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Sep 12, 2012

Labor goes the biff on Abbott’s electoral weak spot

Labor will hammer Tony Abbott's aggression in order to exploit his poor standing with voters.

Bernard Keane — Politics Editor

Bernard Keane

Politics Editor

“What is it with Tony Abbott and brick walls,” quipped (if that’s not overstating it) Wayne Swan yesterday to caucus, alluding to the claims that 35 years ago Abbott punched a wall next to a young woman in the aftermath of losing a student election.

We know Swan made the comment because it was pointedly reported to the press gallery by the caucus spokesperson in the post-caucus briefing.

Several times in question time Swan accused Abbott of “going the biff” and called him a “thug”, which didn’t pass Parliamentary standards and had to be withdrawn. Another new offering was “aggressive negativity”.

Seeing a pattern here? There’ll be more of this language from Labor — a lot more, emphasising Abbott’s aggression.

People within the government genuinely think Tony Abbott and many in the Coalition have a problem with women. They leap on every single piece of evidence that might support it, however tangential, even complaining when Christopher Pyne refers to the Prime Minister as “she” in question time, demanding he use her title. It has frustrated them that the media has, they believe, failed to focus on s-xism from the Coalition.

And Abbott does have an electoral problem with women. His already-low voter approval is consistently lower among women than men.

That’s why Labor is keen to play up his aggression. It reinforces negative perceptions that female voters already have about Abbott based on his stint as health minister, his language (particularly to Nicola Roxon during the 2007 election, which was a shocker for Abbott), his Catholicism, his physicality (the now-abandoned Speedos).

That’s why the stuff from 35 years ago is manna from heaven for them — it reinforces the Abbott stereotype. And Labor is going to pile the pressure on Abbott. They can sense a break in the electoral weather, a respite from the ordeal they entered in February 2011 when they signed up for a carbon price. And they know doubts about Abbott’s political gifts beyond the negative slogans are spreading, even in Coalition minds. A few points’ slippage in the polls, and the mutterings about Malcolm, or perhaps Joe, will start. Hockey is a more substantial figure (no pun intended) now than he was in November 2009.

The Coalition’s handling of the vicious smears of Julia Gillard over the Slater and Gordon business from The Australian leave Abbott vulnerable on the student-era stuff. They never pursued it in Parliament — probably couldn’t under standing orders anyway — but initially said the PM had “questions to answer”. Indeed, one of the (many) questions on which Abbott got into difficulty in that fateful 7.30 interview was what exactly those questions were.

Thus Anthony Albanese was quick to claim that Abbott had to explain himself on Monday. It was a fair cop.

But Gillard shouldn’t have had to explain herself about non-allegations about non-political matters from before her time in Parliament, and Abbott doubly shouldn’t have to explain himself for events in his distant past. What kind of people are we going to attract into public life if something you did at uni can be held against you permanently, to be dredged up as though relevant to the sort of person you are in your 50s?

The excuse for dredging up Abbott’s distant past is that it’s supposed to be relevant to his current views on women. In fact there’s considerable evidence that Abbott, who does seem to have once harboured views on women straight from the 12th century, has undergone a significant change, best exemplified by his dramatically-changed position on paid parental leave, on which he now advocates a vastly more generous scheme than the government. And he’s likely also to have learnt from the example of John Howard, that a leader has to leave behind some personal views if they’re going to lead effectively, and doubly so if they’re prime minister.

Politicians with long careers are allowed to change their views. In fact, it is good that they do. It reflects maturation, life experience and the gaining of wisdom. On this score, Abbott isn’t getting the benefit of the doubt from voters, and particularly female voters. But from the government’s perspective, given he gets away with so much else, it’s hardly unfair that he struggles on this.

And they intend to make sure he does.


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31 thoughts on “Labor goes the biff on Abbott’s electoral weak spot

  1. cairns50

    of course people can change there views as they grow older and wiser as life goes on

    but do are you seriously suggesting that tony abbott has ?

    i think not, his change in position is due to one thing and one thing only

    the pollitical imperative that he perceives that he has to portray

    abbott is getting found out time and time again of being simply not able to tell the truth

    does anyone suggest that the lady is lying concerning his conduct to her many years ago ?

  2. The Pav


    Perhaps what happened in the 1970s is or isn’t relevant today, afetr all we all made mistakes in our youth but Abbott has said he is consistent as opposed to the PM and cited his consistant track record including student politics so on one level he has introduced it as eveidence and it is thus admissable.

    Be that as it may another issue is veracity. He has denied th incident took place. Either he is lying or he isn’t. Abbott has made truthfulness a central plank with his consistant calling of the PM a liar.

    If the incident did not take place then out side the protection of Parliament he should say so and call his accuser a liar.

    If she does not seek redress through the courts then the truth of his position can be implied.

    If it is tested through the courts then we will find out the facts.

    If he doesn’t do it what is he scared of?

    As a plus for him it would make the issue go away as it could not appear the papers as it would be sub judice. Given the time taken ibn courts it would not be heard before the election anyway so it is a risk free strategy for him.

    But if he doesn’t challenge his accusers then he will continue to be open to attack & it will be a running sore as further accusations are made

  3. zut alors

    Every time Pyne refers to the PM as ‘she’ it registers sharply with me.

    In ancient times in Adelaide there used to be an old saying trotted out by parents to encourage polite speech ie: ‘she’ is the cat’s mother. It never made sense to kids but certainly got the point across.

    Pyne knows better – which makes it doubly insulting.

  4. drmick

    Poetic justice would be served if a hairy chested lobor man put on a Freudian slip and referred to the poodle as “she” ?

  5. David Allen

    The Catholic church hasn’t changed its views on women and their rights and, hence, neither has, or will, Abbott.

  6. Sue11

    I don’t like Mr Abbott’s conservative social views, however, I personally feel that his behaviour was that of a aggressive immature young man who was trying to save the world from the dreaded left wingers and who also can’t bare to lose. He would have probably done the same to a man in the same circumstances, he may have even challenged him to a fist fight knowing Mr Abbott’s proud pugilistic background.
    I don’t feel this is any more important in deciding whether to vote for Mr Abbott as Ms Gillard’s involvement in her law firm 17 years ago. One thing this does show me is I could never run for political office because I was fined for jay walking about 35 years ago!

  7. klewso

    Is “considerable evidence” predicated on that short leash he’s allowed out on in public, by his “minders” – afraid of what he’s going to say if given too much rope/time?

  8. klewso

    And surely “promises/undertakings” are much easier made in Opposition – when “non-core” isn’t applicable, because it’s not as though you’re in a position to be able to honour/implement them?
    By the time you do have to honour them, and your position has changed (to government) those selectively hand-picked facts and semantics could be running in your favour, enough to allow you to change your mind and not have to worry about “Mr Consistency” – let alone your constituency?

  9. Scott

    Unless there is an independent witness, it is pure “he said, she said” from an incident 35 years ago recalled from the memories of those in their 50’s, which to be honest, can get a little hazy on both sides. At least the Gillard affair had a hard copy transcript of an employment exit interview.
    Labor can run with this story, but it doesn’t have legs.

  10. Holden Back

    Scott, I wish I could agree with you on this not dominating the political landscape for the next little while. But it’s a perfect story- relatively few facts, froma time long ago, of the second-hand variety, which allow everyone to have a self-confirming opinion about an incident which they didn’t witness.

    It means we don’t have to form an opinon about hard stuff like policy.

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