If there was any doubt as to whether Fox Corporation would follow its controversial rightwing trajectory under the sole leadership of Lachlan Murdoch, after his father’s retirement, it ended with the endorsement of former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott to join the Fox board.
Abbott has been a highly controversial figure in Australia for decades, accused of misogyny and climate change scepticism, and once threatening to “shirtfront” Russian president Vladimir Putin.
His nomination, which came a day after Rupert Murdoch announced his retirement, shows Lachlan is “doubling down” on the company’s “right-wing crusading”, critics say.
Abbott served as prime minister for two years from 2013 to 2015, having received a glowing endorsement from Rupert Murdoch on the campaign trail during his successful attempt to oust Kevin Rudd, now Australia’s ambassador to the US.
“Conviction politicians hard to find anywhere. Australia’s Tony Abbott rare exception. Opponent Rudd all over the place, convincing nobody,” Rupert Murdoch tweeted at the time.
His ascension came after a period of brutal efficacy as opposition leader from 2009 to 2013, when he relentlessly attacked Australia’s first female prime minister, Julia Gillard.
Gillard’s famous misogyny speech in 2012 – voted by Guardian readers as the most unforgettable moment of Australian television history – was directed at Abbott.
“I will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man,” Gillard said.
“I will not… not now, not ever.”
She then listed examples of what she called his “repulsive double standards when it comes to misogyny and sexism”, including him standing in front of protest signs referring to Gillard as former Greens leader Bob Brown’s “bitch” and “ditch the witch”.
But it was Abbott’s attitudes to climate change which eventually caused his downfall.
Abbott notoriously once said that the “so-called settled science of climate change” was “absolute crap”. He has also previously said that climate change is “probably doing good”. Under his leadership, Australia’s carbon price was repealed, as bitter climate change wars continued.
He was deposed as prime minister when he lost a leadership spill to rival Malcolm Turnbull, a moderate, in 2015. He then lost his seat of Warringah in the 2019 election to Zali Steggall, one of a raft of independent candidates promising stronger action on climate change, after 25 years in parliament.
Earlier this year Abbott joined the board of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, a UK thinktank that is critical of climate change science.
Other notable moments in his career included offering Prince Philip a knighthood, referring to a political candidate’s “sex appeal”, eating a raw onion, skin and all, and threatening to “shirtfront” Putin over the downing of flight MH17, in which 38 Australians were killed.
Politics professor Chris Wallace, from the University of Canberra, said Abbott’s nomination “shows Lachlan doubling down on News [Corp’s] right-wing crusading when the costly lessons of recent and ongoing litigation suggest that’s not smart”.
“This confirms fears that decisions under the Lachlan Murdoch-helmed News Corp will be at least as noxiously right-wing as under Rupert - and possibly worse. For shareholders it’s a worry,” she said.
The Australian Greens communications and media spokesperson, Sarah Hanson-Young, said it was a “shockingly bad decision” and proved the need for a royal commission into the Murdoch empire.
“It is a terrifying insight into Lachlan’s plans to entrench his Fox-style news agenda in Australia,” she said.
“Putting Tony Abbott on the Fox board is a brazen attack on global efforts to tackle climate change,” she said.
“This proves what we all know about the Murdochs: they are right wing, climate wreckers.”
The Fox Corporation statement noted Abbott’s service as Australia’s 28th prime minister and as an advisor to the UK Board of Trade since 2020.
The board has eight members, with Jacques Nasser and Anne Dias set to step down following the next annual meeting. Also nominated to the board alongside Abbott was technology executive Peggy Johnson. The nomination will be considered by shareholders at the media giant’s annual meeting in November.
Other existing board members include former Republican vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan and ex-Formula 1 chairman Chase Carey.
Rupert Murdoch will become chairman emeritus of Fox Corp and News Corp, he announced this week, while his Lachlan takes the reins of the family empire.
Turnbull lashed the 92-year-old media mogul’s “shocking” legacy, saying he had created an “anger-tainment ecosystem” and left America the most divided it’s been since the Civil War.
Abbott has been contacted for comment.
Australian Associated Press contributed to this report.