Tony Abbott appeared on a 60 Minutes segment hosted by Liz Hayes last night, for which he was buoyed by a sea of supportive female companions. The 60 Minutes piece was framed as a portrait of the man behind the politics, but when Mr Abbott rolled out his army of women – including his wife, daughters and sister – it also seemed like a not-subtle statement to diffuse ongoing public criticism around his attitudes toward women.
The interview played out like a well-calculated public relations move, a female-skewed image makeover, made by a man surrounded by spin doctors, media advisers and branding experts.
The Opposition Leader is outspoken about his dedication to the Catholic faith and last night he was clear about his refusal to let faith impinge on his political decisions. “…It must never, never dictate my politics,” he told Liz Hayes when the subject was broached. Note that Mr Abbott said his faith must never, never dictated his politics – not that it never, never has before.
In July 2012 Mr Abbott used his religion for politically-angled means when he told ABC Perth radio it is un-Christian for asylum seekers to come to Australia by boat. “I don’t think it’s a very Christian thing to come in by the back door rather than the front door,” he said at the time.
The controversial 2010 60 Minutes interview during which Mr Abbott admitted to feeling “a bit threatened” by homosexuality was also addressed.
Last night he explained his views on homosexuality have changed. At the time of the 2010 interview, Abbott’s sister Christine Forster had recently come out as lesbian and, as he explained to Hayes, “What flashed through my mind, as you were questioning me, was what was going on in my own family at the time.” He said, “the cohesion of my family was threatened at the time… But I’m pleased to say we’re all in a better place now than we were then.”
Ms Forster also described her reaction upon seeing the 2010 interview saying, “In the first instance I was surprised. I was kind of taken aback. But it doesn’t really reflect what I know of my brother. I was a little disappointed – I’ll be honest.”
There was something a little disingenuous, almost tokenistic, about Mr Abbott’s sister being used as a symbol of his accepting new stance on homosexuality. Does acceptance of his own flesh and blood translate into a greater acceptance of GLBTIQ people, their rights and equity as Australian citizens? Christine Forster said she was surprised by Abbott’s “threatened” comment, which brings into question whether Abbott has expressed his real opinions on homosexuality with the public or with his own sister.
He told Liz Hayes he “is not a homophobe” and that some of his best friends are gay.  I wonder, then, what it is about same-sex marriage that he specifically objects to (or, at least, refuses to support). After his statement on faith no longer dictating his political agenda, has his rationalisation for refusing GLBTIQ people/families the same rights as heterosexuals now changed?
There seems to be a lack of consistency in Tony Abbott’s messaging that makes his intentions almost impossible to follow.
Sexism is a repeated issue that Mr Abbott has faced during his political career. Last night Abbott denied accusations of misogyny, claiming that Julia Gillard’s now-infamous “sexist, misogynist, hypocrite” parliament speech “wasn’t fair and it wasn’t true”. This was edited between segments with wife Margie Abbott and their daughters – all of whom were convincing advocates for Tony Abbott the man.
Politics are personal. Democracy by its very nature insists upon that, and yet there was something exploitative and calculated about the way Mr Abbott’s family were wheeled out last night. It felt as though each one was used to demonstrate a point. This seemed to fit in line with Tony Abbott’s tendency toward reactionary politics, and changing his stance to reflect whatever it is that will win him favour with the public and that will translate to votes in the coming election.
On the 60 Minutes Facebook page they posed the question “Do you think Tony Abbott is a changed man?” to which, at the time of writing, 5,076 people voted ‘YES” and 9,056 voted ‘NO’.
Where’s your head at regarding the Opposition Leader?
Image by: Ryan Pierse via Getty