My Mate Tony

I was taken to account yesterday by my friend and writing mentor, Shirley. Shirley is often a soothing voice, although she can herself be very outspoken. She will often bring me to account if she feels I am taking cheap shots, as I sometimes do. On this particular occasion she challenged me over my description of Mitt Romney as a buffoon. I used this word on a Facebook Status that asked the question as to whether the US of A were about to elect a buffoon. I chose this word and backed it up with a couple of choice and humorous quotes that were attributed to Romney. My favourite was this, “I’m not familiar precisely with exactly what I said, but I stand by what I said, whatever it was,”

As is often the case, Shirley was right.  This I realised after reading Romney’s speech to acknowledge that he had lost the election. It was dignified, articulate and humble. It reminded me again that politicians are only human and have strong beliefs, as we do. But because they are in the public forum they are seen as fair game to ridicule and abuse. This is not helped by the fact that they are often the prime culprits for dishing out such ridicule and abuse. But nevertheless, Shirley was right. They are, at the end of the day, just human beings wanting to make a difference. In light of this I have decided to come to the defense of my mate Tony. Yes the Tony – Tony Abbott.

Mr. Abbott has been the subject of much lampooning in recent times. The lampooning of him has hit home hard and his popularity has hit rock bottom with voters. This was largely due to an astonishing attack on him in Parliament by the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard. This famous attack on Mr. Abbott received media attention around the world. Put simply Gillard labeled Abbott as a sexist woman hater and backed it up with an array of quotes attributed to him. One of the quotes suggested that it was it was completely natural and acceptable for more men to be in power than women. Shortly after Gillards’s attack on him the Neilson Poll showed that only 37% were satisfied with Mr. Abbott’s performance with a whopping 60% being dissatisfied.

Now Mr. Abbott is not really my mate. I use the term loosely with a twinkle in my eye. All who know me know that I vote Labor, it would take something special to sway my vote to Liberals. I, like most people, have an alliance to a political party that is similar to the way many support a football team. BUT I feel there is a real need to defend Mr. Abbott. Whatever his politics he is basically a decent man. I say this on the basis of just one meeting with him and a quick response I got from him for a request for help.

I had the fortune of meeting Mr. Abbott in his office at Parliament house in Canberra. He had not long been in Opposition. At the time I think he was Shadow Minister for Health. I was assisting Deafness Forum with a spot of lobbying that focused on employment and other needs. Mr. Abbott was late; he had been held up by a Parliamentary vote. I chatted the ex CEO of Deafness Forum, Nicole Lawder, while we waited for him. When he finally arrived he muttered something along the lines of Parliament being a zoo and asked if he could be excused for a few minutes to attend some ‘personal needs’.

A few minutes later Mr. Abbott returned. He offered a hand for us to shake. It can only be described as a wet handshake because he had not quite dried his hands properly. He led us into his office. His office walls were adjourned with some stunning paintings. If memory serves me right Mr. Abbott asked for permission to remove his jacket and tie. He gestured to us to sit down at a low lying coffee table. He sat down with us and promptly put his hands behind his head and his feet on the coffee table. As he did so his pants rucked up a little exposing a glimpse of his hairy calves and the tops of his black socks. He told us to make ourselves comfortable. To lighten the air a little I asked if I could put my feet up too. He laughed and told me to go for it.

It was all very casual. We discussed a number of issues concerning deafness and employment. The conversation is a long distant memory but we talked about support in the workplace, interpreting, technology, provision of hearing aids and the like. What was refreshing about Mr. Abbott was that he actually listened. He not only listened but he challenged. He was not patronising in anyway.

We spoke about the need for ongoing provision of hearing aids at length. I let Mr. Abbott know that it was crazy that free hearing aids, batteries and repairs stopped at 21. There was a need for this to be life long. After all these kids don’t suddenly become hearing at 21 and replacement hearing aids and maintenance is a life long need. Mr. Abbott acknowledged this. A lesser person may have just nodded agreeably and left it at that with no intention whatsoever to follow it through. But Mr. Abbott questioned me. He wanted to know how he could possibly argue for life long hearing aid provision when so many people were competing for limited dollars. Not only did he challenge but he also provided examples of needs, priorities and the challenges that he had to consider as a politician. I found this refreshing.

Earlier in the day we had set up a meeting with the Labor Minister for employment, O’Connell I think it was. He failed to attend as he was detained by the Parliamentary vote. He sent a couple of his minders. We spoke with them about basically the same thing as we did with Mr. Abbott. All the minders did was to nod agreeably and take notes. I much preferred Mr. Abbott’s approach.

Mr. Abbott generously spoke to us for 45 minutes before having to return to the floor. I left the meeting with a great deal more respect for him than when I had gone in. The respect came from the fact he diligently listened, questioned and challenged us. Of course he made no promises; he could not really being in opposition. But he was tuned in and he obviously cared enough to not just want to suck up to me for a vote. Popularity did not seem high on his agenda.

A week or so later I had a need to contact Mr. Abbott again. My middle son has a genetic condition that requires weekly infusions of a drug to replace a missing enzyme. At the time there was a strong lobby to have the drug recognised under the life saving drugs program. I emailed Mr. Abbott to ask if he could lend support to the lobby. Within a fortnight I received a reply from Mr. Abbott. He had approached the Minister concerned, Jenny Macklin, to see what was happening. He provided me with a thorough update of the Ministers reply. The reply was along the lines that the drug was currently under consideration. Mr. Abbott offered his support and asked that we contact him if anything else was needed. About three months later the drug was approved. Mr. Abbott probably had no influence whatsoever but his prompt response and thorough reply added to the increased respect I had developed for him from our meeting.

The point of all this is that I found Tony Abbott to be a thoroughly decent chap. Sure I do not agree with his politics but he gave me the time of the day, listened, challenged and assisted me. Yet despite this I cheered Julia on, just as many of us did, when he received that savage verbal attack from Julia Gillard. In retrospect, none of us should have been cheering.

Sure Julia Gillard scored points for women that day. She raised many salient points of importance that centred on societies attitudes to women. BUT lets be realistic, Gillard was in survival mode. She was backed into a corner having cynically maneuvered to get Peter Slipper as Speaker of the house. Slipper proved to be a thoroughly indecent fellow. Gillard wanted Slipper as the Speaker, not because she thought that he would be a good Speaker, but because it meant that the Liberals would have one less vote on the floor of what is a hung Parliament. In the end this cynical political ploy came back and bit her firmly on the bum. Her attack on Abbott was as much a need to divert from the real issue as it was to score a political victory for women. I would say it was more so the former than the latter.

What of Abbott? His reputation is in tatters. What of his wife and two daughters who had to sit and watch their father be called a sexist women hater and not be able to defend him? That’s politics you say. Well only if we allow it to be that way. I do not think Abbott is a woman hater although he may have some sexist traditional values. My experience of him was as a thoroughly decent man. I am sure there are many that will disagree. Nevertheless I do not think he deserved that savage attack from Gillard.

But was I any better labeling Romney a buffoon? Truth be known, no I wasn’t. As Shirley pointed out to me these are just people that think differently from me. It does not make them any less decent human beings. Sure they want a certain amount of power but all they want is a better world. They might not see things the same way as I do but the majority certainly don’t deserve the abuse either. It was a lesson well learnt and I hope I heed it.

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