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No Politician Was Quite as Adept at Putting His Foot — or Onions — in His Mouth as Tony Abbott

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott was pushed out of power Monday. Known for his many public gaffes, here's a look back at some of his most interesting word choices.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 26:  Opposition leader Tony Abbott completes the Body Science Great Australian Swim Series at the Sydney Harbour on January 26, 2011 in Sydney, Australia. The inaugural ocean swim event brings people of all ages together to compete in distances between 300 metres and 2.5 kilometres against the backdrop of the Sydney Harbour.  (Photo by Craig Golding/Getty Images)
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 26: Opposition leader Tony Abbott completes the Body Science Great Australian Swim Series at the Sydney Harbour on January 26, 2011 in Sydney, Australia. The inaugural ocean swim event brings people of all ages together to compete in distances between 300 metres and 2.5 kilometres against the backdrop of the Sydney Harbour. (Photo by Craig Golding/Getty Images)

Ousted Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott spent just less than two years in power before being voted out of office by his own party Monday. But in his short tenure as Liberal Party leader, and his political career even before he was named prime minister, Abbott managed to insult just about every niche of Australian society, from the indigenous community, women, and environmentalists, to gay people and even his own military.

Malcolm Turnbull, another member of the Liberal Party, cited a need for better economic leadership as his reason for driving Abbott out of power. Unlike Abbott, Turnbull supports gay marriage rights and has called for stronger policies that would benefit the environment, including cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

But if the world won’t miss Abbott for at times veering into realms of sexism, racism, homophobia, and general thoughtlessness, it will miss him for his entertainment value. Abbott was an easy butt of jokes on late night television, with some of the best segments on his term in power focusing on the gaffes that make him the Abbott so many love to hate. Australians are marking the end of Abbott’s tenure with #putoutyouronions — a tribute to the time Abbott ate a raw onion, skin and all, while on a trip to Tasmania.

Below is a list compiled by Foreign Policy of some of his best (read, worst) gaffes, many from even before he served as prime minister, categorized for your convenience.

On women:

Abbott once declared that abortions were a national tragedy, and said one of his main problems with legalization of the practice is that it “has been reduced to a question of the mother’s convenience.”

When given the opportunity to compare two female politicians in 2013, he chose not to focus on their platforms, but to instead said they “have a bit of sex appeal” and are “young” and “feisty.”

And speaking of sex appeal, Abbott seems to think all this nonsense about consensual sex is a bit overdone:

“I think there does need to be give and take on both sides, and this idea that sex is kind of a woman’s right to absolutely withhold, just as the idea that sex is a man’s right to demand I think are both, they both need to be moderated, so to speak,” he once said.

On climate change:

In a conversation with an Australian radio host about a deal passed through Australian Senate to reduce the number of windfarms installed in the country, Abbott said in June that wind farms are “visually awful” and “make a lot of noise.”  

“We got the best deal we could out of the Senate,” he said. “And if we hadn’t had a deal, Alan, we would have been stuck with even more of these things.”

His thoughts on wind farms might have something to do with his more general opinion on climate change and the environment. He once called the science behind climate change “absolute crap.”

On indigenous communities:

Shortly before Abbott was elected in 2013, he called himself the “prime minister for aboriginal affairs.” But this year, after throwing his support behind an effort to stop funding indigenous communities, he said it wasn’t up to taxpayers to fund any citizen’s “lifestyle choices” that made them want to live in such remote areas to begin with.

That comment grasped the attention of the United Nations’ special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous people, who condemned Abbott’s remarks as racist and said Australia had regressed in its treatment of these communities.

But close Abbott observers probably weren’t too surprised. He once touted the British arrival in Australia as a good thing, despite the fact Australia has been accused of committing genocide against the aboriginal population. “Western civilisation came to this country in 1788 and I’m proud of that,” he said in 2010.

On gay rights:

When asked in a televised interview what he thought about homosexuality, Abbott paused, but didn’t seem to use that time to actually reflect on an appropriate answer. Instead, he said “I’d probably … I feel a bit threatened.”

And then there’s this:

In what was probably his worst blunder of all time, Abbott discussed the death of  an Australian soldier who was killed in a firefight in Afghanistan. Later, footage was released of him reacting to a conversation about the lance corporal’s death: “It’s pretty obvious that, well, sometimes shit happens, doesn’t it?” he said.

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But wait, when asked about the comments in a television interview, Abbott accused the journalist of turning the comment into a “media circus,” before refusing to answer any further questions and inexplicably stayed silent for 24 seconds.

Photo Credit: Craig Golding/Getty Images

Siobhán O’Grady is a freelance journalist working across sub-Saharan Africa. She previously worked as a staff writer at Foreign Policy. @siobhan_ogrady

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