Furious row over appointment of Tony Abbott as trade envoy continues

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The raging row over the appointment of Tony Abbott as trade envoy is ongoing after Labour’s Emily Thornberry slammed his ‘history of offensive comments’. 

However, former Australian foreign minister and high commissioner to the UK, Alexander Downer, has spoken out in favour of Mr Abbott and said he has secured ‘huge’ trade deals for the country.   

Mr Abbott has received widespread criticism from British politicians and commentators following his newly appointed role as a trade envoy for the United Kingdom.

The former Australian prime minister was even branded a ‘misogynist, a sexist and a climate change denier’ by Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on British morning television. 

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme about Mr Abbott’s appointment, Mr Downer said: ‘He was the prime minister whose government was responsible for concluding – they’re not just minor trade agreements, they’re huge trade agreements with China, Japan and the Republic of Korea.

Former Australian foreign minister and high commissioner to the UK, Alexander Downer, has spoken out in favour of Tony Abbott and said he has secured ‘huge’ trade deals for the country

Mr Abbott has received widespread criticism from British politicians and commentators following his newly appointed role as a trade envoy for the United Kingdom

Mr Abbott has received widespread criticism from British politicians and commentators following his newly appointed role as a trade envoy for the United Kingdom

‘That was a remarkable achievement to pull that off.’

He said the criticism directed against Mr Abbott by Labour was ‘all-out party politicking’ after he defeated the Australian Labour Party at the polls.

Six controversial things Tony Abbott has said over the years 

1.) Homosexuality is ‘threatening’

In 2010, when asked about his views on homosexuality, Mr Abbott said: ‘I probably feel a bit threatened, as so many people do.’ 

He also campaigned against same-sex marriage. 

In his campaign against gay marriage he said: ‘If you’re worried about religious freedom and freedom of speech, vote no, and if you don’t like political correctness, vote no because voting no will help to stop political correctness in its tracks.’ 

2.) Abortion ‘the easy way out’

When discussing abortion rates in Australia in 2004, he described a woman’s choice to end a pregnancy as ‘the easy way out’.

3.) Men are more suited for leadership roles

He said that men are suited to leadership roles as they are ‘by physiology or temperament more adapted to exercise authority or to issue command’.

4.) Climate change is ‘probably doing good’

Speaking in 2009 he said he is ‘hugely unconvinced’ by the science on climate change.

He previously said global warming is ‘probably doing good’ and likened environmental policies to ‘primitive people once killing goats to appease the volcano gods’.

5.) ‘Nature should take its course’ with elderly COVID victims

Mr Abbott said people should be allowed to choose to ‘let nature take its course’ if their elderly relatives get COVID-19.

6.) Female candidate’s ‘sex appeal’

During the 2014 election campaign, he described a female opposition candidate as ‘feisty’ and said she had ‘a bit of sex appeal’.

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Asked about Mr Abbott’s past comments about women, Mr Downer said: ‘It is an attempt to try to denigrate Tony Abbott by searching, searching, searching for any quote that can be found (but) the truth is he is not a homophobe – his sister is gay and has stood up for him, very strongly for him over this issue.

‘He is not a misogynist, he has appointed many women to positions – he was appointed to this position by a woman. I don’t think it stacks up, I think it’s just party politicking.’

The selection of former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott as a UK trade adviser is ‘a wrong appointment on every level’, shadow trade secretary Emily Thornberry has argued. 

He has also been criticised for suggesting older people should be left to die from coronavirus, to spare younger generations from the economic burden.  

Tony Abbott’s sister, who is gay and wed her long-term partner with her brother by her side, has come to the former prime minister’s defence after he was labelled a ‘sexist homophobe’.    

Christine Forster released a very personal statement online defending her ‘compassionate and respectful’ brother.

‘It is nothing short of dishonesty for commentators and politicians who do not know Tony to label him a ”homophobe” and a ”misogynist” for the purpose of scoring cheap political points,’ she said.  

‘As a woman who has always been part of his life and who came out to him as gay in my early 40s, I know incontrovertibly that Tony is neither of those things’. 

She married her long-time partner, Virginia Flitcroft, in 2018, just one year after her brother campaigned against the legalisation of same-sex marriage. 

In his campaign against gay marriage he said: ‘If you’re worried about religious freedom and freedom of speech, vote no, and if you don’t like political correctness, vote no because voting no will help to stop political correctness in its tracks.’ 

Criticism of the appointment grew once again this morning, however, with shadow international trade secretary Emily Thornberry describing ‘two factors that should have immediately disqualified him’.

She said: ‘First, his history of offensive statements is so long and repetitive that it speaks to serious defects in his character, which is not one I think should be representing Britain on the world stage.

‘And second, the fact that he has no experience of detailed trade negotiations, no understanding of Brexit, no belief in climate change, no concern for workers’ rights, and no compunction about killing off Australia’s car industry mean, to my mind, that he has no credentials for this role.

‘Tony Abbott is therefore the wrong appointment on every level, which begs the more important question of why on earth Boris Johnson and Liz Truss have given him the job. 

Tony Abbott's sister Christine Forster (pictured, centre) wed long-time partner Virginia Flitcroft (left) in 2018, and has now come out in defence of her brother

Tony Abbott’s sister Christine Forster (pictured, centre) wed long-time partner Virginia Flitcroft (left) in 2018, and has now come out in defence of her brother

Ms Forster, has since released a very personal statement (pictured) online defending her 'compassionate and respectful' brother

Ms Forster, has since released a very personal statement (pictured) online defending her ‘compassionate and respectful’ brother

The former Australian prime minister was branded a 'misogynist, a sexist and a climate change denier' by Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on British morning television (pictured:  Tony Abbott arrives at a book launch in Sydney, Monday, November 25, 2019)

The former Australian prime minister was branded a ‘misogynist, a sexist and a climate change denier’ by Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on British morning television (pictured:  Tony Abbott arrives at a book launch in Sydney, Monday, November 25, 2019)

‘However, with this shambolic excuse for a Government, we may continue to be appalled and disappointed at their serial incompetence, but we should never any longer be surprised.’

It comes as Mr Abbott released a statement on Twitter about his new role, in which he said he was ‘only too keen’ to help the UK.  

‘A UK-Australia trade deal, maximising the movement of goods, services and people is clearly in the best interests of both our countries,’ he said.

‘It’s important for the wider world that Britain make the most of its post-Brexit opportunities and I am proud to be playing a part.

‘My government finalised trade deals between Australia and China, Japan and Korea. I’m looking forward to bringing that expertise to bear as Britain works towards mutually beneficial improvements with its major trading partners.’

Bronwyn Bishop, Australia’s longest serving female politician, also leapt to Mr Abbott’s defence, stating he was a victim of ‘disgraceful character assassination’.

‘To say that he is a misogynist is just outright wrong,’ she said on Sky News Australia.

‘He has a good record as a father of three girls and he had chiefs of staff who have been female.

‘I have known Tony for over three decades and I have never ever seen him have any of those traits of misogyny. 

‘So it is a disgraceful character assassination trying to destroy someone by people who are clearly political opponents.’

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon called Mr Abbott's comments 'disgraceful' after labelling him a 'misogynist, sexist and climate change denier'

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon called Mr Abbott’s comments ‘disgraceful’ after labelling him a ‘misogynist, sexist and climate change denier’

Her defence comes after Ms Sturgeon said if she had anything to do with the hiring process, then she would not have Mr Abbott as the UK’s trade envoy.

‘The idea that anyone could take that view is deeply offensive and wrong,’ she told Sky News UK anchor Kay Burley. 

‘But Tony Abbott, even before these comments, is a misogynist, he’s a sexist, he’s a climate change denier.

‘In my view he’s not the kind of person who should be a trade envoy or any kind of envoy for the United Kingdom’. 

British opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer agreed with Ms Sturgeon’s comments, saying British prime minister Boris Johnson made the wrong decision.

‘I have real concerns about Tony Abbott and I don’t think he’s the right person for the job. If I was prime minister I wouldn’t appoint him.’ 

Rita Panahi an Iranian Australian opinion columnist, also came to Mr Abbott’s defence and called out the ‘defamatory’ comments 

‘Absolutely despicable, defamatory BS from a repeat offender,’ she tweeted, referring to UK news presenter Ms Burley.

Bronwyn Bishop (pictured), Australia's longest serving female politician, has leapt to Mr Abbott's defence, stating he was a victim of 'disgraceful character assassination'

Bronwyn Bishop (pictured), Australia’s longest serving female politician, has leapt to Mr Abbott’s defence, stating he was a victim of ‘disgraceful character assassination’

'To say that he is a misogynist is just outright wrong,' Ms Bishop said about Tony Abbott (pictured) on Sky News Australia

‘To say that he is a misogynist is just outright wrong,’ Ms Bishop said about Tony Abbott (pictured) on Sky News Australia

‘Tony Abbott should consult a lawyer. These unfounded slurs, pushed by his loony left political opponents, are stated as fact by ”journalists” in the UK.’

UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock attempted to defend Mr Abbott’s ‘disgraceful’ comments insisting ‘he’s also an expert in trade’. 

‘We need experts in different areas and somebody who is the former prime minister of Australia is obviously an enormous expert in the field of trade,’ he said.  

Mr Abbott was officially appointed on Friday, UK time.

Senior coalition minister Mathias Cormann, who served under Mr Abbott, said he had a distinguished record.

‘From where I sit, Tony Abbott is clearly a giant on Australian politics who has made a great contribution over a long time,’ Senator Cormann told Sky News on Friday.

‘Not everyone will agree with him, but people are entitled to their views, and that’s the way things work in a democracy.’ 

Abbott has previously said he feels ‘a bit threatened’ by homosexuality and opposed same-sex marriage. 

He was also accused of misogyny in front of Australian parliament by then prime minister Julia Gillard. 

Ms Gillard references his comments about the price of electricity when opposition leader in 2010.   

‘What the housewives of Australia need to understand as they do the ironing is that if they get it done commercially it’s going to go up in price and their own power bills when they switch the iron on are going to go up,’ he said.

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