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Anthony John Abbott (born 4 November 1957) is an Australian politician who served as the 28th Prime Minister of Australia from 2013 to 2015 and leader of the Liberal Party from 2009 to 2015. He served as Leader of the Opposition from 2009 to 2013. Abbott served as Member of Parliament (MP) for Warringah from 1994 to 2019.
Abbott was born in London to an Australian mother and a British father, and moved to Sydney at the age of two. He studied economics and law at the University of Sydney, and then attended The Queen's College, Oxford, as a Rhodes Scholar, studying Philosophy, Politics and Economics. After graduating from Oxford, Abbott briefly trained as a Roman Catholic seminarian, and later worked as a journalist, manager, and political adviser. In 1992, he was appointed director of Australians for Constitutional Monarchy, a position he held until his election to parliament at the 1994 Warringah by-election.
After the 1998 election, Abbott was appointed Minister for Employment Services in the Second Howard Ministry. He was promoted to cabinet in 2001 as Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business. In 2003, Abbott 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 Brendan Nelson and then Malcolm Turnbull, Abbott resigned from the front bench 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, to become the party's leader and Leader of the Opposition.
Abbott led the Coalition at the 2010 election, which resulted in a hung parliament. Following negotiations, Labor formed a Government, with the support of one Greens MP and three Independent MPs. Abbott was re-elected as Liberal Leader unopposed. Abbott went on to lead the Coalition to victory in the 2013 election and was sworn in as the 28th Prime Minister of Australia on 18 September 2013. On 14 September 2015, Abbott was defeated in a vote for the Liberal leadership (54 votes to 44) by Malcolm Turnbull, who replaced Abbott as Prime Minister the following day.
After his defeat in the party leadership, he returned to the backbench and held his seat of Warringah at the 2016 federal election. He lost his seat to independent candidate Zali Steggall in the 2019 federal election.
Birth and family background
Abbott was born on 4 November 1957 at the General Lying-In Hospital in Lambeth, London, England. He is the oldest of four children born to Fay (née Peters; b. 1933) and Richard Henry "Dick" Abbott (1924–2017). He has three younger sisters, including Christine Forster, who has also been involved in politics. His mother was born in Sydney, while his father was born in Newcastle upon Tyne, England.
In 1940, during World War II, 16-year-old Dick Abbott came to Australia with his British parents. Dick was called up to the Royal Australian Air Force in 1942. Dick and his mother returned to the United Kingdom in 1954 where he met and married Fay Peters, a dietitian. Willemina Bredschneijder, Abbott's maternal great-grandmother, was the first of his ancestors to arrive in Australia. She immigrated to Australia from the Netherlands in 1912 with her five-year-old son, Anthony Bredschneijder (later to take his stepfather's surname Peters). His maternal grandmother Phyllis Lacey was born in Wales, and married Anthony Peters in New South Wales in 1932.
Childhood and education
On 7 September 1960, Abbott, his parents, and younger sister Jane, left the UK for Australia on the Assisted Passage Migration Scheme ship SS Oronsay. Settling in Sydney, the family first lived in the suburb of Bronte and later moved to Chatswood. Dick Abbott established what was to become one of the largest orthodontics practices in Australia, retiring in 2002.
Abbott attended primary school at St Aloysius' College at Milson's Point, before completing his secondary school education at St Ignatius' College, Riverview, both Jesuit schools. He graduated with a Bachelor of Economics (BEc) in 1979 and a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) in 1981 from the University of Sydney. He resided at St John's College and was president of the Student Representative Council. Influenced by his chaplain at St Ignatius', Father Emmet Costello, he then attended The Queen's College, Oxford, as a Rhodes Scholar, where in June 1983 he graduated as a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) and on 21 October 1989 proceeded by seniority to Master of Arts.
During his university days, Abbott gained media attention for political opposition to the then dominant left-wing student leadership. Once he was violently beaten 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 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 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 time at Oxford. At St. Ignatius College, Abbott had been taught and influenced by the Jesuits. At university, he encountered B. A. Santamaria, a Catholic layman who led a movement against Communism within the Australian labour movement in the 1950s, culminating in the 1955 Labor Party split and the formation of the Democratic Labor Party. Santamaria has been described as Abbott's "political hero". He wrote the foreword to a novelisation of Santamaria's life written by Alan Reid, and in 2015 launched a biography of Santamaria written by Gerard Henderson.
Early adult life and pre-political career
Following his time in Britain, Abbott returned to Australia and told his family of his intention to join the priesthood. In 1984, aged 26, he entered St Patrick's Seminary, Manly. 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."
Abbott worked in journalism, briefly ran a concrete plant, and began to get involved in national politics. Throughout his time as a student and seminarian, he was writing articles for newspapers and magazines—first for Honi Soit (the University of Sydney student newspaper) and later The Catholic Weekly and national publications such as The Bulletin. He eventually became a journalist and wrote for The Australian.
At birth, Abbott was a British citizen by birth in the UK and by descent from his British-born father. He did not hold Australian citizenship from birth, as at the time Australian citizenship by descent could only be acquired from the father. Abbott became a naturalised Australian citizen on 26 June 1981, apparently so as to become eligible for a Rhodes scholarship. On 12 October 1993, he renounced his British citizenship to be eligible to run for parliament under section 44 of the constitution.
Abbott led the Coalition at the 2010 election, which resulted in a hung parliament. Following negotiations, Labor formed a Government with the support of one Greens MP and three independent MPs. Abbott was re-elected as Liberal Leader unopposed. He went on to lead the Coalition to victory at the 2013 election and was sworn in as the 28th Prime Minister of Australia on 18 September 2013. Abbott lost a Liberal Party leadership spill on 14 September 2015, and was replaced by Malcolm Turnbull as leader of the party and Prime Minister of Australia.
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 developed friendships with senior figures in the New South Wales Labor Party, and was encouraged by 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 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 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. Abbott renounced his British citizenship in 1993. Between 1993 and 1994, Abbott served as 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 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, 1994–2009
Abbott won Liberal preselection for the federal Division of Warringah by-election in March 1994 following the resignation of Michael MacKellar. He easily held the safe Liberal seat in the Liberals' traditional Northern Beaches heartland, suffering a swing of only 1 percentage point in the primary vote. He easily won the seat in his own right at the 1996 general election. Before 2019, he only dropped below 59 percent of the two-party vote once, in 2001; that year independent Peter Macdonald, the former member for the state seat of Manly, held Abbott to only 55 percent.
Abbott 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.
In 1998, Abbott established a trust fund called "Australians for Honest Politics Trust" to help bankroll civil court cases against the One Nation Party and its leader Pauline Hanson. Prime Minister John Howard denied any knowledge of existence of such a fund. Abbott was also accused of offering funds to One Nation dissident Terry Sharples to support his court battle against the party. However, Howard defended the honesty of Abbott in this matter. Abbott conceded that the political threat One Nation posed to the Howard Government was "a very big factor" in his decision to pursue the legal attack, but he also claimed to be acting "in Australia's national interest". Howard also defended Abbott's actions saying "It's the job of the Liberal Party to politically attack other parties – there's nothing wrong with that."
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.
Cabinet minister (1998–2007)
When Abbott was promoted to the Cabinet in 1998, 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.
Health care initiatives instigated by Abbott include 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.
In 2006, Abbott controversially opposed access to the abortion drug RU486, and the Parliament voted to strip Health Ministers of the power to regulate this area of policy. During this time, Abbott likened the act of having an abortion to committing a murder, saying "we have a bizarre double standard, a bizarre double standard in this country where someone who kills a pregnant woman's baby is guilty of murder but a woman who aborts an unborn baby is simply exercising choice".
Abbott 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. In The Australian Doctor's 2015 poll, Tony Abbott was ranked as the third "worst health minister in 35 years", as voted on by doctors. Peter Dutton was ranked the overall worst.
Shadow minister (2007–09)
The Coalition lost government in 2007 and 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 said he would not rule out contesting the leadership at some time in the future. Of the three candidates, Abbott was the only one who had previous experience in Opposition. Nelson was elected Liberal leader in December 2007 and 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 direction 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 immigrant arrivals in boats 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 unauthorised immigrants upon boats arriving, particularly during the Oceanic Viking affair of October 2009, saying, "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 Rudd Government's Emissions trading Scheme (ETS), leading to the resignation of other shadow ministers.
Leader of the Opposition (2009–13)
On 1 December 2009, Abbott was elected to the position of Leader of the Liberal Party of Australia over Turnbull and Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey. Abbott proposed blocking the government's ETS in the Senate whereas Turnbull sought to amend 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, Abbott's Catholicism and moral beliefs became subjects of repeated media questioning. Various commentators suggested that his traditionalist views would polarise female voters. He told press gallery journalist Laurie Oakes that he did not do doorstop interviews in front of church but regularly faced pointed questions about his faith which were not being put to Prime Minister Rudd, who conducted weekly church door press conferences following his attendances at Anglican services.
Abbott reportedly missed the 2009 vote on the Rudd Government $42 billion stimulus package because he fell asleep in his parliamentary office after a night of drinking. When asked by a journalist whether he had been drunk, Abbott said "that is an impertinent question" and that he "wasn't keeping count" but thought it was "maybe two" bottles of wine.
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. In 2013, Abbott stated on 3AW that if his sister Christine Forster were to have a marriage ceremony with her partner Virginia he would attend.
In March 2010, Abbott, announced a new policy initiative to provide for six months paid parental leave, funded by an increase in corporate tax by 1.7 percentage points on all taxable company income above $5 million. Business groups and the government opposed the plan, however it won support from the Australian Greens.
While 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 repeatedly spoke 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 Queensland 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. In April he set out on a 9-day charity bike ride between Melbourne and Sydney, the annual Pollie Pedal, generating political debate about whether he 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 a first-term Prime Minister was unusual in Australian political history and the Rudd-Gillard rivalry remained a vexed issue for the Gillard Government into the 2010 election and its subsequent term. 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 and an Essential poll showing a lead of 10 points (55–45) two party preferred.
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 around government debt, taxation and asylum seekers. An 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 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 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, Gillard formed a minority government with the support of an Australian Greens MP and three independent MPs on the basis of confidence and supply. 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 they eventually allowed the analysis. Treasury endorsed Labor's budget costings but projected that Coalition policies would add between $860 million and $4.5 billion to the bottom line over the next four years, rather than the $11.5 billion projected by the Coalition. 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
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, 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 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 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 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 including 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. April saw Abbott announce a $430 million policy plan to improve the employment prospects of people with serious mental health problems.
Following the first Gillard Government budget in May 2011, Abbott used his budget-reply speech to reiterate his 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 June 2011, Abbott for the first time led Gillard in a Newspoll as preferred Prime Minister. In September 2011, he 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 about 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 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 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, resulting in Gillard and Abbott being rushed to a government car amid a throng of security due to 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 intent 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.
Prime Minister (2013–15)
Early policy implementation
At the federal election on 7 September 2013, Abbott led the Liberal/National coalition to victory over the incumbent Labor government, led by Kevin Rudd. Abbott and his ministry were sworn in on 18 September 2013. The Prime Minister was the subject of criticism for his decision to only include one woman, Deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop, in his cabinet.
On the first day of the new Parliament, Abbott introduced legislation into Parliament to repeal the Carbon Tax, and commenced Operation Sovereign Borders, the Coalition's policy to stop illegal maritime arrivals, which received strong public support.
Abbott announced a Royal Commission into trade union governance and corruption on 11 February 2014. This was followed by amendments to the Fair Work Act, and a "Repeal Day", where more than 10,000 "red tape" regulations were repealed.
The Carbon Tax Repeal Bill passed both houses of Parliament on 17 July 2014 and the Mining Tax Repeal Bill passed both houses of Parliament on 2 September 2014 after negotiations with the Palmer United Party.
The 2014 Australian federal budget, the Abbott Government's first budget, delivered by Treasurer Joe Hockey, was criticised by the Opposition as "cruel" and "unfair" and a large number of budget saving measures were blocked by the crossbench in the Senate. Hockey and Abbott were both criticised for their inability to "sell" the necessity of the budget cuts to the cross bench or the public. Hockey was further criticised for several "out of touch" and "insensitive" comments in subsequent months, however, the prime minister continuously publicly backed the treasurer, refusing to replace him with a better performing minister.
Prince Philip knighting controversy
On 25 March 2014, Abbott announced that he had advised the Queen to reinstate the knight and dame system of honours to the Order of Australia. Outgoing Governor-General Quentin Bryce and her successor, Peter Cosgrove, became the first recipients of the reinstated honours. Controversy ensued when Abbott announced on Australia Day 2015 that Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, the Queen's husband and a resident of the United Kingdom, would be appointed a Knight of the Order of Australia. This decision was widely criticised, including by members of the government, and fuelled speculation that the prime minister's leadership could be challenged. [On 2 November 2015, new prime minister Malcolm Turnbull announced that knights and dames had been removed from the Order of Australia, as "not appropriate in our modern honours system", although existing titles would not be affected.]
February 2015 leadership spill
On 6 February 2015, Liberal backbencher Luke Simpkins announced that he would move a motion, at a meeting of the party room, for a spill of the federal Liberal Party's leadership positions. Simpkins stated that such a motion would give Liberal members of parliament and senators the opportunity to either endorse the Prime Minister or "seek a new direction." The meeting was held on 9 February 2015 and the spill motion was defeated by 61 votes to 39. Both Malcolm Turnbull and deputy leader Julie Bishop were speculated to be considering a leadership run if the spill motion had succeeded. Prime Minister Abbott described the leadership motion as a "near death experience" and declared that "good government starts today", promising to consult his colleagues more, to shy away from his so-called "captain's calls" and to reduce the role of his chief of staff Peta Credlin.
Another of Abbott's "captain's calls", the appointment of former Howard Government minister Bronwyn Bishop as Speaker of the Australian House of Representatives, caused controversy because of Bishop's partisan management of the House and for her decision to attend Liberal party room meetings despite the convention that the Speaker be impartial regardless of political alignment. Bishop came under intense media scrutiny in July 2015 after details of her use of taxpayer-funded political entitlements were made public, including chartering a helicopter flight between Melbourne and Geelong to attend a Liberal party fundraiser. Abbott was criticised over his handling of the entitlements scandal as he allowed the controversy to drag on for weeks because of his refusal to sack the Speaker, a close friend and political mentor. Despite Abbott's support, Bishop resigned as Speaker on 2 August 2015.
Same-sex marriage debate
During Abbott's prime ministership, Australian law continued to define marriage as a union of male and female persons, while recognising same-sex couples as de facto couples in areas such as taxation law, social security law, immigration and superannuation, and Abbott did not support changing the law. During Abbott's time as Opposition Leader and Prime Minister, the position of the Labor Party and opinion polls shifted towards favouring same-sex marriage. Abbott determined that a national plebiscite, rather than a Parliamentary vote should settle the issue. [The Turnbull Government has retained this policy.]
As an Opposition front bencher in 2008 Abbott wrote: "The love and commitment between two people of the same sex can be as strong as that between husband and wife... There is more moral quality in a relationship between two people devoted to each other for decades than in many a short-lived marriage. Still, however deeply affectionate or long lasting it may be, the relationship between two people of the same sex cannot be a marriage because a marriage, by definition, is between a man and a woman... Let's celebrate all strong relationships, whether they are between a man and a woman or between people of the same sex but let's be careful about describing every lasting sexual bond as a 'marriage'." The First Rudd Government and Gillard Government held similar views (although the short-lived second Rudd government reversed Labor's position on the issue).
In Government, Abbott reaffirmed that he did not support changing the law to recognise same-sex marriages, and did not alter Coalition policy on the issue – however he permitted Coalition members to advocate for change if they felt strongly on the issue, and indicated that if a bill were to come before the new parliament, the Coalition party room would discuss its stance on the issue. Opinion polls suggested growing support for change. On 11 August 2015, after renewed debate about same-sex marriage in Australia, Abbott called a Coalition Party room vote and Coalition MPs voted against allowing a free vote on the issue 66 to 33. Some MPs said they were willing to cross the floor on the issue and Abbott was criticised by some pro-gay marriage Liberal MPs, including Christopher Pyne, for holding the vote in the Coalition party room, rather than the Liberal party room (as the inclusion of National Party votes decreased chances of a pro-change outcome). To settle the issue, Abbott proposed a plebiscite following the next election. Although he remains personally opposed to change, he says Parliament should respect the outcome of the national vote on the issue.
September 2015 leadership spill
On 14 September 2015, Malcolm Turnbull, the Minister for Communications, resigned and stated his intention to challenge the Liberal Party leadership in a leadership spill. A party-room meeting held that evening saw Abbott defeated by Turnbull on a 54–44 vote. According to The Economist, his demise was a result of poor opinion polling, policy U-turns and gaffes and mean-spirited politics.
Later years in parliament 2015–2019
Abbott's final speech as Prime Minister on 15 September 2015 did not address his political future. However, he announced the next day that he would remain in Parliament. Despite his promise of "no sniping" in his final speech as Prime Minister, media outlets reported ongoing sniping from the Abbott camp in the following months, particularly around Islamic issues. In early December 2015, Abbott said he would not make a decision on his political future until April 2016.
Subsequent national polling indicated widespread support for the removal of Abbott as Prime Minister and Liberal leader. A ReachTel poll of 743 residents in Abbott's safe Liberal seat of Warringah, conducted by phone on the evening of 17 December 2015, indicated his electorate wanted him to retire from parliament at the 2016 federal election. The Australia Institute executive director, Ben Oquist, who commissioned the independent polling, claimed: "The polling indicates that the electorate is quickly moving on from the Tony Abbott era".
On 24 January 2016, Abbott confirmed that he would stand for Liberal preselection for the Division of Warringah in the 2016 federal election. He was re-elected with a small swing against him, matching the statewide swing against the Government.
In September 2017, Abbott was headbutted at a private event in Hobart, after the man asked to shake Abbott's hand. Astro Labe, 38, was later charged with common assault; he pleaded guilty in the Hobart Magistrates Court on 18 January 2018 and was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment on 9 April 2018.
On 18 May 2019, during the federal election, Abbott lost his seat of Warringah to independent candidate and former Olympic skiier Zali Steggall. This came despite the seat being traditionally conservative (it had been held by the Liberals and their predecessors without interruption since 1922). Abbott went into the election holding Warringah on a seemingly insurmountable margin of 61 percent. However, he lost over 12 percent of his primary vote from 2016, and finished over 4,100 votes behind Steggall on the first preference count. This deficit proved too much for Abbott to overcome, and Steggall defeated him on Labor preferences.
Abbott has an active interest in indigenous affairs. As Opposition Leader, Abbott promised to prioritise indigenous 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 youth. As Opposition Leader, he worked with Cape York Aboriginal activist Noel Pearson, volunteered as a teacher in remote Aboriginal Communities and gave a commitment to continue to live one week a year in such communities if elected Prime Minister. In contrast to his mentor John Howard, Abbott praised Rudd's National Apology to the Stolen Generation.
While the Coalition and Labor were engaged in negotiations with crossbenchers to obtain minority government in 2010, Noel Pearson lobbied Rob Oakeshott to back Abbott. Rising to support the passage of the Gillard Government's historic Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples Recognition Bill through the House of Representatives in 2013, Abbott said:
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.
In August 2015, he disappointed Aboriginal leaders Patrick Dodson and Noel Pearson by rejecting as potentially divisive their request for the federal government to fund a series of Indigenous-only conventions on the wording for the referendum.
In March 2014, Abbott advised the Queen to reintroduce the grade of Knight/Dame to the Order of Australia, without discussing it in the Cabinet and despite stating in December 2013 that he did not plan to do so. The Fraser Government initially introduced the grade of Knight/Dame of the Order of Australia in 1976; the Hawke Government discontinued it in 1986.
Prior to becoming Opposition Leader, Abbott initially supported proposals by Liberal leaders Howard and 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 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.— Abbott on ABC TV Insiders prior to 2013 election.
Prior to becoming Opposition Leader in November 2009, Abbott questioned the science of climate change and an ETS. In November 2009, Abbott outlined his objections to the Rudd Government's carbon pricing plan on the ABC's Lateline program. 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 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. 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. 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.
In October 2017, Abbott spoke in London at the Global Warming Policy Foundation, a climate-skeptic lobby group, where he described climate change as "probably doing good; or at least, more good than harm." He argued that higher concentrations of carbon dioxide act as "plant food" and "are actually greening the planet and helping to lift agricultural yields."
Abbott is opposed to same sex marriage in Australia. Abbott is an opponent of embryonic stem cell research and euthanasia. He supports the right for women to have an abortion. As Health Minister, he tried, but failed, to block the introduction of the abortion pill RU-486. As Health Minister, Abbott advocated for reducing the number of abortions performed each year as a national priority. Abbott opposed allowing the introduction of embryonic stem cell research or therapeutic cloning in a conscience vote.
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".
In the first few months of his Prime Ministership, the Australian Capital Territory Legislative Assembly passed the Marriage Equality (Same Sex) Act 2013, a bill to allow same-sex couples to legally marry. Abbott announced that the federal government would challenge this decision in the High Court. The case was heard on 3 December. Nine days later, on 12 December, the High Court gave judgement that the Same Sex Act would be dismantled as it clashed with the Federal Marriage Act 1961.
Marriage and children
Following his departure from the seminary, Abbott met and married Margaret "Margie" Aitken, a New Zealander working in Sydney. The couple have three daughters: Louise, Bridget and Frances.
When Abbott was 22, his girlfriend at the time became pregnant and claimed he was the biological father. The couple did not marry and put the child up for adoption. For 27 years, Abbott believed that he was the father of the child. In 2004, the man sought out Abbott, and it was publicly revealed he was 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.
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 of 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 has said 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.— Abbott on ABC TV Four Corners, March 2010.
Various political positions supported by Abbott have been criticised by church representatives, including aspects of Coalition industrial relations, asylum seeker, and Aboriginal affairs policies. 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 participates in the Pollie Pedal, an annual 1,000 km charity bike ride. In April 2007, he launched the tenth annual Pollie Pedal, to raise money for breast cancer research.
In 2008, Abbott spent three weeks teaching in a remote Aboriginal settlement in Coen on Cape York, organised through indigenous leader Noel Pearson. He taught remedial reading to Aboriginal children and worked with an income management group helping families manage their welfare payments. In 2009, he spent 10 days in Aurukun on Cape York working with the truancy team, visiting children who had not been attending school. Abbott's stated goal for these visits was to familiarise himself with indigenous issues.
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.
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- Official website
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- Appearances on C-SPAN