Profile: Tony Abbott

Tony Abbott, leader of Australia’s opposition Liberal Party, is known as something of a maverick politician.

A conservative Catholic – he once briefly trained as a Catholic priest, earning him the nickname “Mad Monk”.

He has consistently voted against relaxing laws on abortion, same-sex marriages and stem cell research, and is a supporter of strong immigration policies.

Mr Abbott is also famous for his sceptical views on climate change, which he has in the past dismissed as faddish.

His surprise election to the Liberal party leadership on 1 December 2009 concerned environmentalists, who had pinned their hopes on former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s Emissions Trading Scheme, which aimed to reduce Australia’s carbon emissions by up to 25% below 2000 levels by 2020.

Mr Abbott said the scheme amounted to “a A$120bn ($110bn: £66.5bn) tax on the Australian public”.

‘Phoney Tony’?

But he has denied being a climate sceptic. He says he does believe human activity is contributing to climate change but that “there’s an argument as to how great that contribution is, and what should be done about it”.

More recently, his attempts to show himself as an honest politician backfired, when he admitted to Australian radio that he does not always speak the full truth.

He said that his off-the-cuff policy comments cannot always be taken as “gospel truth”, but his carefully scripted remarks can – prompting the Labor government to dub him “Phoney Tony” in advertisements ahead of an expected election.

Mr Abbott says the government is attacking his comments to try to escape its own political problems.

Social conservative

The former student boxer and journalist has been in Australian politics since 1994, when he was elected to represent the affluent Warringah district of Sydney.

He rose through the ranks under former Prime Minister John Howard’s government, serving as an employment minister between 1998 and 2001, and as minister for health and ageing in 2003.

Mr Abbott is married with three daughters. A social conservative he is also a fitness fanatic, completing an Ironman event. He is a supporter of the constitutional monarchy that keeps Queen Elizabeth II as Australia’s head of state.

In 2002, he believed he had been reunited with the son he fathered with his then girlfriend as a 19-year-old. But it later emerged that the man had no biological connection to him.

In his role as a shadow minister he has often been in verbal sparring matches with then deputy and now Prime Minister Julia Gillard – a match that commentators say Ms Gillard has usually won.

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