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Unbecoming, Mr Abbott

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Sarah Hanson-Young 29 Mar 2011

Having spent months inciting a people's revolt, Tony Abbott needs to take responsibility for the revolting tactics of his ''revolutionaries''.

Like many Australians, I was stunned to see the Leader of the Opposition and his some of his frontbench colleagues standing in front of a placard referring to the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, as ''Bob Brown's bitch''. It defies belief that none of them read this sign before standing in front of it.

However, Mr Abbott's response to the abusive chants of ''ditch the bitch'' from protesters was far more disturbing. Rather than seeking to calm the crowd or reminding them that this language was inappropriate, Mr Abbott seemed to be lapping it up.

Advertisement: Story continues below As the one holding the microphone, he could have intervened, but didn't. Instead, he and his frontbench colleagues set the tone, with Barnaby Joyce chanting hysterically that the Prime Minister ''lied to you''.

Abbott described the crowd as ''fine Australians'' and ''a representative snapshot of middle Australia''.

Here, I think the Leader of the Opposition was seeing what he wanted to see. The crowd represented the extreme right of politics and was out of step with mainstream Australia. One Nation founder Pauline Hanson was there, along with members of other fringe movements such as the Climate Change Sceptics and League of Rights.

That Mr Abbott perceives these as representative is further evidence of his political extremism.

These people, of course, have the right to protest, even to insult the people they are trying to lobby. But this behaviour is not becoming of an alternative prime minister. Mr Abbott's decision to not only indulge these sentiments, but actively encourage them, demonstrates how out of touch he is. While I was no supporter of former prime minister John Howard, it must be said it's hard to imagine him displaying such a grave error of judgment.

As always seems the case with the Coalition under Tony Abbott's leadership, he and his colleagues were bemused by the public outcry that followed the protest. It was only once it appeared the rally had backfired that they tried to retreat. Of course, there was no sorry, no responsibility taken for encouraging this kind of extremism, rather just regret that some of the protesters had not behaved appropriately.

When it comes to firing from the hip, then seeking to take it back, this bloke has form. It's time for him to stop offending in the first place.

I've heard some commentators suggest that Mr Abbott should never have turned up at the rally. Having instigated it, I suppose he had little choice - but he has to take responsibility for what occurred. Instead, he's behaving like the bratty teenager who throws a party, invites his hardcore mates and then tries to excuse them as gatecrashers to Mum and Dad when they trash the house. I think the electorate can see through this Corey (that smart-arse teenage with the glasses) defence.

Rather than appealing to the extreme fringe of Australian politics, Mr Abbott needs to start focusing on the broader needs of the Australian community. He is the alternative prime minister, after all.

This blog was first published on the National Times on Tuesday, 29 March.

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