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​This Video of Tony Abbott Working for the Dole is High Art

We watch as Tony tries his hand at some light gardening and learns proper shovel etiquette.
February 17, 2016, 5:58am

Being an investigative journalist is a tough gig. It means hours of trawling through archives searching, hoping, for some kind of breakthrough. But sometimes you strike gold. Take, for example, this early 2000s video of former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, trying to Work for the Dole.

The whole politician-testing-out-whether-they-can-make-ends-meet-on-welfare-schtick isn't groundbreaking in and of itself. Back in 2013 WA senator Rachel Siewert attempted living on the Newstart allowance for week. But no-one can rival Tony "Man of the People" Abbott in his enthusiasm.

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Some time during his five years as Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business, Abbott tried his hand at working for the dole for a day and, never one to shy from a media opportunity, brought a camera crew along. "9 AM and Tony's reporting for work at Sydney's Penrith Lakes Development," the voiceover tells us, "And feeling confident." He looks confident, rocking a Letterman jacket/retro cap combination, which I saw at least five guys wearing at Laneway last weekend.

We watch as Tony tries some light gardening: "Is that a weed? That's a weed, is it? No… that doesn't look like it," he says, picking through a small pot. "That is a weed there," corrects Tom, his ever-patient supervisor. "That's a weed, I think?" Tony presses on. "Wait… No, it's not." It's seriously riveting stuff.

Tom, a man so Australian he'll make you rethink whether you really can pull off wearing that pair of RM Williams boots, tries to teach Tony the proper shovel etiquette. It has to face downwards, he instructs, so you avoid any Sideshow Bob rake-in-the-face situations.

Literally two seconds later Tony is back dropping his shovel down face up. "See what you did?" Tom points out, with lightning fast reflexes of a man who's seen this shit too many times.

Over lunch, Tony chats with a fellow dole worker. "Well, you guys all work pretty hard," he says, reminding us why Peta Credlin never, ever let him go off script during his time as PM. "And there seems to be quite a good team spirit," he presses on, relishing the chance to practice his small talk as much as he's relishing his white bread sandwich. "And… yeah, which is good."

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Maybe as a former PM, Abbott isn't fair game anymore. But for anyone who has ever had to work for the dole, or maybe wanted to marry their same-sex partner, watching him heave plants out of the mud might be a bit cathartic. "I'd say this is a little different to what you're used to doing," Tom says of the dirty work. "Oh nah, we do this all the time in Parliament House mate: sling mud."

If you're time poor—maybe because you need to rush off and do dishes for $8 an hour—just skip forward to 1:56, where you can watch former Prime Minister Tony Abbott try and fail to load plants into a wheelbarrow.

"It's a hard day and he worked solid all day," Tom sums up, standing beside a mud-specked Abbott. "I've got to give him that, I thought he'd slack off… he's a good worker, he won't be on the dole."

"Unless," the voiceover says as Tony heads home, lunchbox in hand, "the voters think otherwise."

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