In a flying visit to Launceston to launch an anti-bullying website, Tony Abbott called for respect for people who did not conform to what ‘society thinks best’.
Speaking briefly to a small gathering at the launch of Angels Hope’s new website, the former prime minister used the opportunity to call for respect.
When asked by The Examiner about bullying during the same-sex marriage plebiscite, Mr Abbott said he understood “why a lot of people feel vulnerable”.
“I guess minority groups are much more prone to feeling vulnerable than people who are part of a majority,” he said.
“We’ve got to ensure when we have a debate over something which is contentious, it’s respectful.”
“I think Eric [Abetz] and I, and Josh [Senator Abetz’s press secretary] and others who have participated in this debate have done our best to be as respectful as possible.
“I’m not sure that people on the other side have been quite the same but nevertheless we’ve all got to do our best.”
He acknowledged: “We’ve got to be alive to the fact that sometimes, unconsciously, we ourselves might be bullies”.
Senator Abetz questioned the dismissal of a Canberra contractor because she intended to vote no.
“Nobody has called on Alan Joyce to resign,” he said of the Qantas chief’s lobbying for the Yes campaign.
On the invitation of his close friend, Senator Abetz, Mr Abbott attended the launch to “lend the authority of the former Prime Ministership to it”.
“It’s particularly important that we are respectful and considerate of those who might not entirely conform to whatever pattern society or dominant individuals in society think best,” Mr Abbott told the crowd.
At the launch Mr Abbott was presented with an onion, which he quickly peeled and bit during the press conference – a salute to 2015 when he made national news by eating a raw onion at Moriarty.
Mr Abbott’s campaign against same-sex marriage has drawn criticism from his own family, with his sister and daughter voting Yes.
Mr Abbott said Australians were frustrated with squandered opportunities and declared he was “embarrassed” New Zealand had a spark “which we don’t quite have”.
After being toppled by Malcolm Turnbull – who used the need for optimism and positivity as a catalyst to challenge – Mr Abbott said Australians still had much to be hopeful for.
“For all our present difficulties and for all our present frustrations we are a wonderful people – we have a wonderful country,” he said.
“We have a better future than just about anyone on God’s Earth – if only we make the most of it.”
Mr Abbott said people “sense we are not making the most of ourselves”.
“You go to New Zealand for instance and for the first time in anyone’s memory you feel a little bit embarrassed that the kiwis are doing so well,” he said.
“There’s a spark about New Zealand at the moment which we don’t quite have and that’s, I think, a pity.
It’s also a bit disconcerting given that we are used, at least in a Trans-Tasman context, to be the top dog.”
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