Who is Tony Abbott, the 'Mad Monk' elected Aussie PM?

Sep 9, 2013

He's 'super cool' says his daughter, but others would demur: five things you might not know about Abbott

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AS Australia's PM-elect prepares for office, the Lucky Country is coming to terms with having a man once considered unelectable as its leader. Tony Abbott, the 55-year-old leader of the Australia’s conservative Liberal Party, was swept to power at Saturday's election as Australians turned their backs on Kevin Rudd's divided Labor Party. But who is Abbott and how will Australia change under his premiership?

His nickname is The Mad Monk. Abbott was born in England in 1957 and his parents migrated to Australia three years later. As a teenager he was educated by Jesuits at Sydney’s St Ignatius College; at 26 he entered St Patrick’s Seminary to study for the priesthood. Abbott quit three years later before taking holy orders, but the nickname The Mad Monk has stuck with him.

He’s a former boxer with a pugilistic style. Abbott studied at Oxford University as a Rhodes scholar and boxed for his college team. "He was crude, with very little technique," his former sparring partner Nicholas Stafford-Deitsch told The Guardian. Abbott’s enemies would say his political style has the same traits. In 2011, he was ambushed by a TV journalist who accused him of saying "…sh*t happens…" in relation to the death of an Australian solider in Afghanistan. Abbott glared at the reporter for a full 28 seconds and appeared ready to "slap his interlocutor in the face", said Crikey.com’s Andrew Crook.

His attitude towards women has been called into question. Abbott’s eldest daughters, Bridget and Frances, campaigned enthusiastically on their father's behalf ahead of the 7 September poll. Frances, 22, says her father isn’t the "dag" – an affectionate insult in Australia – he’s often made out to be thanks to his willingness to be photographed in his "budgie smugglers" (trans: tight swimming trunks). "To be honest, Dad is super cool," Frances told the Sun Herald. "He is the most cool, calm and collected person I know. It's hard to describe him but he's not a super dag." It’s an opinion not shared by Australia’s previous PM, Julia Gillard, who famously told the Australian parliament: "I will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man. Not now, not ever."

He’s a climate change sceptic. The issue of putting a price on carbon emissions divided Australia and many voters rallied to Abbott’s openly dismissive views of climate science. Malcolm Turnbull, a former leader of the Liberal Party, called Abbot’s position on the issue "bullshit", before softening the description of his leader to "intelligent sceptic".

He wants to get tough with refugees. Few issues polarise Australians like the arrival, by boat, of people seeking refugee status. "This is our country and we determine who comes here," Abbott told reporters last month as he announced a tough new policy on refugees. He had already vowed to "turn back the boats" using a military-led force patrolling Australia’s north-western waters. Under the new policy, refugees would be "forced into an indefinite work-for-welfare programme, denied permanent residency or family reunion rights and stripped of any appeal avenues over their refugee claim if it is refused". Abbott has said his new refugee regime will start the moment his government is sworn in next week.

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