Labor leader Bill Shorten just delivered a surprisingly touching tribute to former PM Tony Abbott

Bill Shorten during question time today. Source: screenshot

The Australian parliament’s first question time under new prime minister Malcolm Turnbull today put aside its usual feistiness to pay tribute to fallen leader Tony Abbott, a man who while leader of the opposition, helped bring about the demise of both Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard as PM.

But today opposition leader Bill Shorten reminded everyone of the human side of politics in paying tribute to Abbott, recounting how despite their savage battles, the former Liberal leader could also be “generous and personal”.

Here’s what Shorten said:

Politics is a privilege for we who serve here.

It is a vocation.

But, as we know, it can be very hard as well.

Now it is part of the Australian spirit not to score points when someone is down.

So I just want to say that public life is hard on people who serve and it is hard on their families.

It is not for me to be partisan about Mr Abbott’s record.

But he certainly led the Liberal Party formidably, for well in excess of five years.

He is a fierce proponent of his views, a formidable proponent of his views, a ruthless advocate for what he believes in.

From his first victory in 2009 to become the leader of the Liberal Party, right through to last night, he is a fighter, a formidable fighter.

I have exchanged harsh words with him in my time as Opposition Leader.

I’ve disagreed with his politics and decisions on many occasions.

But I also wish to record that he had this frustrating ability on occasion, just when you were really frustrated with a particular decision he might have made, to do something unexpected and generous and personal.

From the time when my mother passed, he was very sensitive to that.

I said this to him and I explained the conundrum of his frustrating behaviour, he just smiled at me and he said “I’m sure I’ll frustrate you again” and he did.

It is a very tough day for Tony Abbott. I say to him, to Margie, to his remarkable daughters, that we wish you well.

To Mr Abbott’s personal staff, led by the formidable Peta Credlin, you have served the boss loyally and according to your code and we recognise this.

And in conclusion I just say to Mr Abbott I had the privilege on several occasions of being with you when we would address serving men and women of our Defence Forces.

And what I thought was remarkably humble of the Member for Warringah, is he would frequently introduce his remarks to them and say: “I have never served” and he was conscious, I think of this, even disproportionately.

What I say to Mr Abbott is you have served. I don’t think you need to judge yourself any less for not having actually worn the uniform of this country.

You have represented and been the Prime Minister of this country. That is service indeed.

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