It was Tony Abbot’s fault that I just missed out on being elected as a delegate to the 1998 constitutional convention. The reason was Tony’s obsession with women’s rights. He persuaded the leaders of Australians for Constitutional Monarchy not just to provide nominal unelectable places. He argued successfully that places on the election ticket should alternate between men and women. When I just missed out they asked me to go as an adviser and speechwriter and, it transpired, as an alternate. But when the government was about to appoint me to head the Vote No committee, they realised I was ineligible because I had missed out being elected.
The fact is that people who think Tony Abbott has difficulties with women just don’t know him. Not only has he long believed in equal rights — as I know only too well — he is also a chivalrous man. That of course drives those old-fashioned militant left-wing feminists up the wall.
Now leftist commentator David Marr writes that 35 years ago Tony Abbott punched the wall around the head of the then president of Sydney University’s student representative council, Barbara Ramjan. But no one — including David Marr — actually saw this.
Marr believes that journalists must be ‘sceptical of authority’, and I agree.
But he doesn’t apply this to former student politician Ramjan, who waited an inexplicable 35 years to make public her claim that this criminal assault took place. She did not go to the police, as one other student politician did about yet another claim against Abbott (which was dismissed). Nor did she ask the university to act.
She did not bother to mention it, as the very diligent Gerard Henderson has demonstrated, in her contemporaneous complaints to the student newspaper, nor when she was interviewed about Abbott for the Sun-Herald in July 2004. It wasn’t mentioned when Abbott took the very public position of executive director of Australians for Constitutional Monarchy. Nor did it surface when he sought Liberal preselection, nor when he became a Minister of the Crown, nor even when he was elected Leader of the Opposition.
The complaint was only launched when the Left feared Abbott’s march towards the Lodge was unstoppable.
David Marr’s vigorous endorsement of such a flimsy, questionable claim can best be understood when we realise that in his world, being sceptical is only one aspect of sound journalism. The other is the requirement that a journalist be on the ‘soft left’ end of the political spectrum, unlike the ‘right-wing thugs’ he says are hired as commentators on talkback and elsewhere.
This explains a lot. Why else does Marr favour Ramjan’s strangely delayed account? She’s on the Left, Tony’s on the Right.
Gerard Henderson, unrivalled in forensic skills, says the evidence suggests Marr did little research for this essay, which explains why it contains virtually no new material.
Henderson dismisses it as a ‘shoddy, unprofessional piece of work’. And it is certainly not about the Tony Abbott I know.
I first met him two decades ago when he was the executive director of Australians for Constitutional Monarchy. He originally shared an office with a former air force officer who was a Vietnam veteran, who insists he never once heard Tony Abbott being aggressive or unpleasant on the telephone or with other staff. Lloyd Waddy, later a judge, says the same. Neither saw any evidence that Abbott could not get on with women.
My immediate impression was of a friendly young man with a firm handshake — but not ostentatiously so — and rugged good looks. His ears suggested a boxer’s: my father was a boxing champion so I was used to seeing what this sport could do.
I formed the opinion over the next months and years that Abbott has those great qualities of modesty, loyalty and a strong attachment to principles. He stood out even at ACM as a born leader.
He has never used his community involvements for political advantage. Until he became leader and the media started following his every move, few people even knew that for many years he had been a fireman and a lifesaver. His regular stays with indigenous people in remote Australia were not fly-in fly-out media exercises.
He was loyal to the end to his Prime Minister, John Howard. He resigned from the Turnbull front bench against the advice of the Gallery, who predicted a subsequent electoral massacre. This was not to advance his own leadership, but offered only after Malcolm refused to delay any decision on that great big new tax, the ETS, until after Copenhagen.
By doing so Abbott put his career on the line, a career as an effective minister exercising proper control over his portfolio. Unlike with so many ministers recently, there has not been the slightest suggestion of incompetence or profligacy under his administration.
As to principles, he is, as we know, committed to what he calls our crowned republic. He is a Catholic, but to the annoyance of the Gallery, not what Cardinal Pell calls a ‘cafeteria Catholic’: one who believes only those doctrines consistent with the current fashions.
Orthodox Catholic doctrine actually touches on few issues which are in the political arena, and most of these are more state than federal issues. Abbott does not suggest abortion be criminalised. He says it should be discouraged, surely a view held by most Australians.
Tony Abbott is a fine, committed, principled and loyal Australian. That does not mean Australians should vote for him. But their vote should in no way be coloured by any misrepresentation about his character and competence.