13 September 2012

Profoundly out of character

Should one incident, many years ago, denied by one of the two parties involved, be enough to disqualify someone from the Prime Ministership? No.

Should that incident give rise to a repeated pattern of both violence and cover-ups? Yes, it should disqualify Tony Abbott from the Prime Ministership.

It is a fact that Barbara Ramjan alleged Tony Abbott threatened her in 1977, and it is a fact that Abbott has (later) denied doing so. It appears to be true that there were no witnesses to this event. Both of these facts appear in David Marr's Quarterly Essay Political Animal: The Making of Tony Abbott, with direct quotes from both Ramjan and Abbott. The wording of Abbott's quasi-denial (on page 17) is significant:
"It would be profoundly out of character had it occurred".
Out of character, you say.

Greg Sheridan stakes everything on Abbott's character. It is interesting that he places such great credence on the word of Jeremy Jones and then fails to quote him directly, leaving the reader hoping that Sheridan has summarised Jones fairly. According to Sheridan, it is not enough for Abbott to be a man of high character in himself; someone else, in Manichean terms, must be made out to be less than he appears:
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 ...

Abbott was my best friend at that time ... 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.
Found what out? Found out that Abbott's friends support him, and that Ramjan's support her? That sort of thing might pass for EXCLUSIVE at the Daily Murdoch but it's not much chop in itself.

Marr described an incident between two people: one described what happened and the other denied it (and apparently neglected to discuss it with his muckers). There were apparently no witnesses to the encounter itself apart from the two protagonists. Marr sets out the facts and declares his judgment: a reader who was not there on the night in question is free to come to a conclusion other than the one Marr reached.

Marr was not obliged to hijack a wider story by rounding up a posse of non-witnesses to vouch for the general character of either protagonist in a single event that may or may not support conclusions on the general character of a man with more power and responsibility than the whole of the Sydney Uni SRC put together.

Sheridan's attack on Marr's journalism, historianship etc seems like a lunge for some objective quality in a subjective dispute (and criticising a polemicist for being biased and even distorting is to misunderstand what a polemicist is, whether or not Marr is one).

What might have happened if Abbott had confessed to Sheridan of having committed an act of violence, or if Sheridan had witnessed such an event, and Abbott had then asked Sheridan - for the sake of their friendship - not to tell anyone? In the sky-high dudgeon of his wouldn't-hurt-a-fly routine Sheridan has not denied Abbott's assault of Joe Hockey: Hockey himself has admitted it, and there were plenty of witnesses. Sheridan protests a little too much.

Sheridan has since been refuted, if not negated, by fellow Bulletin alumnus Lindsay Foyle referring to a separate incident.

Marr sets out a pattern of behaviour where Abbott trashes - physically, verbally and otherwise metaphorically - those with whom he disagrees, particularly if they are women. You could probably find people who regularly attended Sydney Uni SRC meetings chaired by Ramjan who'd deny that Abbott ever addressed her as "Chairthing" (if Sheridan was an investigative journalist, rather than one whose only forays into investigative journalism involve a feed and claret on Rupert's coin, he'd be on that case now).

Look at the way Gillard and Roxon ran rings around him as his shadow minister, and how they make him mope and snarl today, how he doesn't respect them enough to engage with them.

If you've been in and around politics a while you have seen crises come and go, and you develop a bit of a hide to get you through and realise that even big-seeming crises can pass without a ripple. The trouble is that after a while, you can't tell when things have built up slowly to the point where "just another straw in the wind" is the one that ends up breaking the camel's back. Howard ended up like that in 2007. Abbott may be approaching that point.

Andrew Peacock and Kim Beazley Jr spent their careers as Tomorrow's Man, until one day they woke as Yesterday's Man, without ever having the days as The Man that Fraser, Hawke and others had. Tony Abbott is headed that way. If the government dusts off this campaign from 2004, hoisting him by the petard that finished his brother-from-another-mother Latham, Abbott won't make it to the next election as leader. The Liberals will dump him as leader not because of any abhorrence of violence against women, but because he's becoming an impediment rather than a facilitator and leader of a Coalition Government.

Dennis Shanahan became a laughing stock throughout 2007, predicting that Howard would turn those bad polls around; like a longer-form version of watching a man fall from a plane, Shanahan was predicting that the parachute would open any moment now, any moment; when Howard bit the dust Shanahan alone could not believe it, and he has stumbled through Canberra incredulously ever since. With Shanahan still there, and Christopher Pearson and Sheridan and a few others, The Australian has more than its fair share of staff who look like being surplus to requirements once it becomes clear that there ain't gonna be an Abbott Government.

It's one thing to watch Abbott at a stunt for journalists, who lap up whatever he dishes out; but when people flinch when he waddles toward them in what Abbott and the press regard as a marginal seat (but which locals regard simply as their community) it will be all over.

It's the cover-ups that get me: the petty vandalism here, the offences not recorded and written off as youthful hi-jinks there. When he became a man he should have put away such childish things, but over time the protection of Abbott from consequences that have put him in the position where he simply can't be trusted with important stuff.

The let-Tony-be-Tony crowd have done him no favours, and those that remain inside his bunker must realise they are doing the party and the country no favours either. It must be like Howard's office in 2007 (the old stagers from those days have no excuse not to know what political death smells like) - except it's one thing to go from government to opposition, but where do you go from opposition?

Tony Abbott was never going to be brought down by a single, sharp blow, the way you'd take out a feral boar with a shottie. This is why the who-said-or-did-what-in-1977 will be fruitless for friend and foe alike (even for someone like Sheridan, whose favourite game is zero-sum). What will bring Abbott down is getting stuck in a bog of implausible denials and ill-considered statements and hollow promises; where the daily cycle still spins but no longer fully rinses.

Although he's not finished yet, Abbott has fewer options than his fans imagine. Those who believe Abbott is big enough to shrug off difficulties of this degree have never really seen him do so.


  1. Whatever did happen to that Tony Abbott guy? Remember him? Flouro jacket, three-word slogans, always hanging round with his journo mates? I haven't seen him in, oh... days now.

  2. Andrew, I was in my final year at ANU in Canberra in 1977, at the time that Mr Abbott was, erm, flexing his muscles in student politics.

    Back then, the universities were much smaller, and I'd say that almost every student who was politically aware had a fair idea of what was going on at other institutions.
    (A bit of personal history: I had some very limited involvement student politics in my first couple of years at ANU; thereafter I devoted myself (for personal reasons to a campaign at Faculty level.)

    Nevertheless, I did visit Sydney - and the University of Sydney - occasionally, and I have several friends who were actively involved with SRC politics at the time, and who regaled me with all sorts of stories about who was up to what. The stories that are suddenly such hot currency in the media, therefore, are not exactly new to me.

    I could go into a lot of detail, but I don't want either of us to risk a bully writ.

    So I shall watch, over the next days and weeks, with considerable interest and - I hope - amusement.

  3. "It's one thing to watch Abbott at a stunt for journalists, who lap up whatever he dishes out; but when people flinch when he waddles toward them ..."

    Abbott visited my workplace a few months ago. It wasn't a photo op so he was just shown through by the managers and introduced to a few key people. The rest of us sat there at our posts and kept heads down with a lot of muttering about how we hoped he was kept away.

    Then a few weeks ago we had a visit from Ms Gillard. I didnt know she was coming but I noticed a bit of a crowd gathering at the windows that overlooked the car park. Yes, believe it or not, people were queuing up to SEE her. It was a like a royal visit. A colleague commented on the difference between the two visits. I thought she was the unpopular one, he said. I could only suggest maybe the pollsters ask the wrong people ...

    1. What they want to catch a glimpse of a racist human trafficker.

      Says a lot about the ignorant morons in this country doesn't it.?

    2. Australians aren't stupid. They're just woefully ill informed. There's a difference, an important one. And this begs the question: why are they woefully ill informed? Would it have something to do with our mainstream media? Over to you Au Grattan et al.

  4. Andrew, many thanks for the link to the excellent Lindsay Foyle article.

  5. Hearing Sheridan on the ABC 702 journo's forum the other day, I couldn't help but wonder how anyone could take his commentary seriously from that point on, except from the perspective of partisan propaganda.
    He admitted to being Tony's best fried at uni before performing the sort of character assassination of Marr that he was so outraged could happen to his good friend.
    How can we take this guy seriously when he says on the same show, "This is the worst Prime Minister since at least Whitlam." It's tempting to draw worst journalist comparisons of the same vein except no-one remembers journalists they don't read.

  6. Great article but "the daily cycle still spins but no longer rinses" is stunning

  7. I'd like to see him try it on with Putin.

    There's something troubling me about the whole Sheridan best mate thing. Are we just expected to accept that he can still be objective in his writing? Or are we expected to accept That's Just Tone is our next PM and forget journalism and any sort of analysis, we don't need it? I'm not sure what it is.

    Anyway, at least Shezza has an excuse for this fan boy writing. What's Grattan's?

  8. And Michelle Grattan has chimed in, claiming Abbott's a basically decent politician - with no evidence - and, of course, that it all means a Rudd challenge!

    1. I mean, seriously, is there anything in Tone's public behaviour that doesn't reinforce his belligerent character?

    2. It's telling that in The Latham Diaries you get a real sense that Lathan and Abbott had a fine bromance.

  9. Im glad to see someone else picked up the non-quote in Sheridan's article - as he points fingers for shoddy journalism. Ha!

    I would have liked to have pointed it out myself in the comments section, but that cant be unlocked from the paywall unlike the articles themselves.

    Another insightful post Andrew. Definitely my favourite political blog.

  10. Hmm.

    I hope this is all tied in to a pattern of aggression, because bringing that one incident up now just plays into the caricature of wimpy leftists being afraid of their own shadow.

    1. Well you can rip into Gillard on a few fronts, but being wimpy ain't one of them.

  11. Please tell me that Sheridan article was from the Onion...? Honestly. Terrible.

    As for the woman from the Far Left who hit Tony with a clog, I'm sure she could be identified and the incident verified... right? Right? *Crickets chirping*

    Tony is bluffing. If Ramjan's story was really false, he'd be serving a writ on her, as Fiona says, before you can say "defamation". Why isn't he doing that? *Crickets chirping, again*

  12. Does Sheridan have a giant mural of Bobby Sands on his house?

  13. It will be interesting to see if Sheridan tries to tell the wonderful Ilan Pappe on Monday night that there was no ethnic cleansing of Palestine by terrorist jews.

  14. When Abbott was Minister for Health and Ageing (2003-2007) a senior member of the pharmaceutical industry alleged:

    "(Abbott) threatened that pharmaceutical companies could face unfavourable decisions in key policies if they tried to distribute the drug (abortion drug RU486) in Australia."

    So as recently as the Howard government, Abbott was prepared to use his position as a Minister to make threats based on his personal bias.

  15. I nearly choked when i heard IPA shrill John Rorkam say that Marr writes lovely pieces and sounded thoughtful


    The dirt unit is nasty isnt it??

    Abbott didnt respond well at all

    He should have said he was silly in his youth and had grown up since then

    Women in the polity dont like him

    Its worked for labour


    Obama would never have been friends with Tony at Uni


  16. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. For some strange reason the words Andrew and Landeryou spring to mind.

      At the nut of all this is the question; 'do we, as a nation, wish our political class to be populated by people who learnt their skills in the Machiavellian surrealism of student politics?' Because if we don't, we're in trouble, as a fair chunk of the cabinet and the shadow cabinet, if not a majority, came to politics through student politics in tertiary institutions and the youth wings of various parties, enjoying patronage and jobs through party affiliation without garnering much in the way of experience with the real world. And this is a worry for those of us who believe that policy and how it affects the citizenry should be at the forefront of national deliberation. Not the horse race point scoring that underpins power for power's sake to salve some bruised childhood ego.

    2. And is Ben Cass, whoever the hell he is, anywhere near the PMship?...

    3. And Cass is the leader of which major political party now?....

    4. Spot on my friend

      Paul Howes come to mind with bruised ego

      His womens weekly expose about his horrible father makes that point clearly

      Landeryou is a white collar criminal in my opinion and my humble google research ,nasty

      When i look at why the next gn enter politics in a privileged country like ours i see weirdo et al

      I can understand if this was Greece or Spain theres a legitimate reason for being political

      This is Australia so why??

      There would be many people in politics that i would ban from entering a school

  17. They say that those who "sow the wind shall reap the whirlwind"

    OK.. a warning that we must expect to suffer serious consequences as the result of our own bad actions.
    We get back what we give out.
    A good [err..GOD] idea of cause and effect that is expressed by several religions and philosophies.

    The particular proverb is an allusion to The Bible (Hosea 8:7):
    "For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind..."

    serves 'em right..!


    1. If Karma meant anything Kerry Packer would have died in a laneway in Darlinghurst of tuberculosis.

  18. Do what they currently do in Europe

    Ban the political class in certain restaurants

    crazy idea that really bruises their ego and narcissism


  19. Obama despite his privileged degree worked in the community

    Chicago if i recall

    The pretty young things here run off to Collins Street or Martin place

    poor darlings

  20. Apparently Tony Wright and Michelle Grattan over at Fairfax are not too troubled by a man physically threatening to punch a woman in the face, as Abbott did with Ramjan 35 years ago.

    He not only threatened Ramjan, he actually threw the punches, inches from her face, slamming into the wall.

    But this is apparently just the high jinks of youth, and does not reflect on the character of the man later in life. According to Grattan, who says she has watched him for years, Abbott is really a nice guy with no obvious character flaws.

    And all that seems to matter to Wright is that Abbott's fist did not actually connect with Ramjan's face, and many men think he's a good bloke, just an over-excited dill. So that's alright then.

    Most of us who live in the real world know that men who threaten women (and children) with physical violence usually graduate to the real thing over time, including aiming for the pregnant belly, after mashing up the face, and breaking a few bones.

    Men either beat up on women or they don't. There is no in-between state. Nor do men "grow out" of bashing women, or wanting to bash women. Men who bash women, or who threaten to bash women, should not be excused, defended, and patted on the head.

    The ones who don't graduate to actual wife-bashing, and are of a religious inclination, can supress their violent instincts by acts of daily self-flagellation, either with the knotted rope in the darkness of their bedrooms, or by pedalling a bicycle for long hours every day until the fat falls off their bones and they can no longer walk normally.

    This might be sufficient to exhaust the body and the mind and keep those bad thoughts at bay, but there is no guarantee. Such men cannot be trusted.

    This is the real "narrative" about Tony Abbott that the MSM should be pursuing. He is not called the Mad Monk for nothing.

  21. http://slanderyou2.blogspot.com.au/2009/11/andrew-landeryou-appears-to-be-waste-of.html?m=1

    have a look

  22. A lot of the Liberal stalwarts are repulsed by Abbott et al

    They regret giving him a job

    Nice legacy there eh??

  23. Go and read The Rise of the Fifth Estate by Greg Jericho

    1. Read it, loved it. any aspect of it in particular that interested you?

  24. Good!!

    Speechless a year in my fathers business by James Button??

    John Buttons son has a new book( just released )

    Read that ?


    1. No, I'm busy. Read it yourself and tell me why it's important.