This is an informative and balanced article on Tony Abbott by Michael Duffy who interviewed Abbott recently, some 8 years after writing his biography.
I found someone far more guarded than before and far less articulate. At times he wrapped an arm across his chest as though trying to protect himself,
Abbott, who has written several books and dozens of lucid speeches, has been the most intelligently expressive Liberal politician of his generation.
But the Labor Party and the broader left continue to portray Abbott in extreme terms, as uncaring and anti-women and a fanatical Catholic. He appals many well-educated people. A former senior Liberal minister notes: “Most of my friends on the left and the right don’t like Abbott because of climate change and the boat issue. At the high intellectual end of the community, the antipathy is amazing.” In The Sydney Morning Herald the leading public intellectual Robert Manne described him as unprincipled, unthinking and unscrupulous.
These criticisms in part use Abbott as a proxy for an electorate from which the Labor Party and the left feel increasingly estranged and are of course a re-run of the attitudes common particularly during the first terms of the Howard government.
When I wrote my biography I spoke with dozens of people who had dealt with him in his ministerial capacity. Nearly all were positive about the experience and most observers now would say he was a good minister. He continues to be a good manager today, says Christopher Pyne, the shadow education minister and manager of opposition business in the house. “I think he shows real ability in managing people. He’s actually . . . very respectful of other people’s views.This [fitness] obsession has created the great visual cliches of Abbott as the man in pink Lycra or a lifesaver’s or iron man’s costume. These are probably useful in a sports-crazy country but, as Howard observes, they might have confused some observers: “A lot of people . . . have made the mistake of transferring his powerful physical presence to his character. That is strong but it’s also highly intelligent. He’s very well read in philosophy and history. He’s more subtle than many people expect.”
If it’s the case that Abbott has reinvented himself as one more ordinary, it raises an interesting question. Has the new version replaced the older one, or is it simply the latest mask? If the latter, will the older Abbott re-emerge if he becomes prime minister? Would, as some of his critics on the left assert, he use the opportunity to impose extreme views on the country?
This seems unlikely given his own long record in government. His work there on welfare and unionism (as in clamping down on corruption and violence in the building industry) was portrayed as extreme by the left but according to the polls it found wide support among voters. My own guess is that Abbott is engaged in that long dance with the electorate that all successful politicians experience, a dance so seductive he will not want to withdraw from its embrace by testing the relationship with radical actions. Like Howard’s first terms in office, I suspect, an Abbott government would prove less exciting than his opponents hoped.
Michael Duffy is a bit perplexed and disappointed that Tony Abbott is more defensive and gives less philosophical and more guarded answers to questions than 8 years ago, in other words, he has become a more ordinary man. Duffy attributes this to his changed role as a leader and its responsibilities. No doubt this is true, but more obvious answer seems that Abbott has learned how to handle the media, who have been rabid in attacking him at every opportunity.Simple boilerplate answers are much safer; they are difficult to take out of context to attack him.
Gillard’s and Rudd’s absurd attacks on Abbott to deflect from Labor’s self-immolation, painting him as as the ‘enemy’, as “anyone but Abbott”, as virtually the anti-Christ who would ravage our country should he win power, is simply the exact opposite of the truth.