Came out swinging: Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

Came out swinging: Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Tony Abbott used to be a working journalist. In fact we worked at the same mag, The Bulletin, home of Banjo Paterson and Henry Lawson, although none of us ever crossed paths.

Abbott tucked a press ticket into his fedora during the Hawke-Keating era and he could be as bruising in print as he was in the ring at Oxford. About as stylish too. 

There is no record of Tony Abbott, two-fisted reporter, giving the government of the day an easy time of it. No free hits. No benefit of the doubt. He earned his pay cheque honestly, by finding things out and telling stories.

Like the Jesuit education he turned his back on, he seems to have forgotten a few things about what reporters do, what role they play in a free society.

Tony Abbott the working reporter, the bloke who paid his bills punching a keyboard, would have laughed in the face of Paul Keating or Bob Hawke if they'd gone whining to their favoured pets in the tame media about not getting the benefit of the doubt, about the press not seeing their interests as being in the national interest. Tony Abbott the journalist would have touched them up good and proper just for the cheek of it.

Tony Abbott the Prime Minister, though? He makes Hawke's constant calls for the waaaaaambulance because some journo, usually from the ABC was mean to him … well, he makes Hawke look like John Howard.

You could cut Howard's fingers off and poke him in the eye with them, he wouldn't blink. He wouldn't give you the bloody satisfaction of it. John Howard might have looked like a brylcreemed super nerd but he was a hard nut who could absorb inhuman amounts of damage without flinching, because he'd learnt that to show weakness was to lose. Spectacularly.

Tony Abbott is no John Howard. His petulant waaaaaambulance call on talkback radio yesterday, whining about the ABC – not individual journalists mind you, the whole institution, thousands of hard working Australians – all of them, his puerile and disgraceful lie that they do not act in the national interest?

That would have made John Howard shudder. Not because Howard loved the ABC. No Prime Minister since Menzies has. But because Howard knew that, as soon as you start complaining, you're done. You look like a loser. You are a loser. You don't look like a bloke who's got the ticker for the hard work.

Abbott disgraced himself yesterday, and he disgraced his mentor in doing it.

Lawson and Paterson would probably be ashamed of him too.