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Come Take A Terrifying Little History Lesson About Tony Abbott

"Even if the 'yes' people, after a month or so, they realise we better get behind this, Abbott is going to be 100 yards ahead of you."

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Earlier this week, former prime minister Tony Abbott tipped off reporters that he'd face the cameras stationed outside the doors of Canberra's Parliament House.

Lukas Coch / AAPIMAGE

It's pretty rare for high-profile politicians to attend what's called "Doors" — the nickname used for the cycle of daily, morning press conferences for backbenchers.

But Abbott was there to lay out the argument for why Australians should vote "no" in the upcoming marriage equality postal vote, which included a bunch of reasons that had nothing to do with gay people marrying:

... because it is an opportunity to have every Australian who cares about this to have his or her own say, and again, I say to you, if you don’t like same-sex marriage: vote no. If you are worried about freedom of speech and freedom of religion, vote no; and if you don’t like political correctness, vote no, because this is the best way to stop it in its tracks.

Abbott's surprise appearence was noted for how it disrupted the government's agenda.

Interesting former PM Abbott urges a focus on energy prices yet the morning Turnbull meets energy chiefs he's out there discussing marriage

Some noticed that it was a tactic that Abbott had used to devastating effect in the '90s debate around Australia becoming a republic.

Tony Abbott threw his old 1999 Referendum gloves on there - positioned marriage equality plebiscite on political correctness and freedom.

See, Abbott was one of the leading warriors for the "no" side during Australia's 1999 republic referendum. It just so happens that the "yes" side was being run by Malcolm Turnbull.

Andrew Taylor/SMH

Abbott, the prime minister at the time John Howard, and the victorious "no" campaign, were successful in turning the nationwide vote on the republic into a series of side issues which disrupted the whole exercise.

Take for instance a memo written by one of Howard's advisers Gerard Wheeler about how to frame the debate.

Alan Porritt / AAPIMAGE

Here's what the memo said, according to ABC's Four Corners:

Keep in mind, it is only possible to reinforce existing prejudices, not generate entirely new ones. I see this election essentially as a battle between the mainstreams and the elites - it's us against them. We need to reveal all those qualities of the ARM [Australian Republican Movement] candidates which set them apart from the mainstream — their wealth, their backgrounds, their elitist interests. This battle should be presented as real Australians' greatest chance ever to vote against all the politicians, journalists, radical university students, welfare rorters, academics, the arts community and the rich that deep down they've always hated.

The Australian Financial Review's Phil Coorey spoke to BuzzFeed Australia's political podcast Is it on? this week about Abbott's comments and the lesson of the republic debate.

Here's what Coorey said about Abbott:

Tony Abbott has never advocated a ''yes'' case in his life. He built his political career on saying no to things, ripping stuff down, it's what he does best. He's already out of the blocks and don't think what he did was a lone act...he's working with the churches and the Christian lobby and they are very well organised, they have a simple message: 'Don't do it'. He's got a well honed message that is playing into the culture wars: 'this is (about) trying to tell you how to think, this is about your religious freedom'. Of course it's not about any of that, but that is the message he is propagating. Even if the ''yes'' people, after a month or so, they realise we better get behind this, Abbott is going to be 100 yards ahead of you. That's the risk you take. We've seen it before. My money at this stage is on a ''no'' vote winning ... unless the squabbling stops.

Coorey went on to compare the '99 republic campaign and the ''yes'' campaign for the marriage equality survey:

I can see a lot of similarities. You've got this concept which is more popular out there, and everyone thinks it should just be done, but they got pants-ed badly for a number of reasons. I can see the similarities now. The people who wanted a republic fought amongst themselves because they couldn't agree on the model we should adopt. They spent a lot more time attacking each other...than actually advocating for a ''yes'' vote. I can see the parallels now. You've got this process which is far from perfect, most people think the parliament should do this. But reality is that is not what's going to happen unless Labor gets into government. You can deal with what you've got, or you can hang out for something down the track.

The full interview with Phil Coorey will feature in BuzzFeed Australia’s podcast ‘Is It On?’. You can listen to it this weekend. View it on iTunes and subscribe here.

Mark Di Stefano is a media and politics correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Mark Di Stefano at

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