If reports that ex-Australian PM Tony Abbott has been recruited by Boris Johnson to assist with Brexit trade deals doesn’t make you choke on your coffee, then you’re clearly not acquainted with ex-Australian PM Tony Abbott.
Now it should be noted that UK officials have played down the reports but even the mention of his name among Wednesday’s headlines warrants a nostalgic examination of the man’s erm... highlights.
Let’s begin with something that even five years and one president Trump later, still ranks of one of the most bizarre moments in global political history.
In 2015 while visiting a farm in Tasmania, Abbott ate a raw onion – skin and all – in front of the presumably aghast press.
Why did he do this? Even all this time later it’s still not exactly clear. In a 2019 interview he claimed it was to show “appreciation” to a hard working farmer. But he could have just shaken his hand like a normal person...
Onions aside, Abbott is actually best-known for a series of truly awful public gaffes, an alarming number of which feature a heavy dose of misogyny and/or xenophobia.
One of the creepiest occurred during a radio call in 2014 from a distressed pensioner who said she had to resort to phone sex work to make ends meet.
As the chronically-ill grandmother and pensioner Gloria introduced herself, saying: “I work on an adult sex line to make ends meet”, Abbott was caught on camera winking and smiling in the direction of ABC Radio host Jon Faine (off camera).
Never one to steer away from a sexist cliche, in 2010 while still opposition leader he visited a dry cleaners and attempted to warn of higher electricity prices under the government’s emissions trading scheme.
How did he do this? Well, by saying: “What the housewives of Australia need to understand, as they do the ironing, is that if they get it done commercially it’s going to go up in price – and their own power bills when they switch the iron on are going to go up.”
Obviously none of the above went unnoticed and as well as the aforementioned political ousting, Abbott took an absolute pounding on a number of occasions, most notably when Julia Gillard absolutely destroyed him in what has been voted “the most unforgettable moment of Australian TV history”.
Ironically, the then-PM GIllard’s speech was prompted by accusations of sexism – from Abbott.
She was having absolutely none of it, saying: “If he wants to know what misogyny looks like in modern Australia, he doesn’t need a motion in the House of Representatives, he needs a mirror.
“That’s what he needs.”
It is absolutely worth watching in full...
Away from sexism and misogyny, Abbott also has a reputation for xenophobia which was encapsulated in a speech he gave in the UK 2015 shortly after he lost his job.
During an event at London’s Guildhall, Abbott said Europe needed to “stand up for ourselves” and close its borders to migrants “for the universal decencies of mankind, lest the world rapidly become a much worse place”.
Given Abbott’s policy in Australia was to simply turn away boats carrying migrants and refugees before they reached the country’s shores, the advice was said to have made Tory ministers present wince.
Abbott has long vehemently opposed gay marriage yet it was one of his own political gambles that backfired on him and made it legal in Australia.
A former Roman Catholic seminarian, he angered gay rights advocates and many in his conservative government by deciding in 2015 to put the gay marriage issue to an extraordinary national vote.
His explanation was to spare his government colleagues an ugly and divisive debate to resolve the issue.
Critics suspected he was betting that Australia’s recent history of resisting change in referendums would maintain the ban on same-sex marriage.
But 62% of voting Australians who took part in a postal survey last year opted for change. Parliament overwhelmingly supported legislation lifting the ban that December.
So it was highly ironic when in 2018 when he attended the same-sex wedding of his sister.
Because we’d hate you to finish reading this piece without learning some non-gaffe based and actual details about Tony Abbott, here’s a short summary of his CV.
- Born: November 1957
- Became Australian PM: September 2013
- Ate the onion: March 2015
- Ousted as PM: September 2015