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Abbott's vision for a better Australia


BattlelinesIt's often said that the job of oppositions is to oppose. But that's not strictly true. More fundamentally it is to propose alternative policy and, in so doing, demonstrate the credentials to govern. An opposition focused exclusively on thwarting the government is unlikely to convince the electorate that it is itself worthy of government.

At this stage, many commentators are cynical about the possibility that new opposition leader Tony Abbott might make a constructive contribution to public life in Australia. With good reason they see that he is more determined to stand in the way of Rudd's legislative program than build the foundations for his own. 

The results of the weekend's Higgins and Bradfield bielections suggest the electorate could be willing to trust Abbott to lead the Liberals towards being a viable alternative. Australians are prepared to look at the positives of what he has to offer.

Last year he surprised many by spending three weeks in the remote Aboriginal community of Coen in far north Queensland. He has since made a further visit to an indigenous community. Father Brian McCoy, a Jesuit who has spent a lifetime attempting to understand indigenous Australians, was full of praise for Abbott's ability to appreciate the complexity of their lives when he wrote about Abbott's stay for Eureka Street.

'What I liked about Tony Abbott going to Coen was that he gave himself a chance to learn... I sense he has a genuine interest in the lives of the people. His reflections left me with a hope and a response.'

Abbott himself said in his blog:

'It is possible to change some things quickly but substantially improving the key indicators of Aboriginal disadvantage is more likely to take a few decades than a few years. The key is getting Aboriginal people into real jobs.'

It remains to be seen if such openness is the exception or the rule for Abbott, and whether he can incorporate insights he gained, into constructive policy that points to better health, education and justice for indigenous Australians. Now is the moment for us to hope that he can.

It's also worth recalling the contrarian perspective of Brisbane Uniting Church theologian Scott Stephens, who wrote in Eureka Street in August that 'replacing Turnbull with Abbott as Leader of the Opposition is the only way forward for the Liberal Party, and yet it is an act which would itself require a great deal of courage'.

The chaotic circumstances of Abbott's unexpected rise to the top belie any contention that what happened last week was part of an ordered or strategic implementation of a vision. Such a vision was articulated in Abbott's Battlelines book, which was published mid-year.

Stephens dismissed the electorate's low regard for Abbott as 'unenlightened electoral bigotry' that is a throwback to the anti-Catholic prejudice that bedevilled John F. Kennedy in the 1960s.

He suggested Abbott was battling the libertarian and individualist tendencies within his own Party more than he was anything within the ALP's philosophy. He spoke of Abbott's 'determination to restore charity, belief and courage to their rightful place as the greatest of political virtues' as distinguishing him from Turnbull and Rudd.

Stephens views this as a 'willingness to wage war against the people's baser instincts, to expand the public's moral imagination rather than simply pander to avarice'.

It is difficult to see Abbott's characterisation of the ETS as a giant 'tax grab' as other than a pandering to avarice. But the details of how Abbott will implement his vision are yet to be revealed, and now is the time to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Michael MullinsMichael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street.

Topic tags: Tony Abbott, liberals, turnbull, Scott Stephens, Battlelines



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Existing comments

"benefit of the doubt" When does it apply?

The current Test series between Australia and West Indies makes it clear that only the on field umpire can give the benefit of the doubt. It is formulated in such a way as to benefit the batsman - "when in doubt, not out." Since Abbott is not in ie is not in government, he is not facing the challenge of putting runs on the board for Australia. What he has to prove beyond reasonable doubt is that he & his Coalition is a better batting side than Rudd's. It is not enough to chiack from The Hill or stand outside The Oval complaining that the cost of taking part in the game is over the top. I shall be looking for political positives from Abbott and his team not more negative mud-slinging and fear mongering.

Uncle Pat | 07 December 2009  

I have never ever voted Liberal but I like Abbott's style and his understanding of ordinary Aussie life. Rudd and his fake-ness are driving me mad, like a lot of Labor people, but could I ever vote Liberal??? YEEK, I guess time will tell...

Rodney Shearing | 07 December 2009  

I devoured Abbott's book over the weekend. Essential reading for anyone with an interest in politics. Yes, I think it is definitely time to give Abbott the benefit of the doubt, as 95 percent of what he says in 'Battlelines' makes perfect sense.

Chrysostom | 07 December 2009  

The rite of reconciliation demands that we review our thoughts and actions, and consider where we may have erred.

One of the major differences between Tony Abbott and others is that Abbott does not have a pathological need to be seen to be correct, and to have always been correct, on every issue.

David Arthur | 07 December 2009  

Some opponents of the Conservative parties are prepared to give Tony Abbott the benefit of the doubt. Those who know and have followed Tony's political career know that he speaks the truth. He is a member of the Surf Life Saver and also a member of the Rural Fire Service. He mixes with ordinary people who care about Life and the Environment. He is Pro-God, Pro-Family and Pro-Life and he stands up for what he believes. In his younger day, Bob Santamaria was his mentor and those who knew Bob know his loyalty to the Catholic Church, to the Pope and the Magisterium was second to none. So is Tony Abbott, his loyalty to the Church and to Australia is second to none. God bless Tony Abbott.

Ron Cini | 07 December 2009  

Giving Tony Abbott the benefit of the doubt? Well, that's mighty charitable of you, Michael Mullins.

It must be the season of Good Will at Eureka St.

Nathan Socci | 07 December 2009  

Since he was elected to lead the Libs, every time - every single time - he spoke about ETS or climate change, Abbott made sure the word TAX was included in his statement.

I don't see this as pandering to avarice, rather to the six-o'clock swill crowd, the rev heads and know-alls, Howard's famed battlers, the Alan Jones fan club, the Telegraph readers, the instant experts on everything, most of whom can barely spell their own name. Recall that Western Sydney and its equivalent in the other big cities elected Libs to Canberra, because Howard knew how to appeal to the lowest common denominator.

Sorry if this appears elitist, but it is not so much avarice as stupidity. And it is sad that TA should go down the same path.

Frank | 07 December 2009  

There is a chance that with Abbot, Australian voters will take stock of the swing towards the 3rd Way, a legacy of the Blair - Clinton years brought to a horrible crescendo by Bush and some of Howard’s political philosophy of deception. Of course now Rudd appears to have gone better and built upon this 3rd Way. The Australian public likely will no longer tolerate this manner of Governing. I say, give Abbot that fair go to get politics Australianised again, fundamentally allowing the olive trees to bloom - not just aiming for the Lexus.!

Richard | 07 December 2009  

There's a lot to like about Tony Abbott. My only wish is that he might become a better Christian. It doesn't sound very much like a follower of Christ to encourage Australians to maintain their lifestyle at the expense of others' lives, as he appears to be doing on the issue of the ETS. Oh well, at least he's not a Vatican catspaw - he definitely isn't promoting the Catholic line about stewardship of the earth!

Joan Seymour | 07 December 2009  

My answer to Rodney Shearing; Being a lifetime Labor voter as you claim you've been, you should know you should never become a Liberal voter. If you've been a hard worker your entire life, you should always vote Labor, regardless of who's in opposition. Remember, the worst Labor leader is always better than the best Liberal leader.

Matias Feranndo Robinson | 07 December 2009  

I don't see how the ETS could be described as anything other than a Tax Grab, especially as neither the PM or anyone else has yet provided

Bill Barry | 07 December 2009  

I have never voted Liberal.Ever.And I have never seriously thought of voting Liberal.I have always voted Labor as my family does.But I must admit that I am seriously giving Abbot a chance. We'll see how he goes leading up to the election.

Michael | 07 December 2009  

I remember well a young Aboriginal Womans funeral at St Vincents Redfern several years ago. Tony Abbott was visiting the Aboriginal Medical Centre right next door. I informed him by email the tragedy that had unfolded itself while he visited that day. I will never forget his calous reply. There is alwasy a great diffference between the media and polical animal, to the human one.

Michael Gravener | 07 December 2009  

My answer to Rodney Shearing; Being a lifetime Labor voter as you claim you've been, you should know you should never become a Liberal voter. If you've been a hard worker your entire life, you should always vote Labor, regardless of who's in opposition. Remember, the worst Labor leader is always better than the best Liberal leader.

Matias Feranndo Robinson | 07 December 2009  

Tony Abbott's opposition to the present plan for an ETS is based on one thing which he said most clearly on Friday-
"The greatest challenge we face is man's inhumanity to man"
This is the context for all that he says and does, albeit in his use of cynicism and sarcasm - those Jesuits trained him in that line of quick thinking, no doubt!!!!!

Fr Mick Mac Andrew Bombala-Delegate NSW | 07 December 2009  

A reading of Mullins; "Abbott's vision for a better Australia" clearly shows that the B A Santamaria/Archbishop Mannix ethos is alive and well. In fact, Abbott singles out Santamaria's philosophy as one of his inspirations, the other being Howard. It is also interesting to note that the theologian Scott Stephens believes that Abbott could "expand the public moral imagination". Indeed, what is moral, in a global context, about Abbott's stance against abortion and imaginative about his view on climate change debate is difficult for the clear thinkers among us to understand. And for Mullins to suggest that we all should give Abbott the "benefit of the doubt" defies the imagination.

Alex Njoo | 07 December 2009  

I challenge anyone who regards an ETS as a credible climate change policy to explain how it will lower CO2 emissions

Peter Golding | 07 December 2009  

I actually think that what this country needs is less political rhetoric around faith, belief and vision. We do not need moral leaders as morality is the responsibility of the individual citizen. Our leaders only need to be moral in the sense that everyone needs to be moral; I am not voting in a leader so that he can be moral on my behalf. Conscience votes are all well and good, and make the electorate think we have noble and worthy representatives, but what makes our representatives worthy is not the ability to play politics but the ability to manage, to administrate, and to govern.

Tony Abbot appears to be, at the very least, inconsistent in his representations. Always seeking to spin his pronouncements based on the crowd he is talking to, to the point of trying to say the opposite.

I don't claim Rudd is any better, we just don't need any more politicians like Abbott, we have too many already.

Ben James | 08 December 2009  

Abbott's vision for a better Australia? Have a look at his shadow cabinet, and you'll see what it might be like.

Nick Minchin, lawyer and fanatical climate sceptic, Resources and Energy,

Eric Abetz, lawyer and a champion of Work(no)Choices, Employment & Workplace Relations,

Kevin Andrews, barrister and anti gay, anti single parents, anti immigrant, anti choice God-botherer, in Families & Human Services,

Phillip Ruddock, suburban solicitor,and caring-sharing iceberg, Shadow Cabinet Secretary,

Andrew Robb, party machine man & head-kicker, Policy Development,

Bronwyn Bishop, solicitor, who supported tobacco advertising and wanted to ban Muslim head scarves, Seniors, and

Sophie Mirabella, yet another lawyer who called her colleagues Petro Georgiou and Judi Moylan 'political terrorists' for opposing mandatory detention and who absented herself from the vote of the stolen generations apology, in charge of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research.

Michael says 'give him [Abbott] the benefit of the doubt' In the light of the company he keeps, I say, 'what doubt?'

Ginger Meggs | 08 December 2009  

So many interesting comments on this forum! I'm refreshed by Tony Abbott... the first time in a long time. Remember the ex-tradesmen labour pime ministers of old? Maybe Kevin (never broke a nail) 07 could learn fom them. He won't. Go Tony - finally someone not there for himself.

Michael | 10 December 2009  

Tony Abbott's resignation from Malcolm Turnbull's shadow cabinet as a matter of 'principle', and his supposed 'willingness to wage war against the people's baser instincts, to expand the public's moral imagination', stand in stark contrast to his complicity in the immoral, unprovoked 'Shock & Awe" attack on Iraq, the immoral, unauthorised Afghanistan invasion, the immorality of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, the immorality and lack of compassion for of asylum seekers, many in indefinite detention, the immoral policy of children behind razor wire . . . and numerous other moral scandals.

Which raises questions about the real reason for Tony's strident opposition to abortion.

Gordon Rowland | 11 December 2009  

Ginger Meggs has, indeed, provided an accurate summary of Mr Abbott's shadow Cabinet, although he neglected to mention "Family Values" Andrews's valiant attempt to divert the course of justice by placing Dr Haneef in administrative detention (rather than putting him on the next flight to his newborn child) even though the AFP could find no charge against him.

Andrews has made no offer to refund the taxpayer the cost of Haneef's detention.

Granted, there was a serious issue, namely the need to win an election ... but even the editorial staff at the "Australian" decided that Andrews was blowing his dogwhistle a bit too hard.

David Arthur | 11 December 2009  

Is Tony Abbott seen in anyway as the spokesman for Catholics?

All he is is a politician who is a Catholic.

Laurie Oakes asked him: "Do you believe in the woman's right (to choose an abortion)"

Abbott said "Yes"

This makes the Catholic stand more illogical and unconvincing. This is saying "Abortion is sometimes OK". Where does that take us in our argument with the pro abortionists.

To me Abbott is representative of those Catholics who have sold out to the establishment and the world.
Incidentally when he was asked by Oakes "Do you believe in evolution" he said yes but did not see fit to add "I also believe in God." Which I'm sure he does, but avoided declaring himself fully as a believer. Why hold back?

Bede Hickey | 14 December 2009  

I find it incredible that someone styled as a theologian, and therefore something of a thinker about things, should claim to see in Tony Abbott someone who is waging war against people's baser instincts, and seeking to expand the public's moral imagination.

Michale Mullins is right to observe that Abbott's characterization of the ETS as a "tax grab" is nothing but an attempt to activate avarice in the electorate. Similarly, his declaration that, in government, he would tow boats of asylum-seekers out to sea or back whence they came is an attempt to activate the xenophobia that Pauline Hanson demonstrated just a few years ago was just under the surface.

Too long ago political parties were driven by clearly articulated principles - a coherent frame of values - they presented policies to the electorate that reflected those values.

The obsession in the party machinery with "winning the middle ground" has led to both parties trying to outdo each other in articulating policies that appeal to the masses rather than reflect their values.

No wonder the values-driven parties like The Greens and Family First are gaining ground.

John Clapton | 04 January 2010  

I remember when Catholics were ardent members of the ALP and the local union... now they're leading the Liberal party.

Rob | 14 February 2010  

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