Tony Abbott has been in office six months, and this week marks 20 years since he was elected to the Parliament. On Thursday, he sat down with The Conversation in his Parliament House office to talk about settling in to the most demanding job in the nation’s political life.
Abbott admits being prime minister is fatiguing but with six hours sleep a night “I can survive indefinitely”. It’s a “very collegial” and “like-minded” government, despite some senior members being in a “slightly different philosophical space to mine”. “The outliers are not very far away from the mainstream,” he adds. His cabinet often makes changes to items coming to it – “that’s what cabinet government is all about”.
He expresses confidence that his one ministerial casualty, Arthur Sinodinos, who has stood aside because he’s before ICAC, will come through – “I will be amazed if any significant adverse finding is made against him”.
He canvasses his formal and informal advice networks, and mounts a spirited defence of his controversial chief of staff, Peta Credlin. Discussing the accelerated political process, he says anonymous social media can be much more vitriolic and extreme than “normal media”, likening it to “electronic graffiti”.
Abbott explains his failure to take his surprise “knights and dames” initiative to cabinet and the party room by saying this was a matter between him and the Queen. On proposed changes to the Racial Discrimination Act, he says the government is not “impervious to a further argument”.
Looking to the new post-July 1 Senate, he promises the government will keep the crossbenchers “very much in the loop” as it tries to get its bills through. And what has he really, really enjoyed in the job? “The contact with the military at every level.”
The interview started on the subject of whether a PM can have a life apart from the job.
Michelle Grattan: How are you managing the work-life balance?
Tony Abbott: No senior politician can expect to have work-life balance. I’m afraid there are some jobs for which work-life balance inevitably goes out the window. If you want work-life balance you just have to accept that you can’t be a senior member of a government, or for that matter a senior member of an opposition.
So I’m not really managing the work-life balance, I’m just accepting that the work increases and the ordinary life has to decrease when you’re the prime minister.
Michelle Grattan: You did try to hang on to a few things. Have you given that up?
Tony Abbott: I haven’t, but inevitably the space for “self time” decreases even further when you become PM and that’s just the way it is. I’m not complaining, it’s just a fact of life.