Abbott was born in London, to an Australian mother and a British father, and emigrated to Sydney, Australia, with his parents in 1960. Prior to entering Parliament, Abbott took the degrees of Bachelor of Economics and Bachelor of Laws at the University of Sydney, then attended The Queen's College, Oxford, as a Rhodes Scholar, graduating as a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy, Politics and Economics. He later proceeded by seniority to Master of Arts.
After graduating from Oxford, Abbott trained as a Roman Catholic seminarian, and later worked as a journalist, a manager, and a political adviser. In 1992, he was appointed Director of Australians for Constitutional Monarchy, a position he held until his election to Parliament in 1994. Abbott was first appointed to Cabinet following the 1998 election, as part of the Second Howard Ministry, becoming Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business.
In 2003, Abbott became Minister for Health and Ageing, retaining this position until the defeat of the Howard Government at the 2007 election. Initially serving in the Shadow Cabinets of Brendan Nelson and then Malcolm Turnbull, Abbott resigned from the front bench in November 2009, in protest against Turnbull's support for the Rudd Government's proposed Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). Forcing a leadership ballot on the subject, Abbott defeated Turnbull by 42 votes to 41, to become the Party's leader and Leader of the Opposition.
Abbott led the Coalition at the 2010 election, which resulted in a hung parliament. Following negotiations, Labor formed a Government, with the support of one Greens MP and three Independent MPs. Abbott was re-elected as Liberal Leader unopposed. Abbott went on to lead the Coalition to victory in the 2013 election and was sworn in as the 28th Prime Minister of Australia on 18 September 2013. On 14 September 2015, Abbott was defeated in a vote for the Liberal leadership (54 votes to 44) by Malcolm Turnbull, who replaced Abbott as Prime Minister the following day.
Abbott was born in London, United Kingdom, on 4 November 1957, to an Australian mother, Fay Abbott (née Peters), who was born in Sydney, and a British father, Richard Henry "Dick" Abbott, born in Newcastle upon Tyne in 1924 and raised in a nearby village.
Willemina Bredschneijder, Abbott's maternal great-grandmother, was the first of his ancestors to arrive in Australia. She immigrated to Australia from the Netherlands in 1912 with her five-year-old son, Anthony Bredschneijder (later to take his stepfather's surname Peters) (Abbott's future grandfather). His maternal grandmother, Phyllis Lacey, was born in Wales and married Anthony Peters in 1932 in NSW. Phyllis Lacey gave birth to Fay Peters in Sydney, in 1933.
In 1940, during World War II, 16-year-old Dick came to Australia with his British parents. Dick was called up in 1942. Dick and his mother returned to the United Kingdom in 1954 where he met and married Fay Peters, a dietitian. They had four children — a son (Anthony John) born 1957, and three daughters, including Jane Elizabeth born 1959, and Christine Forster, the youngest. On 7 September 1960, the then four members of the Abbott family left the UK for Australia on the Assisted Passage Migration Scheme ship SS Oronsay. The family first lived in Bronte and later moved to Chatswood, both suburbs of Sydney, New South Wales. Dick Abbott established what was to become one of the largest orthodontics practices in Australia, retiring in 2002.
Abbott attended primary school at St Aloysius' College at Milson's Point, before completing his secondary school education at St Ignatius' College, Riverview, both Jesuit schools. He graduated with a Bachelor of Economics (BEc) in 1979 and a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) in 1981 from the University of Sydney. He resided at St John's College and was president of the Student Representative Council. Influenced by his chaplain at St Ignatius', Father Emmet Costello, he then attended The Queen's College, Oxford, as a Rhodes Scholar, where in June 1983 he graduated as a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) and on 21 October 1989 proceeded by seniority to Master of Arts.
During his university days, Abbott gained media attention for political opposition to the then dominant left-wing student leadership. Once he was violently beaten at a university conference. A student newspaper editor with political views opposed to those of Abbott took him to court for indecent assault after he touched her during a student debate; the charges were dismissed by the court. According to the Sun-Herald newspaper, it was "an ugly and often violent time", and Abbott's tactics in student politics were like "an aggressive terrier". Abbott organised rallies in support of Governor-General John Kerr after he dismissed the Whitlam Government in November 1975, as well as a pro-Falklands War demonstration during his time at Oxford. At St. Ignatius College, Abbott had been taught and influenced by the Jesuits. At university, he encountered B. A. Santamaria, a noted Catholic layman and political activist who had led a movement against Communism within the Australian trade union movement and Labor Party a generation earlier, which had resulted in a long, bitter and heavily sectarian split in both Victoria and Queensland.
Abbott was a student boxer, earning two Blues for boxing while at Oxford. Abbott was a heavyweight with modest height and reach.
When Abbott was 22, his girlfriend became pregnant and claimed he was the biological father. The couple did not marry and put the child up for adoption. For 27 years, Abbott believed that he had fathered this child. In 2004, the man sought out his biological father and it was publicly revealed he was an ABC sound recordist who worked in Parliament House, Canberra, and was involved in making television programs in which Abbott appeared. The story was reported around the world, but DNA testing later revealed that Abbott was not the man's father.
Following his time in Britain, Abbott returned to Australia and told his family of his intention to join the priesthood. In 1984, aged 26, he entered St Patrick's Seminary, Manly. Abbott did not complete his studies at the seminary, leaving the institution in 1987. Interviewed prior to the 2013 election, Abbott said of his time as a trainee priest: "The Jesuits had helped to instil in me this thought that our calling in life was to be, to use the phrase: 'a man for others'. And I thought then that the best way in which I could be a 'man for others' was to become a priest. I discovered pretty soon that I was a bit of a square peg in a round hole … eventually working out that, I'm afraid, I just didn't have what it took to be an effective priest."
Following his departure from the seminary, Abbott met and married Margaret "Margie" Aitken, a New Zealander working in Sydney. The couple have three daughters: Louise, Bridget and Frances.
Abbott worked in journalism, briefly ran a concrete plant, and began to get involved in national politics. Throughout his time as a student and seminarian, he was writing articles for newspapers and magazines—first for Honi Soit (the University of Sydney student newspaper) and later The Catholic Weekly and national publications such as The Bulletin. He eventually became a journalist and wrote for The Australian.
On 12 October 1993 Abbott renounced his British citizenship. This made him eligible for election to the Australian federal parliament.
Abbott led the Coalition at the 2010 election, which resulted in a hung parliament. Following negotiations, Labor formed a Government with the support of one Greens MP and three independent MPs. Abbott was re-elected as Liberal Leader unopposed. He went on to lead the Coalition to victory at the 2013 election and was sworn in as the 28th Prime Minister of Australia on 18 September 2013. Abbott lost a Liberal Party leadership spill on 14 September 2015, and was replaced by Malcolm Turnbull as leader of the party and Prime Minister of Australia.
Abbott began his public life when he was employed as a journalist for The Bulletin, an influential news magazine, and later for The Australian newspaper. While deciding his future career path, Abbott developed friendships with senior figures in the New South Wales Labor Party, and was encouraged by Bob Carr, as well as Johno Johnson, to join the Labor Party and run for office. Abbott felt uncomfortable with the role of unions within the party, however, and wrote in his biography that he felt Labor "just wasn't the party (for me)". For a time he worked as a plant manager for Pioneer Concrete before becoming press secretary to Liberal Leader John Hewson from 1990 to 1993, helping to develop the Fightback! policy.
Prime Minister John Howard wrote in his autobiography that Abbott considered working on his staff prior to accepting the position with The Bulletin, and it was on Howard's recommendation that Hewson engaged Abbott. According to Howard, he and Abbott established a good rapport, but Hewson and Abbott fell out shortly before the 1993 election, and Abbott ended up in search of work following the re-election of the Keating Government. He was approached to head Australians for Constitutional Monarchy (ACM), the main group organising support for the maintenance of the Monarchy in Australia amidst the Keating Government's campaign for a change to a republic. Abbott renounced his British citizenship in 1993. Between 1993 and 1994, Abbott served as Executive Director of ACM. According to biographer Michael Duffy, Abbott's involvement with ACM "strengthened his relationship with John Howard, who in 1994 suggested he seek pre-selection for a by-election in the seat of Warringah". Howard provided a glowing reference and Abbott won pre-selection for the safe Liberal seat.
Despite his conservative leanings, Abbott acknowledged he voted for Labor in the 1988 NSW state election as he thought "Barrie Unsworth was the best deal Premier that New South Wales had ever had". Nevertheless, Abbott then clarified that he has never voted for Labor in a federal election.
Abbott won Liberal preselection for the federal Division of Warringah by-election in March 1994 following the resignation of Michael MacKellar. He easily held the safe Liberal seat in the Liberals' traditional North Shore heartland, suffering only a 1 percent swing in the primary vote. He easily won the seat in his own right at the 1996 general election, and has only dropped below 59 percent of the two-party vote once, in 2001; that year independent Peter Macdonald, the former member for the state seat of Manly, held Abbott to only 55 percent.
Abbott served as the parliamentary secretary to the Minister for Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs (1996–98), Minister for Employment Services (1998–2001), Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Small Business (2001), Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations (2001–03) and Minister for Health and Ageing from 2003 to November 2007. From late 2001 to November 2007, he was also Manager of Government Business in the House of Representatives.
In 1998, Abbott established a trust fund called "Australians for Honest Politics Trust" to help bankroll civil court cases against the One Nation Party and its leader Pauline Hanson. Prime Minister John Howard denied any knowledge of existence of such a fund. Abbott was also accused of offering funds to One Nation dissident Terry Sharples to support his court battle against the party. However, Howard defended the honesty of Abbott in this matter. Abbott conceded that the political threat One Nation posed to the Howard Government was "a very big factor" in his decision to pursue the legal attack, but he also claimed to be acting "in Australia's national interest". Howard also defended Abbott's actions saying "It's the job of the Liberal Party to politically attack other parties – there's nothing wrong with that."
As a Parliamentary Secretary, Abbott oversaw the establishment of the Green Corps program which involved young people in environmental restoration work. As Minister for Employment Services, he oversaw the implementation of the Job Network and was responsible for the government's Work for the Dole scheme. He also commissioned the Cole Royal Commission into "thuggery and rorts" in the construction industry and created the Office of the Australian Building and Construction Commissioner in response and to lift productivity.
The Liberal Party allowed members a free choice in the 1999 republic referendum. Abbott was one of the leading voices within the party campaigning for the successful "No" vote, pitting him against future parliamentary colleague and leading republican Malcolm Turnbull.
When Abbott was promoted to the Cabinet in 1998, Prime Minister Howard described him as an effective performer with an endearing style, whereas the Opposition described him as a "bomb thrower." Howard appointed Abbott to replace Kay Patterson as Minister for Health in 2003, during a period of contentious Medicare reform and a crisis in Medical Indemnity Insurance, in which the price of insurance was forcing doctors out of practice. The Australian Medical Association was threatening to pull out all Australian doctors. Abbott worked with the states to address the crisis and keep the system running.
Health care initiatives instigated by Abbott include the Nurse Family Partnership, a long term scheme aimed at improving conditions for indigenous youth by improving mother-child relationships. The scheme was successful in reducing child abuse and improving school retention rates.
In 2005, Abbott was holidaying with his family in Bali when the Bali bombings occurred. Abbott visited the victims of the bombings in hospital, and in his capacity as Health Minister organised for Australians who required lifesaving emergency surgery and hospitalisation to be flown to Singapore.
In 2006, Abbott controversially opposed access to the abortion drug RU486, and the Parliament voted to strip Health Ministers of the power to regulate this area of policy. During this time, Abbott likened the act of having an abortion to committing a murder, saying "... we have a bizarre double standard, a bizarre double standard in this country where someone who kills a pregnant woman's baby is guilty of murder but a woman who aborts an unborn baby is simply exercising choice".
Abbott introduced the Medicare Safety Net to cap the annual out-of-pocket costs of Medicare cardholders to a maximum amount. In 2007, he attracted criticism over long delays in funding for cancer diagnostic equipment (PET scanners).
According to Sydney Morning Herald's political editor, Peter Hartcher, prior to the defeat of the Howard Government at the 2007 election, Abbott had opposed the government's centrepiece WorkChoices industrial relations deregulation reform in Cabinet, on the basis that the legislation exceeded the government's mandate, was harsh on workers, and was politically dangerous to the government. John Howard wrote in his 2010 autobiography that Abbott was "never a zealot about pursuing industrial relations changes" and expressed "concern about making too many changes" during Cabinet's discussion of Workchoices.
Abbott campaigned as Minister for Health at the 2007 election. On 31 October, he apologised for saying "just because a person is sick doesn't mean that he is necessarily pure of heart in all things", after Bernie Banton, an asbestos campaigner and terminal mesothelioma sufferer, complained that Abbott was unavailable to collect a petition.
The Coalition lost government in 2007 and Abbott was re-elected to the seat of Warringah with a 1.8% swing toward the Labor Party. Following Peter Costello's rejection of the leadership of the Parliamentary Liberal Party, Abbott nominated for the position of party leader, along with Malcolm Turnbull and Brendan Nelson. After canvassing the support of his colleagues, Abbott decided to withdraw his nomination. He seemingly did not have the numbers, noting that he was "obviously very closely identified with the outgoing prime minister." He said he would not rule out contesting the leadership at some time in the future. Of the three candidates, Abbott was the only one who had previous experience in Opposition. Nelson was elected Liberal leader in December 2007 and Abbott was assigned the Shadow Portfolio of Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs. As indigenous affairs spokesman, Abbott said that it had been a mistake for the Howard Government not to offer a national apology to the Stolen Generations; spent time teaching at remote Aboriginal communities; and argued for the Rudd Government to continue the Northern Territory National Emergency Response which restricted alcohol and introduced conditional welfare in certain Aboriginal communities.
During this period in Opposition, Abbott wrote Battlelines, a biography and reflection on the Howard Government, and potential future policy direction for the Liberal Party. In the book, Abbott said that in certain aspects the Australian Federation was "dysfunctional" and in need of repair. He recommended the establishment of local hospital and school boards to manage health and education, and discussed family law reform, multiculturalism, climate change, and international relations. The book received a favourable review from former Labor Party speech writer Bob Ellis and The Australian described it as "read almost universally as Abbott's intellectual application for the party's leadership after the Turnbull experiment".
The number of unauthorised immigrant arrivals in boats to Australia increased during 2008. Abbott claimed that this was an effect of the Rudd Government's easing of border protection laws and accused Kevin Rudd of ineptitude and hypocrisy on the issue of unauthorised immigrants upon boats arriving, particularly during the Oceanic Viking affair of October 2009, saying, "John Howard found a problem and created a solution. Kevin Rudd found a solution and has now created a problem".
During November 2009, Abbott resigned from shadow ministerial responsibilities due to the Liberal Party's position on the Rudd Government's Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), leading to the resignation of other shadow ministers.
On 1 December 2009, Abbott was elected to the position of Leader of the Liberal Party of Australia over Turnbull and Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey. Abbott proposed blocking the government's ETS in the Senate whereas Turnbull sought to amend the bill which the majority of the Liberal Party did not support. Abbott named his Shadow Cabinet on 8 December 2009.
Abbott described Prime Minister Rudd's Emission Trading plan as a 'Great big tax on everything' and opposed it. The Coalition and minor parties voted against the government's ETS legislation in the Senate and the legislation was rejected. Abbott announced a new Coalition policy on carbon emission reduction in February, which committed the Coalition to a 5 per cent reduction in emissions by 2020. Abbott proposed the creation of an 'emissions reduction fund' to provide 'direct' incentives to industry and farmers to reduce carbon emissions. In April, Rudd announced that plans for the introduction his ETS would be delayed until 2013.
When appointed to the Liberal leadership, Abbott's Catholicism and moral beliefs became subjects of repeated media questioning. Various commentators suggested that his traditionalist views would polarise female voters. He told press gallery journalist Laurie Oakes that he did not do doorstop interviews in front of church but regularly faced pointed questions about his faith which were not being put to Prime Minister Rudd, who conducted weekly church door press conferences following his attendances at Anglican services.
Abbott reportedly missed the 2009 vote on the Rudd Government $42 billion stimulus package because he fell asleep in his parliamentary office after a night of drinking. When asked by a journalist whether he had been drunk, Abbott said "that is an impertinent question" and that he "wasn't keeping count" but thought it was "maybe two" bottles of wine.
In a 60 Minutes interview aired on 7 March 2010, Abbott was asked: "Homosexuality? How do you feel about that?". He replied: "I'd probably feel a bit threatened … it's a fact of life and I try to treat people as people and not put them in pigeonholes." In later interviews Abbott apologised for the remark. In 2013, Abbott stated on 3AW that if his sister Christine Forster were to have a marriage ceremony with her partner Virginia he would attend.
In March 2010, Abbott, announced a new policy initiative to provide for six months paid parental leave, funded by an increase in corporate tax by 1.7 percentage points on all taxable company income above $5 million. Business groups and the government opposed the plan, however it won support from the Australian Greens.
While Opposition Spokesman for Indigenous Affairs, Abbott spent time in remote Cape York Aboriginal communities as a teacher, organised through prominent indigenous activist Noel Pearson. Abbott repeatedly spoke of his admiration for Pearson, and in March 2010, introduced the Wild Rivers (Environmental Management) Bill to Parliament in support of Pearson's campaign to overturn the Queensland government's Wild Rivers legislation. Abbott and Pearson believed that the Queensland law would 'block the economic development' of indigenous land, and interfere with Aboriginal land rights.
Abbott completed an Ironman Triathlon event in March 2010 at Port Macquarie, New South Wales. In April he set out on a 9-day charity bike ride between Melbourne and Sydney, the annual Pollie Pedal, generating political debate about whether he should have committed so much time to physical fitness. Abbott described the events as an opportunity to "stop at lots of little towns along the way where people probably never see or don't very often see a federal member of Parliament."
In his first Budget reply speech as Opposition Leader, Abbott sought to portray the Rudd Government's third budget as a "tax and spend" budget and promised to fight the election on the new mining "super-profits" tax proposed by Rudd.
On 24 June 2010, Julia Gillard replaced Kevin Rudd as Australian Labor Party leader and Prime Minister. The replacement of a first-term Prime Minister was unusual in Australian political history and the Rudd-Gillard rivalry remained a vexed issue for the Gillard Government into the 2010 election and its subsequent term. On 17 July, Gillard called the 2010 federal election for 21 August. Polls in the first week gave a view that Labor would be re-elected with an increased majority, with Newspoll and an Essential poll showing a lead of 10 points (55–45) two party preferred.
The two leaders met for one official debate during the campaign. Studio audience surveys by Channel 9 and Seven Network suggested a win to Gillard. Unable to agree on further debates, the leaders went on to appear separately on stage for questioning at community fora in Sydney and Brisbane. In Sydney on 11 August, Abbott's opening statement focused on his main election messages around government debt, taxation and asylum seekers. An exit poll of the Rooty Hill RSL audience accorded Abbott victory. Gillard won the audience poll at Broncos Leagues Club meeting in Brisbane on 18 August. Abbott appeared for public questioning on the ABC's Q&A program on 16 August.
Labor and the Coalition each won 72 seats in the 150-seat House of Representatives, four short of the requirement for majority government, resulting in the first hung parliament since the 1940 election.
Abbott and Gillard commenced a 17-day period of negotiation with crossbenchers over who would form government. On the crossbench, four independent members, one member of the National Party of Western Australia and one member of the Australian Greens held the balance of power. Following the negotiations, Gillard formed a minority government with the support of an Australian Greens MP and three independent MPs on the basis of confidence and supply. Another independent and the WA National gave their confidence and supply support to the Coalition, resulting in Labor holding a 76–74 tally of votes on the floor of the Parliament. The Coalition finished with 49.88 percent of the two party preferred vote, obtaining a national swing of around 2.6%.
During negotiations, the Independents requested that both major parties' policies be costed by the apolitical Australian Treasury. The Coalition initially resisted the idea, citing concerns over Treasury leaks, however they eventually allowed the analysis. Treasury endorsed Labor's budget costings but projected that Coalition policies would add between $860 million and $4.5 billion to the bottom line over the next four years, rather than the $11.5 billion projected by the Coalition. The close result was lauded by former Prime Minister John Howard, who wrote in 2010 that Abbott had shifted the dynamic of Australian politics after coming to the leadership in 2009 and "deserves hero status among Liberals".
Following the 2010 election, Abbott and his deputy, Julie Bishop, were re-elected unopposed as leaders of the Liberal Party. Abbott announced his shadow ministry on 14 September, with few changes to senior positions, but with the return of former leadership rival Malcolm Turnbull, whom he selected as Communications spokesman. Abbott announced that he wanted Turnbull to prosecute the Opposition's case against the Gillard Government's proposed expenditure on a National Broadband Network.
Following the 2010–2011 Queensland floods, Abbott opposed plans by the Gillard government to impose a "flood levy" on taxpayers to fund reconstruction efforts. Abbott said that funding should be found within the existing budget. Abbott announced a proposal for a taskforce to examine further construction of dams in Australia to deal with flood impact and food security.
In February 2011, Abbott criticised the Gillard government's handling of health reform and proposal for a 50–50 public hospitals funding arrangement with the states and territories, describing the revised Labor Party proposal as "the biggest surrender since Singapore". Abbott considered a carbon tax the best way to set a price on carbon but a year later opposed Prime Minister Gillard's February 2010 announcement of a proposal for the introduction of a "carbon tax", and called on her to take the issue to an election. Abbott said that Gillard had lied to the electorate over the issue because Gillard and her Treasurer Wayne Swan had ruled out the introduction of a carbon tax in the lead up to the 2010 election.
In April 2011, Abbott proposed consultation with Indigenous people over a bipartisan Federal Government intervention in Northern Territory towns including Alice Springs, Katherine and Tennant Creek, which would cover such areas as police numbers and school attendance in an effort to address what he described as a "failed state" situation. April saw Abbott announce a $430 million policy plan to improve the employment prospects of people with serious mental health problems.
Following the first Gillard Government budget in May 2011, Abbott used his budget-reply speech to reiterate his critiques of government policy and call for an early election over the issue of a carbon tax. Rhetorically echoing Liberal party founder, Robert Menzies, Abbott addressed remarks to the "forgotten families".
In June 2011, Abbott for the first time led Gillard in a Newspoll as preferred Prime Minister. In September 2011, he announced a plan to develop an agricultural food bowl in the north of Australia by developing dams for irrigation and hydroelectricity. Coalition task force leader Andrew Robb claimed that Australia currently produced enough food for 60 million people, but that the Coalition plan could double this to 120 million people by 2040. The head of the Northern Australia Land and Water Taskforce expressed concerns about the economic and environmental viability of this plan as well as its effects on the indigenous Australian communities in northern Australia.
Reflecting on indigenous issues on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy on Australia Day 2012, Abbott said that there had been many positive developments in indigenous affairs in recent decades including Rudd's apology and moves to include indigenous Australians in the Australian Constitution. Later that day, Abbott became the target of protesters from the "Embassy" after one of Gillard's advisers contacted a union official who advised Tent Embassy protesters of Abbott's whereabouts and misrepresented Abbott's views on Aboriginal affairs to them, saying he intended to "pull down" the embassy. A major security scare resulted, which was broadcast around the world, resulting in Gillard and Abbott being rushed to a government car amid a throng of security due to fears for their safety.
In an address to the National Press Club on 31 January 2012, Abbott outlined some of his plans for government if elected. These included an intent to live one week of every year in an indigenous Australian community, and to prune government expenditure and cut taxes. Abbott also announced "aspirational" targets for a disability insurance scheme and a subsidised dentistry program once the budget had been restored to "strong surplus".
Abbott responded to the February 2012 Labor leadership crisis by criticising the cross bench independents for keeping Labor in power and renewed his calls for a general election to select the next Prime Minister of Australia.
In criticising the Gillard Government on foreign policy, Abbott said that "foreign policy should have a Jakarta rather than a Geneva focus". Following his attendance at the 10th anniversary commemoration of the Bali bombing in Bali, Abbott travelled to Jakarta with his Shadow Ministers for Foreign Affairs and Immigration for a meeting with Indonesian President Yudhoyono and Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa. Abbott promised a "no-surprises principle" for dealings with Indonesia. The presidential reception was an unusual occurrence for an opposition leader.
In November 2012, Abbott launched his fourth book, A Strong Australia, a compilation of nine of his "landmark speeches" from 2012, including his budget reply and National Press Club addresses.
At the federal election on 7 September 2013, Abbott led the Liberal/National coalition to victory over the incumbent Labor government, led by Kevin Rudd. Abbott and his ministry were sworn in on 18 September 2013. The Prime Minister was the subject of criticism for his decision to only include one woman, Deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop, in his cabinet.
On the first day of the new Parliament, Abbott introduced legislation into Parliament to repeal the Carbon Tax, and commenced Operation Sovereign Borders, the Coalition's policy to stop illegal maritime arrivals, which received strong public support.
Abbott announced a Royal Commission into trade union governance and corruption on 11 February 2014. This was followed by amendments to the Fair Work Act, and a "Repeal Day", where more than 10,000 "red tape" regulations were repealed.
As Prime Minister, Abbott oversaw free trade agreements signed with Japan, South Korea and China.
The Carbon Tax Repeal Bill passed both houses of Parliament on 17 July 2014 and the Mining Tax Repeal Bill passed both houses of Parliament on 2 September 2014 after negotiations with the Palmer United Party.
The 2014 Australian federal budget, the Abbott Government's first budget, delivered by Treasurer Joe Hockey, was criticised by the Opposition as "cruel" and "unfair" and a large number of budget saving measures were blocked by the crossbench in the Senate. Hockey and Abbott were both criticised for their inability to "sell" the necessity of the budget cuts to the cross bench or the public. Hockey was further criticised for several "out of touch" and "insensitive" comments in subsequent months, however, the prime minister continuously publicly backed the treasurer, refusing to replace him with a better performing minister.
On 25 March 2014, Abbott announced that he had advised the Queen to reinstate the knight and dame system of honours to the Order of Australia. Outgoing Governor-General Quentin Bryce and her successor, Peter Cosgrove, became the first recipients of the reinstated honours. Controversy ensued when Abbott announced on Australia Day 2015 that Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, the Queen's husband and a resident of the United Kingdom, would be appointed a Knight of the Order of Australia. This decision was widely criticised, including by members of the government, and fuelled speculation that the prime minister's leadership could be challenged. On 2 November 2015, new prime minister Malcolm Turnbull announced that knights and dames had been removed from the Order of Australia, as "not appropriate in our modern honours system", although existing titles would not be affected.
On 6 February 2015, Liberal backbencher Luke Simpkins announced that he would move a motion, at a meeting of the party room, for a spill of the federal Liberal Party's leadership positions. Simpkins stated that such a motion would give Liberal members of parliament and senators the opportunity to either endorse the Prime Minister or "seek a new direction." The meeting was held on 9 February 2015 and the spill motion was defeated by 61 votes to 39. Both Malcolm Turnbull and deputy leader Julie Bishop were speculated to be considering a leadership run if the spill motion had succeeded. Prime Minister Abbott described the leadership motion as a "near death experience" and declared that "good government starts today", promising to consult his colleagues more, to shy away from his so called "captain's calls" and to reduce the role of his chief of staff Peta Credlin.
Another of Abbott's "captain's calls", the appointment of former Howard Government minister Bronwyn Bishop as Speaker of the Australian House of Representatives, caused controversy because of Bishop's partisan management of the House and for her decision to attend Liberal party room meetings despite the convention that the Speaker be impartial regardless of political alignment. Bishop came under intense media scrutiny in July 2015 after details of her use of taxpayer-funded political entitlements were made public, including chartering a helicopter flight between Melbourne and Geelong to attend a Liberal party fundraiser. Abbott was criticised over his handling of the entitlements scandal as he allowed the controversy to drag on for weeks because of his refusal to sack the Speaker, a close friend and political mentor. Despite Abbott's support, Bishop resigned as Speaker on 2 August 2015.
Abbott supports the legal status quo in Australia, which defines marriage as a union of male and female persons, while recognising same-sex couples as de facto couples in areas such as taxation law, social security law, immigration and superannuation. During Abbott's time as Opposition Leader and Prime Minister, the position of the Labor Party and opinion polls shifted towards favouring same-sex marriage. Abbott determined that a national plebiscite, rather than a Parliamentary vote should settle the issue, and the Turnbull Government has retained this policy.
As an Opposition front bencher in 2008 Abbott wrote: "The love and commitment between two people of the same sex can be as strong as that between husband and wife... There is more moral quality in a relationship between two people devoted to each other for decades than in many a short-lived marriage. Still, however deeply affectionate or long lasting it may be, the relationship between two people of the same sex cannot be a marriage because a marriage, by definition, is between a man and a woman... Let's celebrate all strong relationships, whether they are between a man and a woman or between people of the same sex but let's be careful about describing every lasting sexual bond as a 'marriage'." The First Rudd Government and Gillard Government held similar views (although the short-lived second Rudd government reversed Labor's position on the issue).
In Government, Abbott reaffirmed that he did not support changing the law to recognise same-sex marriages, and did not alter Coalition policy on the issue – however he permitted Coalition members to advocate for change if they felt strongly on the issue, and indicated that if a bill were to come before the new parliament, the Coalition party room would discuss its stance on the issue. Opinion polls suggested growing support for change. On 11 August 2015, after renewed debate about same-sex marriage in Australia, Abbott called a Coalition Party room vote and Coalition MPs voted against allowing a free vote on the issue 66 to 33. Some MPs said they were willing to cross the floor on the issue and Abbott was criticised by some pro-gay marriage Liberal MPs, including Christopher Pyne, for holding the vote in the Coalition party room, rather than the Liberal party room (as the inclusion of National Party votes decreased chances of a pro-change outcome). To settle the issue, Abbott proposed a plebiscite following the next election. Although he remains personally opposed to change, he says Parliament should respect the outcome of the national vote on the issue.
On 14 September 2015, Malcolm Turnbull, the Minister for Communications, resigned and stated his intention to challenge the Liberal Party leadership in a leadership spill. Turnbull stated that Abbott "was not capable of providing the economic leadership we need" and that the Liberal Party needs a "style of leadership that respects the people's intelligence". A party-room meeting held that evening saw Abbott defeated by Turnbull on a 54–44 vote. According to The Economist, his demise was a result of poor opinion polling, policy U-turns and gaffes, mean-spirited politics and being "readier to alarm Australians about security—for instance the threat of militant Islam in their midst—than to develop an inspired economic agenda".
Abbott's final speech as Prime Minister on 15 September did not address his political future. However, he announced the next day that he would remain in Parliament. Despite his promise of "no sniping" in his final speech as Prime Minister, media outlets reported ongoing sniping from the Abbott camp in the following months, particularly around Islamic issues. In early December 2015, Abbott said he would not make a decision on his political future until April 2016.
Subsequent national polling indicated widespread support for the removal of Abbott as Prime Minister and Liberal leader. A ReachTel poll of 743 residents in Abbott's safe Liberal seat of Warringah, conducted by phone on the evening of 17 December 2015, indicated his electorate wanted him to retire from parliament at the 2016 federal election. The Australia Institute executive director, Ben Oquist, who commissioned the independent polling, claimed: "The polling indicates that the electorate is quickly moving on from the Tony Abbott era".
On 24 January 2016, Abbott confirmed that he would stand for Liberal preselection for the Division of Warringah in the 2016 federal election. He was re-elected with a small swing against him, matching the statewide swing against the Government.
Since Abbott's re-election at the 2016 federal election he has been critical of policy positions of his party on a number of occasions.
In June 2017, a leaked tape emerged of Turnbull loyalist Christopher Pyne telling a gathering of "moderate" Liberals that most senior cabinet ministers including George Brandis and Marise Payne were in his left faction, and that they were working to secure "marriage equality" and had always backed Turnbull. Abbott describe the comments as a "confession" Pyne had plotted against him.
Abbott was considered by the media to be unofficial instigator of the 'no' campaign, when he spoke outside Parliament House on 9 August 2017 saying; "I say to you if you don't like same-sex marriage, vote no. If you're worried about religious freedom and freedom of speech, vote no, and if you don't like political correctness, vote no because voting no will help to stop political correctness in its tracks".
Abbott has an active interest in indigenous affairs. As Opposition Leader, Abbott promised to prioritise indigenous affairs, saying: "There will be, in effect, a prime minister for Aboriginal affairs". As Prime Minister, Abbott reformed the administration of the portfolio, moving it into the Department of Prime Minister.
As Health Minister, Abbott established the Nurse Family Partnership to improve conditions for indigenous youth. As Opposition Leader, he worked closely with Cape York Aboriginal activist Noel Pearson, volunteered as a teacher in remote Aboriginal Communities and gave a commitment to continue to live one week a year in such communities if elected Prime Minister. In contrast to his mentor John Howard, Abbott praised Rudd's National Apology to the Stolen Generation.
While the Coalition and Labor were engaged in negotiations with crossbenchers to obtain minority government in 2010, Noel Pearson lobbied Rob Oakeshott to back Abbott as a "once-in-a-generation" conservative who could lead the way on reconciliation, describing his policies as "more progressive on the question of Aboriginal rights than the Labor and Greens position". Rising to support the passage of the Gillard Government's historic Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples Recognition Bill through the House of Representatives in 2013, Abbott said:
Australia is a blessed country. Our climate, our land, our people, our institutions rightly make us the envy of the earth, except for one thing—we have never fully made peace with the First Australians. This is the stain on our soul that Prime Minister Keating so movingly evoked at Redfern 21 years ago. We have to acknowledge that pre-1788 this land was as Aboriginal then as it is Australian now. Until we have acknowledged that we will be an incomplete nation and a torn people … So our challenge is to do now in these times what should have been done 200 or 100 years ago to acknowledge Aboriginal people in our country's foundation document. In short, we need to atone for the omissions and for the hardness of heart of our forebears to enable us all to embrace the future as a united people.
In November 2012, Abbott flew to Alice Springs to back Aboriginal Country Liberal Party MLA Alison Anderson to run in the federal seat of Lingiari and become the first indigenous woman to enter Parliament. Abbott said he was very proud that West Australian MP Ken Wyatt, whom he described as "urban", was sitting with the Coalition as the first Indigenous Australian in the House of Representatives, and that it would be "terrific" to also have "an Aboriginal person from central Australia, an authentic representative of the ancient cultures of central Australia in the parliament. West Australian state Labor MP Ben Wyatt (nephew of Ken Wyatt) claimed this was "offensive", and an "attack" on Ken Wyatt which demonstrated that Abbott had "no understanding at all about Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal history. To suggest that Ken is not a sufficient Aboriginal for Tony Abbott because he's not a man of culture."
In April 2010 while on the panel of Q&A, Abbott was asked whether his vision for Australia involved any kind of republican model and whether he agreed that Indigenous Australians cannot celebrate Australia Day. Abbott stated his support for the existing Constitutional Monarchy in Australia, and said that, "I know that there are some Aboriginal people who aren't happy with Australia Day. For them it remains Invasion Day. I think a better view is the view of Noel Pearson, who has said that Aboriginal people have much to celebrate in this country's British Heritage. I know not everyone agrees with him, but I think there's much to be said for that view and I think that Aboriginal heritage—Australia's Aboriginal heritage should be important to all of us and I think that Australia's British and western heritage should also be important to all of us."
In July 2010, when speaking about ending disadvantages faced by indigenous Australians, Abbott stated: "There may not be a great job for them but whatever there is, they just have to do it, and if it's picking up rubbish around the community, it just has to be done." The statement was later used in an advertisement launched by GetUp! in its advertising campaign against Abbott at the 2013 Australian federal election.
In December 2014, Abbott vowed to "sweat blood" to see recognition of Indigenous peoples incorporated in the federal constitution, envisaging that the necessary national referendum might be held on the 50th anniversary of the 1967 referendum. In August 2015, however, he disappointed Aboriginal leaders Patrick Dodson and Noel Pearson by rejecting as potentially divisive their request for the federal government to fund a series of Indigenous-only conventions on the wording for the referendum, telling them: "The risk with an Indigenous-only—or even an Indigenous-first—process is that it might produce something akin to a log of claims that is unlikely to receive general support.”
Abbott supports the Australian monarchy. Prior to entering parliament, he worked as the Executive Director of Australians for Constitutional Monarchy from 1993 to 1994.
In March 2014, Abbott advised the Queen to reintroduce the grade of Knight/Dame to the Order of Australia, without discussing it in the Cabinet and despite stating in December 2013 that he did not plan to do so. The Fraser Government initially introduced the grade of Knight/Dame of the Order of Australia in 1976; the Hawke Government discontinued it in 1986.
Prior to becoming Opposition Leader, Abbott initially supported proposals by Liberal leaders Howard and Turnbull to introduce floating prices to reduce carbon emissions, but also expressed some doubts as to the science and economics underlying such initiatives. In 2009, Abbott announced his opposition to Turnbull's support for the Rudd Government's Emissions Trading Scheme proposal, and successfully challenged Turnbull for the Liberal leadership, chiefly over this issue. As Opposition Leader, Abbott declared that he accepted that climate change was real and that humans were having an impact on it, but rejected carbon pricing as a means to address the issue, proposing instead to match the Labor government's 5% emissions reduction target through implementation of a "direct action" climate plan, involving financial incentives for emissions reductions by industry, and support for carbon storage in soils and expanded forests. On the eve of the 2013 Election, Abbott told the ABC:
[J]ust to make it clear... I think that climate change is real, humanity makes a contribution. It's important to take strong and effective action against it, and that is what our direct action policy does. … The important thing is to take strong and effective action to tackle climate change, action that doesn't damage our economy. And that is why the incentive-based system that we've got, the direct action policies, which are quite similar to those that president Obama has put into practice, is – that's the smart way to deal with this, a big tax is a dumb way to deal with it.
Abbott's predecessor as Liberal leader, Turnbull, wrote that Abbott had described himself as a 'weathervane' in relation to climate change policy in the months prior to his becoming leader of the Liberal Party. Prior to becoming Opposition Leader in November 2009, Abbott told the ABC's 7:30 Report in July, that though he thought the science of climate change was "highly contentious" and that he thought that the economics of an ETS was "a bit dodgy", he nevertheless thought that the Opposition should pass the Rudd government's ETS as he did not think it would be "a good look for the Opposition to be browner than Howard going into the next election". At an October 2009 meeting in the Victorian town of Beaufort, Abbott was reported to have said: "The argument is absolute crap … However, the politics of this are tough for us. 80% of people believe climate change is a real and present danger".
Quizzed about these remarks by journalist Laurie Oakes on 4 October, Abbott said "I think that the science is far from settled on all of this. But there are good prudential reasons for taking reasonable precautions against significant potential threats. That's why I think there is a strong case for an ETS but it's got to be the right ETS. It's got to be an ETS that protects Australian jobs and protects Australian industries... " Abbott continued: "what I was trying to do in that discussion, Laurie, was to talk around, if you like, a group of good, decent Liberals to support what I think is a reasonable compromise position. That's to say we will have an ETS but it will be an ETS that does the least possible damage to Australian jobs and Australian industries and the maximum possible protection against the possible risks of climate change... I am confronted by a hostile Liberal audience on this particular issue. I am trying to bring them around to support the position of the leader and the shadow cabinet. And I think I was reasonably successful on the night." On 1 December 2009, when questioned about the statement , Abbott said he had used "a bit of hyperbole" at the meeting rather than it being his "considered position".
In November 2009, Abbott outlined his objections to the Rudd Government's carbon pricing plan on the ABC's Lateline program:
I am always reluctant to join bandwagons. I think there are fashions in science and in the academe, just as there are fashions in so many other things. But look, we should take reasonable precautions against credible threats. I think it is perfectly reasonable to take action against climate change. The problem with the Rudd Government's position is that Australia could end up impoverishing itself through this dramatic ETS, and not do anything for the environment if the rest of the world does not adopt an ETS or something like it.
Upon becoming Leader of the Opposition, Abbott put the question of support for the Government's Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) to a secret ballot and the Liberal Party voted to reject the policy – overturning an undertaking by Turnbull to support an amended version of the government's scheme. Under Abbott, the Coalition joined the Greens and voted against the CPRS in the Senate, and the bill was defeated twice, providing a double dissolution trigger. Abbott's alternative 'direct-action' climate policy involved a 5% reduction in emissions by means of creating a $2.5bn fund to provide incentives for industry and farmers to reduce emissions and through measures like storing carbon in soil; planting 20 million trees over the next decade; and providing $1000 rebates to homes for installation of solar cells. However estimates by Federal Treasury put the likely cost of such a scheme at A$10 billion a year or more. The Rudd government eventually deferred its CPRS legislation until 2013.
With Abbott as Opposition Leader, the Liberal party opposed a carbon emissions tax and an Emissions Trading Scheme and said that, in the absence of a global market-based mechanism, "direct action" was the better approach for Australia. Abbott predicted in March 2012 that the Gillard government's carbon tax would be the world's "biggest". A January 2013 OECD report on taxation of energy use measured Australia's effective tax rate on carbon at 1 July 2012 as among the lower rates in the OECD. In July 2011, Abbott criticised the proposed powers of the government's carbon tax regulator, telling John Laws that policing of the carbon tax would be difficult: "carbon dioxide is invisible, it's weightless and it's odourless. How are we going to police these emissions... this carbon cop is going to be an extraordinarily intrusive instrumentality". Although opposing the Labor party's environmental policies, claiming that Labor would increase electricity prices, the Liberal party supported Mandatory Renewable Energy Targets, which would see an increase to electricity prices.
Abbott is an opponent of embryonic stem cell research and euthanasia. He has said that abortion should be "safe, legal and rare". As Health Minister, he tried, but failed, to block the introduction of the abortion pill RU-486, but later promised not to change abortion law if elected.
As Health Minister, Abbott said he saw reducing the number of abortions performed each year as a national priority. He promised to launch an investigation into a product called Pink or Blue, produced by the American firm Consumer Genetics. This test is one of several pre-natal blood tests designed to detect the sex of a fetus as early as six weeks into pregnancy. Some ethicists and anti-abortion campaigners have raised concerns that it could be used for sex-selective abortion.
Abbott opposed allowing the introduction of embryonic stem cell research or therapeutic cloning in a conscience vote. He argued, "There are very important ethical questions here and even the very best end does not justify every possible means."
In his 2009 book Battlelines, Abbott proposed that consideration should be given to a return to an optional at-fault divorce agreement between couples who would like it, similar to the Matrimonial Causes Act, which would require spouses to prove offences like adultery, habitual drunkenness, cruelty, desertion, or a five-year separation before a divorce would be granted. Abbott said that this would be a way of "providing additional recognition to what might be thought of as traditional marriage".
Abbott opposes euthanasia. Addressing a 2009 Intelligence squared debate, he said, "Love, not death, is our obligation and our duty [to the sick]. I would be slow to judge anyone who helped the passage to death [who really needed it] … Let's not make bad laws on hard cases." In his argument, he feared that legalised euthanasia could result in doctors avoiding complex responses and that there was, in some cases, a danger of unscrupulous relatives who might abuse the practice in the interests of gaining an inheritance.
In 2010, when Abbott told the ABC's Q&A program that an Abbott-led government would not amend Australian law to recognise gay marriage, he said, "I certainly want to see – just a general principle. I want to see stable, committed relationships, but I do think that a marriage, by definition, is between a man and a woman." In the first few months of his Prime Ministership, the Australian Capital Territory Legislative Assembly passed the Marriage Equality (Same Sex) Act 2013, a bill to allow same-sex couples to legally marry. Abbott announced that the federal government would challenge this decision in the High Court. The case was heard on 3 December. Nine days later, on 12 December, the High Court gave judgement that the Same Sex Act would be dismantled as it clashed with the Federal Marriage Act 1961.
Abbott is a Roman Catholic. Prior to the 2013 Election, Abbott spoke of his religious outlook:
The Jesuits helped to instill in me this thought that our calling in life was to be … 'a man for others' … I am a pretty traditional Catholic... I'm not an evangelical, a charismatic Christian, I'm not. I try to attend Mass, but I don't get there every Sunday any more... Faith has certainly helped to shape my life, but it doesn't in any way determine my politics".
As a former Catholic seminarian, Abbott's religiosity has come to national attention and journalists have often sought his views on the role of religion in politics. According to John Warhurst of the Australian National University, academics have at times placed an "exaggerated concentration on the religious affiliation and personal religious background of just one of [the Howard government's] senior ministers, Tony Abbott." Journalist Michelle Grattan wrote in 2010 that while Abbott has always "worn his Catholicism on his sleeve", he is "clearly frustrated by the obsession with [it] and what might hang off that". Abbott has said that a politician should not rely on religion to justify a political point of view:
We are all influenced by a value system that we hold, but in the end, every decision that a politician makes is, or at least should, in our society be based on the normal sorts of considerations. It's got to be publicly justifiable; not only justifiable in accordance with a private view; a private belief.
Various political positions supported by Abbott have been criticised by church representatives, including aspects of Coalition industrial relations, asylum seeker, and Aboriginal affairs policies. After criticisms of Liberal Party policy by clergy, Abbott has said, "The priesthood gives someone the power to consecrate bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. It doesn't give someone the power to convert poor logic into good logic."
Abbott is an active volunteer member for the Davidson, NSW Rural Fire Service. He is also an active volunteer member of the Queenscliff Surf Life Saving Club.
Abbott participates in the Pollie Pedal, an annual 1,000 km charity bike ride. In April 2007, he launched the tenth annual Pollie Pedal, to raise money for breast cancer research.
In 2008, Abbott spent three weeks teaching in a remote Aboriginal settlement in Coen on Cape York, organised through indigenous leader Noel Pearson. He taught remedial reading to Aboriginal children and worked with an income management group helping families manage their welfare payments. In 2009, he spent 10 days in Aurukun on Cape York working with the truancy team, visiting children who had not been attending school. Abbott's stated goal for these visits was to familiarise himself with indigenous issues.
Abbott has published four books. In 2009, he launched Battlelines; a personal biography, reflections on the Howard Government and discussion of potential policy directions for the Liberal Party of Australia. Previously he had published two books in defence of the existing constitutional monarchy system, The Minimal Monarchy and How to Win the Constitutional War. In 2012, he released a compilation of key speeches from that year, entitled A Strong Australia.Abbott, Tony (1995). The Minimal Monarchy: and why it still makes sense for Australia. Kent Town South Australia: Wakefield Press. ISBN 1-86254-358-5.
Abbott, Tony (1997). How to Win the Constitutional War: and give both sides what they want. Kent Town South Australia: Wakefield Press. ISBN 1-86254-433-6.
Abbott, Tony (2009). Battlelines. Carlton Victoria Australia: Melbourne University Press. ISBN 978-0-522-85606-4.
Abbott, Tony (2012). A Strong Australia. Liberal Party of Australia. ISBN 978-0-646-59033-2.
1 January 2001 Centenary Medal, for service as Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations.
8 March 2015 Rural Fire Service Long Service Medal, for ten years of long service