On Sunday night, Abbott tried to present as a changed man in an interview with Liz Hayes for Channel Nine’s 60 Minutes.
Nothing was off the table for the interview. His views on sexuality, marriage rights and how his religion impacts on his politics were all discussed. The Abbott presented was a family man, pouring dressing on a salad and joking with his three daughters at a family BBQ.
But like all families, this one has had its dramas too.
Mr Abbott’s sister, Christine Forster came out as homosexual four years ago, ending her 19 year marriage.
It was a family secret, one which he says impacted on his now infamous response to Liz Hayes in 2010 when asked about his feelings on homosexuality.
“I probably feel a bit threatened,” was his response at the time.
He reasoned the response in Sunday nights interview as due to the tough times his family was going through, due to his sister’s revelation that she was gay.
“Now I couldn’t talk about that then because it was deeply personal and deeply private. But certainly, they were very tough times for our family, hence my comment,” he told Liz Hayes.
But, how did Ms Forster feel at the time when she saw the comment?
“In the first instance I was surprised. I was kind of taken aback. But it doesn’t really reflect what I know of my brother. I was a little disappointed – I’ll be honest,” she told Liz Hayes.
While Abbott said he felt threatened, according to his most recent interview with 60 Minutes, he was “unfazed” by his sister’s coming out.
Ms Forster was forced into an awkward position when questioned on her brother’s views on same-sex marriage.
While she says he does accept her relationship with Virginia Edwards in the same way he accepts their other sister’s relationship with her husband, he doesn’t want to extend the same rights to Ms Forster and her partner.
“He defines marriage as it is defined under the marriage act,” she told Liz Hayes.
“Well, he believes marriage is between a man and a woman. I’m not trying to defend him on this, but his opinion is his opinion.”
While he continues to hold a very traditional and conservative view on marriage, Mr Abbott says he is a changed man: “I don’t have the views that I had 35 years ago”.
It’s easy to assume that it is his Catholic beliefs and values that are dictating this traditional and conservative view, yet he tried to tell 60 Minutes that Australians could be assured his belief system would not impact upon his politics.
“Faith is important to me, important to millions of Australians. It helps to shape who I am, it helps shape my values. But it should never dictate my politics,” he said.
This seems hard to believe when it’s his faith that informs his values, and his values that inform his politics. How can we accept that his Catholic views on abortion and on marriage will not influence his politics? Can we risk it as a secular, multicultural nation?
While the eight of the ten commandments forbids misrepresenting the truth in our relations with others, Tony Abbott, the strict Catholic, doesn’t seem fazed with being loose with the truth.
“All of us say things in the heat of debate and argument which on reflection could be better said,” Mr Abbott told 60 Minutes.
Is this a trait we want in our Prime Minister?
And it’s the members of his own Party that don’t trust what he says. Malcolm Fraser, a former prime minister of Australia, resigned from the Liberal Party on the appointment of Mr Abbott as Leader of the Opposition. Fraser has described Mr Abbott as “dangerous”.
“[He’s] unpredictable. He says what jumps into his mind,” Fraser told Melbourne University political scientist Professor Robyn Eckersley for The Conversation in 2011.
It’s now 2013 and Abbott is in the fight of his life for his most cherished childhood dream: the prime ministership of Australia.
And the image we’re being sold is of a changed man: the sensitive Tony I’m still sceptical about.
“I said some things which I believed then which I don’t believe now. Because like everyone who’s had a long time in public life – in particular – I’ve changed and I’d like to think that I’ve grown,” he told Liz Hayes.
Yet, while he says he’s changed and no longer holds some of the views he held 35 years ago, there was no apology offered for the impact of his conservative viewpoints.
When asked about his controversial “abortion is the easy way out” comment, he responded with:
“Liz, I don’t want to minimise from time to time the errors that I’ve made.”
Liz followed up with: “Was that an error?”
His response was vague at best: “Well, I didn’t express it as well as I could have or should have. And I absolutely accept that for any woman facing an unexpected pregnancy, the choices are tough.”
No apology, no admitting he was wrong. He might be a changed man, but he’s an unrepentant one.
The key message from the 60 Minutes interview seemed to be “I’m not homophobic”, but Mr Abbott needs to realise he’s not going to win the gay vote without committing to something more, and that means changing one big belief.
It’s hard to tell who Mr Abbott really is when so many versions of the man are trying to be sold as the truth. Is he the misogynist Julia Gillard says he is? Is he the family man his wife Margie describes? Is he a dangerous politician like Malcolm Fraser says? Or is he a homophobe? It’s a question Australians will have to answer themselves when they head to the polling booths in September.