23 Jun 2010: Leslie to launch NUS “Abbott’s Heaven, Your Hell” campaign

What: National Union of Students’ “Abbott’s Heaven, Your Hell” Campaign Launch\ When: Wednesday 23 June, at 5:30 for 6:00\ Where: Queen Victoria Women’s Centre

Below is Leslie’s speech from the launch.

Introduction: 3 things about me that explain why I oppose Abbott

If you go to my facebook page, you will find under profile the following information about me.

Religious Views? Jewish by birth

Political views? I’m a political commentator – I’ll never tell

If I had my druthers, there would also be a box that said Feminist?\ To which I would answer: Hell, yes!

So these are 3 things to know about me:

  1. That I identify as part of a minority population in a theoretically multicultural and multi-religious but numerically still Anglo Christian culture
  2. That in my work as a commentator and abortion rights activist I have always been non-partisan. In the past I have written or spoken critically about Rudd, Conroy, Roxon, Ferguson the NSW Labor government, Harradine, Costello, Nelson the Kennett government and Abbott-those on all sides of politics without fear or favour-and intend to continue on this way; and that
  3. I am a feminist activist who has mostly worked, largely successfully, to expand women’s abortion rights both nationally (At President of Reproductive Choice Australia) and in this state (as President of Pro Choice Victoria).

Why is it important to know this? Because this background, work experience and commitment to doing a small corner of the work required to differentiate women from doormats goes a long way towards explaining why I decided to accept the invitation graciously extended to me by the NUS to launch the Abbott’s Heaven, Your Hell. Because however partisan this event feels, it is not. It is issue based, and the issues are two: religious freedom (which includes the freedom to be free from religion) and, flowing from this, female liberation. If you are female, or have females in your life who you care about and/or you care about expanding the wafer-thin separation between church and state in this country, the potential that Tony Abbott might become PM should very much concern you. It should concern you regardless of where you normally sit-left, centre or right-on the political fence.

In this Speech

In the next twenty minutes I’m going to do three things.

  1. Sketch the values and beliefs of Tony Abbott, mostly in his own words.
  2. Use this sketch to explain why it is Abbott’s consistent disregard for the separation of church and state that makes his values about women so dangerous and;
  3. Make some suggestions the strategic response required by those of us fearful of the prosect of Prime Minister Abbott. Suggestions designed not just to defend against this likelihood at the next Federal election, but to persuade the Liberals that they remain unelectable as long as Abbott leads them.

This is Tony Abbott

Abbott was born in 1957 and schooled at (Jesuit) St Ignatius College before studying for the Priesthood. He subsequently worked as a journalist and political press secretary before leading the successful campaign against an Australian republic. He has in some instances long-standing associations with the National Civic Council, the Lyons Forum, the Endeavour Forum and the Australian Christian Lobby.

Young Women’s Medical Privacy

In the week the Howard government introduced legislation to give parents the right to access data about government benefits (such as Medicare items or Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme drugs) provided to their teenagers (a move widely acknowledged to be targeted at young women’s Medicare consults and claim related to contraceptive and abortion advice), Federal Health Minister Abbott said:

“The Government accepts that some 14 and 15-year-olds might prefer that their parents not know about the medical procedures they have had or the prescription drugs they are on. But children should not be presumed to be the best judges of their own long-term interests and should not have the right to go behind their parents’ backs … If 14 and 15-year-olds are determined to defy their parents, there is little anyone can do to stop them..[but it is] the responsibility of government – and doctors – … to support parental authority.”

Welcome to Country & the Lord’s Prayer

Abbott recently described Aboriginal welcome to country ceremonies as a “genuflection to political correctness” and “out-of-place tokenism.” However, he (and sadly the government also believes Federal Parliament should continue to start the day with the Lord’s Prayer.

Women & Climate Change

Abbott believes the “argument [on climate change] is absolute crap”. In February this year he make his “great big new tax” point about the government’s proposed Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) as follows: “What the housewives of Australia need to understand as they do the ironing is that if they get it done commercially it’s going to go up in price, and their own power bills when they switch the iron on, are going to go up.”

Marriage, Divorce and Homosexuality

Abbott wants to return to at fault-divorce, supporting legislation that would require spouses to prove offences like adultery, habitual drunkenness or cruelty before they can separate.

He told 60 Minutes in what he later described as a “spontaneous answer” that homosexuality makes him feel “a bit threatened.” This past Monday, he-and sadly the government with him-affirmed his opposition to gay marriage by saying that “the marriage relationship is unique and it should always be specially recognised.”


Health Minister Abbott’s statements and policies on abortion renewed national debate about the issue, which had lain dormant for years. He described “the fact that 100,000 [Australian] women choose to end their pregnancies” as a “national tragedy” that left a “legacy of unutterable shame.” He said there was “a bizarre double standard…where someone who kills a pregnant woman’s baby is guilty of murder but a woman who aborts an unborn baby is simply exercising choice.” The figure of 100,000, used repeatedly throughout the RU486 debate, turned out to be wrong.

Female virginity and pre-marital sex

Mr Abbott says his daughters ought regard their virginity as “…the greatest gift that you can give someone, the ultimate gift of giving” that they ought not to “give…to someone lightly.” He worries about pre-marital sex for women: “they should be very careful about doing things that they might regret and doing things that might in the long run cause them to have less self respect and less respect for others than might be the case.”

Separation of Church and State

At the launch of a collection of B.A. Santamaria’s letters, Abbott lauded his mentor for the view that “it [is] impossible to be a passive Christian.” Abbott argued that the Howard government’s decisions to “overturn the Northern Territory’s euthanasia law, ban gay marriage, stop the ACT heroin trial, provide additional financial support for one-income families, and try to reduce abortion numbers through pregnancy support counseling” showed that the “eight Catholics…in the…Cabinet” had turned the “tide of secular humanism.”

Despite this, he recently implied on ABC’s Q&A that public and media interest in his Catholic beliefs was unfair.

The Problem is not his beliefs, but his imposition of them on us

Abbott has values that appear little, if no different, to those of the Vatican on what that institution defines as moral issues: dying with dignity, contraception, abortion, IVF/stem cell research, gay marriage.

However, I want to be clear that it is not the near perfect alignment of these views with orthodox Catholicism that make these views so politically concerning, but Abbott’s view the he is obliged as an active Christian to give effect to these views in law and policies that govern us all.

There are people of faith who understand that their religious values-sometimes referred to as their conscience-are private. Who understand that in the same way that they do not want others to impede their capacity to observe and follow the dictates of their own faith or conscience, they are duty-bound to refrain from imposing their faith or conscience on others. Who believe in the protection of religious freedom-a freedom that includes the right not to have faith-through a strict separation of church and state.

Abbott is not one of these. He believes that he has a right to live according to his faith, and that the rest of us are obliged to live by it, too. That we should not make choices about our own bodies and lives that offend his morals. This is his claim when he notes the “impossibility of passive Christians” and boasts about the capacity of critical numbers of active Christians in the Howard cabinet to attack and halt the progress of laws that would allow others to make different choices-based on their own consciences-about health issues critical to their lives. This is what he did when he raised abortion as a political issue from the dead and for the duration of his tenure as health minister; when he forced an entire nation of women to listen to his erroneous, ignorant and/or insulting characterisations of women’s reproductive choices and to work 24/7 to fend off his repeated attempts to undermine or restrict them.

Abbott is dangerous not because he is a faithful adherent of a particular religious faith. He is dangerous because he uses his power to do all he can to ensure not just that his faith rules his life, but our lives, too.

This simple fact makes Abbott’s protest about unfair media interest in his Catholic faith-referred to by some as evidence of anti-Catholic bias-risible. When a politician makes his faith-based commitments the cornerstone of his legislative agenda-and then boasts about it-voters very much have a right to know exactly what those faith-based views are. The media is neither being unfair, or biased against Catholics, but simply doing its job. May it continue to do it into the future.

The challenge of Political Activism in The Goldfish era

We all know the joke about the goldfish.

Those inside the beltway, the journos, commentators and political junkies, think we know all I’ve just told you about Abbott already. That it’s old news. Such a view grounded the recent decision of a website editor to bury a piece I wrote about the Virile Values of Abbott. Despite this, and thanks to my loyal Twitter and Facebook following, the article was distributed, read and commented upon widely. Indeed it went number one on the website that day. This fact is worthy of note, as are the three types of comments this piece, and others I’ve written like it, attract.


Hello Leslie

I just wanted to contact you to say that your article about Tony Abbott…was frightening. I say that as someone who has been fully aware of his background and views (none of which I thankfully share) but what worries me is that prior to reading your article they had faded from my mind.

Perhaps we could take the key points about his beliefs and install large sized posters on the backs of buses to remind anyone else that might get suckered into his action man good blokey persona.

Thanks for the reminder

People forget, but if they could remember, they would not vote for Abbott. We need to remind them.

This is tricker than it sounds because reminding doesn’t constitute the new-news that is the business of most media outlets. However, it is not impossible. Anyone-but-Abbott forces must target community radio, community television and organs like OLO and New Matilda if it survives. They must use informational websites and social media. I imagine a website that generates a quote from Abbott once a day, which is then sent out via tweet with a link back to the site for more information. Or a link to a You Tube video that highlights all of his policies.

Mainstream news coverage might be attracted if a campaign was run like the Triple J did years ago where listeners were rewarded for coming up with the most innovative and high-profile means of promoting the station. We could create a prize pool and run a contest, the winner of which will be the woman/women who show the greatest skill in getting reminders about the nightmare nature of Abbott’s dreams heard by the largest audience.

Partisan Denialists

These are the folks that respond to the presentation of dispassionate facts about Abbott, in essence the kind of po-faced quoting back I began this talk with, as part of an ALP-organised “scare campaign” and even “slander” for which I, as the speaker, ought be prosecuted.

Obviously lost to the Anyone-but-Abbott campaign, I find it interestingly how angry those who wish to defend Abbott get when nothing more offensive is done than informing the public about what their man – who they proudly boasts stands for something in a way K.Rudd does not-thinks. This is, I suspect, because they know how out of touch their and Abbott’s views are with the electorate. Another reason to return to my first point: we need to remind people who Abbott really is.


“What voters have to do is compare Abbott and Rudd … so what does Rudd believe in to balance the comparison? Well not much it seems and what he does promise he doesn’t deliver.”

It is impossible to run a campaign against Abbott without attracting comment about the alternatives. Abbott is working to directly encourage cynicism and defeatism-that there is no reason to oppose him because the alternative is just as bad, with lines like this:

“My views on religion and Kevin Rudd’s views on religion are almost identical,” Mr Abbott said. ``So I don’t see why you have got a problem with me when you haven’t got a problem with Kevin Rudd."

However, however disappointed one may feel with Rudd, it is not true that the two men are similar on the “lame…churchy loser” front. Rudd and the Rudd government have evidenced – for the most part – a key difference with Abbott and the Howard Government. They do not appear hell bent on putting most of the PM’s conservative Christian views into law. It is a matter of degree, rather than kind admittedly, but it’s a kind that matters, and that we must not forget.


There is an element of selfishness in my plea for us to rise up as one, and defeat Abbott’s bid to be Australia’s Prime Minister: this time and for all time. And it is this: When Abbott was Health Minister, my life was hell. I slept poorly and barely had a holiday. Nearly ever other week, Abbott would have a thought bubble, many of which became policies, bills or law, that had the effect of infantalising or wedging women, or scrapping some hard-earned right, that I had to refute or fight.

Obviously, progress on the many fronts on which women are still fighting would be impossible with him in charge.

Leopards don’t change their spots. However much his minders seek to downplay or disguise the wide swathe of his socially unpalatable views, the fact is-and this part of their spin is true-Tony Abbott is what he appears to be: a man who seeks to make his conservative Christian values the law of the land.

I call on all of us here today to deny Tony Abbott his heaven, and to give him hell instead.