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Australia's PM Tony Abbott ditches 'Mad Monk' image

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Australia's new conservative leader Tony Abbott, who ditched his "Mad Monk" tag and softened his macho image to win office, is a former trainee Catholic priest, boxing enthusiast and monarchist.

Abbott fulfilled a long-held ambition Wednesday when he was sworn in as prime minister in Canberra, 11 days after winning a comprehensive victory in national polls that ended six years of Labor rule .

"We will strive to govern for all Australians," said Abbott. "We will do our best not to leave anyone behind."

Abbott, 55, has in the past been known as a political hard man of the Liberal Party, unafraid to speak his mind and occasionally tripping up with a gaffe.

His election campaign was not immune to verbal stumbles -- with his comments about one of his female candidate's "sex appeal" causing concern, along with his description of the conflict in Syria as "baddies versus baddies".

But the veteran politician, singled out by former Labor prime minister Julia Gillard as sexist in a fierce parliamentary tirade against misogyny, has rebuilt his image.

He appears regularly with his wife and three young adult daughters, has spoken of his closeness to his gay sister and even admitted to being a fan of the British period drama "Downton Abbey".

"I've certainly said some things which I wouldn't say now," Abbott told the 60 Minutes television programme earlier this year of comments he made over the course of his time in public life, beginning in student politics.

"I've said some things which I believed then, which I don't believe now. Because like everyone who has had a long time in public life, in particular, I've changed, and I'd like to think that I've grown."

Abbott had an unlucky campaign in 2010, when the election resulted in a hung parliament. His Liberal/National coalition ended up in opposition only when three independents and a Greens MP backed his Labor rival Gillard to give her a majority.

But it represented a remarkable turnaround from the previous vote just three years earlier when conservative prime minister John Howard was trounced by the Labor Party's Kevin Rudd.

Although he has wanted to be prime minister for much of his life, Abbott only won the Liberal Party leadership in December 2009 by a single vote, and reportedly to a "gobsmacked silence" in Canberra.

But he has stayed the course, first as Labor dumped sitting prime minister Rudd for Gillard in 2010, and then pushing Gillard to such lows in opinion polls that Labor reinstalled Rudd in late June.

Anthony John Abbott was born to Australian parents in London in 1957. He grew up in Australia, attending the University of Sydney before taking up a Rhodes scholarship at Oxford University.

He briefly trained as a Catholic priest before becoming a journalist and then pursuing a career in politics, entering parliament in 1994 and rising to health minister in Howard's government.

An Oxford boxing blue, Abbott volunteers as a firefighter during the hazardous bushfire season and a surf life saver near his northern Sydney home.

He is often seen in lycra bike shorts and brief swimming shorts known as "budgie smugglers".

His straight-talking has landed him in hot water in the past, particularly a comment that evidence blaming mankind for climate change was "absolute crap".

His decision to include only one woman in his 19-member cabinet, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, has also drawn criticism.

But as Greg Craven, vice-chancellor of the Australian Catholic University wrote earlier this month, Abbott has long been the target of a Labor campaign that painted him as a "cardboard caricature".

In fact, the Abbott he knew was someone who "genuinely likes to call people 'mate' and hit bushfires with blankets", Craven said.

"A deeply religious man, who is massively pragmatic, both philosophically and temperamentally. A social conservative whose rightism does not necessarily extend very far into economics, and who is personally deeply tolerant," he wrote.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130918/australias-pm-tony-abbott-ditches-mad-monk-image