Frances Abbott received a $60,000 ‘Chairman’s Scholarship’ to study at the private Whitehouse Institute of Design, the chairman of which also made donations of over $20,000 to the Liberal Party and is a close friend of Tony Abbott. Les Taylor has known the Abbott family for 30 years and has known Frances since she was a child.
The scholarship, which was awarded to Frances Abbott in 2011 has only been awarded once before and hasn’t been awarded since. Les Taylor put her name forward as a recipient of the scholarship but surprisingly can’t recall if he recommended anyone else that year. He told the Guardian Australia that he did not get involved with the appraisal process, however, as chairman of the board of governors, he was entitled to make a recommendation.
A spokeswoman for the Prime Minister said that under the terms of disclosure of gifts and interests, there was no need for the scholarship to be listed by Mr Abbott on the parliamentary register of interests. “Under the Statement of Registrable Interests, a scholarship is not a gift, it is an award based on merit and disclosure is not required. If alternative advice is provided, Mr Abbott will meet the amended requirements,” the spokeswoman said.
Read more at TheGuardian.com.
While no one is suggesting that Frances Abbott isn’t a talented young woman trying make her own way in the world of design, being the daughter of the Prime Minister of Australia will always leave her actions, and those around her, open to scrutiny.
In 2011, as Opposition leader, Tony Abbott’s political ambitions were clear, to be the next Prime Minister of Australia. So one can only ask why he would allow his daughter to accept a scholarship for which she was recommended by a family friend of 30 years. Also, given that in 2011 the basic salary of a member or senator was $185,000 (which does not include allowances, board payments, etc.) it’s not as if Mr Abbott would find it a struggle to fund his daughter’s course fees.
Yet, some short three years later, Mr Abbott’s Government has cut funding to education and is willing to allow young Australians to be priced out of higher education. The families of some of the brightest minds in the country may not have access to family friends who can recommend them for scholarships and the dream of a degree may never be realised for a growing number of the country’s future leaders in many fields.
This is the same Government which finds it difficult to understand why students would choose to protest at such cuts. And this is the same Prime Minister who shied away from visiting Victoria’s Deakin University on the day the news about his daughter’s scholarship broke, citing security concerns as the reason. Coincidence?
To borrow a line from George Orwell’s Animal Farm, “All animals are created equal, but some are more equal than others.” Mr Abbott and his Government simply can’t expect us all to chip in and take the pain, when they are not adverse to taking advantage of opportunities presented to them, or their families. Generous opportunities not available to most Australians.
Does it matter that Tony Abbott’s daughter received a scholarship after recommendation from a family friend and Liberal Party donor? Should we accept that she received it on merit? Do the recent education funding cuts make the acceptance of the scholarship hypocritical?