Some eagle eye newspaper readers have found an unusual letter to the editor buried on page 13 of The Australian yesterday.
Written by Tony Abbott of Canberra, ACT, it was hard to overlook the obviously famous name on the page. But it was what the former PM said that has had readers scratching their heads.
Mr Abbott was responding to a review of Wayne Errington and Peter van Onselen’s Battleground, and described the biography of his life and time as prime minister as “partisan advocacy” and “riddled with errors”.
On Random House’s website, the book blurb reads “Battleground chronicles the paradox of the Abbott prime ministership: the virtues of loyalty when pragmatism was required; strong social values at odds with community attitudes; and honesty when tactics and strategy were essential. All would bring him undone”.
Tony Abbott’s full letter to the editor said this:
There was no engagement
In his review of Wayne Errington and Peter van Onselen’s book Battleground, Ross Fitzgerald doesn’t quite say it’s a hatchet job but he stresses the authors’ eagerness to find fault based on anonymous sources (“Abbott’s battleground smoulders on’’, 12-13/12). The book is riddled with errors of fact but one is especially egregious.
On page 213, the authors state: “We would like to thank Tony Abbott for engaging with us. He helped shape our arguments in this book even if he may not like the conclusions we reached.”
I did not “engage” with the authors. They requested an interview and emailed questions. These were so obviously a stitch up that I declined to answer other than to deny some of their claims.
The book — to put it at its kindest — is partisan advocacy rather than disinterested scholarship.
Tony Abbott, Canberra, ACT
In response, co-author of ‘Battleground’, Peter van Onselen, rejected the letter’s contents, reports Fairfax.
“He’s not right when he says all he did was deny things that were put to him. There’s a bit more in it than that. It is true that it’s not much of a response but he did more than that,” van Onselen said.
“I think it’s highly contested, at best for him, whether or not him answering email questions does or does not constitute engagement. Obviously I think it does and so does our publisher”.
“I’m planning to release the questions (which he [Abbott] lies about as unfair) & his answers,” he tweeted.
“This is a book about a failure of leadership,” Van Onselen said in response. “We don’t resile from the fact that it’s a book about him being a failure. How could it be anything but? He got knocked off less than two years into the job”.
“As my wife pointed out to me, if the most egregious error in the book, according to him, is a disagreement about what constitutes engagement, I’ll take that any day of the week”.
Tell us, do you think Tony Abbott was looking for sympathy or does he have a point? Was there another way he could have approached the situation?
If the most ‘egregious’ error in our book is Abbott believing that him answering email questions isn’t ‘engaging’ (his opinion) that’s great
— Peter van Onselen (@vanOnselenP) December 15, 2015
Letter to the former PM requesting authorisation to release our questions & his ‘on background’ answers sent today. Fingers crossed…
— Peter van Onselen (@vanOnselenP) December 16, 2015