Tony Abbott’s celibacy advisor. Kevin’s Plain English coach. Wilson Tuckey’s brain. There are some concepts that are so bizarre and so ridiculous, that you assume they are a punchline to a joke by Mark Arbib.

“So Gen Y, if you don’t take this perfectly good job cleaning dunnies, you’ll end up as Abo’s celibacy advisor”.

But yesterday, at the launch of Tony’s new book, Battlelines, I saw the woman in question, (former) celibacy consultant Josephine Ul. But what was her advice — just pray a lot? Wear very tight cycling shorts? Actually, I like to think of the Mad Monk down on his knees, scourge in hand, with Ul lashing his (rather hairy) back.

It’s a fitting image, because Tony really does belong in another age. Despite his relative youth (51), he is the living embodiment of pre-Vatican 2 Catholicism. He would like nothing better than to return to the early ’60s, when women stayed at home and had babies, men went out to work and priests gave moral guidance. Let’s face it, if he was an Anglican, he would be a Young Fogey.

And that’s the problem with the book, which is billed as “offering a frank analysis of the way forward for the Liberal Party.” It’s very hard to be a conservative reformer, because you can only look back. The other side has taken up the sexier territory, which is updating current policy by facing forward. Hence you have Tony’s ludicrous, politically-suicidal proposals to raise the pension age and return to the era of fault-based divorce.

And despite his many fine qualities — he’s clever, amusing, and, as befitting a former journalist, can at least write — he will never be Prime Minister because his views are forged in the crucible of his religion, and Australians have shown in poll after poll that they believe in the separation of church and state.

In 2004, Abbott gave a speech entitled The Ethical Responsibilities of a Christian Politician, in which he said that “religious faith is not necessary for a life of compassion, forbearance, forgiveness, mercy and love but the comparative lack of humanist missionaries in the most impoverished corners of the third world or rationalist hospitals in the worst war zones suggests that it certainly does help.”

With the greatest of respect to our Christian readers, that is complete nonsense. You don’t have to believe in the Resurrection to feel compassion and express love. And do humanists go to war with each other over doctrine?

It was a great launch, though. In her speech, MUP CEO Louise Adler (disclosure; also my publisher) said that he was an author “without a venal bone in his body”.

“I suggested a figure and he halved it. He is the Liberal Party’s intellectual.”

Celebrity attendees included TV star Sarah Murdoch (that got News Ltd on side) and a claque of political mates, including Philip Ruddock, Bronwyn Bishop and Eric Abetz. Abbott also thanked his “intellectual godfather” Christopher Pearson, together with Ross Cameron and Jacki Kelly for reading early drafts and David Flint, a “pillar of right-thinking Australians” got a mention, along with Keith Windschuttle and Joseph Santamaria, the “son of my greatest political mentor, BA Santamaria.” Neither John Howard nor Malcolm Turnbull was there, but both managed to get to the post-launch lunch at Lucio’s.

I read the book last night, and there are some fascinating personal insights. “One thing that the Jesuits never managed to inculcate in me was humility. It was probably good for me not to be picked for all the sporting teams or leadership positions that I aspired to. Sometimes, life wasn’t fair. Then again, often it was, but I lacked the magnanimity to appreciate the fact.”

Meanwhile, up the hill at the Shangri-La Hotel, that other prominent Catholic Liberal, Malcolm Bligh Turnbull, was addressing the Australian Institute of Company Directors on the evils of debt — specifically, Kevin’s debt. Beforehand, I asked him about the rumours that Labor were planning to “do a McKew” and put up a high-profile candidate against him at the next election — maybe Dr Kerryn Phelps? He laughed, saying that Wentworth was a “political zoo” that would always attract a large field. As befitting a politician trapped in the news cycle of a bad opinion poll, he was cheerful and ebullient — “what poll?”

But back to Tony; now that he has written a Important Book and been temporarily restored to his beloved limelight, what is he going to do with the rest of his life?

In 2005, he told ABC Radio’s Monica Attard, “maybe (it) is that Catholicism which makes me unelectable but you know you should be ambitious for the higher thing, not for the higher job.”

In the book, he says that “often enough, I was the designated “attack dog” in the media on difficult issues where the PM wanted back-up. I didn’t always relish that role, but someone has to do it. Political parties, no less than rugby teams, need some hard men.”

In a church which has elected a Chief Pontiff nicknamed the Rottweiler, Abbott’s time may have come. Josephine, come back to work! Tony has his sights set on something higher than being Prime Minister. I think Abo wants to be Pope.

Peter Fray

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