Earlier this week, the book Abbott: The Defining Speeches, which I edited with the former prime minister’s speechwriter Paul Ritchie, was launched in Sydney. As we embarked upon the task, I realised quickly that the true image of our Prime Minister was, and is, profoundly different from the jaundiced caricature that surfaced in the pages of some of our press.
Far from the goofy, out-of-touch and hyper-partisan persona manufactured by much of the media, I encountered not simply another politician, but a statesman. A selfless leader of moral courage, compassion and conviction driven to serve the best interests of our great Commonwealth. He well appreciated the etymology of “Prime Minister” as meaning a “prime servant” of his country and its people.
He understood, also, Menzies’s maxim that politics is not about warring personalities but the battle of ideas. To this end, he executed in his prime ministership, a vision for Australia sustained by the ideals of strong communities, stable families, free enterprise, nation-building, national security and ordered liberty under the Crown. Inspired by the grit and resilience of our First Australians, the ghosts of great pioneers and the ethos of Anzac, he maintained that there was no limit to what Australia could achieve.
A true mark of statesmanship is surely grace towards one’s political adversaries, and in Prime Minister Abbott’s speeches, we saw a generosity of spirit to friend and foe alike. The achievements of Labor leaders; Chifley, Whitlam and Keating were lauded, together with those of Menzies, Fraser and Howard. This reflected not only a charitable character but a big-hearted resolve to put the common good of the country first and that is something for which he should always be remembered.
I conclude now with these words of St Ignatius which aptly defined the spirit of our twenty-eighth prime minister:
To give, and not to count the cost
to fight, and not to heed the wounds,
to toil, and not to seek for rest,
to labour, and not to ask for any reward,
save that of knowing that we do thy will.
David Furse-Roberts is a research fellow at the Menzies Research Centre.
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