ELIZABETH JACKSON: Politics throws up some unlikely friendships.
Indeed it’s hard to imagine a more unusual friendship than the one between the Labor Party stalwart and speech writer, Bob Ellis, and the man who sued him for a million dollars – the Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott.
But friends they are and last night they got together to help promote Bob Ellis’s latest book.
It was enemy territory for Tony Abbott in inner-city Sydney but he braved the hostile crowd for a wide-ranging public discussion.
Our reporter David Mark was there.
DAVID MARK: Friday night.
Gleebooks in Sydney – the place is packed.
This is a Labor crowd.
And there reading from the pulpit is a man steeped in the Labor Party, the author and speechwriter for many a premier and prime minister, Bob Ellis.
And the subject, the other man on the stage, conservative warrior and Liberal leader, Tony Abbott.
BOB ELLIS (reading from book): Coffee with Quentin Dempster and a chat about things in Parliament House this afternoon. I put the case that our problem with Abbott is he’s so good looking…
He has no bad angles and like Hawke he’ll win over women with his handsome, husky looks and cheeky male manner.
“Good looking?” says Quentin “he’s as ugly as a hatful of arseholes”.
DAVID MARK: And does Tony Abbott smile? Not quite.
The crowd loves the joke at Tony Abbott’s expense. They’re not here to give him an easy time.
He’s heckled repeatedly.
TONY ABBOTT: This is almost as bad as Parliament, Bob. We’ve got cheeky interjections. Where’s the Speaker to send someone out at the appropriate time?
DAVID MARK: Tony Abbott may not have won over the crowd, but at least he got to show himself in a new light as he and Bob Ellis discussed issues ranging from Afghanistan and asylum seekers to abortion and his religious beliefs.
TONY ABBOTT: Plainly, there are a lot of people in this audience who don’t share my views but the dialogue is incredibly important. I mean, we are a civilised polity because we can talk about things and argue about things, rather than simply fight about them and ultimately shoot people over them.
DAVID MARK: And by the end there was at least some respect from audience members like Antony Loewenstein.
ANTONY LOEWENSTEIN: Abbott has a degree of nuance and I admire that, even though I disagree with everything he says.
DAVID MARK: As for his host, Labor stalwart Bob Ellis, as unlikely as it seems, there’s warm affection for the Opposition leader.
BOB ELLIS: Yes, I met him first about 15 years ago. I’ve more or less liked him since, although he sued my publisher for a million dollars and got it.
DAVID MARK: So what are the qualities, what are his qualities that you enjoy?
BOB ELLIS: Um, a lack of arrogance, a willingness to listen, a capacity to struggle with his own beliefs.
DAVID MARK: How would you, then, compare the leaders of the two major parties in Australian politics at the moment? Tony Abbott, who you admire, and Julia Gillard.
BOB ELLIS: Gillard makes a mistake every three days and will not last – has five or 15 months in her. Nobody is speaking of the Gillard era. She should be there for 20 years logically, but she will not. She has a kind of political tone deafness whereas Tony has a political acuteness. He hears, he listens; she doesn’t.
ELIZABETH JACKSON: Author, speech writer and, believe it or not, all-round Labor Party figure, Bob Ellis, ending that report from David Mark.