and whether they were both Prime Minister of Downunder at some point. Did I miss an entire election somewhere? Oddly they look alike too.
The Tony Abbott I worked with was not the person the media keeps describing. He was Minister for Health. There was a major problem, one he was required to deal with as Minister. I went to him without much hope. The problem might cost something to solve unless he was prepared to listen to an alternative. I knew I might just get one of those sort of pro-forma letters saying the issue was being "looked into and we will contact you again later".
I did actually get one of those letters and was trying to work on other ways to deal with the issue when I was called in to talk to not merely a public servant but the Minister himself.
He asked me to explain the problem again. I did. He asked me what I thought the solution might be. I gave him both possible solutions. He called someone else in and I repeated myself. I was asked some hard questions - and had the answers for them.
Then it was, "I think we can do this. It might take a little while but I don't see why it can't be done."
It was done. It took longer than it should have done because there were a number of staff in the department who were working actively against him. Their delaying tactics were many, varied and designed to make him look incompetent. There is nothing unusual about this. Like everyone else public servants have political allegiances.
I had more dealings with him later. As Prime Minister he also took time out to write me a very personal letter on a subject completely outside his role as Prime Minister.
This was the man who became the "misogynist" Prime Minister. He was unfailingly courteous. He really listened to a female who just happened to have an idea.
This same "misogynist" Prime Minister had a female chief of staff - chosen by him over men who might well have been equally or even more capable. He was accused of being "homophobic" but it seems rather strange that he chose a gay to be his media/press secretary - and that he has a very close relationship with his lesbian sister as well friends in same-sex relationships. It has also been said that he supports paedophiles because he supported someone accused of appalling crimes. What he was really doing was supporting a friend he believed to be innocent of those crimes - something the High Court later found to be the case. It wasn't that he believed his friend to be in anyway perfect or that he always agrees with him. It was simply that someone he knew was in trouble and he supported that friend.
Despite that he is said to "lack empathy" although I felt he was just the opposite when I first met him. Certainly his later letter to me showed a great deal of empathy.
It is said he "does not believe in climate change" but finding out where he has actually said that is proving to be something of a problem. It seems more likely he hasn't actually said that at all. It is just that he doesn't always agree with the more outspoken on the causes and solutions.
He is of course Catholic, devoutly Catholic. He once began to train for the priesthood but left that path. There are suggestions he did not feel he was worthy of that role. His beliefs are aligned with that. His manners are more old-fashioned than is common. And yes, he has been known to "lose his cool" as one of his staff told me one day.
He is far from perfect. None of us are perfect. He has made mistakes. We all make mistakes. There are in fact other people who have held the same positions who have made bigger mistakes and who have most certainly lacked both courtesy and empathy. They have also held views that many disagree with - but they do not come in for the same degree of criticism.
Perhaps though the endless criticism of him says more about his detractors than it does about the man himself.