Frances Abbott, 24 year-old daughter of Prime Minister Tony Abbott, made news a couple of weeks ago when it emerged she’d been offered a $60,ooo scholarship to attend the Whitehouse Institute of Design. The scholarship has been awarded only once before, to the daughter of the school’s director, and students interviewed say they had no idea such a scholarship was available, and would have applied for it if they had.
As the scholarship is apparently awarded on merit, the Whitehouse Institute of Design appears to have a remarkably low number of meritorious students, the Director’s daughter and the daughter of the Prime Minister being the only ones considered worthy of such financial largesse in the Institute’s entire history.
Today it’s been revealed that Ms Abbott broke her lease agreement on an apartment she rented in Prahan, citing lack of security in the ground floor dwelling, and telling a VCAT hearing that “My dad is the Prime Minister” and he and his security teams did not consider the apartment safe for her. Ms Abbott had signed the lease without first consulting her father on the security issue because she wanted to be “independent.”
For reasons I find completely incomprehensible, not least because they haven’t been explained, VCAT found in Ms Abbott’s favour, and she was not obliged to pay $1000 requested by the landlady, a single mother recovering from cancer who was forced to default on a mortgage payment to cover her costs after Ms Abbott broke the lease.
Nobody would disagree that members of the PM’s family need security, however, it is remarkable that Ms Abbott herself did not think about this, or consult her father prior to signing the lease. This does not sound like the same standard of mature, responsible behaviour Mr Abbott demands from other 24 year-old Australians, especially those who are unemployed.
If you are in this category, and your dad is not the PM, you will have to apply for 40 jobs every month for six months before you are eligible for meagre government assistance, and quite how you are going to house, feed and clothe yourself during those six months is anybody’s guess.
Mr Abbott clearly believes young people ought to be independent, unless, of course, they are his young people. Handouts never encouraged anyone to stand on their own two feet, unless of course they are handed out to his children in the form of $60,000 scholarships. If your dad isn’t the Prime Minister, you won’t be offered scholarships nobody else knows about to get you through university, private college, or TAFE, if you choose to learn instead of earn between the ages of seventeen and thirty. Indeed, the cost of your learning, set to double or triple in the coming years, plus interest, may make it difficult for you to carry the burden of a mortgage as well, so you will be facing extraordinary challenges of the kind we are not used to in Australia, where education has been a right, and not simply a privilege available to the wealthy and powerful.
The matter of Ms Abbott’s security, and the matter of the broken lease are two separate issues. While I sympathise with Ms Abbott’s struggle to carve out her independence, something many of us had to do before we were twenty-four but let’s not carp, surely it is Ms Abbott’s responsibility to fulfil her legal obligations. The lease was signed. The property proved inappropriate after the lease was signed. If this happened to me, or you, we’d be stuck with it or we’d pay the penalty for breaking our agreement. If our dad earned half a million dollars a year, he might help us out with whatever costs we’d incurred, but only if he had political power could we get off scot-free, leaving another out-of-pocket and paying for our irresponsibility.
Mr Abbott insists that families should be off-limits in the political arena. However, he did rely heavily on the presence of his wife and three daughters throughout the election campaign, not least of all to prove he isn’t a misogynist, though I remain unconvinced by that dubious evidence. When politicians’ families benefit from the spouse and parents’ occupation, it is impossible to argue that they should be left out of the fray. They can’t be in it for the goodies, and out of it for the critiques. Ms Abbott is an adult. Her father is making enormous demands on adults of the same age, and much younger. It is these very demands made by their father that will continue to ensure the Abbott daughters remain under intense scrutiny. The Prime Minister cannot see his daughters favoured, while he subjects the daughters and sons of others to harsh and cruel demands that have the potential to ruin their lives.