Former prime minister Tony Abbott has defended himself for being drunk and incapacitated on the job in 2009, while slamming welfare recipients for blowing taxpayers’ money on booze.
Mr Abbott, who admitted to passing out in his office and missing key votes following a rowdy dinner while in opposition, said his drinking binge paled in comparison to Labor’s profligate spending.
“I was sober in the morning. But our country is still dealing with the debt and debt hangover of the former Labor government’s spending binge,” he told 2UE radio on Saturday.
“That’s what we should be focused on, not the fact that Peter Costello, Kevin Andrews and I had three or four bottles of wine over dinner.”
Asked about his lifestyle habits, Mr Abbott said “one of the reasons why I exercise pretty fiercely is because it means I can eat and drink, occasionally to excess.”
“I don’t think that anyone has ever accused me of not being a knockabout Aussie,” he said.
Mr Abbott had previously rejected suggestions he missed crucial votes on Labor’s financial stimulus measures because he was drunk, but came clean during an upcoming episode of Annabel Crabb’s The House.
In the same 2UE interview on Saturday, Mr Abbott argued for the rollout of cashless welfare cards for all working age Australians receiving benefits from the government, to help combat binge drinking.
The former PM spent the week in remote Indigenous communities such as Halls Creek in Western Australia’s Kimberley region. He said the card, which restricts welfare expenditure to essentials and has been trialled in two locations, should be rolled out in other remote communities and “eventually right around our country”.
“With working age people on welfare, why shouldn’t the money they get from taxpayers be quarantined to the essentials of life?” he said.
“Because certainly in lots of places, that money is being blown on booze and that’s not a good thing for anyone.”
Mr Abbott conceded there were mixed feelings about the card in Kununurra, where it has been piloted, but said many people agreed “we actually need safer communities, we need people who’ve got more productive lives, and this card would help that”.
The cards arose from a report by Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest commissioned by Mr Abbott as prime minister. The government has committed to introducing the card at two new sites following encouraging signs from the initial trials.
Mr Abbott said the revelation about his own excess was “an old story” that he told Crabb “in a jocular way”.
But Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull – who was opposition leader in 2009 – scolded Mr Abbott for his behaviour, calling it “clearly not acceptable or admirable in any way”.
“The whips tried to rouse him to get him down into the chamber to vote, but they were unable to move him,” Mr Turnbull recounted on Friday.
“I can’t remember anyone else missing a vote because they were too drunk to get in the chamber, but the fact is Tony Abbott has ‘fessed up to it.”
Former Labor treasurer Wayne Swan, who steered Labor’s response to the financial crisis, also slammed Mr Abbott on Friday.
“He slept through some of the most important votes in the Australian Parliament in over 50 or 60 years,” he said.
“When the jobs of Australians were on the line, Tony Abbott didn’t care. His recklessness knows no bounds.”