Eric Abetz

Eric Abetz (born 25 January 1958) is an Australian politician who has been a Senator for Tasmania since February 1994, representing the Liberal Party. He was the Minister for Employment and the Leader of the Government in the Senate in the Abbott Government from 2013 to 2015.[2] He previously also served as Special Minister of State in the Howard Government from 2001 to 2006 and as Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation from 2006 to 2007.

Eric Abetz
Senator Eric Abetz crop.jpg
Leader of the Government in the Senate
In office
18 September 2013 – 21 September 2015
Prime MinisterTony Abbott
Malcolm Turnbull
DeputyGeorge Brandis
Preceded byPenny Wong
Succeeded byGeorge Brandis
Minister for Employment
In office
18 September 2013 – 21 September 2015
Prime MinisterTony Abbott
Malcolm Turnbull
Preceded byBill Shorten
Succeeded byMichaelia Cash
Leader of the Opposition in the Senate
In office
3 May 2010 – 18 September 2013
DeputyGeorge Brandis
LeaderTony Abbott
Preceded byNick Minchin
Succeeded byPenny Wong
Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation
In office
27 January 2006 – 3 December 2007
Prime MinisterJohn Howard
Preceded byIan Macdonald
Succeeded byOffice abolished
Special Minister of State
In office
30 January 2001 – 27 January 2006
Prime MinisterJohn Howard
Preceded byChris Ellison
Succeeded byGary Nairn
Senator for Tasmania
Assumed office
22 February 1994
Preceded byBrian Archer
Personal details
Born (1958-01-25) 25 January 1958 (age 62)
Stuttgart, Baden-Württemberg, West Germany
CitizenshipAustralian (1974–)
West German (1958–1974)[1]
Political partyLiberal Party of Australia
Alma materUniversity of Tasmania

Born in Germany (in what was then West Germany), Abetz emigrated to Australia as a small child, when his father came to work for Tasmania's Hydro Electric Commission. He was educated at the University of Tasmania and was a barrister and solicitor before entering politics. He is a former national president of the Australian Liberal Students' Federation and was state president of the Tasmanian Liberals from 1990 to 1994.

Family and personal lifeEdit

The youngest of six children, Abetz emigrated from Germany to Australia with his parents in 1961.[3] His father, a radio technician, came to Australia to work for Tasmania's Hydro Electric Commission, which had advertised for skilled workers in German newspapers.[4] Another one of the Abetz children is Peter Abetz, who was the Liberal member for Southern River in the Legislative Assembly of Western Australia from the 2008 state election until 2017. Eric Abetz's great uncle, Otto Abetz, was a Nazi SS officer, German ambassador to Vichy France, and a convicted war criminal.[5]

Abetz married Michelle Oates in 1991, and they had three children.[6] His wife died of cancer in 2019. He is a Christian.[7]


Abetz studied at Taroona High School, Hobart Matriculation College and the University of Tasmania, earning degrees in law and arts in 1981. He served as President of the University of Tasmania Liberal Club,[8] and in 1980–1981, he became the first Tasmanian to become national president of the Australian Liberal Students' Federation, during which time he came into political conflict with Nick Sherry and Sue Mackay, both later to be Australian Labor Party senators.[4]

Early political career: 1993–2007 in opposition and GovernmentEdit

He won preselection as a candidate for the Senate in the 1993 election but did not win a seat. He was then chosen to fill the casual vacancy caused by the resignation of Brian Archer in 1994, and was elected in his own right at the subsequent 1998 election and re-elected in 2004 and 2010. Abetz was Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Defence 1998–2001 and was Special Minister of State from January 2001 until 2006.

Abetz earlier in his political career.

He has served as Chairman of the Native Title and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Land Fund Committee and Chairman of the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee. He also served as Chairman of the Attorney-General and Justice Government Members' Committee.[9]

He was a member of a Parliamentary Delegation which visited France and Belgium in June and July 1997, and made an official visit to the United Kingdom in September 1999.[10]

He was Minister for Forestry from a reshuffle of the Howard ministry in January 2006 until its defeat at the 2007 election. He commenced his portfolio by attacking the Australian Greens and environmentalists in general as anti-Australian. He described the campaign against woodchipping as "akin to treason" and branded the Greens an "extreme left" party.[11] This allowed him to position the government's priorities as mainstream issues which both major parties wanted action on.[12]

Later political career: 2007–2015 in opposition and GovernmentEdit

In September 2013 Abetz was appointed Minister for Employment in the Abbott Government and oversaw the drafting of legislation to reestablish the Australian Building and Construction Commission, the establishment of a Registered Organisations Commission following the Craig Thomson Affair, and the launching of the Royal Commission into trade union governance and corruption and Fair Work Act Review.[citation needed] Abetz also designed and implemented the Government's Jobactive Employment Services Reforms.[citation needed]

Abetz is a Christian and a member of the Christian Reformed Churches of Australia. Throughout his political career he has been variously associated with conservative groups, including the Association of Christian Parent Controlled Schools, Salt Shakers, Focus on the Family, Lyons Forum, Endeavour Forum, Family Council of Victoria, Fatherhood Foundation, Australian Christian Lobby, Australian Family Association and Right to Life Australia.[13] Abetz is an opponent of same-sex marriage, and in a 2015 interview on 2UE said arguments comparing discrimination against mixed-race couples to same-sex couples were "completely debunked by Justice Clarence Thomas, the negro American on the Supreme Court".[14]

It was reported in May 2015 that Abetz was quoted as saying of Joe de Bruyn, National President of Labor's largest trade union, "he is a role model of trade union officialdom. He is the type of official that gives trade unionism a good name." De Bruyn spent 36 years as National Secretary of the SDA, known for its very close relationships with major employers such as Coles and Woolworths, as well his staunch and vocal opposition to same sex marriage.[15]

In August 2014 Abetz received criticism from the media and politicians such as Greens Adam Bandt for making claims of a link between abortion and breast cancer when appearing on The Project. He had been on The Project to discuss his association with the World Congress of Families.[16]

Dropped from ministryEdit

Abetz was dropped from the First Turnbull Ministry upon the ascension of the Turnbull Government, with George Brandis succeeding Abetz as Leader of the Government in the Senate. In the three days where Abetz was Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's representative in the Senate Abetz said "The King is dead, long live the King" in reference to the leadership change.[17]

On 2017 when Cory Bernardi moved a motion to ban abortion on gender grounds Abetz was 1 of the 10 who voted Yes on the Motion. It was voted down with (10–36).[18][19]

Abetz is a public opponent of same sex marriage, and was one of twelve senators who voted against what became the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Act 2017.[20]

OzCar affairEdit

In mid-2009 Abetz was a central figure in the OzCar affair, which involved false allegations that Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Treasurer Wayne Swan had improperly given favourable treatment to a car dealer, John Grant, who was a friend of the Prime Minister. At a Senate inquiry on 19 June, Abetz asked a series of questions of a Treasury official, Godwin Grech, who testified that he had a "recollection" that a member of Rudd's staff had sent him an email in February, asking that he provide preferential treatment to Grant. Abetz read out the text of what he said was an email, which purported to ask for preferential treatment for Grant.[21][22] On 4 August 2009, Grech admitted that he had forged the email.[23] Abetz then issued an apology, saying: "I am not only sorry to Malcolm Turnbull but to the Australian people and any anguish that may have been occasioned to Kevin Rudd and other people."[24]

Eligibility to hold Senate officeEdit

On 30 July 2010, Tasmanian resident John Hawkins lodged an objection to Abetz's nomination for re-election, alleging that Abetz still held dual citizenship of both his birthplace, Germany, and Australia and thus was ineligible under Section 44 of the Constitution of Australia.[25] Hawkins subsequently withdrew the petition to the High Court of Australia.[26]

Nuclear power advocacyEdit

During Senate debates regarding the Nuclear Fuel Cycle (Facilitation) Bill, presented by Senator Cory Bernardi in November 2017, Abetz strongly endorsed the prospect of nuclear power in Australia. He described nuclear power as "the very best source of energy production that science has to offer the world" and claimed that it offered "affordable and reliable energy, with no emissions at all."[27]


  1. ^ Eric Abetz, Senator (25 October 2010). Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). Commonwealth of Australia: Senate. p. 559.
  2. ^ "Tony Abbott's cabinet and outer ministry". AAP. 16 September 2013. Archived from the original on 17 September 2013. Retrieved 16 September 2013.
  3. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 12 November 2010. Retrieved 11 June 2008.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  4. ^ a b Wilson, Peter (2002). The Australian Political Almanack.
  5. ^
  6. ^ (1 June 2005). "Young Libs in the Chocolate Factory". Archived from the original on 16 January 2018. Retrieved 5 March 2018.
  7. ^ "Senator Eric Abetz's wife dies of cancer". The Sydney Morning Herald. 1 March 2019. Retrieved 1 March 2019.
  8. ^ "History – University of Tasmania Liberal Students". University of Tasmania Liberal Club. Retrieved 10 March 2019.
  9. ^ "Eric Abetz website Archived 19 July 2008 at the Wayback Machine",
  10. ^ "Parliamentary biography Archived 1 September 2006 at the Wayback Machine"
  11. ^ Ferguson, Peter (September 2009). "Anti-environmentalism and the Australian culture war". Journal of Australian Studies. 33 (3): 289–304. doi:10.1080/14443050903079680.
  12. ^ "Senator Abetz starts new portfolio with attack on Greens Archived 12 March 2007 at the Wayback Machine", ABC Tasmania, 25 January 2005; "New Forestry Minister rebuffs Greens Archived 26 April 2006 at the Wayback Machine", The World Today, ABC, 25 January 2006
  13. ^ "Know Your Politician Information Series Archived 5 October 2006 at the Wayback Machine"
  14. ^ "Eric Abetz guilty of 'inappropriate' racial term, racial discrimination commissioner Tim Soutphommasane says". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 23 October 2015. Archived from the original on 23 October 2015.
  15. ^ Schneiders, Royce Millar, Ben (1 May 2015). "Why is the union that represents supermarket workers stopping gay marriage?". The Sydney Morning Herald. Archived from the original on 8 September 2017. Retrieved 5 March 2018.
  16. ^ "Minister links breast cancer to abortion – The New Daily". 7 August 2014. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 5 March 2018.
  17. ^ Om, Jason (15 September 2015). "Key events from a dramatic day at Parliament House". Archived from the original on 5 March 2018. Retrieved 5 March 2018 – via
  18. ^ "Australian Senate vote not passed, 16th Nov 2017, 12:15 PM". They Vote For You. Archived from the original on 5 March 2018. Retrieved 5 March 2018.
  19. ^ "From croissants to communism: Bernardi uses Senate motions to make ideological points". 16 November 2017. Archived from the original on 8 December 2017. Retrieved 5 March 2018.
  20. ^ "Senate passes same-sex marriage bill". News Limited. 29 November 2017. Retrieved 9 January 2018.
  21. ^ Rodgers, Emma (20 June 2009). "PM stands by OzCar denial". ABC News. Archived from the original on 20 February 2010. Retrieved 28 May 2012.
  22. ^ Rodgers, Emma (19 June 2009). "Rudd linked to OzCar lobbying". ABC News. Archived from the original on 21 January 2011. Retrieved 28 May 2012.
  23. ^ "Grech 'wrote fake email'". The Age. Melbourne. 4 August 2009. Archived from the original on 14 December 2009.
  24. ^ "Liberal senator Eric Abetz apology for Ute-gate debacle". Herald Sun. 6 August 2009. Retrieved 28 May 2012.
  25. ^ Neales, Sue (30 July 2010). "Legal bid to oust Abetz". The Mercury. Archived from the original on 3 April 2012. Retrieved 28 May 2012.
  26. ^ "Bid to oust Abetz will be withdrawn". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 22 October 2010. Archived from the original on 30 October 2016. Retrieved 6 November 2017.
  27. ^ "ParlInfo – BILLS : Nuclear Fuel Cycle (Facilitation) Bill 2017 : Second Reading". Archived from the original on 5 March 2018. Retrieved 1 December 2017.

External linksEdit

Political offices
Preceded by
Chris Ellison
Special Minister of State
Succeeded by
Gary Nairn
Preceded by
Ian Macdonald
Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation
Title abolished
Preceded by
Brendan O'Connor
as Minister for Employment and Minister for Skills and Training
Minister for Employment
Succeeded by
Michaelia Cash
Party political offices
Preceded by
Nick Minchin
Leader of the Liberal Party in the Senate
Succeeded by
George Brandis