How Did That Man Become Australia’s Opposition Leader?

by Peter McCarthy


The stunning reaction to last week’s speech by Australia’s Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, calling out Opposition Leader Tony Abbott for his serial offending as a sexist, must have the rest of the World wondering what makes Tony tick. Asyou can see by his body language in the YouTube clip, it was “a fair cop,” as we say in Oz, and it has completely undermined the campaign to soften Tony’s image.

How did Tony get to this position?

It was a long and torturous route as you will see. Often plagued by ill-considered reactions when on the defensive.

Tony is a practicing Catholic, and in his early days at University, he fell under the influence of BA Santamaria, arabid anti-Communist and Catholic who used to grace our TV screens every Sunday morning with 15 minutes of “Red under the Bed” material. It was high temperature material presented with an urgency that had me wondering if he might not collapse “on air” one day.

Tony was/is a fan.

This was at a time when student politics was practiced in a manner that would shock our current day Uni students. Often punches were thrown and the odd photo would appear in the National newspapers of a participant sitting up in a hospital bed with a couple of impressive “shiners” and a “woe is me” story in which, of course, they were totally blameless. We would have seen more except images from the Vietnam War generally held sway.

Of course both sides of Politics had their problems which is generally put down to testosterone laden youthful exuberance and normally your track record is not relevant to modern politics, but oddly enough, this has come back to bite Tony in recent days.

A recent article about those days mentioned Tony losing an election to be Chairman of some student group.

To a woman.

Rather than congratulate her it is alleged he punched the wall on both sides of her head, which he denies. On balance though, Tony’s defence looks weak, but what is not denied is that he used to refer to the winning candidate as “Chair Thing” because she objected to being called “Chairman.”

This is a good example of getting the reaction wrong. Had Tony ‘fessed up and blamed it on his youth, it would have blown over in a day or two and the “Chair Thing” not even rated a mention. But the “female friendly Tony” spin doctors took over. By the time his apologists had finished “helping” more unfortunate material had appeared.

After completing Uni, Tony then studied to be a Priest and although he jumped ship before he finished his training, he still has strong ties to the Church. In the U.S it probably doesn’t count against you, but in Australia it carries the shadow of being subjected to Catholic rules via government legislation. Here again Tony fell foul of his “honesty”. Before the last election he was quizzed about having visited the “hard line” Cardinal Pell in the time leading up to the vote. In what was to become a famous interview, Tony thrice denied (Last Supper style) he had done so, but the interviewer had the inside running and persisted and eventually Tony replied with “Yes, but what of it?”

Because Tony likes to play “full body contact” politics he gets a bit carried away and seems to forget the cameras are rolling. When the Labor Party had Mark Latham asLeader, it was two dinosaurs wrestling in Parliament. Both sexist. Both highly aggressive. Unfortunately for Tony the days of putting up with their male-centric view of the world has passed. In Latham’s case, he left disgruntled as he realised his time has gone, but Tony is battling on bravely, seemingly unaware that better behaviour is expected from our politicians.

When Julia Gillard successfully challenged for Party Leadership in the time honoured tradition of getting the numbers and calling out the Leader, Tony was most offended. Ever since he has kept up the attack presumably because women doing it the blokes’ way is unacceptable. He also dislikes that the PM is “living in sin” but in this matter he is getting the same message from the party room. “Not fit to be PM because she is deliberately barren” is one such enlightened comment that floats from the Opposition benches. Apparently the 21st Century has still to arrive in their building.

This narrow view is why Tony does not enjoy the usual big lead in the polls as preferred PM, something every other aspiring PM has enjoyed even when they lose the next election.

As Health Minister in the previous Conservative government, he was outraged that his then PM, John Howard, would not let him ban the use of the abortion drug RU486 which Cardinal Pell was staunchly against. Even more annoying for him was Howard allowed a conscience vote so the drug was then allowed to be imported. It remains to be seen if Abbott will try to ban the drug should he be successful at the next election.

I’m never going to defend Tony Abbott, but I can see where things have gone pear shaped for him. Similarly to current U.S politics, the Conservative side have fallen under the spell of the shock jocks, and the inevitable is that you lose the more reasonable folk from your party as the arguments become less civilised. The end result is your “real world” becomes smaller and self reinforcing and well removed from the population in general.

 October 2012 McCarthy, Bob Brown

The photo above, from a protest organised by shock jock, Bob Brown has earned Tony much aggravation. The plan was supposed to see a flood of protestors, but sadly for Tony the crowd was a figment of the shock jock’s imagination. It was poorly attended and standing in front of these banners has done him a lot of damage. He recently tried to overcome how he is viewed by women by appearing publically with his wife by his side. Even more painfully, he has had to let her field the questions which is a strain for him even in male company. But then blew the whole thing out of the water by making the comment using the word “shame.” For the voting public it was the straw that broke the camel’s back after it was used by the very same shock jock to say the recent death of the PM’s father was caused by his shame at her lying. The shock jock is currently working without sponsors due to Facebook users having had enough.

Tony claims it was an accident.

The Public don’t believe him.

It has been very hard for Mr Abbott to suppress his Catholicism. In an appearance on Q and A where pollies face questions from the public, he had trouble explaining his view on women’s rights. When pressed, he made the startling comment that No means Negotiable. That is not surprising coming from a Vatican-inspired education, but try selling that line as female friendly.

Tony’s rise to power is one of the most surprising things to happen to his Liberal party. Generally regarded as a bit of a dill and carrying the nickname “the mad monk” he was never expected to have a look in at the top job, but the desertion of Peter Costello in a fit of pique meant the party no longer had a leader-in-waiting. The then incumbent Malcolm Turnbull fell from favour because he accepts we have a Global Warming problem, so that left the only other candidate.


Sometimes in politics you don’t win. The other person loses. But here is the result in this video of our Prime Minister Julia Gillard heard around the world:

Last 5 posts by Guest Writer