Liberal leader Tony Abbott is a self-confessed attention seeker, who polarises women’s opinions. It’s a trait that has got him into hot water, yet he is surrounded by women who are fiercely loyal and admire him. Helen McCabe reports.
Tony Abbott slides into the back of a government car at Townsville airport. “Sorry,” he says, “I just to have to call my princess.” The political hard-head spends 15 minutes talking to his wife, Margaret, and the eldest of his three stunning daughters, 21-year-old Louise. “Okay, my darling angel,” he says. “I love you.”
It was a surprising start to the trip, a romantic Tony Abbott? It was not what I was expecting. A few hours earlier, in Brisbane, Tony was meeting with the Women’s Network Australia. “They say you don’t like women,” says founder and managing director Lynette Plamen, who suspects he could handle the direct approach. “I completely disagree,’’ Tony says, taking off his jacket. “I was going to say you looked a bit overdressed,” Lynette says. “You can keep your shirt on – and your pants.”
The room of businesswomen breaks into laughter. It has been only a couple of weeks since Tony was photographed in his Speedos and no one will let him forget it. He keeps his clothes on over lunch and wins over the audience. “He was charming and down-to-earth,” says Lynette, later. Not all women, however, warm to Tony Abbott.
“I am still trying to wrap my head around the fact that the Liberal Party has just elected a leader who is anti-abortion, anti-IVF, anti-stem cell research and who wants to ban no-fault divorce,’’ influential blogger Mia Freedman wrote.
“If he’s elected as our PM in the future I would be very scared for women everywhere. I am not anti-Lib – just always been anti-Abbott,” added Mia. “Tony Abbott scares the bejesus out of me,’’ wrote another blogger. Other women’s websites were also swamped by people bewildered by the party’s failure to elect the much more likable Joe Hockey. By comparison, the women who know Tony Abbott are baffled by this reaction to him.
Your say: What do you think of Tony Abbott? Who would you like to see as leader of our nation? Do you think politicians should share their views on moral issues? Share your thoughts below…
On paid maternity leave
One of the few women’s issues he has won plaudits for was a plan for six months paid maternity leave, detailed in Battlelines. However, as leader of the Liberal Party, his support for this radical policy initiative is not quite as clear.
“My thinking has moved on a bit since then and I think … it’s very important that any national scheme doesn’t disadvantage small business.”
Do you think that it is doable? “Uh-huh”. You can do it, six months paid maternity leave? “Well, I think that is certainly desirable.”
On the problem of businesses paying women on average 16 per cent less than they pay men in the same jobs, Tony is unaware there is still a problem.
How do you get more women into politics? “A good question. The trouble is, unless you are super ambitious, super idealistic, super competitive or a combination of all three, politics is not a very attractive life,” he says, before admitting he does not have a solution.
On modern dilemmas such as Botox, plastic surgery, alcohol abuse, drugs and body piercings, Tony is more comfortable. He laughs at the idea of Margie having Botox, reveals that one of his daughters has multiple piercings and that he once drank a bit too much and smoked marijuana – but he didn’t inhale.
On the issues
Tony Abbott’s religious faith is why his supporters hold him in such regard and why his critics call him “Captain Catholic”. Here are his views on a number of issues that relate to women and families.
“I have never suggested that it should be re-criminalised. All I have ever said was that I would like to see fewer abortions.”
Sex before marriage
“I would say to my daughters, if they were to ask me this question, I would say … it is the greatest gift that you can give someone, the ultimate gift of giving and don’t give it to someone lightly, that is what I would say.”
“There is nothing wrong in the slightest, nothing at all wrong with same-sex couples wanting, I guess, to celebrate their commitment to each other. That is a good thing, not a bad thing. But I do think there is a difference [in a relationship] between a man and a woman, and being open to kids.”
Drugs “To be sociable, I puffed on a marijuana cigarette, but I didn’t inhale – I don’t even inhale normal cigarettes. I just hate the idea of drawing smoke into my lungs, so … when it comes to getting stoned in that way, I was a complete failure.”
Read more about Tony Abbott and his opinions in the February issue of The Australian Women's Weekly out now.