Australia must retain its ties to Britain, declared Australian Opposition Leader Tony Abbott in a speech at The Queen’s College on 14th December, in which he also highlighted the contrast between the traditionalism of Oxford and the inquisitiveness encouraged by the tutorial system.
Speaking of the university, Abbott marvelled at how, “With its white bowties and academic gowns and graduation ceremonies in Latin, this university is an institution that seems to defy change and to thumb its nose at modernity. Indeed, there are few institutions – perhaps not even the Catholic Church – in which tradition is more respected.”
Despite this, Oxford’s “most important and honourable tradition, though, is the contestability of ideas,” Abbott said. “This insatiable curiosity and ceaseless questioning that Oxford at its best embodies is the hallmark of Western civilization […] and provides our comparative advantage among the cultures of the world.”
“With its question-everything tradition, it’s hardly surprising that this university has educated so many democratic politicians from around the world,” he added.
Abbott described “a sense of belonging [to Britain] not because I was born here but because our culture was.”
Reaffirming Australia’s commitment to the West, Abbott spoke of the importance of Britain as “our largest trading partner in Europe, the second largest source of direct foreign investment in Australia, and America’s most important and most reliable military ally,” and most importantly “as a beacon of democratic freedom.”
“Australia’s foreign policy should rightly have a Jakarta rather than a Geneva focus; but Asia is not the only region where there will be an Australia citizen to be protected, an Australian interest to be advanced, or an Australian value to be upheld,” he acknowledged.
Referencing John Howard, Abbott said, "We do not have to choose between our history and our geography but should benefit from both."
Abbott, a member of the centre-right Liberal Party, was elected a Rhodes Scholar in 1981. He studied at the Queen’s College earning a MA in Politics and Philosophy and competing as a Blue in boxing.
Abbott’s visit to Queen’s was sponsored by the Oxford University Australia and New Zealand Society, and was part of a longer trip that included meetings with Foreign Secretary William Hague, London mayor Boris Johnson, and Governor of the Bank of England Sir Mervyn King. Abbott’s trip was preceded by a stop in Afghanistan, where he met with Australian soldiers.
Eli Ball, the president of the Oxford University Australia and New Zealand society, commented, “Regardless of your political views or leanings, I think there can be little doubt that Mr Abbott has been one of the most significant players in Australian politics over the past decade, and OUANZ is simply delighted that he was able to take time from his busy UK schedule to come visit us in Oxford.”