Tony Abbott
(Image: AAP/Ben Rushton)

As record numbers of people vote early so they can tune out of a largely lethargic and dispiriting election campaign, it's noteworthy that Australia's most famous backbencher Tony Abbott still arouses such strong reactions -- negative and positive.

For all the perception of Abbott as a gaffe-prone, onion munching, three-word sloganeer, there is a large section of discourse dedicated to Abbott as a man of ideas and action, who does good work -- something even his critics tend to admire about him -- in his local community and who has made a huge contribution as a conservative thinker.

An "effective and 'can do' minister" 

In David Marr's Quarterly Essay on Tony Abbott, 'Political Animal' -- which by no means shies away from criticism -- Abbott's time as health minister is described in terms that contrast with his public image as an inveterate brawler. He's presented as an open, thoughtful, and relatively assiduous minister, polite and well-liked (if not always completely understood) by bureaucrats and stakeholders.