Tony Abbott says politicians ‘better’ second time around

At Pauline Hanson book launch, former PM says Australia would be a ‘better country’ if it had listened to One Nation leader

Canberra: Tony Abbott has declared that politicians are “always better” the second time around and says the Coalition ought to preference One Nation at the next election ahead of Labor and the Greens.

He said the Turnbull government needed to “face up to the reality” that “the only way” it would win the next election was with One Nation preferences.

“If I can make that more likely, that is a very positive contribution that I can make to the prospects of the Turnbull government,” he said.

Speaking at the launch of Pauline Hanson’s new book of speeches in Parliament House, the former prime minister said he and Hanson had much in common, both having spent time in the political wilderness and having grown stronger from the experience.

He said her views should not have been dismissed so readily in the years since she was first elected.

“If, over the last two decades, we had been more ready to heed the message of people like Pauline Hanson and less quick to shoot the messenger, I think we would be a better country today,” Abbott said.

He said that, in the late 1990s, Hanson was an angry voice in parliament, who was damaging the Howard government, but since returning as a senator in the 2016 election she had worked constructively with the Coalition government.

Hanson had helped this Senate be “so much better than the last one” when he was prime minister, he said, and One Nation had allowed the current Turnbull government to implement its agenda.

“If I may say so, Pauline, adversity has made you a better, deeper person and you are certainly confirmation of that adage that you are always better the second time around,” he said.

He said many of the issues Hanson was promoting were worthy ones.

“Let’s face it, we should scale back immigration and we should be more proud of our country,” he said. “We should build new coal-fired power stations because if it’s right to export our clean coal, it’s right to use it here. And we should build more dams because water is wealth, and we shouldn’t be frightened of using resources.

“And we do have a problem with Islamism that does require decent Muslims to stand up to the ‘death to the infidels’ extremists.”

Asked if he was working behind the scenes to become the Liberal party leader if the Turnbull government lost the next election, Abbott did not deny it.

“Look, my determination is to be of the best service I can be to the people of Australia and, as Pauline suggested in her remarks a moment ago, I think that public life is a vocation,” he said. “It’s not a job, it’s not a career, it’s a calling.

“It has its ups and its downs but you don’t walk away from it just because you’ve had a down. As I’ve sometimes said, politics is like a big game of Snakes and Ladders and sometimes you land on a snake and sure, you’ve got to go back a few places, but that is just the way it is.

“The important thing is to do what you can to serve your country, to serve your community, and there is no finer or better way to serve our country and our community than within the national parliament.”

When the Australian Financial Review reported on Monday that Abbott was working behind the scenes to build support for a possible return to the leadership — telling colleagues he regards politics as his vocation and has no intention of retiring — he tried to discredit the piece by attacking the journalist.

At the book launch, Abbott said preferences were obviously a decision for the Liberal party but it should be preferencing alternative parties based on their capacity to make a constructive contribution to parliament.

“Based on the current record I would put the Greens last, I would put Labor second last, then I would put constructive independents and minor parties, and then I would put the Coalition and its allies first,” Abbott said. “I would certainly put One Nation above Labor and the Greens because, let’s face it, we’ve been able to work constructively in the Senate with One Nation.

“We would not have been able to pass any legislation in this current parliament but for the constructive work of Pauline Hanson and her team of senators.”

One Nation leader compares herself to Nelson Mandela

One Nation leader Pauline Hanson said Australians should read her major speeches, starting from her maiden speech in 1996, to get a better understanding of who she was.

She said she had forgiven former prime minister Tony Abbott for the role he played in her being sent to prison in 2003. Abbott helped set up a secret trust fund in the late 1990s to fund legal attempts to deregister One Nation, believing that the party was a threat to the Howard government. Hanson was sentenced to three years in jail for electoral fraud in 2003 and she served 11 weeks before her conviction was overturned on appeal.

On Tuesday Hanson likened her return to federal parliament in 2016 — and her ability to forgive Abbott — to Nelson Mandela, the anti-apartheid revolutionary and political leader who became South Africa’s first black president in 1994, after enduring more than two decades in prison.

“I’m very proud to be a senator in this parliament,” she said. “It’s taken me 18 years to get re-elected again.

“Like Nelson Mandela did, after 28 years in prison, he forgave and he forgot. I think that’s what we need to do, everyone in this place, if you have your grievances or your differences. Put them to one side, work together, because the people of Australia are calling out for true leadership.”

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