18 Sep 2012

Getting The Facts Straight On Abbott

By Lindsay Foyle
When Lindsay Foyle told a story about an altercation with Tony Abbott in the 1970s, he was accused of working for a dirt unit. Abbott and Greg Sheridan may not like it, but he's sticking to his story
Last week I dusted off the spiderwebs on an old story I had written about Tony Abbott and an altercation we had when he was involved in student politics. People will make whatever they want about it. It was not intended to be about me, but about a man who wants us all to consider him as a future prime minister. But because I was caught up in the story I cannot avoid the involvement.

Tony Abbott and Christopher Pyne have suggested there are people working in dirt units who are involved in digging into Abbott's background looking for things to embarrass him with.

I would like to confirm that I am not an indirect or direct member of a dirt unit associated with Julia Gillard or the ALP, even if one does exists. To avoid any chance of a misunderstanding I know nothing of any dirt units anywhere. No one has ever asked me to belong to one and if they ever did I would say "no" to the invitation.

But I do have a political past. A little under three decades ago I did join the ALP. My membership lasted about 10 years at the most. During that time I did meet many people who were also members of the ALP, but not one has approached me at anytime to be involved in anything whatsoever directly or indirectly relating to Tony Abbott.

So why did I write about Abbott and his student days?

Well, originally it was intended to be an amusing aside written soon after Abbott became a minister in the Howard Government. It also involved others who had been working at The Bulletin back then. One of them, Greg Sheridan, was the person who introduced me to Abbott. Sheridan told me way back then that the reason he brought Abbott and his friends into the pub that night was to meet some journalists who worked on The Bulletin.

When I wrote the story I was working on The Australian, so I offered it to the paper. I had titled it, "Old friends", but it was changed to "Watch out for the punchline" when published on 11 January, 2001.

As far as I can remember it did not attract one letter. Nobody rang me to complain about it. A few colleagues in the office said they read the story and it gave them a giggle. I should point out I do not know if Sheridan read the story, he never mentioned it. Maybe he missed it, but as it was in The Australian where he works it would be very surprising if nobody brought it to his attention. Our friendly association continued unaffected in the office and on social occasions. It did not affect the friendly association that had evolved with Abbott either.We did bumped into each other from time to time and there was never a hint of trouble.

Nothing more was said or written about that story. I was happy to leave the matter alone. I didn't even think of revisiting it when the publicity about David Marr's Quarterly Essay, "Political animal. The making of Tony Abbott," started.

What changed my mind was a story in The Australian written by Sheridan defending Abbott. As I thought Sheridan was overstating the facts, I sent a letter off to The Australian attempting to correct Sheridan's assertions.

The letter read:

"I have known Greg Sheridan since the 1970s when he started as a journalist on The Bulletin. It was Sheridan who introduced me to Abbott a year or two after that. It was in the first floor bar of Castlereagh Hotel in Sydney when Abbott was still at Sydney University. It did not end well. Sheridan had to intercede to calm Abbott down — who at the time was threatening to punch my head in because I was not opposed to abortion. It was a serious incident and was witnessed by a number of journalists who were at the time working for The Bulletin."

"Several years after that night, Trevor Kennedy (then the editor of The Bulletin) asked me to have a drink with Abbott to establish if I could work with him. I did have a drink or two with him that afternoon in the Kings Head hotel. It ended well and Abbott soon started work at The Bulletin."

"I have known both Sheridan and Abbott ever since on a friendly basis and while disagreeing with them on politics have always enjoyed their company. However I am more than surprised Sheridan could write, 'I knew Abbott very well and he was never, ever violent'."

"While some people may say there is no proof any of this ever happening, I would like to point out that I did write about the incident in the pub some time ago. It was published in The Australian and nobody has ever suggested I made it all up."

Not a nasty letter, but maybe a little too long for the letters column. I do not know why it was not published, nobody bothered to contact me about it. Fair enough. That was the choice of the letters editor. However I still wanted to put on record the contents of the letter. So I incorporated the letter with the original story and forwarded it on to New Matilda.

After it was published no one contacted me suggesting I had any of the facts wrong. So I was more than surprised when I discovered Abbott was saying I did have facts wrong. He did so on morning TV. Karl Stefanovic asked him on Channel Nine, "Cartoonist Lindsay Foyle says that as a student in the 70s you wanted to punch his head in because you disagreed with him over abortion and contraception. Is he making that up?"

To which Abbott responded:

"Well I saw that piece late yesterday evening and look, I had a lot of very vigorous discussions with my fellow journalists in various pubs over the years. I'm sure you've had a few yourself, Karl, but the idea that fisticuffs or threatened fisticuffs would ensue from this, again, I think is just ludicrous. Now, I spoke last night to one of the people who was cited in Lindsay Foyle's article. In fact, I spoke to two of the people who were cited in Lindsay Foyle's article and neither of them can remember anything remotely, remotely resembling what was alleged."

It was not the response I had expected. I had assumed Abbott would say something like, "Yes it did happen. But that was a long ago and there was no lasting damage. We all do things we regret. The important thing is not that they happened, but that we learn from them and become better for it". That would have killed to story stone dead.

As that did not happen, the story lives on. It had fresh life pumped into it on the ABC program Q & A  last night. Greg Sheridan said the event in the pub with Abbott never happened. He also said Trevor Kennedy told him earlier that day he had not talked with me about Abbott joining The Bulletin. I have known Kennedy since 1973 and I have to say he is not the sort of person who gets things wrong.

On this occasion I have a different memory of the events, and why I met with Abbott a second time. I have always appreciated Kennedy's consideration in this matter and the trouble he took to avoid any potential problems. The meeting with Abbott was in the first floor bar of King's Head hotel and it was for no other reason other than Kennedy requested it to happen there.

Abbott was in the bar when I arrived. He was sitting on a stool watching for me to come up the stairs. If I had been involved in selecting the venue it would have been in the first floor bar of the Castlereagh Hotel. It didn't matter. Abbott had said he had been silly and apologised, we had two quick drinks and were out of the place.

In his effort to prove I had things wrong Sheridan claimed I had the year wrong because he had only joined The Bulletin in 1979. It is a small point. But as I had written the event happened in the late 1970s, I think I can say I did not get the time frame wrong. Sheridan also pointed out he is smaller than Abbott and myself and was not likely to get between us in a nasty situation. There is some truth to his claim. However as Sheridan says, he was then best friends with Abbott, and not even Abbott's worst enemies would suggest he would hurt his best friend. Sheridan would have had nothing to fear. Not from Abbott and not from me.

So it all comes down to who you believe and who you don't. But if I were making all of this up, why would I go to so much detail about the events and why would I put most of it in writing almost 12 years ago?

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chrysstevenson
Posted Tuesday, September 18, 2012 - 10:11

"It was not the response I had expected. I had assumed Abbott would say something like, "Yes it did happen. But that was a long ago and there was no lasting damage. We all do things we regret. The important thing is not that they happened, but that we learn from them and become better for it". That would have killed to story stone dead."

This is the crux of the matter for me. I don't much care about what Abbott did 30 years ago. We all do things we regret. What I care about is the quality of his character *now*. It seems very evident that, on this issue, Abbott is lying to protect himself.

Is that really what Australians want or deserve in a future PM?

I agree with Foyle. If Abbott had simply said, "Yep, I did those things and I deeply regret it" he would have got a great deal of respect even from those of us who can't stand a bar of him.

It was a bad call by Abbott ethically, but worse for him, a bad call politically.

CanDoh
Posted Tuesday, September 18, 2012 - 11:14

So The Australian didn't publish your letter in response to Greg Sheridan's piece?

I'm shocked.

Bazzio101
Posted Tuesday, September 18, 2012 - 11:55

Once more Abbott uses manipulative linguistics to obfuscate upon facts so as to leave 'wriggle room' in his faulty argument. Abbott, when asked "Is he making that up?' ~ a 'yes or no' question ~ refers immediately away from the question and himself ~ "I spoke to two of the people who were cited", and carries on to NOT answer the question (the chnique "spot-firing" . . . . diverting attention away from the central issue by creating surrounding lesser issues). This technique is the definitive characteristic of the psychological profile manipulator < http://www.dialecticalpsychology.com/2010/10/manipulators.html >
John Howard fitted the profile as exactly as does Abbott. The REAL problem is that journalists invariably follow the finger pointing of the manipulator rather than hold the manipulator to the issue at hand. When held to account to the answer to the question-at-hand, the Abbott's of this world are left speechless, as witnessed by THAT interview with Leigh Sailes. A "tough" interview? ~ hardly! Sailes simply held to the question at hand and didn't divert to Abbott's manipulations.

Question Authority

leila
Posted Tuesday, September 18, 2012 - 12:54

I sent a letter to the editor last week text below:
re: Andrew Bolt’s The pitful ravings of sad losers, DT120912. Bolt wrote that Wayne Swan should “stop calling Tony Abbott a ‘thug’ who goes ‘the biff’ – a malicious reference to almost certainly false claims the Opposition Leader 35 years ago punched the wall next to the head of a woman..” What is almost certain is that this did occur. People are coming out of the woodwork – I refer to SMH online opinion where an anonymous witness is willing to sign a statutory declaration asserting that this act of punching fists near Barbara Ramjan did occur. I first heard of similar stories regarding Mr Abbott about a year ago by colleagues and friends who were at Sydney university in the late 1970’s, and wondered why no one had said anything. It’s not that no one never did - just that perhaps the media didn’t take it seriously. Timing is everything in politics so let’s set the record straight before it’s too late!

Neither the Telegraph nor the SMH sent an auto response that I had sent an email... Interesting that a week later this issue is still making news. Ironic that it is his denial (lies) of it means it go away, and increases Julia's poll ratings.

Geofferoo
Posted Tuesday, September 18, 2012 - 15:36

Yes, it is quite shocking that the Australian would choose not to publish a letter that, however pertinent to a current issue, contradicts the water-carrying efforts of one of their dependable Tory scribblers. Imagine that...

I've had scores, possibly hundreds of letters published in the SMH, the Age and other papers over the years. Not to mention contributions to the comments sections on countless articles.

None of my letters to the Oz or comments to its online articles has ever been deemed worthy of publication or posting. Not a single one.

But we can't have any discordance in Rupert's right-wing echo chamber, can we?

davidstephens
Posted Tuesday, September 18, 2012 - 15:47

David Stephens

Yet again, we see the distinction between "the truth" and "politicians' truth".

RossC
Posted Tuesday, September 18, 2012 - 16:24

I must say Lindsay, its been awesome watching Abbott and his little clan of mindless sycophants (Bolt, Sheridan, Henderson etc.) wringing their hands over these issues, and decrying just how beastly that horrid old ALP has been. It's all the more satisfying because it could so easily have been handled differently, and effectively (from their perspective).

Between them and Tony's terrible political advisers (where does he get them from?), they've only gone and managed to create a very damaging and currently relevant 'character mountain' out of a series of 'youthful indescretion molehills'.

And its not over yet. Lying over such simple, stupid, matters suggests a 'win at all cost' mentality born of instinctive opposition, and an almost careless disregard for the truth or indifference to others perception of it. The infamous recent 7:30 report and subsequent contradictory claims is another celebrated example. It's revealing because it unmasks the guy as quite blind to the nuances required for leadership of a country.

This is very damaging to Tony's credibility, the beginning of the end of his leadership tilt.

For all the wingeing from the right, the sad truth is that, with such mis-directed political radar in Abbott's camp, the ALP doesn't need a dirt unit, even if it had one!

hlewers
Posted Tuesday, September 18, 2012 - 16:39

Tony Abbott - you've got Greg Sheridan defending your honour. Aah...with friends like these....(And yes - you could pronounce that "aah" in an Abbott-like way).

martyns
Posted Tuesday, September 18, 2012 - 16:40

The article rings true for me. I appreciate reading the comments too. What is a worry for me is that Abbott's fellow Liberals are tarred with the same brush. I'm not for a moment suggesting that they threaten physical violence against women or little guys, but they obviously approve of Abbott, his utterances and his style. These Liberals are not liberals.

roma
Posted Tuesday, September 18, 2012 - 18:23

Oh what a tangled web we weave........................

Homerjunior
Posted Tuesday, September 18, 2012 - 18:45

No matter the facts, you probably deserve a good punch to the ribs now, Mr. Foyle.

lindsayfoyle
Posted Tuesday, September 18, 2012 - 18:59

Thanks Homerjumior, you are not the first to suggest that and you might all be right.

Dallas Beaufort
Posted Tuesday, September 18, 2012 - 19:43

No wonder Faifax lost a lot of their cumbersome baggage.

Evan
Posted Tuesday, September 18, 2012 - 19:59

My time at Sydney Uni (78-80) overlapped with Tony Abbotts. I didn't know him personally.

My impression of him from his outings in Honi Soit and such was that the incident of punching a wall would have been entirely in character.

There were lots of others at Sydney Uni at the time, it would be interesting to hear their impression of Tony's character at the time.

meski1
Posted Tuesday, September 18, 2012 - 22:09

Like others here, I don't much care if he had a hot-blooded and somewhat violent youth. That he lies about it now I care about a lot.

This user is a New Matilda supporter. bigdog
Posted Tuesday, September 18, 2012 - 23:38

It strikes me as singularly despicable that Abbott used the word "chairthing" about a female chairperson. What a giveaway about his attitude to women generally. Do I think he might have changed, well no. Remember him standing in front of a sign calling the Prime Minister a bitch.

Betty
Posted Wednesday, September 19, 2012 - 01:34

Betty
Tony Abbott has not taken a punch around Julia Gillard with his fists, but he does it with words. He is a sportsman but he is not sporting - he's a very poor loser.

When in Howard Government he mucked up every portfolio he had. He doesn't delegate and he suffers from "foot in mouth disease". He would be a hopeless Prime Minister and God help us if he ever becomes PM. It is not too late for the party to re-elect Malcolm Turnbull to leadership - he only lost by one vote and that voter is no longer in the Senate!

Roddy2008
Posted Wednesday, September 19, 2012 - 05:19

The most dangerous polititan to emerge in this country since Federation.

Stephen Pickells
Posted Wednesday, September 19, 2012 - 07:54

Abbott: "my fellow journalists".
What did he ever actually write?

butlerad
Posted Wednesday, September 19, 2012 - 09:46

If Abbott becomes PM then our country deserves what we get. The population are politically dumb, socially dumber and totally oblivious to the world outside themselves. All this thanks to advertising and the corporate media controlling people's hearts and minds in pursuit of the dollar.

KeithP
Posted Friday, September 21, 2012 - 07:26

I was at Sydney University from 1976 to 1981, and can back up Evan's recollections. I did not know Tony Abbott personally, but I saw him around a lot and remember his character and political activism very well. I was a Liberal voter at the time (very conservative family background), but I never liked Abbott. It was very evident to me that he was indeed a thug and a gross opportunist.

One detail that I distinctly remember is that at one point he got himself elected as President of the Student Union and immediately (that very night, I believe) had the locks changed so that the lefties could not get into the building. Abbott is, and has always been, the kind of 'conservative' ('reactionary' would be more accurate) who sees the progressive opposition as a kind of moral plague who have to be done down at every opportunity and with every means at his disposal, lying included. He would indeed make a very bad PM.

Jandamarra
Posted Friday, September 21, 2012 - 09:16

I see that wanker Greg Sheridan has taken the extraordinary step of writing a letter in today's Age against what he calls Foyle's version of events published here and says they are "Completely Untrue".
A few questions arise from this...Why is someone who has a whole atrocious newspaper empire at his dispersal to refute any and all claims write in his own paper (is no one reading it anymore)? Why does he write into the rival newspapers letter section to get his selective memory of events across to people who he thinks care about him. Doesn't that right wing shit paper the Un-Australian support their own so called journalist-or Has the Un-Australian's audience died off so much that the Age has better circulation and of course a more intelligent readership therefore Sheridan needs his rival paper to get his self importance message out. And why didn't he write to New Matilda himself? is he afraid of people commenting on his opinion

I noticed on QandA where sheridan said he has to be careful as he doesn't want to be seen as bias against a political party in standing up for his catholic menace mate (Abbott). Then after saying this every comment he said after this turned into a ballad of love for for the mad monk and how he has never and never could do anything wrong....EVER to anyone ever (except Bernie Baton cause apparently sick men are not pure). Sheirdan's performance and defence of Abbott whilst claiming to be neutral was so biased it mad me sick and just reinforced why I don't read any Murdoch rags. The fact Sheridan thinks and believes he is neutral in this political game is the biggest croc of shit I have ever heard.

Venise Alstergren
Posted Sunday, September 23, 2012 - 01:13

There have been many people expressing shock-especially people who have allowed themselves to be manipulated by Rupert Murdoch's MSM conservative, seventy-five percent ownership of our media-that events of some thirty years ago should have relevance to the character of Tony Abbott, the man who looks to be a shoo-in to become our next Prime Minister.

Apart from those who should know better uttering the boring cliché re a leopard and its unchanging spots, they could instead read and notice how, over the years, Tony Abbott's modus operandi has survived remarkably intact. What is the essential difference between the anti-feminist thug who bullied his fellow female students at uni and the same anti-feminist thug who has so relentlessly bullied our present PM, Julia Gillard, for the past two years? This failed Jesuit seminarian who wears a spectral set of hair underwear to cover his probable guilt at not living up to the Church's expectations appears to have, or pretends to have, a life-long loathing for women who aspire to be more than just broodmares. Perhaps it was the man's sexual attraction to women which brought an end to his priestly ambitions, so naturally it was a woman and/or women themselves who were the real villains.

The man's history is there for anyone to refer to. His stance on abortion, euthanasia, birth control, his token acceptance that women might wish to become politicians but they would be better off living the lives of a nineteen fifties little woman chained to her kitchen and laundry. Also there was his inglorious performance as minister for health in the Howard conservative government {does the title RU486 ring no bells?}

Then there was the lamentable fact that he didn't even became minister for health because of any innate ability. Rather it was because of an unholy deal brokered between little Johnny Howard and yet another fundamentalist Jesuit Catholic, Brian Harradine, in order to get the former's Telstra deal through parliament. Brian Harradine's support for the deal was solely agreed to on condition that his fellow arch Catholic parliamentarian, Tony Abbott should be shifted to the health ministry; the result being a concerted attempt to nullify any potential health gains which would result in women having greater control over their own breeding habits.

To compound Tony Abbott's shockingly nineteen fifties outlook on women, he leads a Coalition stuffed to the gills with equally fundamentalist arch-Catholics with all the Catholic' Church's well known antipathy towards women fulfilling any role which is not subordinate to men. Names such as Barnaby Joyce (National Party); Kevin Andrews who brought in the law overturning the Northern Territory's short lived euthanasia bill. Christopher Pyne, Scott Morrison, Cori Bernardi, Eric Abetz, George Brandis, David Clarke, rumoured to be referred to as Ratzingers Right by the Canberra Press Gallery; Nick Minchin-if he is still angling to return to politics, and so on. There's even a token woman in his proposed cabinet, Sophie Mirabella, no less.

This is not to suggest there are no hard-line politicians in the Labor Party, on the contrary. Never the less, Tony Abbott's greatest hero is the late founder of the Catholic DLP {which is presently undergoing a renaissance with people such as Senator John Madigan of Ballarat, etc} Bartholomew Augustine Michael {call me Bob} Santamaria. An evil black spider whose entire raison d'être was to keep the Labor Party out of power for as long as possible. Which he did with chilling efficiency. Thanks to Santamaria, and his cronies, the nineteen fifties and sixties marked a period of intolerable censorship for the Australian electorate and its women who had little say in anything.

Venise Alstergren
Posted Sunday, September 23, 2012 - 01:16

There have been many people expressing shock-especially people who have allowed themselves to be manipulated by Rupert Murdoch's MSM conservative, seventy-five percent ownership of our media-that events of some thirty years ago should have relevance to the character of Tony Abbott, the man who looks to be a shoo-in to become our next Prime Minister.

Apart from those who should know better uttering the boring cliché re a leopard and its unchanging spots, they could instead read and notice how, over the years, Tony Abbott's modus operandi has survived remarkably intact. What is the essential difference between the anti-feminist thug who bullied his fellow female students at uni and the same anti-feminist thug who has so relentlessly bullied our present PM, Julia Gillard, for the past two years? This failed Jesuit seminarian who wears a spectral set of hair underwear to cover his probable guilt at not living up to the Church's expectations appears to have, or pretends to have, a life-long loathing for women who aspire to be more than just broodmares. Perhaps it was the man's sexual attraction to women which brought an end to his priestly ambitions, so naturally it was a woman and/or women themselves who were the real villains.

The man's history is there for anyone to refer to. His stance on abortion, euthanasia, birth control, his token acceptance that women might wish to become politicians but they would be better off living the lives of a nineteen fifties little woman chained to her kitchen and laundry. Also there was his inglorious performance as minister for health in the Howard conservative government {does the title RU486 ring no bells?}

Then there was the lamentable fact that he didn't even became minister for health because of any innate ability. Rather it was because of an unholy deal brokered between little Johnny Howard and yet another fundamentalist Jesuit Catholic, Brian Harradine, in order to get the former's Telstra deal through parliament. Brian Harradine's support for the deal was solely agreed to on condition that his fellow arch Catholic parliamentarian, Tony Abbott should be shifted to the health ministry; the result being a concerted attempt to nullify any potential health gains which would result in women having greater control over their own breeding habits.

To compound Tony Abbott's shockingly nineteen fifties outlook on women, he leads a Coalition stuffed to the gills with equally fundamentalist arch-Catholics with all the Catholic' Church's well known antipathy towards women fulfilling any role which is not subordinate to men. Names such as Barnaby Joyce (National Party); Kevin Andrews who brought in the law overturning the Northern Territory's short lived euthanasia bill. Christopher Pyne, Scott Morrison, Cori Bernardi, Eric Abetz, George Brandis, David Clarke, rumoured to be referred to as Ratzingers Right by the Canberra Press Gallery; Nick Minchin-if he is still angling to return to politics, and so on. There's even a token woman in his proposed cabinet, Sophie Mirabella, no less.

This is not to suggest there are no hard-line politicians in the Labor Party, on the contrary. Never the less, Tony Abbott's greatest hero is the late founder of the Catholic DLP {which is presently undergoing a renaissance with people such as Senator John Madigan of Ballarat, etc} Bartholomew Augustine Michael {call me Bob} Santamaria. An evil black spider whose entire raison d'être was to keep the Labor Party out of power for as long as possible. Which he did with chilling efficiency. Thanks to Santamaria, and his cronies, the nineteen fifties and sixties marked a period of intolerable censorship for the Australian electorate and its women who had little say in anything.

Without knowing the past how on earth can the voter arrive at an informed opinion as to a person's likely behaviour when given the nation's top job.

Homerjunior
Posted Sunday, September 23, 2012 - 09:37

Tony, if elected, will make a fine PM.