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Just like Baroness Thatcher, Tony Abbott does God, too.

NEWS | John Sandeman

Saturday 13th April 2013

Just like Margaret Thatcher, who Tony Abbott recalls as “one of the greatest British prime ministers and one of the most significant world leaders of our times”, the Leader of the Opposition is prepared to “do God” in his speeches. In covering Thatcher’s view of God, Eternity recently recounted the story of Tony Blair’s adviser Alistair Campbell insisting “We don’t do God”.  Thatcher broke that rule. Tony Abbott does too.

Media coverage of the 70th Anniversary dinner for the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) in Melbourne  last week has focused on the lavishness of the $500 minimum per head dinner in the Great hall of the Art Gallery, or the other talking heads Gina Rinehart and Rupert Murdoch and Andrew Bolt as MC.

And then there is the IPA wish-list. It includes breaking up the ABC, a single rate of income tax, and repealing plain paper packaging for cigarettes. At the IPA Tony Abbott is a moderate.

The God aspect of Tony Abbott’s speech has gone largely unreported, however.

Early in the speech Abbott remarks “In celebrating the IPA, we celebrate its calling which is to support and sustain the public culture which has shaped our country and influenced so well the wider world.”

And then immediately:

“In the Garden of Eden that Adam and Eve could do almost as they pleased but freedom turned out to have its limits and its abuses, as this foundational story makes only too clear. Yet without freedom we can hardly be human; hardly be worthy of creation in the image of God. From the Garden of Eden, to the Exodus, Athenian democracy, the Roman Senate, Magna Carta, the glorious revolution and American independence, the story of our civilisation has been the story of freedom and our struggles to achieve it.”

In other words, the public culture which Abbott celebrates is centred on a Christian view of man-kind. As a Catholic, if he is to follow his church’s teaching Adam and Eve are central figures which underpin the idea of original sin, a view of human freedom that is aware of consequences.

Depending on your view of the IPA’s agenda for a radically slimmed down government you might detect a slight element of faint praise in Abbott’s comment, “The IPA, I want to say, has been freedom’s discerning friend. It has supported capitalism, but capitalism with a conscience. Not for the IPA, a single-minded dogmatism or opposition to all restraint; rather a sophisticated appreciation that freedom requires a social context and that much is expected from those to whom so much has been given.”

In any case “much is expected from those to whom so much has been given” comes from a source that Christians will endorse—the parable of the faithful servant.

That allusion might have been undetected by the IPA dinner audience but later comes a continuation of the idea that Abbott is concerned to defend a western civil society based on Christianity:

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is the foundation of our justice. “Love your neighbour as you love yourself” is the foundation of our mercy. Faith has weakened but not, I’m pleased to say, this high mindedness which faith helped to spawn and which the IPA now helps to protect and to promote.

And even a joke aimed at John Roskam, executive Director of the IPA.  “John, you’ve done very well with just 20 staff – but remember what Jesus of Nazareth did with just 12 and one of them turned out to be a rat!”

Tony Abbott clearly “does God”. There will be Christians attracted to him on those grounds, just as with Kevin Rudd in 2007. But as with Rudd, Abbott’s  “doing of God” will simply be one of a number of factors weighing on us as we vote.

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