Tony Abbott: a man of many parts
By Roger Childs
No one, however smart, however well-educated, however experienced … is the suppository of all wisdom.” Tony Abbott on the election trail getting to the bottom of things
The man widely expected to be Australia’s next prime minister is no stranger to controversy. There have plenty of gaffes over the years and Tony Abbott has often attracted publicity for the wrong reasons, such as
- inappropriate comments about Julia Gillard’s personality and physique
- referring to one of his candidates as having sex appeal
- blurting out hair-brained schemes like buying up Indonesian fishing boats to help stem the flow of asylum seekers
- calling the Syrian civil war baddies verses baddies
- photos on the beach in tight togs.
The next prime minister?
Some have doubted his intelligence and his detractors have called him the Mad Monk. Others have wondered whether Malcolm Turnbull, a previous Liberal Party leader, or Joe Hockey, Coalition Treasury spokesman, might have made a better leader for the Liberal-National Coalition (Australia’s equivalent of our National Party).
However the likely next Australian prime minister is a man of many parts. He was a Rhodes Scholar, played in the front row for the Oxford University rugby team and won a boxing blue. He prides himself on his physical fitness, has run marathons and recently on the campaign trail in Darwin completed a rigorous 45 minute training session with the local A Squadron 1st Armoured Regiment. He has also written a book: Battlelines, in which he sets out his views of the present world.
The 55 year old father of three daughters is married to Margie who has a Kiwi connection, having been brought up in Wainuiomata. As a social conservative Abbott opposes same-sex marriage, is a monarchist and a practising Catholic. As a young man he trained for the priesthood at the former seminary in Manly before deciding that politics was his calling.
Ups and downs for Labor
Kevin Rudd was Labor prime minister from 2007 to 2010. However he was eventually rolled by Julia Gillard after losing touch with his own party and some disastrous policies. The scheme to insulate the homes of Australia went badly wrong with some cowboys getting in on the act and resulting deaths.
There was also some serious overspending of the budget and the ridiculous cheques in the mail scheme for families to help the economy. Even though Australia avoided the worst of the mid-late 2000s world recession, Labor dropped in the polls. Rudd, who doesn’t need a lot of sleep, did not endear himself to his staff, running them ragged with demands for early starts, long hours and unpredictable schedules.
Replacement Julia Gillard was well regarded in New Zealand, but never won the confidence of the majority of the Australian electorate. A U-turn on the carbon tax and excessive spending, plus the inevitable anti-female attitude of a certain section of the male population saw Labor languishing in the polls with the September election looming.
Rudd: Labor saviour or liability?
Polling in July by Labor showed that a Gillard-led party would be crucified in the election. Rudd had been biding his time in the wings, and the Bring back Kevin movement gained momentum. Julia was on her way and immediately Labor went up in the polls. Was this the magic bullet for the government? No.
Unfortunately for Labor, Kevin Rudd hadn’t changed his style and the old problems surfaced: the arrogance of power, making announcements on the hoof, running a punishing travelling schedule and not always keeping his party colleagues informed.
The presidential campaign and personal attacks fail
Rudd decided that the electorate would find his style of imperial leadership preferable to the sometimes pugnacious Tony Abbott. So he fought the campaign on his own ‘presidential’ appeal and personal attacks on the Coalition leader. One regular television ad showed various Australian sectors being gradually eliminated as Coalition policies were mentioned and ended with a picture of Tony Abbott and the caption IF HE WINS, YOU LOSE.
The prime minister also didn’t help himself with his arrogance and claims to the moral high ground. Roy Williams, in a book on the two candidates called In God They Trust? commented When I interviewed him he told me he had just embarked on a project to study Luke’s gospel in the original Greek, so as to better understand the nuances of the Gospel writer’s message.
Then there were the rude exchanges with people on the election trail. One of the worst was Rudd getting impatient with a make-up artist shortly before a television debate with Abbott. The cartoonists had a field day. One of the best cartoons was Bill Leak’s in The Australian: REFLECTING BADLY ON HIMSELF. Rudd stares in the mirror and exclaims This make-up makes me look ridiculous! The harassed make-up lady responds I haven’t put any on yet…
Abbott coming through as a winner
As the campaign has proceeded Rudd has dropped in popularity and Abbott has risen. The latter has been well managed and performed better than expected in the television exchanges against the prime minister who is a very effective debater. However despite his undoubted intellect, Rudd has often lacked the common touch on the election trail and sometimes became overwhelmed by his own verbiage.
Most recent polls show the Liberal National Party Coalition with 53% or 54% of the vote after second preferences have been redistributed in Australia’s complex voting system. This would deliver Abbott a majority of between 10 and 15 seats in the 150-seat lower house. The Guardian September 4
Rudd who is a native of Queensland was brought back partly because of the threat to Labor-held seats in the state, but the polls indicate many of these will go, and some in Sydney and elsewhere in the country.
Tony Abbott will be the next Australian prime minister and a new story will begin.