Tony Abbott: The Barack Obama antidote?

G20 leaders meet a koala. Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott and United States' President Barack Obama meet Australian koalas before the start of the first G20 Leaders' Summit session on 15 November 2014. Image copyright G20
Image caption Abbott and Obama: not quite eye-to-eye on all issues

The last thing the United States probably needs right now is another Republican presidential candidate.

The race is already chock-a-block with conservative white middle-aged men.

But if pledging an entirely different vision to Barack Obama is a key credential of any serious contender, the Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott would slot quite nicely into the Republican field (notwithstanding his monarchist leanings).

Who knows what was discussed in the intimate moments of chitchat when the two men met last November at the G20 in Brisbane? (You'd have to ask the koalas.)

But you can't imagine the leaders see eye to eye on much.

When Obama says yes, Abbott cries no.

When Obama turns left, Abbott veers right.

"Barry" goes for shrimp. Tony orders the prawns.

His legacy in mind, Mr Obama has recently chalked up the legalisation of gay marriage and a serious drive to tackle climate change.

Meanwhile, Mr Abbott is blocking attempts to introduce same-sex marriage in Australia and has said environmental concerns cannot take priority over economic ones when it comes to tackling global warming.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Australian gay rights activists held a same-sex marriage rally in Sydney on Sunday

The gay marriage issue in Australia is an interesting one, not least because Tony Abbott, and indeed politicians in general, are out of touch with public opinion.

Polls show the majority of Australians support same-sex marriage.

And that's why it's a potentially dangerous issue for Mr Abbott who admits to feeling "a bit threatened" by homosexuality - even though his own sister Christine is a lesbian.

And it's not just the public Tony Abbott is out of sync with.

Some MPs within his own Liberal Party are in favour of legalising gay marriage.

So if the prime minister continues to deny his parliamentary colleagues a free conscience vote on the issue, he risks alienating some within his own party.

Of course, in both Australia and the United States much of this comes down to political number crunching rather than personal soul searching.

It's important to remember that Mr Obama didn't come out firmly in favour of gay marriage until 2012.

Was this because his opinions on the matter had "evolved"? Or was it because his pollsters and spin doctors were telling him being anti-gay marriage was no longer a net vote winner in modern America?

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Australia's move towards gay marriage was in part spurred by Ireland's legalisation earlier this year

You could say the same in the United Kingdom where in 2015 it would seem very old hat for a leader of a mainstream political party to oppose gay marriage.

But in Australia, Mr Abbott is perhaps calculating that the political maths do not yet persuade him to change his position.

While the majority of Australians support gay marriage, in key marginal constituencies, crucial to electoral success, that is not necessarily the case.

And while the opposition Labor leader, Bill Shorten, has pledged a bill to introduce gay marriage within 100 days of being elected, many MPs in marginal seats within his own party might not necessarily back him.

Gay marriage is not an entirely left/right issue in Australia.

If we turn to the issue of climate change, Mr Abbott and Mr Obama are also far from singing from the same hymn sheet.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Australia is one of the world's top carbon emitters per capita

Announcing his action plan to tackle global warming this month, the US leader said climate change was the greatest threat the world faced.

Compare that to Tony Abbott this week as he pledged to cut carbon emissions by at least 26% by 2030, a target the Greens party called "pathetically low."

"The last thing we want to do is protect the environment and at the same damage the economy," said Mr Abbott.

Doesn't sound quite such a committed tree-hugger as Mr Obama does he?

Of course you could argue that Tony Abbott is just being refreshingly honest.

After all, behind closed doors, most world leaders, and indeed most people, would probably admit they care more about a strong economy than tackling climate change.

And that's one reason why it's important not to underestimate Tony Abbott.

While his critics are quick to mock him for what they see as his gaffes or outrageous remarks, politically he seems to thrive on it.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Donald Trump - Tony Abbott's political twin?

Going back to those US Republican candidates, you could say Tony Abbott has something of the Donald Trump about him.

Both men trumpet their "plain speaking" and trash "political correctness."

Trump currently leads the Republican Presidential race.

And if there were to be an election in Australia tomorrow, there's a fair chance Tony could come out on top too.

Related Topics

More on this story