Former prime minister John Howard has slammed critics of Tony Abbott’s claim that Bob Hawke had “a Labor heart and a Liberal head” as expressing outrage for outrage’s sake.
Mr Howard paid tribute to Mr Hawke’s legacy on Friday, but said he could not understand the outpouring of complaints generated by Mr Abbott’s statement.
“That’s Tony’s way of expressing the reality,” Mr Howard said.
“The reality is, he [Mr Hawke] did implement policies that attracted support from the Liberal Party, and it’s one of those reasons why the policies were adopted. In sharp contrast – if I may say so – from the experience my government had.”
Mr Howard said he did not understand why Mr Abbott had been widely criticised for his statement.
“I don’t know why. That sounds like outrage for the sake of outrage to me,” he said.
“I thought it was completely unexceptionable. I mean, it seems as if there’s a cohort of people in the Australian community at the moment – probably not friends of the Liberal Party – who just want to seize on anything Tony Abbott says and criticise it, irrespective of the merit and the substance involved.”
Mr Howard also launched a thinly veined attack on Labor’s current leadership.
“[Mr Hawke] rose to the top of the ACTU. Yet he did not seek to divide the Australian community on phoney class lines, as some other Labor figures, certainly in recent times, have endeavoured to do,” he said.
Mr Abbott angered many by marking Mr Hawke’s death on Thursday night with his claim that the former Labor PM had a “Labor heart, but a Liberal head”.
Mr Abbott’s tribute sparked an outpouring of abuse on social media after he posted his thoughts on the death of the former prime minister.
“Bob Hawke was a great prime minister. In my judgment, he was Labor’s greatest prime minister,” Mr Abbott said.
“But his key achievements – financial deregulation, tariff cuts and the
beginnings of privatisation went against the Labor grain, as Labor’s more recent policy direction shows.
“You might almost say he had a Labor heart, but a Liberal head.
“Certainly the Coalition supported nearly all of his big reforms, helping to make his tenure a time of economic revitalisation.
“All Australians should mourn someone who changed our country for the better because he was always prepared to argue his case, even if it meant first persuading key people on his own side.”
Mr Abbott declined to engage in the controversy when an ABC TV crew caught up with him campaigning in Warringah on Friday as he faces a nervous wait to see how his independent challenger Zali Stegall fares on election night.
“He was a wonderful prime minister. And he is rightly mourned by everyone today,” Mr Abbott told ABC News of Mr Hawke.
Statement on the death of The Hon Bob Hawke AC, GCL: pic.twitter.com/M8fzbFlVTE
— Tony Abbott (@TonyAbbottMHR) May 16, 2019
On Friday morning, Prime Minister Scott Morrison distanced himself from Mr Abbott’s comments.
“They’re not words I obviously used,” Mr Morrison said.
“I think everyone was seeking to be generous about that. I mean, a Liberal saying that, I would hope, would not seek to be partisan,” he said.
“I think it was more about the broad spectrum of views he was able to embrace, and how all Australians from either the Liberal or Labor side were able to appreciate what he was about. And that’s certainly how I choose to look at that.”
ABC radio host and comedian Wendy Harmer replied to Mr Abbott’s post: “You might almost say you have a pea where your heart should be, Tony Abbott.”
Olympian and former Labor senator Nova Paris wrote, “What an awful statement. Shame on you.”
Dear Liberals – stop saying the Coalition supported Hawke's reforms.
You didn't support Medicare – Howard promised to gut it.
You didn't support compulsory super — you spent decades undermining it.
Ditto tax reform, family payments, industrial relations protections.
— Bernard Keane (@BernardKeane) May 16, 2019
The Victorian MP Mary-Anne Thomas said of Mr Abbott, “Two more days until your career is over and you will be remembered as one of our worst prime ministers.”
Channel Nine’s Weekend Today host David Campbell wrote: “Read the room mate.”
ABC broadcaster Sarah McDonald wrote, “It is pretty shocking.”
A former Greens candidate for the Legislative Council in NSW, Kym Chapple, wrote, “Wow, you are a disgusting grub.”
He's just such a petty grubby little man that he can even wreck an obit
— kym chapple (@kymtje) May 16, 2019
“This is as sick and petty as your response to Margaret Whitlam,” Giovanni Torre wrote.
“Let me tell you mate, in 100 years people will remember Bob Hawke. In ten years no-one will remember Tony Abbott the smallest man to ever be PM.”
Mr Abbott was previously accused of political point scoring in Margaret Whitlam’s obituary when he criticised the Whitlam government in his statement.
”There was a lot wrong with the Whitlam government but nevertheless, it was a very significant episode in our history and Margaret Whitlam was a very significant element in the political success of Gough Whitlam,” Mr Abbott said.
In 2011, Mr Hawke said Mr Abbott was “mad as a cut snake”.