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Tony Abbott: a ‘sharp pencil’ or an economic dumbo?

WHEN you introduce politics into a column, 50% of readers will be with you, 50% against you.

So it was not surprising I got a few complaints that I was being too tough on Tony Abbott in last week's article.

One person pointed out he was a Rhodes Scholar and therefore must be a sharp pencil.

Fair enough, but he's a bit of an enigma.

In his recent address at the World Economic Forum in Davos Switzerland, Abbott became the darling of the rich and famous when he said governments should stay out of people's lives and leave things to private enterprise.

Immediately he got home to Australia he announced that he was putting aside $20 million to provide couples with relationship counselling.

How's that for consistency?

So just how apt is the comment that as a Rhodes Scholar Abbott must be sharp?

Abbott's history is remarkable, to say the least.

He left Sydney University with a Bachelor of Law and a Bachelor of Economics.

In the early 1980s as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, he completed a Master of Arts in the philosophy, politics and economics course designed for people eyeing entry into political life or journalism.

He returned to Australia and jagged a journalism job at The Bulletin magazine, then The Australian before becoming Dr John Hewson's press secretary from 1990-1993.

In a 1994 by-election Abbott entered the Federal parliament.

Far from laying claim to being a proud economics graduate, Abbott can be judged by his comments to an assemblage of politicians, high flyers and prominent economists at a Melbourne Institute knees-up nearly three years ago.

In defence of his Direct Action scheme over the market-based approach to climate change favoured by the world's prominent economists he said: "Maybe that's a comment on the quality of our economists rather than the merits of argument."

In attendance was the now-boss of Treasury, senior economist Martin Parkinson.

In 2003 he said: "I have never been as excited about economics as some of my colleagues. I find economics is not for nothing known as the dismal science."

Clever words, but is there more to the man than a disdain for economists?

Celebrated academic economist, now Professor John Hewson, employed Abbott as his press secretary and speech writer in 1990.

Hewson later described Abbott as functionally "innumerate".

Former Treasurer Peter Costello described Abbott as a "DLP stooge and economic illiterate". Julia Gillard described Abbott as an "economic simpleton".

So what do you think? Sharp pencil or dumbo?

For the record, the DLP (Democratic Labor Party) was a Catholic party set up by the highly politicised Melbourne Archbishop Daniel Mannix and Catholic bigot Bob Santamaria in the 1950s.

Topics:  bob lamont, economics, gladstone, opinion, tony abbott




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