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They came to praise Abbott, and to praise and praise and praise

SAINTHOOD, you'd think, could hardly be more than the swirl of a cardinal's cassock away for Tony Abbott.

Assailed by unfortunate allegations that he had a problem with women and 35 years ago had assaulted a wall to intimidate a female opponent after a student election at Sydney University, Abbott awoke yesterday to polls showing he was about as popular with voters as the Pope at a gay marriage seminar.

Defenders of the faith, clearly, were required.

Hardly had the doors swung open on a new week of Parliament than Abbott's loyal knight, Christopher Pyne, fumed in bearing a torch for his leader.

''The Tony Abbott I know,'' he offered to any microphone in the vicinity, ''is just last weekend a person who went out with his local fire brigade to do a controlled burn-off, and spent Sunday leading a blind person to the end of his first full marathon''.

Mr Pyne, apparently burning with barely controlled passion himself, was merely warming up.


''The Tony Abbott I know,'' he continued, ''is a Rhodes scholar, a person with an economics degree, a person who has more experience than any other would-be prime minister in Australia's history - experience in government.''

Mr Abbott's deputy, Julie Bishop, wasn't having any of this nonsense about her leader having a problem with women, either.

''It's a blatant and orchestrated campaign of character assassination,'' she fumed.

''Let me tell you about the Tony Abbott that I know.

''While Labor was fantasising about what Tony Abbott didn't do 35 years ago, Tony Abbott spent Saturday with his local fire brigade volunteering to undertake a fire reduction burn.

''On Sunday he ran a marathon as a guide for a blind person who wanted to undertake his first marathon. That's the Tony Abbott that I know. A compassionate and kind man who is prepared to help others.''

To ensure the message was spread as far as possible, both Mr Pyne and Ms Bishop repeated their testimonials, virtually word for word, for ABC24-TV and ABC News Radio. The Tony Abbott they knew was a volunteer fire brigade burn-off man who had helped a blind person run a marathon. A caring, compassionate man with a Rhodes scholarship etc etc, though nobody mentioned whether Mr Abbott also rescued and cuddled distressed kittens.

The road to sainthood, of course, is strewn with bother, not least of which appeared for 400 years in the guise of a grand sceptic known as the Devil's Advocate, who tested every word and claim about those potentially worthy of beatification and canonisation.

The Devil's Advocate, we suspect, would have been able to recognise an over-rehearsed advocation in the blink of a jaundiced eye. Unfortunately, the job of Devil's Advocate was abolished by Pope John Paul II in 1983.

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