From yesterday's Australian, classic Greg (Jerusalem Prize) Sheridan, annotated:
"When Tony Abbott and I were involved in the Australian Union of Students, this was a very extreme organisation. It sent money compulsorily collected from students to support the Palestine Liberation Organisation which was then engaged in acts of murderous terrorism. It had a policy that all men were complicit in the crime of rape. And it defined men as being males over the age of 7. So that was it. Turn 8 and you're a rapist.
"In 1977, Abbott and I drove down from Sydney to Melbourne to attend an AUS conference at Monash University. The AUS conference was extremely hostile for two modestly conservative boys like Abbott and me [who seem to have had a particularly hard time coming to grips with the phenomenon of lesbianism]. The stench of marijuana lay heavy in the air, and every communist and Trotskyist sub-group had assembled, it seemed, its entire national membership. We found the atmosphere of the conference so uncongenial, and so threatening, that we went across the road and asked the Catholic college if we could stay there for the duration of the conference.
"No doubt the silliest thing we did at the conference was to attend a Palestinian film night. Because AUS was spending our money, we wanted to assert, non-violently, our right to be there. So we heckled the film a bit. [That these boofheads might actually have learnt something from watching the films obviously did not occur to them.] Although we were outnumbered at least 10 to one, and new reinforcements from other hard-left groups soon turned up, the film was stopped and we were told we had to leave. We were making the point that we shouldn't have to leave because the evening was being funded by our compulsorily collected student union dues. One woman from the far Left came up behind Abbott, took off her wooden clog and whacked him hard over the back of the head. I'll never forget Abbott's response. He turned round, paused and said: 'Madame, if you were not a lady, I'd be tempted to strike you back.' Then we left.
"This incident came back to my mind as I read the scabrous propaganda of David Marr in his Quarterly Essay, Political Animal, the making of Tony Abbott. Marr claims that in 1977, when Abbott was defeated for the presidency of the Student Representative Council by Barbara Ramjan, he went up to her, came within an inch of her nose and punched both sides of the wall beside her as an act of intimidation. Marr records Abbott's denial of this but says he, Marr, believes the incident took place as described by Ramjan. Marr is wrong. And this mistake reflects his overall sloppiness as a journalist, failure as a historian and distorting bias as a polemicist. [The pot calls the kettle black.]
"Yesterday I spoke to Jeremy Jones, who was elected to the SRC on the same night Abbott lost that election to Ramjan. Jones was a member of the Labor Party and led a Labor ticket in student elections. He was no ally of Abbott. He went on to occupy very distinguished communal leadership positions within the Jewish community. He is a leader in particular of inter-faith dialogue and was very reluctant to let me quote him because he doesn't want remotely to enter partisan politics. But he knew every in and out of student politics at that time. He knew every accusation that each side made against the other. He is certain he would have heard of any such alleged incident by Abbott and he is also certain he never heard any such allegation made. In other words, he is certain it didn't happen. Abbott flatly denies it and says: 'It never happened.' [On Jones, see my 28/11/11 post My Brush With Superman.]
"Abbott was my best friend at that time. We talked over everything. The meaning of life, the purpose of politics, who'd win the rugby league grand final, what girls we planned to ask out, petty squabbles we might have had with our parents. I remember the night in question quite well. No such incident was ever discussed by Abbott or by anyone else in his circle. It is utterly inconceivable. Marr could have found this out if he were a competent historian. But Marr is instead what he accuses Abbott of being, an undergraduate pamphleteer desperately seeking to distort any bit of so-called evidence he can find to support a pre-existing narrative he has all mapped out. [For Sheridan's pre-existing narrative of the Middle East conflict see my series of posts, West's Wild East (18/8/09 - 26/8/09).]
"I feel a bit like Jones: disinclined to enter the controversy because it makes me look too partisan. [Greg Sheridan too partisan? Never!] In my time in student politics there was quite a bit of real violence. Michael Danby, now the federal Labor member for Melbourne Ports and the chairman of the parliamentary foreign affairs committee, was severely bashed by a group of Maoist thugs. Peter Costello had his arm broken on a serious assault by a leftist claiming allegiance to the anarchist cause. At the AUS conference I attended there was a scuffle at one point and the leader of the Maoist group screamed at one of our friends: 'There's a bullet with your name on it. You'll bleed tonight.'
"I knew Abbott very well and he was never, ever, violent. He was a good bloke then, he's a good bloke now. Marr's dishonest and obsessive agit-prop is a fraudulent caricature that manages to reverse reality at almost every point. But I'll let Marr in on a little secret. There was one reason the Left really hated Abbott. It was because he won." (The Tony that I - and others - remember was never violent at uni, 12/9/12)
And here's Marr's Quarterly Essay account of Tony (alas, Sancho doesn't get a mention) doing Monash:
"After a summer in Western Australia spent surfing, carousing in pubs and selling pots door to door, Abbott turned up at Monash University in January 1977 for his first AUS conference determined to fight the good fight and make a name for himself. In both he exceeded his own high expectations. A wilderness of factions were in play, factions often controlled, as the [Bob Santamaria's] Democratic Clubs were, from behind the university gates. The right's determination to control or crush AUS had been revitalised by the students' decision a few years earlier to support the Palestine Liberation Organisation. The anti-PLO campaign brought together the Liberals, the right of the Labor Party, the National Union of Jewish Students and Santamaria's people. It proved to be the training ground of a new cohort of leaders on both sides of politics: Abbott, Peter Costello, Eric Abetz, Michael Yabsley, Michael Danby, Michael Kroger, Nick Sherry and, a little later, Julia Gillard*. Abbott was asked by the Weekend Australian to write an account of the conference that appeared under a banner headline: 'I ACCUSE Phoney student thugs/ Use spit and abuse/ To create terror... by Tony Abbott' In his eyes, this 'tragic farce' was a time of scuffles in corridors, angry confrontation, factional bastardry - always of the left - fear, provocation, systemic danger and facile causes in which nothing of any consequence was achieved. 'Generally the air was heavy with the not-unpleasant odour of marijuana. The conference hall was gaily decked with gaudy Maoist flags and communist slogans. Some delegates wore badges cheerfully urging the 'smashing' of Fraser and the shooting of Kerr. Books on sale covered everything one wanted to know about abortion, street fighting, subverting universities, indoctrinating the young, and homosexuality.' These thousands of words - ending with a pure Santamaria flourish about the great risks these influences posed to 'those who will eventually lead society' - were Abbott's debut in mainstream journalism. Whether his account was fair or wildly exaggerated is by now impossible to judge." (pp 12-13)
[*On Gillard and AUS see my 25/7/10 post Me, A Zionist? How Very Dare You!]