The Abbott you think you know

Tony Abbott

The Tony Abbott we don’t know

Conventional wisdom no sure guide on Abbott.

By Gerard McManus*

How much do we really know about Tony Abbott?

Despite the fact he’s been in Parliament since 1994, was a high-profile minister in the Howard Government, and one of the longest serving and resilient Opposition Leaders in recent decades; in some respects he remains an enigma. 

In part this is because of the iron discipline Abbott has displayed as Opposition Leader in terms of keeping the focus on the government, and his almost robot-like effort to be “on message” – political speak for not being distracted and articulating the things his party is trying to project in the public arena. 

The following are six unexpected personality traits and characteristics of Tony Abbott that are not immediately obvious, but will become more so should the Australian people decide to elect him as leader of the country. Some run against all conventional wisdom about Abbott the politician who is in many ways a paradox. A couple should be of serious worry for the Labor Party, and one or two should be of concern for the Coalition.

So here are some things about Tony that you probably didn’t know: 

  1. Friendship. Unusually for a politician Tony Abbott makes and holds friendships stretching back a long way. He makes it his business to maintain relationships and loyalty is one of his best and worst traits. He hangs on to people who he should have discarded years ago, including people who have been disloyal to him, but is also steadfast with friendships going back decades that benefit him nil political benefit. 
  2. He has a great sense of humor. You wouldn’t know if from the nightly stern rebukes on television about government failure on boats and deficits and mismanagement, but Tony Abbott is a genuinely funny guy. Once freed from the shackles of being Opposition Leader he is likely to be more of a larrikin prime minister (not unlike Bob Hawke or Kevin Rudd at his mischievous best). 
  3. Indigenous affairs. Tony Abbott has a deep and abiding interest in the betterment of indigenous Australians and should he become PM, this will be one of his key pre-occupations. This is an area where all governments have failed for decades and he will be the first leader since perhaps Paul Hasluck who understands what actually should be done to improve things. Abbott has taken his family holidays to remote Aboriginal settlements, has taught in their schools and has developed a deep understanding of some the on-the-ground problems and challenges. 
  4. He’s fearless. Abbott’s aggression is often cited as a reason for his unfitness for office. Apart from the fact that aggression is pretty well the standard norm in politics and Abbott’s aggression seems not much different than to say a Paul Keating or a Malcolm Fraser, Abbott’s aggression is more obstinancy and fierce competitiveness than anything else. If Abbott had not tried to become a priest or a politician, he probably would have been a soldier. During the War in Afghanistan he pleaded with John Howard in Cabinet to let him be embedded with the troops to show government solidarity with the troops on the ground. Howard sensibly denied the request. 
  5. Likes to be liked. Potentially a problem as Prime Minister, Tony Abbott likes being popular. Abbott probably believes that with enough time and patience he can win over most voters. He won’t be able to, and the fact he is already a lightning rod of controversy will mean that for a while at least he will be the object of considerable hatred should his party win office. Controversy and Tony Abbott go hand in hand and the deep-seated prejudices against him are likely to remain. 
  6. He’s not a conservative. Well, not really. Abbott has conservative instincts, rather than a conservative philosophy, and what conservative thought there is, is often inconsistent. He is a supporter of the monarchy, but this is only up to a point. Abbott is more of a philosophical pragmatist than a true conservative. He believes in central government at the expense of the states rather than devolution; he is a realist when it comes to what is an international trend in western countries toward sanctioning same-sex marriage; he is a strong supporter of the monarchy but if the majority of Australians came up with a workable republican model, he would probably not stand in the way of it. His extremely generous maternity leave policy is tailored in the main for career women, rather than the stay-at-home mothers a true social conservative would be expected to support.  

Attempts by the Labor Party to demonize Tony Abbott are often barking up the wrong tree. 

Should he become prime minister, Abbott is certain to surprise people with his hidden strengths and disappoint others with his unseen weaknesses. 

In all though Abbott is a much more complex and formidable politician that his enemies would dare to admit. 

*Gerard McManus is a Director of McManus Skotniki & Associates. This article republished with the permission of Management Today.



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