It’s election year. Like it or not, this year Australia gets to go to the polls federally, and we have a choice between Tony Abbott and Julia Gillard [*ahem* Kevin Rudd]. Tony Abbott has abysmal “preferred PM” ratings, but the ALP has struggled in the polls consistently under the minority government thanks to a relentless campaign of negativity from the LNP and complicity by the mainstream media.
Since so much of an election comes down to who we want to have as prime minister (regardless of what pundits would say otherwise), it behoves us to keep in mind who Tony Abbott is. What sort of a person is he?
Let’s get it from the horse’s mouth.
Tony tells us not to believe what he says is a real promise unless it’s scripted:
Well, again Kerry, I know politicians are gonna be judged on everything they say, but sometimes, in the heat of discussion, you go a little bit further than you would if it was an absolutely calm, considered, prepared, scripted remark, which is one of the reasons why the statements that need to be taken absolutely as gospel truth is those carefully prepared scripted remarks.
Support for the Troops
When visiting Afghanistan in October 2010 and told of a recent Australian soldier’s death, Tony Abbott said that sometimes:
Abbott has always insisted he was taken out of context there – but let’s be honest: what’s the context for someone who styles himself as the alternate PM saying “shit happens” in response to a description about how troops died for their country? Context or not, it was a highly insensitive way of reacting.
On religious tolerance and diversity
“I think everyone should have some familiarity with the great texts that are at the core of our civilisation … that includes, most importantly, the bible … I think it would be impossible to have a good general education without at least some serious familiarity with the bible and with the teachings of christianity … that doesn’t mean that people have to be believers.”
So, regardless of what religion kids are raised under (or none), in order to have a comprehensive education they need to have “serious familiarity” with the bible and the teachings of christianity. Right.
On abortion and the reproductive rights of women
“The problem with the Australian practice of abortion is that an objectively grave matter has been reduced to a question of the mother’s convenience. Aborting a first trimester fetus is not morally identical to deliberately killing a living human being, but it’s not just removing a wart or a cyst either.”
Asked in a 60 minutes interview about his views on homosexuality, Tony replied:
“I probably feel a bit threatened, as so many people do. It’s a fact of life.”
He also said:
“There is no doubt that challenges, if you like, orthodox notions of the right order of things.”
On Bernie Banton
Bernie Banton, the public face of the mesothelioma campaign, tried to present a petition to Tony Abbott to make a key drug available on the PBS. Tony Abbott wasn’t amused when Bernie called him out for not being at his offices to accept the petition, and instead of gracefully apologising, went on the attack:
“Let’s be upfront about this. I know Bernie is very sick, but just because a person is sick doesn’t necessarily mean that he is pure of heart in all things.”
(Bernie Banton died less than a month later, 27 November 2007. A NSW state funeral was held for him, and he had received the Order of Australia in 2005.)
In response for being called out for being late to a scheduled debate with Nicola Roxon
Roxon: “You can’t even get here on time.”
Abbott: “It certainly wasn’t intentional.”
Roxon: “You can control these things mate. I’m sure had you wanted to you could.”
Abbott: “That’s bullshit. You’re being deliberately unpleasant. I suppose you can’t help yourself, can you.”
Maybe Nicola could have been more polite? She had been left waiting for him for a scheduled debate, so a little frustration is understandable. Abbott going on such a strong personal attack in response? Hardly prime-ministerial conduct.
Just days after the scandal hit the fan over Alan Jones’ saying Julia Gillard’s father must have “died of shame”, Abbott, in Parliament, claimed government support for Peter Slipper was:
“another day of shame for a government which should already have died of shame”.
Yet Abbott went on radio that afternoon rebutting any correlation between Alan Jones’ words and his:
“I’d completely forgotten about [it].”
Not really observant, is he?
Ability to remember facts
When Tony went on the 7.30 report 22 August 2012 to again decry the impact of the Carbon Tax, citing a project closure by BHP, he neglected to read a press release from BHP stating the Carbon Tax wasn’t a factor:
Leigh Sales: “Have you actually read BHP’s statements?”
Tony Abbott: “No.” (Rest of response removed as it’s not relevant to the question.)
However, the next day, Tony stated he had read it:
“about 3:45pm yesterday afternoon”
(before going on the 7.30 report.)
That’s either a pretty damn faulty memory or a pretty loose definition of “the truth”.
On respecting gender equality
After he lost a student election to Barbara Ramjan in 1977, and Ms Ramjan asked to be referred to as the “chairperson” instead of “chairman”, Tony would call her the:
The carbon tax
In a 2009 interview, Tony Abbott said:
“If you want to put a price on carbon, why not do it with a simple tax?”
In response to being labelled a misogynist
“I think I can say with confidence that you will never find from me any attempt to invoke the gender war against my political opponents. Never, ever, will I attempt to say that as a man I have been the victim of powerful forces beyond my control.”
It’s fairly easy for a man to promise he won’t claim he’s the victim of a gender war. It’s not men fighting for equal pay, and the completion of gender equality, after all.
On unemployment benefits
Not strictly a quote, but not denied by his office either, in a 2010 speech to mining executives, Tony Abbott proposed banning the dole for people under 30 as a way of getting them to head to WA to fulfil the labour shortage for the resources boom. (No more dole, Tony Abbott warns the under-30s, The Australian, April 21, 2010.)
On industrial relations
“If we’re honest, most of us would accept that a bad boss is a little bit like a bad father or a bad husband. Not withstanding all his or her faults, you find that he tends to do more good than harm. He might be a bad boss but at least he’s employing someone while he is in fact a boss.”
On Work Choices Legislation
“Work Choices, it’s dead, it’s buried, it’s cremated now and forever. But obviously I can’t give an absolute guarantee about every single aspect of workplace relations legislation. But Work Choices is gone now and forever.”
That’s excellent, of course. After all, if a LNP leader provides such an emphatic statement that something is dead and buried, we can trust them, right?
John Howard: No, there’s no way that a GST will ever be part of our policy.
Journalist: Never, ever?
John Howard: Never ever. It’s dead. It was killed by the voters in the last election.
(The GST statement, if you’ll remember, triggered John Howard’s famous differentiation about “core promises” and “non-core promises”.)
On being an excellent judge of character
After the judgment was issued over the Slipper/Ashby affair, Abbott admitted he hadn’t actually bothered to read the judgement (perhaps in the same way he hadn’t/had read the BHP press release?), but he did say he was:
“confident he [Mr Brough] has acted rightly at all times”
Abbott ‘too busy’ to read damning Mal Brough judgment, Queensland Times, December 19, 2012.
That article distills the judgment quite well:
“Justice Rares found that Mr Brough had conspired with Mr Slipper’s accusers, James Ashby and media Adviser Karen Doane to bring Mr Slipper down and ‘advance the interests of the LNP and Mr Brough’.”
Yes, acted ‘rightly’ at all times. Harumph.
“When it comes to Julia, ‘No’ doesn’t mean ‘No’.”
Let’s be brutally honest: by 2012, the “no means no” mantra was pretty much owned by the discussion around rape and consent. Hardly a dignified statement to make about the Prime Minister. In fact, this alone should have brought him the same ignominy Alexander Downer encountered for talking about domestic abuse as “The things that batter“.
On Gender Roles
“What the housewives of Australia need to understand as they do the ironing is…”
Awareness of Current Events
When Julia Gillard went to the UN to assist in last minute canvassing for Australia to get one of the temporary seats on the Security Council, Abbott said:
“Rather than talking to African countries, trying to drum up the numbers to get us a temporary seat on the Security Council, she should be in Jakarta talking to President Yudhoyono about how we can cooperate better with the Indonesians to stop this flow which is putting our border protection hopelessly under the pump.”
A shame Abbott didn’t first check to make sure the President of Indonesia was in fact in Indonesia. He wasn’t. He was also at the UN. (Tony also seemed to have forgot when he made that statement that just months prior he’d met with the President of Indonesia, and didn’t think to mention his idea of having the Australian Navy tow asylum seeker boats back into Indonesian waters, something that has been condemned as piracy.)
Like it or not, Tony Abbott has, at minimum, a chronic case of foot-in-mouth disease and a shockingly bad memory. On those grounds alone, we’d have to question his competence as a political leader in Australia.
Over the coming months as the election builds, there should be a lot of attention paid to the man who would be prime minister. There’ll be a lot of spin about how splendid a chap Tony is, but just let his words above speak for him, OK?