Friday 22 February 2013

No More Mr. No-Guy.

Or The Strange Case of Dr. Abbott and Mr. Tony.

We all make New Year resolutions: to eliminate negative habits (like smoking) or to acquire positive ones (to exercise more); that kind of things.

Federal opposition leader Tony Abbott (National/Liberal Coalition, conservative), like most of us, apparently also made his own. Being a high-profile man, famous for his physical fitness, however, Abbott's resolution couldn't be as trivial as adopting a healthier lifestyle. Nope, Abbott decided to change how voters perceive him.

Understandably, Abbott's resolution has the political commentariat and voters scratching their heads. Peter Hartcher, SMH's political and international editor, among them.

You see, overseas readers, after making a political career as a "brawler" (as political journalist Glenn Milne described him in 2010), a "Neanderthal" (in Labor MP Rob Mitchell's words, quoted by Hartcher), or as "a polarising right-winger" with a "propensity for insensitivity and controversy" (in the diplomatic views of former US Ambassador Robert McCallum, also quoted by Hartcher) Abbott decided to follow the advice people like columnist Terry Barnes have been giving him since at least 2010: "If two-toned Tony can keep his wild side in check, he would make a good PM".

So, farewell to Tony of the Tea Party; no more Dr. No. Meet Dr. Yes, the thoughtful, reasonable, civil, Tony.

And, lo and behold, lots of personal accounts of this more positive Abbott come to the surface, too. Hartcher's op-ed tells:
"A senior official of the federal Employment Department, who has since retired, recalls (...) 'I've worked closely with a lot of ministers and senior politicians. There are very few as humble and ordinary outside their working lives'.
"Not only that, he found Abbott to be an impressive minister who carried a real concern for the human consequences of policy. As employment minister, Abbott dismantled the old Commonwealth Employment Service, put its functions out to tender and created the Jobs Network. 'Once the decision was taken, Abbott turned his attention to the 10,000 people who [no longer] worked in the CES. He said, 'We can't just junk them and move on.' So the tenderers for the slices of the business were encouraged to recruit these people. He looked closely at their redundancy terms'."
Although perhaps Hartcher missed the irony in the previous story (ominous, too, if you are a commonwealth public servant), he asks: "Who is the real Tony?"

Hartcher risks an answer, too: "He's both. Abbott transmuted from responsible, caring minister to angry, barnstorming demolition man as opposition leader, and now he's moving to change back again".


Perhaps. I've never met Abbott, so I couldn't tell. He seemed quite spontaneous when he admitted to Kerry O'Brien, back in 2010, that not everything he said was "gospel truth":

But, if I had to guess, I'd say that Abbott's true personality, whatever it might be, is largely irrelevant. The fact that can be ascertained is that Abbott's former ministerial colleagues have not ceased campaigning for a return to Work Choices (as readers can verify by checking Peter Reith's public op-eds at The Drum), Joe Hockey's commitment to end the already near inexistent "social net" (aka entitlements society) and Abbott's own intention to further benefit the long-suffering miners.

I hate surprises, particularly the unpleasant and predictable ones. How about you?

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