On Australia’s New Catholic Prime Minister

In the last fortnight the Australian people elected a new government under the leadership of Tony Abbott, a pro-family Catholic and constitutional monarchist. He has a wife called Margaret and daughters Louise, Bridget and Frances.

Abbott was educated at St. Ignatius College, Riverview, the University of Sydney and Oxford University.

Riverview is the most prestigious Catholic boys’ school in Sydney built on a hill at Lane Cove overlooking Sydney harbor.  It has produced numerous politicians, judges and rugby players.

Abbott studied law and economics at Sydney University in the mid to late 1970s. He also played rugby, got involved in student politics and was elected President of the Students’ Representative Council.  From Sydney University he won a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford.

In the 1970s the Australian Universities were centers of political activism.  Tertiary education was then free (tax payer funded) and jobs were plentiful. Many students devoted their time to political causes rather than scholarship. The campus cafeterias were littered with broadsheets from the Marxist groups–Maoist, Leninist, Trotskyist, Euro-communist, Generic Greens, Vegetarian-Greens, Vegans, and feminists of each sub-species.

There were other students who ignored the propaganda, regarded the Left as “rat-bags” and got on with their social lives, their studies and sporting interests. These were the pragmatic types who understood that at the end of their undergraduate years they needed to marry well and obtain a good professional position.

Tony Abbott was unusual in the sense that while he thought the Left were definitely “rat-bags” he didn’t think they could be ignored.   He tried to offer some intellectual opposition and he did it with a high degree of provocative charm. Legend has it that he walked into lecture halls and announced that he was a privately educated, rugby-playing, heterosexual Catholic, and invited the students to elect him as the SRC President precisely on those politically incorrect grounds.  It is also claimed that he promised to pull down the posters of Che Guevara and replace them with images of the Queen and John Paul II.

He thereby managed to arouse the pragmatists from their apathy and they came out to vote for him.  Having notched up the Presidency of the SRC he was well qualified to apply for the Rhodes.  When a journalist asked him how he managed to win the Rhodes he responded that he thought it helped that he was a member of the same rugby club as the Governor of New South Wales.

While at Oxford he distinguished himself as a boxer, winning an Oxford blue.  He also came to the attention of the British press who reported that he shared some risqué jokes with Prince Andrew at a high society event.  He also organized a student demonstration in favor of the British defense of the Falkland Islands, something of which, no doubt, Prince Andrew would have strongly approved.

After Oxford he spent a few years in the Sydney seminary before deciding that his talents were best applied elsewhere. Exercises like making models of the Church out of play-dough or writing 500 word “essays” on the Desert Fathers, didn’t really engage the breadth of his abilities.

After working as a journalist, a plant manager for a concrete company, a political staffer and the Executive Director of ACM (Australians for a Constitutional Monarchy) Abbott went into politics and became the member for Warringah, a reliable “blue-ribbon” Liberal Party seat in North Sydney.

Abbott was first appointed to the Cabinet of the Howard Government in 1998 as the Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business, and in 2003 he became the Minister for Health and Ageing, a position he retained until the Howard government’s defeat in 2007.

In 2009 he became the leader of the conservative Liberal Party, defeating Malcolm Turnbull by one vote.  Turnbull was in favor of the Rudd government’s Emissions Trading Scheme which was highly unpopular in the mining industry and Abbott opposed it.  Abbott and Turnbull were also on opposite sides in the 1999 Constitutional Referendum.  Those in favor of retaining a Christian constitutional monarchy defeated the republicans and Abbott was a key figure on the monarchist team.

Abbott then led the Liberal Party at the 2010 election.  The outcome was a hung parliament.  A small group of independents backed the Labor Party then under the leadership of Julia Gillard (who was a socialist Left student activist in the 1980s) and Australia endured what was arguably its most unstable government in its history.

Gillard gave two extraordinary anti-Abbott speeches during her term as Prime Minister.  One, delivered within the parliament, accused Abbott of being a misogynist. The second, delivered outside the parliament, was a rant against men who wear blue ties.

The misogyny charge is connected to Abbott’s often stated belief that abortion is a really bad thing.  He thinks it hurts women as well as the babies who die.  When he was 19 years old his girlfriend became pregnant and she claimed that the baby was his, though DNA testing later proved that this was not so.  In any event, the baby was not aborted but safely delivered and put up for adoption.

Thus the ideological Left make much of Abbott’s opposition to abortion, the fact that he spent a few years in a seminary, and the fact that he has a good working relationship with Cardinal Pell.  Julia Gillard’s strategy was to scare women into thinking that he was some kind of medieval monster.  It didn’t work.  In the last few days of the election campaign even the press were treating the scare tactic as a bit of a joke.  One comedy show collected comic images of politicians kissing babies, but the comic image of Abbott showed him kissing a nun instead of a baby.  The caption beneath the image read: “I didn’t realize she was a nun, I thought I was kissing Cardinal Pell.”

Last week Abbott announced the names of his Cabinet ministers.  Journalists from papers like The Guardian went into moral outrage over-drive when he chose only one woman for a Cabinet position.  He said there would have been two if his long-time ally, Sophie Mirabella, had not lost her seat.  In his statements to the press he made it clear that appointments would be based on talent and experience, that is, on who is the best person for the job. In other words, the era of affirmative action is over.

I heard the Cabinet news over breakfast at a guest house in Washington, DC.  Some other Australians were lecturing our American hosts on the subject of our newly elected social dinosaur.  He didn’t appoint the Minister on Women’s Affairs to Cabinet, there is only one woman in the entire Cabinet, there is no Minister for Climate Change at all, he’s opposed to gay marriage, he wants to keep the Queen, he likes sports, he wears speedos…. (In fact a pub-owner in the outback town of Alice Springs has paid $3400 for a pair of Abbott’s speedos which now adorn the wall of the Bojangles Saloon, and the working class voters in western Sydney are not really into gay-marriage, regarding it as an upper class problem).

I sat quietly at the end of the table fiddling with my iphone and hoping that my responses to the waitress would not betray any trace of an Australian accent.  The sort of people who think it is reasonable to discuss politics with complete strangers tend to be a little more cautious if they think the other person is British.  An Asian-looking chap seated beside me also kept his head down and his eyes focused on the buttons on his phone.  I wondered whether he too was an Australian who voted for Abbott.

If discovered I intended to say that it was about time people stopped relating to women as if they had a disability in need of treatment.  I resent being asked to do something simply because a female is needed to fill a quota.

The hope is that with the election of the Abbott government the adjective “Australian” will again signify “no nonsense decency.” By far the majority of Australians want a government that will prudently manage the economy and Australia’s wealth of natural resources. They want safe hospitals with world-class medical treatment. They want schools that actually educate children rather than wasting time on political consciousness-raising campaigns. What they don’t want (unless perhaps they voted Green) is for the government to focus its attention on social engineering and the persistent rubbishing of the Christian culture on which one of the most stable and successful democracies in the world has been built.

In his election night speech Abbott declared that Australia is again “open for business.”  The ideology of the student activists of the 1970s is no longer setting the policy agenda.  The people now running the country are the types who went to parties, played some sport, got real jobs (not jobs as professional ideologues), and if they were lucky enough to find a soul mate, got married.  Some of them, like Tony, even went to Mass.  Some of them still believe in God, others don’t, but not one of them thinks it’s the job of the Australian government to be the bearer of enlightenment and salvation.  This is a major improvement.

Tracey Rowland


Professor Tracey Rowland is Dean and Permanent Fellow of the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family (Melbourne). She earned her doctorate in philosophy from Cambridge University and her Licentiate in Sacred Theology from the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome. She is the author of Culture and the Thomist Tradition after Vatican II (2003), Ratzinger’s Faith: The Theology of Pope Benedict XVI (2008) and most recently, Benedict XVI: A Guide for the Perplexed (2010).

  • Jack L

    Can we have him in the USA after you are done? 🙂

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  • Ken

    You write, “By far the majority of Australians want a government that will prudently manage the economy and Australia’s wealth of natural resources.”

    I’d say you’re getting closer to becoming a free society, but there’s still work to be done. Handing off the economy to any government is the path to disaster. And there are plenty of examples as evidence.

    Thanks for this glimpse of the new PM.

  • C

    Bravo for the Aussies. I’m envious.

  • kentgeordie

    Hip hip hooray.

    O for a bit more no-nonsense (stop the climate claptrap) decency (stop the gay juggernaut) here in the UK.

  • Jhawk77

    What are Australia’s immigration policies? Downunder is looking good.

  • Diego Fernando Ramos Flor

    Congratulations for Australia!!!
    I think there’s still something missing about Catholic Social Thought that goes far beyond “open to business” in his strategy (remember that we can’t serve to masters). I hope he’s reading CST documents right now.

    • Clara Geoghegan

      The only Australian political party which openly supports Catholic Social Thought is the Democratic Labour Party. http://www.dlp.org

      • Ben Warren

        Unfortunately, you contradict the natural law. St. Thomas Aquinas condemned the graduated income tax and any other scheme to disproportionately burden the rich in I, II, Q. 96, Art. 4 of the Summa. Please give your own money to the poor and leave the rich to enjoy their property. They certainly don’t need burdensome voters like you.

        • Clara Geoghegan

          A bit disingenuos to apply St Thomas Aquinas to the unfettered capitalism of today. I am sure ‘greed is good’ is part of the natural law too. It is certainly one of the consequences of the fall. As for the origins of the DLP – I am sure you are also well versed in Australian history.

  • Nana

    I think I want to move to Austrailia! I am totally fed up with the corrupted United States Government and the amoral liberal democrats who are responsible!!!

    • Darren

      Congratulations! As an educated person you want to leave the amoral liberal democrats running America to come to a country run by liberals?

      Huh? Please explain why I shouldn’t be confused.

      You do realise that this is an opinion piece, not fact, and that he didn’t win by his amazing personality and superior policy. The Australian public simply wanted labor less then they wanted they wanted Abbott. We will see if the bumbling can survive the actual reality of leading a country, not just slandering the government.

      • Augustus

        Here is some basic political science: In the United States, the Democratic Party is made up of “liberal” statists or, if you will, socialists–like New Labour in the UK. In Australia, therefore, the Labor Party is identical in most respects to the Democratic Party or New Labour. On the other hand, the Liberal Party in Australia is more akin to the 19th century Liberal Party in the UK, more so than the current manifestation Liberal Democrats. In other words, the Liberal Party is comprised of “classical liberals” who are more traditional and less statist. Think William Gladstone, NOT Barack Obama. If the Aussies voted against Labor it was because they wanted less of what Labor was offering and therefore more of what the Liberal Party program called for. If the parties were identical, the electoral results would not have been so great. Incompetent leadership was a factor in the Labor defeat but it was not the whole story.

        • Darren

          Just curious, are you Australian.
          Aussies voted out Labor because they were getting sick of the leadeship troubles they were having, they were becoming directionless and because the mainstream media (MSM) was doing an excellent job at liberal propagand and focusing on every single labor failure. No real focus was being placed on any of the mistakes the coalition made.
          On top of this the coalition had no real policy. Most of what they were spouting was either unfunded, infeirior had no actual policy more than 3 word phrases or dot point ideas on a piece of paper. So many lies about the state of our economy and other such labor policy “failings” spouted by the Coalition were either completely overlooked by the MSM or even agreed with.
          You are right. Leadership infighting was not the whole story when it comes to the labor defeat. Enforced perception by MSM was the other half.

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    Tracey, you will of course be calling on Abbott to criminalise all abortions?

    • slainte

      Murder is already a crime in most places.

    • Clara Geoghegan

      Abbott would not support Senator madigan’s Bill to end Medicare funding for gender selection abortions. Don’t hold your breath.

      • Ben Warren

        Well, excuse me. I didn’t realize you support the Catholic “social” teachings. Still, a “democratic labour” party cannot be Catholic, because it will work to burden the rich disproportionately.

        • Clara Geoghegan

          Do you know any Australian History?

  • Chris TH

    Finally the nightmare is over Downunder! Let there be light. Alleluia!


    TONY ABBOTT will deliver a balanced and holistic society in tune with traditional Australian families. He will play the nice guy and unleash the church’s gargoyle on the enemies of public health, nation building philosophy and the ratbag left.

    • Darren

      And reality will exist where. I think the left is bit different to 40 years ago in the 70’s. Nation building and improved public schooling was the aim of the previous government, or have you forgotten that they want to stop building our new FttH infrastructure, cut on health and have stopped the Gonski reforms for increased spending on schooling.

  • PRI: People First

    Kevin Andrews, named Minister for Social Services laid forth his comprehensive “National Family Policy Proposal,” adapted from his new book, Maybe ‘I Do’ – Modern Marriage and the Pursuit of Happiness. His proposals are based upon two principles: (1) public policy should protect and foster marriage and family; (2) “wherever possible, public policy should utilise the family and community organizations, rather than displacing them.”

  • simplynotred

    Better a Catholic King, then a Secularized Queen. What Queen in history sustained a countries moral integrity? Aside from Our Lady of course!

  • Adam__Baum

    Everybody should take a breath, and remember the last prominent Australian Catholic. I hope he does well, but politicians are fickle things, so.

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  • Francis Young

    Nice article, Tracey. We must pray for all leaders that they bring the courage of their convictions with them into the chamber. I was sad to hear Tony’s recent revelation (on Kitchen Cabinet) that he doesn’t always get to Sunday Mass, and his quip that ‘faith is not a sure guide in public life’.

    I am hoping that he brings to parliament the same chutzpah you described in his SRC days, and develops a close working relationship with the clearest thinking Catholic parliamentarians such as Kevin Andrews and the DLP’s Senator John Madigan. Time will tell.

  • Ben

    On the environment, I hope Mr. Abbott adheres to his Catholic Faith and does his utmost to protect God’s Creation. This is God’s Earth, and we have the right to utilize its resources, but not to destroy them.

  • Jimbooi

    Australia Australia We luv ya

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  • Will

    Abbott is not Catholic, he’s a member of the Novus Ordo sect, and as such will do nothing to assist the pro-life cause.

  • zcastaux

    I found it hard to believe that this was a fully-serious article. It reads to me like a, yes, a student comment in a student newspaper. Does it say ANYTHING really about the Australian political spectrum? Does it mention who/what are ‘Liberal’ and ‘Labour’? (Why, for example, was Northern Sydney so ‘safe for Abbott?) No, of course not. It is an ‘in-rave’, to give an impression of having information. Of ‘learning something’, but in fact, one doesn’t learn much. There is no reference made to prominent women politicians, of widely differing views, whose careers were, frankly, REPEATEDLY destroyed by ‘ratbags’ or other elements. There is a ‘glass ceiling’ of hidden violence and of quite open degradation, making many women, no matter how capable, reluctant to go further in Australian politics. It’s not a pretty sight. No mention is made of significant recent women cabinet ministers, of noticeable efficiency, (such as Amanda Vanstone), or women Senators, such as Bronwyn Bishop, whose popularity varied hugely, depending one one’s views. And who is Cardinal Pell, by the way? Why don’t you tell us? A brilliant and very humane Churchman, of an impeccable Catholic and intellectual background, who has been tormented for so long by the out-of-control ‘homosexual activists’ and other persecutors, that it has broken his health and made a Papacy quite impossible. (The chance of election had been mentioned some time ago, in his case.) Protestant ministers also were repeatedly threatened over their objections to massively State-supported gambling, flagrantly legalized prostitution (in most States and in many local government areas) and other similar issues which they repeatedly, as Christians, family leaders and human beings, tried to deal with. They mostly lost. Not to mention the controversies over the notorious ‘free heroin’ which the USA will not allow. Do I need to say how many voters hated that, and the ‘free heroin clinics’ which were supposed to be opened in every part of NSW State? They give out free condoms too, including to 14 year-olds, if the parents don’t find out in time. (There may be cases which need these; they were given to curious schoolkids WITHOUT case referrals, too). It would be best to give a more adult picture of Australian values and politics, right? How about the extremely tight control of private media? I mean, SUPER-tight. Do you want more? We are simply treated to a lampooning of Gillard (who was also slammed in Australia by vilely misogynist ‘comedy’ on the local ‘public’ broadcaster, the ABC). Rowland pretends (?) that Australia wants (NOW??) to move away from ‘social engineering’. Wait. Australia has already declared that Australian passports may be LEGALLY issued in the sex (gender) of one’s ‘preferred choice’. No need for further legalities. But even ROSES are declared now as illegal foreign weeds, no kidding.

    Rowland’s description of the ‘campus scene’ in Abbot’s formative years is trivial and biased, which is why it reads, yes, just like a student newspaper from those times (minus the occasional obscenities they used). Would she like to point to a Western-world campus where long hair, jeans, marches, posters and so on, did NOT exist? (I mean major public campuses, such as the Sorbonne, UCLA, any British major university?) In those places, the 1960’s were the focus for the start of this. Abbot’s types of viewpoints were certainly much more rare in the 1970’s, and were unpopular among many. Indeed, they were massively unpopular in campus Britain too, they were unlikely in much of New York and quite impossible in California. However, what Rowland very clearly fails to say, is that the 1970’s were the era when students and professors were clearly warned that “you are being watched.” It was the time of Vietnam; the professors themselves were warned of intelligence presence everywhere, and the lack of any true freedom to challenge this. It would be so nice if Rowland did not play around with light-hearted, flippant dismissals of a real situation. And Gillard’s ‘instability’? Have you read about Italian hung parliaments? Factions in the Balkans and Latin America? Oh, but what about the ‘coup’ which removed Australia’s legally elected government, around 30 years ago? Have you FORGOTTEN that? Look up Sir John KERR, the legal hack who masterminded a part of that operation. With a bit of deeper thought into what Rowland writes, it wouldn’t sound so much like a Sydney Uni paper, thus may avoid giving so many glib and false impressions. Well, of course, the public does tend to prefer those. Emigrate? Better do your homework first.