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Tony Abbott has always been forthright in his opinions

23 January 2016 255 views One Comment

Much has been said and written recently about Tony Abbott’s ­alleged failures of leadership as prime minister. Yes, there were mistakes but the commentariat’s obsession with them obscures a ­record of solid achievement.

In securing our borders, finalising free trade agreements with our major economic partners and ­repealing harmful taxes, he achieved what many thought was impossible.

He was mocked for promising to “shirt-front Vladimir Putin, but no one else had really taken on the Russian despot — and, short of going to war, a robust dressing down is the strongest response to his aggression.

No one was ever in any doubt what Abbott thought about things and, since leaving the prime ministership, he’s been even more blunt.

In his Thatcher lecture in London in October, Abbott gave ­Europe a timely and necessary wake-up call about the immigrant invasion continuing to gather pace. In particular, he said: “All countries that say ‘anyone who gets here, can stay here’ are now in peril, given the scale of the population movements that are starting to be seen. He continued: “Yet no country or continent can open its borders to all comers without fundamentally weakening itself. This is the risk that the countries of ­Europe now run through misguided altruism.

Abbott was widely ridiculed for suggesting the use of special forces in the fight against the Islamic State caliphate but was vindicated within weeks by the decision of the United States to send in special ­operations troops.

Abbott was one of the first Western leaders to call Islamic State “Daesh — its Arabic acronym — to avoid dignifying murderous ideologues. Other world leaders are now adopting this practice, while some, including US President Obama and British Prime Minister Cameron, in ­recent times have referred to “Daesh as “a death cult.

Abbott has rightly called for a frank discussion about Islam, and radical Islamists in particular. In a recent article in ‘The Daily Telegraph’, he wrote that “Islam needs to delegitimise the urge to ‘behead all those who insult the Prophet’ but only Muslims can do this. He explained that “everyone interested in a safer world should be reaching out to ‘live and let live’ Muslims and ­encouraging them to reclaim their faith from the zealots.

Again, Abbott sparked PC fury. This was even though he was actually echoing sentiments of many in the Muslim world. Indeed, had his critics bothered reading the rest of his article they would have clearly seen that Abbott directly referred to the fact that a year ago, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi told the imams of the Al-Azhar University in Cairo that Islam needed “nothing less than a ‘relig­ious revolution’ to correct centuries of false ideas that were making Islam a menace to the wider world. Abbott also referred to the fact that when Islamic State first swept into Iraq, Prime Minister Najib of Malaysia said it was “against God, against Islam and against our common humanity.

Abbott often also quotes the Somali-born author, activist and former Muslim Ayaan Hirsi Ali — now an atheist — who regularly speaks out in favour of a reformation of Islam and against the militant Muslims’ deeply misogynist attitude to women. This ­includes her utter opposition to ­female genital mutilation and her strong support of women’s rights.

Abbott has never said the problem is Islam, only that there is a problem within Islam — represented by Islamists. As reformed Islamist Maajid Nawaz has said, about 25 per cent of the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims back th­e estab­lishment of a cali­phate — a small minority by violence and the rest by supposedly democratic means. With Islamic terrorists ­repeatedly shouting “Allahu Akbar as they kill, how can Abbott’s call for the majority of Muslims to take on the militant Islamist minority be controversial?

Over centuries, the West has learnt from the Islamic world. The pity is that much of the Islamic world hasn’t learnt more from the West, especially an acceptance of pluralism and an understanding of the separation of church and state.

The modernisation of Islam is undeniably a project that Muslims must lead. But all of us have a stake in the outcome. We can’t let multicultural sensitivities or postcolonial guilt stop a community discussion about the need for all Muslims to integrate into the contemporary world.

Because many Muslim leaders are so free with their advice to us, it would hardly be an insult to be frank in response.

Abbott is right that the West and its leaders should be less apologetic and more robust in their conversation with Islam. He is also right about the tendency of Muslim communities, in Australia and elsewhere, to cry “racism whenever challenged, or to make excuses for fanatics by blaming poverty, alienation or Western imperialism. This is precisely what was claimed recently by the Egyptian-born Grand Mufti of Australia, Dr Ibrahim Abu Mohamed.

One of former prime minister Abbott’s chief contributions to public life has been a career-long habit of saying what he really thinks. Lately, that’s been a robust defence of Western values that have stood the test of time — and their potentially universal appeal — in a world too often bereft of effective leadership.

Emeritus Professor of History and Politics at Griffith University Ross Fitzgerald has published 38 books — most recently the co-authored political satire ‘Going Out Backwards.’

The Weekend Australian, January 23-24, 2016, online.

One Comment »

  • Shane Stone said:

    No one should get overly excited about Tony Abbott renominating for Liberal preselection. Pre- Menzies it was not uncommon for former prime ministers to continue to serve and make an ongoing contribution to public life.

    In Britain, former prime ministers including Winston Churchill, Ted Heath and Gordon Brown soldiered on. Margaret Thatcher went to the Lords (Britain’s senate). In the US former presidents, whether retired or defeated, continue to contribute in the public domain and, while none in recent times has exercised the right, they can sit in the Senate.
    The reality is that if you have been to the top of the mountain and are generous of spirit and well motivated, a former leader can be a force for good. Parliament can at times be a lonely, soul-destroying place and senior members who have served and stayed can help nurture and support new MPs.

    On the policy front, both through the extensive committee system and in partyroom debates, there is real value in having experience in the room.

    Poor decision-making in government sometimes derives from a lack of corporate knowledge. Public servants have filled the vacuum, at times in ways that have not served the government of the day’s political imperatives well.

    Abbott’s detractors would have us believe that he is intent on revenge and disruption.

    I believe he is bigger than that, and not unreasonably wants to defend his legacy, a legacy eloquently set out by emeritus professor Ross Fitzgerald in The Australian on January 23 (‘‘Ex-PM Tony Abbott has always been forthright in his opinions’’).

    Let us also not underestimate Abbott’s international standing and the respect he commands, particularly in the Asia-­Pacific ­region where former leaders are respected and honoured as “old friends”.

    This standing can be used to great effect on behalf of Australia and the Turnbull government. Treasurer Scott Morrison was right to praise Abbott’s decision to stay on and contribute to the balanced team.

    I don’t share Michael Kroger’s concerns (The Australian, January 25) but do agree that we don’t want a return to the undermining and treachery of the Rudd-Gillard years. Abbott is no Kevin Rudd.

    For his part there is now an incumbent responsibility on the member for Warringah to prove the doubters wrong.

    He doesn’t need to become Malcolm Turnbull’s best mate, as that would be disingenuous, but he should be encouraged to send a very public message of support promoting the election of the Turnbull government.

    This is as important for the membership as it is for the voters. Let’s face it, if you believe in my side of politics, anything is better than a return to a Labor government. To those MPs who bemoan an Abbott continuance, I remind them that a number owe their very presence in the federal parliament to Abbott’s tenacity and eventual election victory.

    Some in the Australian media revel in trying to make something out of nothing, and while there will at times be cross-referencing between Turnbull and Abbott that plays to the 24-hour news cycle, that will wither over time.

    Claims that Abbott’s renomination will be “an ongoing distraction” is the sort of trite nonsense that some commentators thrive on. The electors of Warringah, not the Canberra press gallery, will ­decide who they want as their local member.

    Turnbull has the ascendancy and can afford to be equally generous of spirit towards Abbott. The Liberal membership must demand that both men get on with it now that Abbott has made his much-anticipated decision.

    The same applies to those MPs closely identified with the former prime minister. We are all in this together, and if ever there was a test of John Howard’s ‘‘broad church”, this is it. We owe it to Australia to return a Coalition government. Fail and the electorate will be unforgiving.

    Shane Stone is a former president of the Liberal Party.
    The Australian, January 26, 2016, Commentary p 14.

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