The incredible shrinking Tony Abbott
While last night’s Q and A studio audience members were milling around in the ABC foyer drinking tea and listening to the harpist, they also had the chance to browse the entries in the satirical portrait prize the Bald Archies.
Tony Abbott was everywhere. There was Tony Abbott in monks robes, and budgie smugglers (no prizes for originality on that piece). There was Tony Abbott as a Na’vi from Pandora. There was Tony Abbott in a mankini. There was Tony Abbott with his finger in a hole in Bob Brown’s chest.
The people who dragged themselves out after dinner on a public holiday Monday night could have been forgiven for expecting to see the Tony Abbott hanging on the walls, the one who looms so large in the minds of people who enter satirical portrait prizes sponsored by the ABC. But it was a much smaller Tony Abbott who turned up in more ways than one.
The Opposition leader is understandably looking a bit hollow around the cheeks at the moment, just a week on from completing his first iron man. He could probably eat three of the McGriddle’s from Penbo’s piece this morning and still look skinnier than the rest of us.
But his performance last night was also smaller than we’ve come to expect. Mr Abbott held back more than he put out on Q and A, apologising for his recent comment about being “threatened” by homosexuals, declining to buy-in to questions about the Catholic Church, and admitting his debate strategy against Kevin Rudd was off.
At one point a young man in the audience asked: “Many young, would-be-liberal voters have been left feeling disillusioned by the Liberal cause since you were made Leader of the Opposition earlier this year. What can you, as quite obviously more conservative than even many young liberals, offer young voters?” It was a pretty loaded question.
Mr Abbott responded: “Well, I guess rather than just throw around tags, I’d like those who feel that I am too conservative for them to say what particular aspect of me or my policies they don’t like and then let’s have a discussion about that.”
Cue short disjointed discussion on the Emissions Trading Scheme.
Invited to comment on what he thought Jesus would have done about the steady stream of asylum-seeker boats heading here Mr Abbott said: “Well, Jesus wouldn’t have put his hand up to lead the Liberal Party, I suspect. Or the Labor Party, for that matter.” He then went on to say: But let’s not verbal Jesus. I mean, he’s not here to defend himself.”
On his comment to 60 Minutes that he felt “threatened” by homosexuals Mr Abbott said: “Okay, well, that was a very - it was a very poor choice of words on my part. I shouldn’t have used that word. I’m sorry that I used that word because the last thing I want to do is to make any Australian feel threatened or vulnerable or unappreciated and I would do my level best to govern for everyone.”
And after repeated questions about the recent scandals in the Catholic Church, and whether priests should be allowed to marry, politics most famous Catholic backed right off.
On the abuse scandal issue he said: “I really have not been studying this matter all that closely. I haven’t been following it all that closely. As I said, the church has not handled this matter very well in the past. I think it’s doing better now, but I just haven’t been following it. I’m sorry about that, Tony.”
And on priests getting married he said: “Well, look, you know, again, I feel a little uncomfortable at being asked the sorts of questions that other Catholics in public life tend not to get asked. I mean, Kristina Keneally, for instance, is at least as serious a Catholic as I am. And yet I suspect she wouldn’t get hit with these sorts of questions. But to do my best with it, look, it is a struggle. There is no doubt about it. I mean, the disciplines that the church expects of its ordained ministers are very hard to live with but, nevertheless, I think they are part of the historic discipline of the church and I think for the best of priests, at least, they are part of the mystique that makes the priesthood special.”
None of this would have changed anyone’s minds last night. Those who went to or watched the show wanting to be appalled at the Opposition Leader, probably still are.
But absent from last night were the throw-away lines and combativeness that have gotten Mr Abbott into trouble before. Maybe he’s a bit knackered.
By the way. If you’re in Sydney on a Monday night there’s worse things to do than register for Q and A. Watching live television get made is fun, and it’s free. You can register here.
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