enneagram can act both like a mirror and a guiding light. It not only reveals the intricacies of our personal auto-pilot mode (the mirror) but it also bears the wisdom to point us to liberation from our existential crisis like a beacon; similar to a light house or our North Star; it can guide us to our highest potentials (the guiding light).

If this post resonates with you, you are welcome to write a comment, contact me for further information about the Enneagram, or even take our free anonymous and private Enneagram test to get an initial idea of your personality type.

Be well.