Anthony John “Tony” Abbott (born 4 November 1957) is the 28th and current Prime Minister of Australia. He has been Leader of the Liberal Party since 2009, and the Member of Parliament for Warringah since 1994.
Abbott was born in London, England and immigrated to Australia with his family in 1960. Prior to entering Parliament, Abbott studied for a Bachelor of Economics and a Bachelor of Laws at the University of Sydney, and later for a Master of Arts as a Rhodes Scholar at Queen’s College, Oxford. He later trained as a Roman Catholic seminarian and worked as a journalist, business manager, and political advisor. In 1992, he was appointed Director of Australians for Constitutional Monarchy, a position he held until 1994 when he successfully stood in the Warringah by-election.
Abbott was first appointed to the Cabinet in 1998 under the Howard Government, as Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business. In 2003, he became Minister for Health and Ageing, retaining this position until the defeat of the Howard Government at the 2007 election. Initially serving in the Shadow Cabinets of first Brendan Nelson and then Malcolm Turnbull, he resigned from his frontbench position in November 2009 in protest against Turnbull’s support for the Rudd Government‘s proposed Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). Forcing a leadership ballot on the subject, Abbott defeated Turnbull by 42 votes to 41, being elected Leader of the Liberal Party and becoming the Leader of the Opposition.
Abbott led his party through the 2010 election, which resulted in a hung parliament. Incumbent Prime Minister Julia Gillard formed government after gaining the support of a Green MP and three independent MPs.
Abbott was re-elected unopposed to the party leadership following the 2010 election. He led the Liberal/National Coalition to victory at the 2013 election against the Australian Labor Party led by Kevin Rudd. Abbott was sworn in as the 28th Prime Minister of Australia on 18 September 2013.
Abbott was born in London, England, on 4 November 1957, to an Australian mother, Fay “Pete” Abbott (née Peters), who was born in Sydney, and an English-born father, Richard Henry “Dick” Abbott, who was born in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, and grew up in a village nearby. Dick emigrated to Australia during World War II with his parents. The first of Abbott’s ancestors to arrive in Australia was a Dutch woman who emigrated to Australia in 1912. His maternal grandfather was born in the Netherlands but had come to Australia when he was five. His maternal grandmother had been born in Wales.
On 7 September 1960, Abbott and his family left the UK for Australia on the Assisted Passage Migration Scheme ship Oronsay. His family first lived in Bronte and later moved to Chatswood, both suburbs of Sydney, New South Wales. Dick established what was to become one of the largest orthodontics practices in Australia, retiring in 2002.
Tony Abbott attended primary school at St Aloysius’ College at Milson’s Point, before completing his secondary school education at St Ignatius’ College, Riverview (both are Jesuit schools). He graduated with a Bachelor of Economics (BEc) and a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) from the University of Sydney where he resided at St John’s College, and was president of the Student Representative Council. He then travelled via India to Britain to study at The Queen’s College, Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, where he graduated with a Master of Arts (MA) in Politics and Philosophy. Following his time in Britain, he returned to Australia via Africa and advised his family of an intention to join the priesthood.
During his university days, Abbott gained media attention for his political stance opposing the then dominant left-wing student leadership. On one occasion he was even beaten up at a university conference. A student newspaper editor with political views opposed to those of Abbott took him to court for indecent assault after he touched her during a student debate. The charges against Abbott were dismissed by the court. According to the Sun-Herald newspaper, it was “an ugly and often violent time”, and Abbott’s tactics in student politics were like “an aggressive terrier”. Abbott also organised rallies in support of Governor-General John Kerr after he dismissed the Whitlam Government in November 1975, as well as a pro-Falklands War demonstration during his period at Oxford.
Abbott was also a student boxer, earning two Blues for boxing while at Oxford. During his student days he once “saved a child who was swept out to sea. Another time, he helped save children from a burning house next to a pub where he was drinking. On each occasion he disappeared before he could be properly thanked”.
When Abbott was 19, his girlfriend became pregnant and claimed Abbott to be the biological father. The couple did not marry and put the child up for adoption. For 27 years, Abbott believed that he fathered this child. In 2004, the boy sought out his biological mother and it was publicly revealed that the child had become an ABC sound recordist who worked in Parliament House, Canberra, and was involved in making television programs in which Abbott appeared. The story was reported around the world, but DNA testing later revealed that Abbott was not the man’s father.
In 1984, aged 26, Abbott entered St Patrick’s Seminary, Manly. At St. Ignatius College, Riverview, Abbott had been taught and influenced by the Jesuits, a Catholic religious order, and nominates Fr. Emmett Costello SJ as a significant mentor. At university, he encountered B. A. Santamaria, a noted Catholic political activist who had led a movement against Communism within the Australian trade union movement and Labor Party a generation earlier. Abbott did not complete his studies at the seminary, leaving the institution in 1987. Interviewed prior to the 2013 election, Abbott said of his time as a trainee priest: “The Jesuits had helped to instil in me this thought that our calling in life was to be, to use the phrase: ‘a man for others’. And I thought then that the best way in which I could be a ‘man for others’ was to become a priest. I discovered pretty soon that I was a bit of a square peg in a round hole… eventually working out that, I’m afraid, I just didn’t have what it took to be an effective priest.
Following his departure from the seminary, Abbott met and married Margaret “Margie” Aitken, a New Zealander working in Sydney. Abbott and his wife have three daughters: Louise, Bridget and Frances. He worked in journalism, briefly ran a concrete plant and began to get involved in national politics.
Throughout his time as a student and seminarian, Abbott was writing articles for newspapers and magazines—first for Honi Soit (the Sydney University student newspaper), and later The Catholic Weekly and national publications like The Bulletin. He eventually became a journalist and wrote for The Australian.
Abbott began his public life when he was employed as a journalist for The Bulletin, an influential news magazine, and later for The Australian newspaper. While deciding his future career path, Abbott had developed friendships with senior figures in the New South Wales Labor Party, and was encouraged by Labor’s future Foreign Minister Bob Carr, as well as Johno Johnson, to join the Labor Party and run for office. Abbott felt uncomfortable with the role of unions within the party however, and wrote in his biography that he felt Labor “just wasn’t the party (for me)”. For a time he worked as a plant manager for Pioneer Concrete before becoming press secretary to Liberal Leader John Hewson from 1990 to 1993, helping to develop the Fightback! policy.
Prime Minister John Howard wrote in his autobiography that Abbott had considered working on his staff prior to accepting the position with The Bulletin, and it was on Howard’s recommendation that Hewson engaged Abbott. According to Howard, he and Abbott had established a good rapport, but Hewson and Abbott fell out shortly before the 1993 election, and Abbott ended up in search of work following the re-election of the Keating Government. He was approached to head Australians for Constitutional Monarchy (ACM), the main group organising support for the maintenance of the Monarchy in Australia amidst the Keating Government’s campaign for a change to a republic. Between 1993 and 1994, Abbott served as the Executive Director of ACM. According to biographer Michael Duffy, Abbott’s involvement with ACM “strengthened his relationship with John Howard, who in 1994 suggested he seek pre-selection for a by-election in the seat of Warringah.” Howard provided a glowing reference and Abbott won pre-selection for the safe Liberal seat.
Despite his conservative leanings, Abbott has acknowledged he voted for Labor in the 1988 NSW state election as he thought “Barrie Unsworth was the best deal Premier that New South Wales had ever had”. Nevertheless, Abbott then clarified that he has never voted for Labor in a federal election.
Member of Parliament
Abbott was elected to the Australian House of Representatives for the Division of Warringah at a by-election in March 1994 following the resignation of Michael MacKellar. He secured the safe Liberal Seat with a 1% fall in the primary vote.
He served as the parliamentary secretary to the Minister for Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs (1996–98), Minister for Employment Services (1998–2001), Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Small Business (2001), Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations (2001–03) and Minister for Health and Ageing from 2003 to November 2007. From late 2001 to November 2007, he was also Manager of Government Business in the House of Representatives.
As a Parliamentary Secretary, Abbott oversaw the establishment of the Green Corps program which involved young people in environmental restoration work. As Minister for Employment Services, he oversaw the implementation of the Job Network and was responsible for the government’s Work for the Dole scheme. He also commissioned the Cole Royal Commission into “thuggery and rorts” in the construction industry and created the Office of the Australian Building and Construction Commissioner in response and to lift productivity.
The Liberal Party allowed members a free choice in the 1999 republic referendum. Abbott was one of the leading voices within the Party campaigning for the successful “No” vote, pitting him against future Parliamentary colleague and leading Republican Malcolm Turnbull
When Abbott was promoted to the Cabinet in 2000, Prime Minister Howard described him as an effective performer with an endearing style, whereas the Opposition described him as a “bomb thrower.” Howard appointed Abbott to replace Kay Patterson as Minister for Health in 2003, during a period of contentious Medicare reform and a crisis in Medical Indemnity Insurance, in which the price of insurance was forcing doctors out of practice. The Australian Medical Association was threatening to pull out all Australian doctors. Abbott worked with the states to address the crisis and keep the system running.
Among the health care initiatives instigated by Abbott was the Nurse Family Partnership, a long term scheme aimed at improving conditions for indigenous youth by improving mother-child relationships. The scheme was successful in reducing child abuse and improving school retention rates.
In 2005, Abbott was holidaying with his family in Bali when the Bali bombings occurred. Abbott visited the victims of the bombings in hospital, and, in his capacity as health minister organised for Australians who required lifesaving emergency surgery and hospitalisation to be flown to Singapore.
Abbott was involved in controversy in 2006 for opposing access to the abortion drug RU486, and the Parliament voted to strip Health Ministers of the power to regulate this area of policy. He introduced the Medicare Safety Net to cap the annual out-of-pocket costs of Medicare cardholders to a maximum amount. In 2007 he attracted criticism over long delays in funding for cancer diagnostic equipment (PET scanners).
According to Sydney Morning Herald‘s political editor, Peter Hartcher, prior to the defeat of the Howard Government at the 2007 election, Abbott had opposed the government’s centrepiece WorkChoices industrial relations deregulation reform in Cabinet, on the basis that the legislation exceeded the government’s mandate; was harsh on workers; and was politically dangerous to the government. John Howard wrote in his 2010 autobiography that Abbott was “never a zealot about pursuing industrial relations changes” and expressed “concern about making too many changes” during Cabinet’s discussion of Workchoices.
Abbott campaigned as Minister for Health at the 2007 election. On 31 October, he apologised for saying “just because a person is sick doesn’t mean that he is necessarily pure of heart in all things”, after Bernie Banton, an asbestos campaigner and terminal mesothelioma sufferer, complained that Abbott was unavailable to collect a petition.
After the Coalition lost government in 2007 and he lost his health portfolio, in opposition Abbott was re-elected to the seat of Warringah with a 1.8% swing toward the Labor Party. Following Peter Costello‘s rejection of the leadership of the Parliamentary Liberal Party, Abbott nominated for the position of party leader, along with Malcolm Turnbull and Brendan Nelson. After canvassing the support of his colleagues, Abbott decided to withdraw his nomination. He seemingly did not have the numbers, noting that he was “obviously very closely identified with the outgoing prime minister.” He also said he would not rule out contesting the leadership at some time in the future.
In December 2007, Abbott was assigned the Shadow Portfolio of Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs. As indigenous affairs spokesman, Abbott said that it had been a mistake for the Howard Government not to offer a National Apology to the Stolen Generations; spent time teaching at remote Aboriginal communities; and argued for the Rudd Government to continue the Northern Territory National Emergency Response which restricted alcohol and introduced conditional welfare in certain Aboriginal communities.
During this period in Opposition, Abbott wrote Battlelines – a biography and reflection on the Howard Government, and potential future policy directions for the Liberal Party. In the book, Abbott said that in certain aspects the Australian Federation was “dysfunctional” and in need of repair. He recommended the establishment of local hospital and school boards to manage health and education; and discussed family law reform; multiculturalism, climate change; and international relations. The book received a favourable review from former Labor Party speech writer Bob Ellis and The Australian described it as “read almost universally as Abbott’s intellectual application for the party’s leadership after the Turnbull experiment”.
The number of unauthorised boat arrivals to Australia increased during 2008. Abbott claimed that this was an effect of the Rudd Government’s easing of border protection laws and accused Kevin Rudd of ineptitude and hypocrisy on the issue of boat arrivals, particularly during the Oceanic Viking affair of October 2009, and said “John Howard found a problem and created a solution. Kevin Rudd found a solution and has now created a problem”.
During November 2009, Abbott resigned from shadow ministerial responsibilities due to the Liberal Party’s position on the government’s Emission Trading Scheme (ETS), leading to the resignation of other shadow ministers.
Leader of the Opposition
On 1 December 2009, Abbott was elected to the position of Leader of the Liberal Party of Australia over Malcolm Turnbull and Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey (See 2009 Liberal Leadership ballot). Abbott proposed blocking the Rudd Government‘s Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) in the Senate whereas Turnbull sought to amend then pass the bill which the majority of the Liberal Party did not support. Abbott named his Shadow Cabinet on 8 December 2009.
Abbott described Prime Minister Rudd’s Emission Trading plan as a ‘Great big tax on everything’ and opposed it. The Coalition and minor parties voted against the Government’s ETS legislation in the Senate and the legislation was rejected. Abbott announced a new Coalition policy on carbon emission reduction in February, which committed the Coalition to a 5 per cent reduction in emissions by 2020. Abbott proposed the creation of an ’emissions reduction fund’ to provide ‘direct’ incentives to industry and farmers to reduce carbon emissions. In April, Rudd announced that plans for the introduction his ETS would be delayed until 2013.
When appointed to the Liberal leadership, the subject of Abbott’s Catholicism and moral beliefs became a subject of repeated media questioning. Various commentators suggested that his traditionalist views would polarise female voters. He told press gallery journalist Laurie Oakes that he does not do doorstop interviews in front of church but regularly faces pointed questions about his faith which were not being put to the prime minister, Kevin Rudd, who conducted weekly church door press conferences following his attendances at Anglican services.
In a 60 Minutes interview aired on 7 March 2010, Abbott was asked: “Homosexuality? How do you feel about that?”. He replied: “I’d probably feel a bit threatened … it’s a fact of life and I try to treat people as people and not put them in pigeonholes.” In later interviews Abbott apologised for the remark. Unknown to journalists at the time, Abbott has a lesbian sister, for whom he has subsequently voiced public support.
In March 2010, Abbott, announced a new policy initiative to provide for 6 months paid parental leave, funded by an increase in corporate tax by 1.7 per cent on all taxable company income of more than $5 million. Business groups and the government opposed the plan, however it won support from the Australian Greens.
During his time as Opposition Spokesman for Indigenous Affairs, Abbott spent time in remote Cape York Aboriginal communities as a teacher, organised through prominent indigenous activist Noel Pearson. Abbott has repeatedly spoken of his admiration for Pearson, and in March 2010, introduced the Wild Rivers (Environmental Management) Bill to Parliament in support of Pearson’s campaign to overturn the Queensland government’s Wild Rivers legislation. Abbott and Pearson believed that the QLD law would ‘block the economic development’ of indigenous land, and interfere with Aboriginal land rights.
Abbott completed an Ironman Triathlon event in March 2010 at Port Macquarie, New South Wales and in April set out on a 9-day charity bike ride between Melbourne and Sydney, the annual Pollie Pedal, generating political debate about whether Abbott should have committed so much time to physical fitness. Abbott described the events as an opportunity to “stop at lots of little towns along the way where people probably never see or don’t very often see a federal member of Parliament.”
In his first Budget reply speech as Opposition Leader, Abbott sought to portray the Rudd Government‘s third budget as a “tax and spend” budget and promised to fight the election on the new mining “super-profits” tax proposed by Rudd. 
On 24 June 2010, Julia Gillard replaced Kevin Rudd as Australian Labor Party leader and Prime Minister. The replacement of Rudd was unusual in Australian political history and the Rudd-Gillard rivalry was to remain a vexed issue for the Gillard Government into the 2010 election and its subsequent term and remainder of Abbott’s term as opposition leader.
On 17 July, Gillard called the 2010 federal election for 21 August. Polls in the first week gave a view that Labor would be re-elected with an increased majority, with Newspoll showing a lead of 10 points (55–45) two party preferred and the Essential poll similarly reflecting Newspoll.
The two leaders met for one official debate during the campaign. Studio audience surveys by Channel 9 and Seven Network suggested a win to Gillard. Unable to agree on further debates, the leaders went on to appear separately on stage for questioning at community fora in Sydney and Brisbane. In Sydney on 11 August, Abbott’s opening statement focused on his main election messages of government debt, taxation and asylum seekers. An audience exit poll of the Rooty Hill RSL audience accorded Abbott victory. Gillard won the audience poll at Broncos Leagues Club meeting in Brisbane on 18 August. Abbott also appeared for public questioning on the ABC’s Q&A program on 16 August.
Labor and the Coalition each won 72 seats in the 150-seat House of Representatives, four short of the requirement for majority government, resulting in the first hung parliament since the 1940 election.
Abbott and Gillard commenced a 17-day period of negotiation with the crossbenchers over who would form government. On the crossbench, four independent members, one member of the National Party of Western Australia and one member of the Australian Greens held the balance of power. Following the negotiations, the incumbent Gillard Labor government formed a minority government with the support of an Australian Greens MP and three independent MPs on the basis of confidence and supply, while another independent and the WA National gave their confidence and supply support to the Coalition, resulting in Labor holding a 76–74 tally of votes on the floor of the Parliament. The Coalition finished with 49.88 percent of the two party preferred vote. obtaining a national swing of around 2.6%.
During negotiations, the Independents requested that both major parties’ policies be costed by the apolitical Australian Treasury. The Coalition initially resisted the idea, citing concerns over Treasury leaks, however the Coalition eventually allowed the analysis. Treasury endorsed Labor’s budget costings but projected that Coalition policies would only add between $860 million and $4.5 billion to the bottom line (the Coalition had projected that its promises would add about $11.5 billion to the budget bottom line over the next four years).
The close result was lauded by former Prime Minister John Howard, who wrote in 2010 that Abbott had shifted the dynamic of Australian politics after coming to the leadership in 2009 and “deserves hero status among Liberals”.
After the 2010 election
Tony Abbott sits at the dispatch box (far right), along with colleagues on the Opposition Benches, listening to a November 2011 address to the Australian Parliament by visiting United States President Barack Obama.
Following the 2010 election, Abbott and his deputy, Julie Bishop, were re-elected unopposed as leaders of the Liberal Party. Abbott announced his shadow ministry on 14 September, with few changes to senior positions, but with the return of former leadership rival Malcolm Turnbull, whom he selected as Communications spokesman. Abbott announced that he wanted Turnbull to prosecute the Opposition’s case against the Gillard Government‘s proposed expenditure on a National Broadband Network.
Following the 2010–2011 Queensland floods, Tony Abbott opposed plans by the Gillard government to impose a “flood levy” on taxpayers to fund reconstruction efforts. Abbott said that funding should be found within the existing budget. Abbott also announced a proposal for a taskforce to examine further construction of dams in Australia to deal with flood impact and food security.
In February 2011, Abbott criticised the Gillard government’s handling of health reform and proposal for a 50–50 public hospitals funding arrangement with the states and territories, describing the revised Labor Party proposal as “the biggest surrender since Singapore”. Abbott considered a carbon tax the best way to set a price on carbon but a year year later opposed Prime Minister Gillard’s February 2010 announcement of a proposal for the introduction of a “carbon tax”, and called on her to take the issue to an election. Abbott said that Gillard had lied to the electorate over the issue because Gillard and her Treasurer Wayne Swan had repeatedly ruled out the introduction of a carbon tax in the lead up to the 2010 election.
In April 2011, Abbott proposed consultation with Indigenous people over a bipartisan Federal Government intervention in Northern Territory towns like Alice Springs, Katherine and Tennant Creek, which would cover such areas as police numbers and school attendance in an effort to address what he described as a “failed state” situation developing in areas of the Northern Territory. April also saw Abbott announce a $430 million policy plan to improve the employment prospects of people with serious mental health problems Australia.
Following the first Gillard Government budget in May 2011, Abbott used his budget-reply speech to reiterate his recent critiques of government policy and call for an early election over the issue of a carbon tax. Rhetorically echoing Liberal party founder, Robert Menzies, Abbott addressed remarks to the “forgotten families”.
In September 2011, Abbott announced a plan to develop an agricultural food bowl in the north of Australia by developing dams for irrigation and hydroelectricity. Coalition task force leader Andrew Robb claimed that Australia currently produced enough food for 60 million people, but that the coalition plan could double this to 120 million people by 2040. The head of the Northern Australia Land and Water Taskforce expressed concerns with the economic and environmental viability of this plan as well as its effects on the Indigenous Australian communities in northern Australia.
Reflecting on indigenous issues on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy on Australia Day 2012, Abbott said that there had been many positive developments in indigenous affairs in recent decades including Kevin Rudd’s apology and moves to include Indigenous Australians in the Australian Constitution. Later that day, Abbott became the target of protesters from the “Embassy” after one of Julia Gillard‘s advisers contacted a union official who advised Tent Embassy protesters of Abbott’s whereabouts and misrepresented Abbott’s views on Aboriginal affairs to them, saying he intended to “pull down” the embassy. A major security scare resulted, which was broadcast around the world, and resulted in Gillard and Abbott being rushed to a government car amid a throng of security and fears for their safety.
In an address to the National Press Club on 31 January 2012, Abbott outlined some of his plans for government if elected. These included an undertaking to endeavour to live one week of every year in an indigenous Australian community, and to prune government expenditure and cut taxes. Abbott also announced “aspirational” targets for a disability insurance scheme and a subsidised dentistry program once the budget had been restored to “strong surplus”.
Abbott responded to the February 2012 Labor leadership crisis by criticising the cross bench independents for keeping Labor in power and renewed his calls for a general election to select the next Prime Minister of Australia.
In criticising the Gillard Government on foreign policy, Abbott said that “foreign policy should have a Jakarta rather than a Geneva focus”. Following his attendance at the 10th anniversary commemoration of the Bali bombing in Bali, Abbott travelled to Jakarta with his Shadow Ministers for Foreign Affairs and Immigration for a meeting with Indonesian President Yudhoyono and Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa. Abbott promised a “no-surprises principle” for dealings with Indonesia. The presidential reception was an unusual occurrence for an opposition leader.
In November 2012, Abbott launched his fourth book – A Strong Australia – a compilation of nine of his “landmark speeches” from 2012, including his budget reply and National Press Club addresses.
At the federal election on 7 September 2013, Abbott led the Liberal/National coalition to victory over the incumbent Labor government of Kevin Rudd. Abbott and his ministry were sworn in on 18 September. The same day, he ordered the ending of the carbon tax and the halting of asylum-seeker boats. When in Canberra, Abbott resides at the Australian Federal Police college, awaiting renovations at The Lodge.
Tony Abbott has an active interest in Indigenous Affairs. As Opposition Leader, Abbott said that he would prioritise indigenous affairs, saying: “There will be, in effect, a prime minister for Aboriginal affairs”. As Prime Minister, Abbott reformed the administration of the portfolio, moving it into the Department of Prime Minister.
As Health Minister Abbott established the Nurse Family Partnership to improve conditions for indigenous youths. Before becoming Opposition Leader, he served as Shadow Minister for Indigenous Affairs. He has worked closely with Cape York Aboriginal activist Noel Pearson. He has volunteered as a teacher in remote Aboriginal Communities and given an undertaking to continue to live one week a year in such communities if he is elected Prime Minister. He actively supports recognition of Aboriginal people in the Australian constitution. In contrast to his mentor John Howard, as Opposition Leader, Abbott has praised Kevin Rudd’s National Apology to the Stolen Generation.
Whilst the Coalition and Labor parties were engaged in negotiations with crossbenchers to obtain minority government in 2010, Noel Pearson lobbied Rob Oakeshott to back Abbott as a “once-in-a-generation” conservative who could lead the way on reconciliation and described his policies as “more progressive on the question of Aboriginal rights than the Labor and Greens position”.
Australia is a blessed country. Our climate, our land, our people, our institutions rightly make us the envy of the earth, except for one thing—we have never fully made peace with the First Australians. This is the stain on our soul that Prime Minister Keating so movingly evoked at Redfern 21 years ago. We have to acknowledge that pre-1788 this land was as Aboriginal then as it is Australian now. Until we have acknowledged that we will be an incomplete nation and a torn people…
So our challenge is to do now in these times what should have been done 200 or 100 years ago to acknowledge Aboriginal people in our country’s foundation document. In short, we need to atone for the omissions and for the hardness of heart of our forebears to enable us all to embrace the future as a united people.
In November 2012, Abbott flew to Alice Springs to back Aboriginal Country Liberal Party MLA Alison Anderson to run in the federal seat of Lingiari and become the first indigenous woman to enter Parliament. Abbott said that he was very proud that West Australian MP Ken Wyatt, whom he described as “urban”, was sitting with the Coalition as the first Indigenous Australian in the House of Representatives, and that it would be “terrific” to also have “an Aboriginal person from central Australia, an authentic representative of the ancient cultures of central Australia in the parliament. West Australian state Labor MP Ben Wyatt (nephew of Ken Wyatt) said that this was “offensive”, and an “attack” on Ken Wyatt which demonstrated that Abbott had “no understanding at all about Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal history. To suggest that Ken is not a sufficient Aboriginal for Tony Abbott because he’s not a man of culture.”
In April 2010 while on the panel of Q&A, Tony Abbott was asked whether his vision for Australia involved any kind of republican model, and whether he agreed that Indigenous Australians cannot celebrate Australia Day. Abbott stated his support for existing constitutional arrangements in Australia, and said that, “I know that there are some Aboriginal people who aren’t happy with Australia Day. For them it remains Invasion Day. I think a better view is the view of Noel Pearson, who has said that Aboriginal people have much to celebrate in this country’s British Heritage. I know not everyone agrees with him, but I think there’s much to be said for that view and I think that Aboriginal heritage – Australia’s Aboriginal heritage should be important to all of us and I think that Australia’s British and western heritage should also be important to all of us.” 
In July 2010, when speaking about ending disadvantages faced by Indigenous Australians, Tony Abbott stated: “There may not be a great job for them but whatever there is, they just have to do it, and if it’s picking up rubbish around the community, it just has to be done. The statement was subsequently used in an advertisement launched by the GetUp! political lobby group in its advertising campaign against Tony Abbott at the 2013 Australian federal election.
Abbott is a supporter of the constitutional monarchy in Australia. Prior to entering Parliament, he was Executive Director of Australians for Constitutional Monarchy from 1993–94. Arguing against the case for a republican system of government in Australia in 1999, Abbott outlined his beliefs on conservatism and the monarchy:
There are some people who believe that any republic would be better than what we have now. “Republic or bust” zealots are incapable of perceiving any difficulties. Conservatives, however, don’t change anything lightly. Conservatives approach issues with instinctive respect for institutions and approaches that have stood the test of time. “If it is not necessary to change” the conservative ethos runs, “it is necessary not to change”. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” say conservatives, “and if it is broke, recycle it, don’t throw it away”.
Abbott supports the argument espoused by former Prime Minister John Howard and Justice Michael Kirby that Australia is presently and should remain a crowned republic. He predicted in his 2009 book Battlelines that Australia would still be a crowned republic in 2020.
Prior to becoming Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott initially supported proposals by Liberal leaders John Howard and Malcolm Turnbull to introduce floating prices to reduce carbon emissions, but also expressed some doubts as to the science and economics underlying such initiatives. In 2009 Abbott announced his opposition to Turnbull’s support for the Rudd Government’s Emissions Trading Scheme proposal, and successfully challenged Turnbull for the Liberal leadership, chiefly over this issue. As Opposition Leader, Abbott declared that he accepted that climate change was real and that humans were having an impact on it, but rejected carbon pricing as a means to address the issue, proposing instead to match the Labor government’s 5% emissions reduction target through implementation of a “direct action” climate plan, involving financial incentives for emissions reductions by industry, and support for carbon storage in soils and expanded forests. On the eve of the 2013 Election, Abbott told the ABC:
[J]ust to make it clear… I think that climate change is real, humanity makes a contribution. It’s important to take strong and effective action against it, and that is what our direct action policy does… The important thing is to take strong and effective action to tackle climate change, action that doesn’t damage our economy. And that is why the incentive-based system that we’ve got, the direct action policies, which are quite similar to those that president Obama has put into practice, is – that’s the smart way to deal with this, a big tax is a dumb way to deal with it.
— Tony Abbott on ABC Insiders prior to 2013 Election
Abbott’s predecessor as Liberal leader, Malcolm Turnbull, wrote that Abbott had described himself as a ‘weathervane’ in relation to climate change policy in the months prior to his becoming leader of the Liberal Party. Prior to becoming Opposition Leader in November 2009, Abbott told the ABC’s 7:30 Report in July, that though he thought the science of climate change was “highly contentious” and that he thought that the economics of an ETS was “a bit dodgy”, he nevertheless thought that the Opposition should pass the Rudd Government‘s ETS as he did not think it would be “a good look for the Opposition to be browner than Howard going into the next election”. At an October 2009 meeting in the Victorian town of Beaufort, Abbott was reported to have said: “The argument is absolute crap… However, the politics of this are tough for us. 80% of people believe climate change is a real and present danger”. On 1 December 2009, when questioned about that statement, he said he had used “a bit of hyperbole” at that meeting rather than it being his “considered position”. In November, Abbott outlined his objections to the Rudd Government’s carbon pricing plan on the ABC’s Lateline program:
I am always reluctant to join bandwagons. I think there are fashions in science and in the academe, just as there are fashions in so many other things. But look, we should take reasonable precautions against credible threats. I think it is perfectly reasonable to take action against climate change. The problem with the Rudd Government’s position is that Australia could end up impoverishing itself through this dramatic ETS, and not do anything for the environment if the rest of the world does not adopt an ETS or something like it.
— Tony Abbott on ABC Lateline, November 2009
Upon becoming Leader of the Opposition, Abbott put the question of support for the Government’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) to a secret ballot and the Liberal Party voted to reject support for the policy – overturning an undertaking by Turnbull, to support an amended version of the government’s scheme. Under Abbott, the Coalition joined the Greens and voted against the CPRS in the Senate, and the bill was defeated twice, providing a double dissolution trigger. Abbott’s alternative ‘direct-action’ climate policy involved a 5% reduction in emissions by means of creating a $2.5bn fund to provide incentives for industry and farmers to reduce emissions and through measures like storing carbon in soil; planting 20 million trees over the next decade; and providing $1000 rebates to homes for installation of solar cells. However estimates by Federal Treasury put the likely cost of such a scheme at A$10 billion a year or more. The Rudd government eventually deferred its CPRS legislation until 2013.
With Abbott as Opposition Leader, the Liberal party opposed a carbon emissions tax and an Emissions Trading Scheme and said that, in the absence of a global market-based mechanism, “direct action” is the better approach for Australia. Abbott predicted in March 2012 that the Gillard Government‘s carbon tax would be the world’s “biggest”. A January 2013 OECD report on taxation of energy use measured Australia’s effective tax rate on carbon at 1 July 2012 as among the lower rates in the OECD. In July 2011, Abbott criticised the proposed powers of the government’s carbon tax regulator, telling John Laws that policing of the carbon tax would be difficult: “carbon dioxide is invisible, it’s weightless and it’s odourless. How are we going to police these emissions… this carbon cop is going to be an extraordinarily intrusive instrumentality”. Although opposing the Labor party’s environmental policies, claiming that Labor would increase electricity prices, the Liberal party is in bipartisan support for the Mandatory Renewable Energy Targets, which would see an increase to electricity prices.
Bioethics and family policy
Abbott is an opponent of embryonic stem cell research and euthanasia. He has said that abortion should be “safe, legal and rare”. He also tried, but failed, to block the introduction of the abortion pill RU-486, but promised not to change abortion law if elected.
As Health Minister, Abbott said that he saw reducing the number of abortions performed each year as a national priority. Abbott promised to launch an investigation into a product called Pink or Blue, produced by the American firm Consumer Genetics. This test is one of several pre-natal blood tests designed to detect the sex of a fetus as early as six weeks into pregnancy. Some ethicists and anti-abortion campaigners have raised concerns that it would be used for sex-selective abortion.
Abbott opposed allowing the introduction of embryonic stem cell research or therapeutic cloning in another conscience vote. He argued, “There are very important ethical questions here and even the very best end does not justify every possible means.”
In his 2009 book Battlelines, Abbott proposed that consideration should be given to a return to an optional at-fault divorce agreement between couples who would like it, similar to the Matrimonial Causes Act, which would require spouses to prove offences like adultery, habitual drunkenness, cruelty, desertion, or a five-year separation before a divorce would be granted. Abbott said that this would be a way of “providing additional recognition to what might be thought of as traditional marriage”.
Abbott opposes euthanasia. Addressing a 2009 Intelligence squared debate, he said, “Love, not death, is our obligation and our duty [to the sick]. I would be slow to judge anyone who helped the passage to death [who really needed it] … Let’s not make bad laws on hard cases.” In his argument, he feared that legalised euthanasia could result in doctors avoiding complex responses and that there was, in some cases, a danger of unscrupulous relatives who might abuse the practice in the interests of gaining an inheritance.
In 2010, when Abbott told the ABC‘s Q&A program that an Abbott-led government would not amend Australian law to recognise gay marriage, he said, “I certainly want to see – just a general principle. I want to see stable, committed relationships, but I do think that a marriage, by definition, is between a man and a woman.”
The Jesuits helped to instill in me this thought that our calling in life was to be… ‘a man for others’… I am a pretty traditional Catholic… I’m not an evangelical, a charismatic Christian, I’m not. I try to attend Mass, but I don’t get there every Sunday any more… Faith has certainly helped to shape my life, but it doesn’t in any way determine my politics…”.
— Tony Abbott on ABC TV’s Kitchen Cabinet; September 2013
As a former Catholic seminarian, Abbott’s religiosity has come to national attention and journalists have often sought his views on the role of religion in politics. According to John Warhurst from the Australian National University, academics have at times placed an “exaggerated concentration on the religious affiliation and personal religious background of just one of [the Howard government’s] senior ministers, Tony Abbott.” Journalist Michelle Grattan wrote in 2010 that while Abbott has always “worn his Catholicism on his sleeve”, he is “clearly frustrated by the obsession with [it] and what might hang off that”. Abbott says that a politician should not rely on religion to justify a political point of view:
We are all influenced by a value system that we hold, but in the end, every decision that a politician makes is, or at least should, in our society be based on the normal sorts of considerations. It’s got to be publicly justifiable; not only justifiable in accordance with a private view; a private belief.
— Tony Abbott on ABC TV’s Four Corners’, March 2010
Various political positions supported by Abbott have been criticised by church representatives, including aspects of Coalition industrial relations policy, asylum seeker and Aboriginal affairs policy. After criticisms of Liberal Party policy by clergy, Abbott has said, “The priesthood gives someone the power to consecrate bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. It doesn’t give someone the power to convert poor logic into good logic.”
Abbott has participated in several events for charity. In April 2007, he launched the tenth annual Pollie Pedal, a charitable event which aimed to raise money for breast cancer research. Federal Territories Minister Jim Lloyd said that the event was Abbott’s “brainchild“.
As Opposition spokesman on Indigenous Affairs, Abbott spent weeks teaching in a remote Aboriginal settlements in Cape York in 2008 and 2009, organised through indigenous leader Noel Pearson. He taught remedial reading to Aboriginal children; worked with an income management group, helping families manage their welfare payments; and visited children who had not been attending school—with a goal ‘to familiarise himself with indigenous issues’.
Books by Abbott
Abbott has published four books. In 2009, he launched Battlelines; a personal biography, reflections on the Howard Government and discussion of potential policy directions for the Liberal Party of Australia. Previously he had published two books in defence of the existing constitutional monarchy system, The Minimal Monarchy and How to Win the Constitutional War. In 2012, he released a compilation of key speeches from that year, entitled A Strong Australia.
- Abbott, Tony (1995). The Minimal Monarchy: and why it still makes sense for Australia. Kent Town South Australia: Wakefield Press. ISBN 1-86254-358-5.
- Abbott, Tony (1997). How to Win the Constitutional War: and give both sides what they want. Kent Town South Australia: Wakefield Press. ISBN 1-86254-433-6.
- Abbott, Tony (2009). Battlelines. Carlton Victoria Australia: Melbourne University Press. ISBN 978-0-522-85606-4.
- Abbott, Tony (2012). A Strong Australia. Liberal Party of Australia. p. 132. ISBN 9780646590332.