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Former journalist Abbott vying to be Australian PM

world Updated: Jul 17, 2010 11:17 IST

Opposition leader Tony Abbott is the leader of the opposition Liberal Party and a former journalist respected for his political instincts and communication skills who once contemplated becoming a priest.

The 52-year-old was born in London to Australian parents and raised in Sydney, where he lives with his wife of more than 20 years and three daughters.

He became prominent in student politics while majoring in law and economics at Sydney University, then studied at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar. Abbott briefly entered the priesthood at a Sydney seminary before becoming a journalist, a Liberal Party staffer, and then a lawmaker in 1994.

Abbott is the third opposition leader since the 2007 election. He proved an effective minister under a previous government with various portfolios covering employment, industrial relations and health from 1998 until 2007.

His critics have dubbed him "The Mad Monk," a play on his name and a reference to his past as a seminarian.

Abbott's image as a man's man and a social conservative has proved unpopular with many women, according to opinion polling, and starkly contrasts him with his rival, Julia Gillard, Australia's first female prime minister.

Abbott has pledged to tackle people smuggling, a key issue in Australia where more than 4,000 asylum seekers have arrived by boat in the past year, by introducing temporary visas that would enable refugees to be sent back to their homelands if conditions there improve.

Abbott - a self-proclaimed climate change skeptic - says his Roman Catholic faith never affects his policy decisions. But opponents disagree, pointing to his prohibition as health minister of the abortion pill mifepristone in Australia. The ban was overturned by parliament in 2006.

Abbott, who is a member of a Sydney surf lifesaving club, is often photographed in swim
wear during lifeguard competitions on Sydney beaches.