Profile: Tony Abbott

  • 8 February 2015
  • From the section Asia
This picture taken on September 4, 2013 shows Australia's opposition leader Tony Abbott talking to the media during his election campaign in Sydney.
Image caption Tony Abbot could be facing a leadership challenge less than 18 months in to the top job

Tony Abbott was already a polarising figure when he became prime minister of Australia in 2013.

A former Rhodes Scholar who once wanted to be a monk, the 57-year-old attracted early criticism for gaffes and was famously called a misogynist by former Labor Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

Now a series of public blunders, questionable calls and U-turns on key policies have resulted in a decline in his popularity.

Many saw his controversial awarding of a knighthood to Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, on Australia Day as a sign he was out of step with the public.

Despite this, on 9 February he survived a challenge from MPs within his own party that had threatened to remove him from the top job less than 18 months in.

'Mad monk'

Tony Abbott was born in 1957 in England to Australian parents who returned to Sydney a few years later.

After graduating in economics and law from the University of Sydney, where he was also a leading student boxer, he attended Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, studying politics and philosophy.

He briefly trained as a Catholic priest, before working as a journalist for the Australian newspaper.

Image caption Hosting the G20 summit in Brisbane in November 2014 was a high point of his first 18 months in charge

He then worked as an adviser to the Liberal Party, before entering politics in 1994 when he was elected to represent the affluent Warringah district of Sydney.

Under former Prime Minister John Howard, he served as an employment minister between 1998 and 2001 and as minister for health and ageing in 2003.

In 2009, he narrowly beat incumbent Malcolm Turnbull in a party leadership vote, winning 42 votes to Mr Turnbull's 41.

Many pundits were shocked by the result, given Mr Abbott's gaffe-prone history.

As leader of the opposition, Mr Abbott's aggressive approach earned him several nicknames.

His tactics led some to call him "Tear-down Tony" or "all opposition and no leader". He was also nicknamed Mad Monk - a reference to his time spent training as a priest.

'Stop the boats'

In the 2010 general election - called after Julia Gillard ousted Kevin Rudd as prime minister - Mr Abbott's coalition denied the government a majority, as the polls delivered a hung parliament.

As Labor infighting continued after the election, more voters swung to Mr Abbott and his party.

Image caption When in opposition he was known as "Tear-down Tony"

Ahead of the 2013 polls, Mr Abbott argued for tough border controls, lower taxes and a smaller government.

He supported Labor's policy of processing asylum seekers offshore, and went further - calling for asylum boats to be turned around and for those in Australia approved as refugees to be limited to temporary visas.

Mr Abbott has in the past dismissed climate change as faddish, but says he is not a climate sceptic.

He has also consistently voted against relaxing laws on abortion, same-sex marriages and stem cell research.

His stance on social issues, and his poor polling among women, has led some to say that Mr Abbott has a "women problem".

In October 2012, a blistering speech by Ms Gillard in parliament accusing him of misogyny went viral online.


In 2013 he took on Labor's Kevin Rudd - who ousted Ms Gillard as Labor leader - in the September 2013 polls and secured a convincing win.

He was applauded for pushing for an investigation into the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, which had 38 Australian passengers, and threatened to "shirtfront" Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

Image caption Mr Abbott faced ridicule for his decision to knight Prince Philip

He's also been seen as taking strong action against the threat of Islamist militants, raising the terror level in September 2014 and later getting approval from cabinet to launch air strikes in Iraq.

In July 2014 the Australian Senate voted to repeal a carbon tax, a levy on the biggest polluters, that the previous Labor government had implemented, something Mr Abbott had strongly argued for.

But he started losing favour with voters, who disagreed with his proposed changes to university fees and Medicare.

In May last year, he announced a shake-up of the university sector, proposing legislation that would have removed caps on university fees, cut university funding by 20% and increased rates on student loans. The bill was not approved by Senate.

Proposed changes to healthcare included passing more of the costs on to patients, but that idea was later shelved along with Mr Abbott's proposal on Paid Parental Leave, offering new mothers up to half a year of leave on full pay. Businesses complained the costs on them were too high.

But none of these setbacks drew as much derision as his decision to award an Australian knighthood to the Duke of Edinburgh.

After that episode, his approval rating plunged below 30%.

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