Former prime minister Tony Abbott has been accused of trying to gain a political edge with his tribute to Bob Hawke.
Mr Hawke, who was Australia’s 23rd prime minister, is being remembered as one of nation’s great leaders following his peaceful death.
But while poignant tributes flooded in for the former Labor leader, Mr Abbott’s stood out for all the wrong reasons.
"Bob Hawke was a great prime minister," Mr Abbott wrote of the 89-year-old in an official statement.
"In my judgement, he was Labor's greatest prime minister.
"But his key achievements, financial deregulation, tariff cuts and the beginnings of privatisation, went against the Labor grain, as Labor's more recent policy direction shows.
"You might almost say he had a Labor heart, but a Liberal head.”
But his words were thought by many as a last-ditch effort to gain votes for the electorate of Warringah.
Politicians, celebrities and thousands of disgruntled Australians lashed out at the former Liberal prime minister online.
“You lack grace. In fact, you are complete trash,” Labor MP Nick Staikos wrote.
Musician Phil Jamieson branded Mr Abbott as “spineless” and directed him to “get in the bin”.
“You’re trying to score political points from the death of one of Australia’s greatest public figures within hours of his passing?” journalist Paul Syrvet said on Twitter.
Sports journalist Andy Maher bluntly wrote: “You are a disgrace.”
This tribute to one of Australia’s most loved PMs by Tony Abbott, reminds you why he is one of the most loathed. https://t.co/lwTnx0YQhV— Tom Gleeson (@nonstoptom) May 16, 2019
Meanwhile comedian Tom Gleeson tweeted “this tribute to one of Australia’s most loved PMs by Tony Abbott, reminds you why he is one of the most loathed”.
Australian Financial Review’s Joe Aston said Mr Abbott’s comments were “actually disgusting”.
“[Tony Abbott] uses Bob Hawke's death to make a political point. Apologies to the late Ann Shorten, but this surely sets a new campaign low,” the journalist said.
Geez Tony, are you really that small?— 💧Sarah Hanson-Young💚 (@sarahinthesen8) May 16, 2019
Read the room mate. https://t.co/Nb3BapX6pC
TV presenter Matt Baseley even queried if the statement was a satirical offering from the Betoota Advocate.
“Geez Tony, are you really that small? Read the room mate,” Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said.
Former SBS newsreader Lee Lin Chin was once again vocal on social media, telling Mr Abbott that Mr Hawke, alike all previous prime ministers, was better than he was in the role.
You want to make Bob Hawkes death about politics @TonyAbbottMHR? Okay, let's do it. He was a better Prime Minister than you ever were, but to be fair so was every other one including Scott Morrison you sad tiny man.#RIPHawkey— Lee Lin Chin (@LeeLinChin) May 16, 2019
With the backlash overwhelming, Mr Abbott appeared to make a more heartfelt tribute a short time after, but the damage had already been done.
“Too late,” dozens of comments read.
Backlash comes two days from election
This latest political faux pas comes just days from the culmination of his tight battle for the seat of Warringah in Sydney’s north.
Polling suggests Mr Abbott, who has held Warringah comfortably for 25 years, is in danger of losing the seat on Saturday.
You are a former Prime Minister of Australia, start acting like it.— Tom Koutsantonis MP (@TKoutsantonisMP) May 16, 2019
Catching up with Bob Hawke in 2015.— Tony Abbott (@TonyAbbottMHR) May 16, 2019
He had the capacity to reach out to everyone across party lines. He was a great Australian. Margie and I extend our deepest sympathies to Blanche and his family. pic.twitter.com/dEjQ6IL6aa
Socially progressive independent candidate Zali Steggall has been chipping away at Mr Abbott's primary vote while campaigning on climate change, transport and cost of living.
Bookies have Ms Steggall, a former Olympic skier, as the narrow favourite in the contest, but Mr Abbott said he was feeling more confident in the final days of the campaign.
"I'm more confident now than I was a month ago, but this is going to go down to the wire," Mr Abbott told reporters.
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