Federal Politics


The early Abbott catches the media break

After almost a week away from Parliament, Tony Abbott was back in business yesterday.

Just after sunrise, he journeyed to Fyshwick and donned a safety vest to talk about how the government was ''spending like a drunken sailor''.

It was so early that most of the nation's journalists were still sous doona. But perhaps that was the point. The early bird not only gets the worm, he gets his lines out without much fourth estate scrutiny!

Indeed, if the Fyshwick caper had been a little later, Abbott may have fielded some questions about Cory Bernardi.

Bernardi - the shadow parliamentary secretary to the Opposition Leader himself - had already popped his head into public debate this week with a blog post worrying about Muslims in Australia.

But he really got people talking when he told the Senate on Tuesday night that if we legalise gay marriage, polyamorous and bestial marriages might be next.


The condemnation was swift. Along with a hefty whack of public outrage, Labor and the Greens called for the guy to be sacked and Malcolm Turnbull set up camp in the press gallery - telling anyone with a camera that Bernardi's talk was alarmist and offensive.

But what was an opposition leader to do? Agree with his political foes? Ignore the weight of public opinion?

Matters were further complicated when Bernardi's office reported he had left to go overseas for a week. It's difficult to fire a man on a long haul flight.

Thankfully, Bernardi stopped over in Sydney before journeying on to London, providing Abbott with an opportunity to ''accept his resignation from the Opposition frontbench''.

Of his own volition, Abbott labelled Bernardi's take on gay marriage ''ill-disciplined''. But when asked if he himself found the comments offensive and wrong he offered: ''They're views that I don't share. They're views that many people would find repugnant.''

Later in the House, during a Coalition motion to suspend standing orders (over the government's ''fiscal chaos''), Albo crash tackled Abbott's slight equivocation.

Positing that the Opposition Leader had failed to condemn young Cory, Albo cried: ''He just doesn't get it about respect for other people!''

The opposition were horrified by the assertion, with Christopher Pyne protesting it was ''entirely personally offensive [and] a bridge too far''.

Abbott himself was so offended he made a personal explanation to Parliament, arguing he had indeed condemned his ex-parliamentary secretary. As for Bernardi?

Yesterday afternoon, he issued a micro statement saying he had resigned ''in the interests of the Coalition''. Clearly it wasn't in the Coalition's interests for the senator to issue an apology.

That would have been a bridge too far.