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Tony Abbott

Anthony John "Tony" Abbott (born 4 November 1957) is an Australian politician who is currently the Leader of the Opposition, Leader of the Liberal Party, and Prime Minister-elect of Australia. He has been the Member of Parliament for Warringah since 1994.

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).[2] 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 a minority 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, and led his party to victory in the 2013 election on 7 September 2013

Early life and family

Abbott was born in London, England, on 4 November 1957, to an Australian mother and an English-born Australian father. His father, Dick Abbott, grew up in a village near Newcastle upon Tyne, England. Dick and his parents moved to Australia during the Second World War.[4][5][6] On 7 September 1960, Tony's family moved to Australia on the Assisted Passage Migration Scheme ship Oronsay.[7] His family first lived in Bronte and later moved to Chatswood, both suburbs of Sydney, New South Wales. 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).[8] He graduated with a Bachelor of Economics (BEc) and a Bachelor of Laws (LLB)[4] from the University of Sydney where he resided at St John's College, and was president of the Student Representative Council.[9] 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.[10] 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.[11] 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.[12] 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".[13] He was also a student boxer, winning his Boxing Blue[citation needed] while at Oxford .[14]

During his student days he once "saved a child who was swept out to sea. Another time, 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".[15]

When Abbott was 19, his girlfriend became pregnant and believed 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.[16] 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.[17] The story was reported around the world, but DNA testing later revealed that Abbott was not the man's father.[18]

In 1984, aged 26, Abbott entered St Patrick's Seminary, Manly.[11] At high school, 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.[11] Abbott did not complete his studies at the seminary, leaving the institution in 1987.

Following his departure from the seminary, Abbott met and married Margaret (Margie) Aitken, a New Zealander working in Sydney.[19] He worked in journalism, briefly ran a concrete plant and began to get involved in national politics.[11]

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.[9]

Abbott and his wife have three daughters: Louise, Bridget and Frances

Political career

Early career

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.[9] 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)".[21] 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.[9]

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.[22] 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.[22] Between 1993 and 1994, Abbott served as the Executive Director of ACM.[4] 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."[23] Howard provided a glowing reference and Abbott won pre-selection for the safe Liberal seat.[24]

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.[25]
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.[26]

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.[27]

As a Parliamentary Secretary, Abbott oversaw the establishment of the Green Corps program which involved young people in environmental restoration work.[28][29] 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.[30][31][32][33][33][34] 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.[35][36]

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[37][38]
Cabinet Minister

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."[32] 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.[39][40] The Australian Medical Association was threatening to pull out all Australian doctors.[41] Abbott worked with the states to address the crisis and keep the system running.[36]

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.[41]

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. [42]

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.[43] 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).[44][45][46][47]

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.[36] 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.[48]

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.[49]

During his career as a minister, Abbott acquired a reputation as a robust parliamentary debater and political tactician.[50][51]
Shadow Minister

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.[52] 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."[53] He also said he would not rule out contesting the leadership at some time in the future.[54]

In December 2007, Abbott was assigned the Shadow Portfolio of Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs.[55] 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.;[56] spent time teaching at remote Aboriginal communities;[57] 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.[58]

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.[59] 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;[60] 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".[61][62]

The number of unauthorised boat arrivals to Australia increased during 2008.[63] 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".[64]

In 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.[65]
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.[66] Abbott named his Shadow Cabinet on 8 December 2009.[67]

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.[68] In April, Rudd announced that plans for the introduction his ETS would be delayed until 2013.[69]

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.[70] 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.[71]

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."[72] In later interviews Abbott apologised for the remark.[73][74] Unknown to journalists at the time, Abbott has a lesbian sister, for whom he has subsequently voiced public support.[75]

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.[76]

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 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 believe that the QLD law will 'block the economic development' of indigenous land, and interfere with Aboriginal land rights.[77]

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.[78][79] Abbot 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."[80]

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.[81] [82][83]
2010 election
Main article: Australian federal election, 2010

On 24 June 2010, Julia Gillard replaced Kevin Rudd as Australian Labor Party leader and Prime Minister.[84] 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 2010.[85] 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.[86]

The two leaders met for one official debate during the campaign. Studio audience surveys by the Channel 9 and Seven Network suggested a win to Gillard.[86] 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.[87] Gillard won the audience poll at Broncos Leagues Club meeting in Brisbane on 18 August.[88] Abbott also appeared for public questioning on the ABC's Q&A program on 16 August.[89]

Labor and the Coalition each won 72 seats in the 150-seat House of Representatives,[90] four short of the requirement for majority government, resulting in the first hung parliament since the 1940 election.[91][92][93]

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.[94][95] 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.[96] The Coalition finished with 49.88 percent of the two party preferred vote.[97] obtaining a national swing of around 2.6%.[98]

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).[99][100][101]

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".


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