Story transcripts

The Contender

Friday, March 5, 2010

Reporter: Liz Hayes
Producer: Tim Toni

Like his choice of swimwear, the infamous "budgie smugglers", everything about Tony Abbott seems up front.

And it's his open, sometimes brutally frank style, that seems to be cutting through with voters. In a matter of months, the man they dubbed the mad monk has performed a minor miracle, dragging the Liberal party out of the political wilderness and establishing himself as a real contender.

Of course, not everybody loves Tony. To his critics, he's a right-wing, religious throwback to a by-gone era.

But, come with Liz Hayes to Tony Abbott's inner sanctum. Home to his wife and daughters, and, like us, you'll discover a very different Tony Abbott. Complex, considered and, perhaps, not as conservative as you might think.

Read Liz Hayes' blog on this story and have your say

Full transcript below:

L IZ HAYES - STORY: FRANCES ABBOTT: You are going so bald.

TONY ABBOTT: I am, darling, I know. I'm getting a little bit thin.

FRANCES ABBOTT: He's losing so much hair.

TONY ABBOTT: It's embarrassing.

BRIDGET ABBOTT: You're going to have to shave it off.

LIZ HAYES: This is not the Tony Abbott I expected to see...

FRANCES ABBOTT: You look so random.


LIZ HAYES: ..Australia's newest Opposition Leader happily enjoying a makeover from his daughters in the family pool.

FRANCES ABBOTT: You look like a kook.

TONY ABBOTT: How much different is that to what I normally look, darling?

LIZ HAYES: Tony Abbott may be the attack dog in Parliament House, but in the Abbott house he's more the pussycat.

FRANCES ABBOTT: Like a monk.

LIZ HAYES: What's no surprise are the signature sluggos.

MARGIE ABBOTT: Now, do you realise that you're wearing your budgie smugglers again?

TONY ABBOTT: That's right.

MARGIE ABBOTT: So will this be another month of dramas?

TONY ABBOTT: Another clothing atrocity.

MARGIE ABBOTT: And I'm sitting here beside you so I'm complicit in this!

LIZ HAYES: Since becoming Opposition Leader, finding time for family barbies at their Sydney home is proving hard.

LIZ HAYES: It's a strong female household, this one. I'm not sure what Tony's doing here!

MARGIE ABBOTT: Well, look, you know...

LIZ HAYES: I mean that in the nicest possible way!

MARGIE ABBOTT: Yes, absolutely. Well, he fits in really nicely, Liz.

LIZ HAYES: Margie Abbott, Tony's wife of 24 years, runs the family's female-dominated home, which includes their three daughters, Frances, Louise and Bridget, and Maisie the dog.

MARGIE ABBOTT: I run a fairly tight ship and chaos arrives when he walks in the door.

TONY ABBOTT: I know who's the boss.

MARGIE ABBOTT: That's right. He has a place here. He has a place here.

TONY ABBOTT: I come fifth in this family.

FRANCES ABBOTT: Sixth behind Maisie.

TONY ABBOTT: Sixth behind Maisie, that's right. Maisie comes first to everyone else, then come the humans.

LIZ HAYES: Tony Abbott, the husband and father couldn't be more different to Tony Abbott the politician.

TONY ABBOTT IN PARLIAMENT: Mr Speaker, I move that that snivelling grub over there be no further heard...

LIZ HAYES: During his 16 years in Parliament, Tony Abbott's belligerent style made him the MP people loved to hate.

TONY ABBOTT IN PARLIAMENT: If I've offended grubs I withdraw unconditionally.

LIZ HAYES: And for better - but more often worse - he told it as he saw it.

TONY ABBOTT IN PARLIAMENT: I have done exactly as I've promised. You are a sanctimonious windbag.

TONY ABBOTT: I suppose I've found over the years I've been put into situations where you're expected to be the hard man of the government. Now, someone has to do it, just like some people in the military have got to be in the SAS, some people in the police have got to be in SWAT teams.

LIZ HAYES: You were at the front line.

TONY ABBOTT: Exactly right.

LIZ HAYES: And were you the head-kicker then?

TONY ABBOTT: I was the Leader of the House and that is the parliamentary hard man and you've got to make the tough calls.

LIZ HAYES: Tony Abbott has always been an alpha male - aggressive and disciplined, whether it be work or play. Like a man possessed, every day starts with a gruelling work-out. This morning it's a 102km bike ride with his mates.

LIZ HAYES: This is a very blokey affair.

TONY ABBOTT: A bit too blokey, I'm afraid.

LIZ HAYES: Many of them have known him since school.

LIZ HAYES: Now, I have to ask all you fellas, tell me about the real Tony. Oh, come on!

TONY ABBOTT: There is no such thing! Luckily he doesn't exist.

KERNO: He hasn't changed since he's been the leader.

TONY ABBOTT: I was an arrogant bastard long before then, wasn't I, mate?

LIZ HAYES: And always competitive.

KERNO: When we're surfing he drops in on you all the time. He's got no peripheral vision.

TONY ABBOTT: Can't look to the left or the right. I can only look straight ahead. That's a big problem.

LIZ HAYES: I see politics as a blood sport, frankly. Is politics one giant boxing ring?

TONY ABBOTT: I think if you like politics Parliament is the best free entertainment in town, but not everyone likes politics and while you can look at it as a kind of sport in the end it is pretty serious.

LIZ HAYES: Jay Leno, the comedian in America, said that "politics is show business for ugly people".

TONY ABBOTT: Yeah - that's right.

LIZ HAYES: You think so?

TONY ABBOTT: Well, it's more than show business.

TONY ABBOTT IN PARLIAMENT: These are people's lives at stake and you show no remorse, you show no concern, and you show no urgency about anything except saving your own hide.

LIZ HAYES: In the last few weeks, Tony Abbott has relentlessly attacked the Government's failed insulation program, which cost the lives of four people.

TONY ABBOTT IN PARLIAMENT: He's not worthy of their continued confidence.

LIZ HAYES: You've hounded Peter Garrett almost to the grave. When you're deciding on that strategy do you ever take into account the human being?

TONY ABBOTT: You try to. I don't think Peter Garrett is a bad man. I just think in this very important respect he's been a bad minister

LIZ HAYES: I understand that, but when you're determining your strategy, you know that Peter Garrett's mother died in a house fire yet you get into Parliament and you say, "You have no remorse!" You know that he must.

TONY ABBOTT: But he hasn't shown it. That's the problem.

LIZ HAYES: Could you see not the hurt in his face?

TONY ABBOTT: In his heart, I dare say he has been tortured, but politicians have to be judged on what they say and on what they do, not what may be going on in their guts.

LIZ HAYES: Tony Abbott has never stepped back from a fight. He was a champion boxer at Oxford University. For a short time he trained to be a priest and dabbled in journalism before being elected to Parliament. But his life's greatest challenge - to be prime minister - lies ahead.

LIZ HAYES: Is this next election a popularity contest? Is that what it will get down to?

TONY ABBOTT: It shouldn't be a beauty contest.

LIZ HAYES: Well, who'd win that?

TONY ABBOTT: Well, again, I'd leave others to judge.

LIZ HAYES: If you wear that lycra you could step up.

TONY ABBOTT: Some might like it, others might not.

LIZ HAYES: You're already kissing babies. How was that?

TONY ABBOTT: Oh, look, it's all part of political life. If they're good-looking babies... Every mother thinks her baby is beautiful.

LIZ HAYES: But it will take more than kissing babies to change perceptions. Rightly or wrongly the view is that Tony Abbott's ideas on women are outdated.

TONY ABBOTT: I've never quite figured this, because women are a very important part of my life. Obviously, I have a wife and three gorgeous daughters. My chief of staff has always been a woman. All my press secretaries have been women.

LIZ HAYES: Don't they tell you? Do they ever say to you, "Tony, ease up?"

TONY ABBOTT: I guess in some respects I'm old-fashioned, and, in some respects, that can jar with the zeitgeist, but I think that the people who know me think I'm fair-dinkum.

MARGIE ABBOTT: I think the real Tony is not the Tony that, you know, he is often painted in the media as being - this right-wing, um, 'chauvinist', for want of a better term. I mean, he is... It's not the man that we know.

LIZ HAYES: But it's his conservative Catholic views that most concern his critics, who fear his religion could influence his politics. Do you approve of abortion?

TONY ABBOTT: I guess in the end I'm a bit like Bill Clinton on this matter, who said that he thought it should be safe, legal and rare. And I underline 'rare'.


TONY ABBOTT: I am in favour of life and, as far as I'm concerned, IVF is about creating life.

LIZ HAYES: Is it correct to say that you said there could be an argument mounted for the death penalty?

TONY ABBOTT: What I said was that, um, I'd always been against the death penalty but that contemplating the enormity of certain sort of crimes I sometimes thought that some crimes were so hideous that if the punishment were to fit maybe we were left with no alternative but the death penalty.

LIZ HAYES: That's barely a pro-life stand.

TONY ABBOTT: There's a world of difference between the innocent and the guilty.

LIZ HAYES: Homosexuality? How do you feel about that?

TONY ABBOTT: I'd probably I feel a bit threatened...

LIZ HAYES: I'm not asking if it's a personal choice of yours.

TONY ABBOTT: so many people.

LIZ HAYES: When you say 'threatened'?

TONY ABBOTT: Again, Liz, look, it's a fact of life and I try to treat people as people and not put them in pigeonholes.

LIZ HAYES: Right now Tony Abbott is anything but threatened.

LIZ HAYES: Do you have any idea when this election will come?

TONY ABBOTT: My guess is that October is the most likely month.

LIZ HAYES: In fact he seems incredibly relaxed.

LIZ HAYES: Still riding today?

TONY ABBOTT: I went for a ride, yeah.

LIZ HAYES: I got up about 5am myself and fell back into the bed, thought of you.

TONY ABBOTT: Did you? I feel very honoured, Liz.

LIZ HAYES: In the sense that I knew you were out there doing it and I wasn't. I think you've just made me blush!

LIZ HAYES: Perhaps the greatest challenge Tony Abbott has is convincing his family it's all worth it.

LIZ HAYES: In fact, I think you said none of you are really interested in politics at all?

LOUISE ABBOTT: People always expect us to know everything that's going on, but I think we sort of purposely try not to know what's going on just because it's easier and more comfortable that way.

TONY ABBOTT: Well, I think, darling, for you that was the upside of my becoming the leader - it meant that I was one step closer to the end of my time in politics.

MARGIE ABBOTT: Well, if you want an honest answer, that's right, darling.

TONY ABBOTT: Brings to conclusion of it all...

LIZ HAYES: Exactly. You can't keep going on forever.

TONY ABBOTT: Dead right.

LIZ HAYES: How many goes is he allowed, Margie?

TONY ABBOTT: That's a very good question.

MARGIE ABBOTT: Well, look as many goes... I suppose the diplomatic answer is as many goes as the party will allow him to have, Liz!

LIZ HAYES: Although, the girls concede an election win could deliver an upside.

LIZ HAYES: If you find yourselves in the Lodge, what do you reckon?

FRANCES ABBOTT: New Year's at Kirribilli - that'd be awesome.

LIZ HAYES: I think the Rudds are happy in Kirribilli House.

TONY ABBOTT: It'd be cruel to get rid of them, wouldn't it?

LIZ HAYES: Do you deserve to win?

TONY ABBOTT: I don't think I'm God's gift to politics, Liz. But you don't have to be God's gift to politics - I just have to be better than the other fella and I think I AM better than the other fella.

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