Whenever Tony Abbott takes on his tough guy approach his popularity in the polls seems to rise, or more accurately, his unpopularity wanes a little. The smirk disappears, the slow measured speech, mind-numbing repetition and finger-counting disappears, and Tony comes as close as he gets to sincerity. He seems to enjoy confrontation and relish in a belligerent reaction. And it has always been thus.
Whilst at Sydney University, Tony led an aggressive rightwing revolt against the leftwing orthodoxies of the late 70s and the campus was covered with anti-Abbott graffiti.
In a 2004 article by the Sydney Morning Herald, one former student who was at Sydney University with Tony Abbott, Barbie Schaffer, described Tony Abbott as “very offensive, a particularly obnoxious sort of guy” and also being “very aggressive, particularly towards women and homosexuals”.
During this time, Tony was charged with bending a street sign, accused of indecent assault, of kicking in a glass panel after being defeated at the University Senate elections in 1976, and, after having being defeated by Barbara Ramjan for the SRC presidency, approaching her, moving to within an inch of her nose, and punching the wall on both sides of her head.
Abbott’s willingness to confront people continued at Oxford.
In May 1982, six days after the British sinking of the Argentinian warship General Belgrano, with 323 killed, an Oxford demonstration took place against Thatcher’s military campaign in the Falklands. Hundreds of chanting students and locals converged on the Martyrs’ Memorial, a traditional gathering place for protesters.
Abbott hurriedly scraped together a dozen fellow rightwingers from Queen’s, rushed to the memorial, and mounted a counter-demonstration in favour of the British war effort. Provocatively, he stood beside the peace protesters, one hand in his pocket, bellowing pro-Thatcher slogans. “Police attempts to disperse [his] unofficial meeting met with little response”.
Of his time at St Patrick’s seminary, vice-rector Fr Bill Wright wrote of Tony that many found him “just too formidable to talk to unless to agree; overbearing and opiniated”.
“Tony is inclined to score points, to skate over or hold back any reservations he might have about his case.”
When the Church made a generous and unprecedented offer to accommodate Tony’s demands that he would prefer to study than do pastoral care and about where he would like to live and study, Tony rejected their offer and subsequently left. Fr Wright asserts that
“Once Tony had beaten the system and was no longer able to locate the ‘struggle’ as being between himself and authority, he had no-one much else blocking his path but himself.”
We have all heard about Tony decking Joe Hockey at football but what you may not realise is that they played for the same club and the stoush happened at training. Joe regularly played in the thirds and often got a run in the first XV but Tony, who was 10 years older and coached and sometimes captained the seconds, refused to pick Joe. Hockey admits he didn’t like the way Abbott ran the team. By his own admission, he was also abrasive. Joe didn’t like his selections and didn’t mind telling him so. So when Hockey saw the opportunity, he went straight for Abbott’s kidneys. Tony’s reaction was “a blistering array of uppercuts, hay-makers and wild swings” which left Hockey unconscious with two black eyes.
Tony was writing for the Bulletin at this time and actually led a strike.
“When I was at the Bulletin, ACP management one day, quite unilaterally, decided to sack the entire photographic department ….we were all shocked, stunned, dismayed, appalled, flabbergasted – when management just came in and said they were sacking the photographic department. So we immediately had a stop work meeting. There were various appropriately angry speeches made and I moved the resolution to go on strike, which was carried, as far as I can recall, unanimously, and we went on strike for a couple of days.”
From there Tony moved on to briefly manage a concrete plant and very quickly found himself causing a total shutdown through his inept handling of employees. Tony explained what happened in a 2001 interview with Workers Online.
“The ideology of the company was, in those days, was that the concrete industry had been run for far too long for the benefit of the owner-drivers and not enough for the benefit of the company and its shareholders – and we had to change that. So, like an obedient young fella I got to the plant in the morning, marched up and down the line of trucks like a Prussian army officer, telling owner-drivers who had been in the industry for longer than I had been alive, that that truck was too dirty, and that truck was filthy, and that truck had a leaking valve and had to be fixed.
Naturally enough, this wasn’t very popular, and I had been there a couple of months, and a phone call came through one morning from the quarry manager, saying that there was going to be a strike starting at midday, so can we put a bit of stuff on the road to you. And I said sure, send me as much as you’ve got. I’ll use it. I can keep my plant open for longer than I otherwise might.
I didn’t think anymore about it. All these trucks turn up at about 4 o’clock in the afternoon with gravel and sand and aggregate, wanting to dump it. And I couldn’t dump it without running material from the ground bins up to the overhead bins. It took me about half an hour to figure out how to turn the conveyor belt on because all the staff had gone home. I finally got it going; the materials were dumped; I went home feeling that I had done my job well. A phone call came through at 5.30 the next morning from the senior plant operator saying: “Did you turn the conveyor belt on yesterday?”. I said “Yeh”. He says “Right – nothing moves – this plant’s black – like to see you get yourself out of this little fix Sonny Boy!”
So anyway, I drove out to the plant that morning, thinking well, you know, this is a bit of a problem. How do I solve this? I thought that there’s really only one thing to do, and that’s to beg. So I got over there and I said to the senior plant operator. I said: “Stan I’m sorry. I’m new in this industry. I appreciate that I’ve been a bit of a so-and-so, but you’ve made your point and I will try to be different.”
He said to me: “It’s out of my hands. It’s in the hands of the union organiser.” So I said, who’s the union organiser and what’s his number? I rang him and I sort of begged and pleaded, and he said: “It’s more than my job’s worth to let this go. Bloody Pioneer are always pulling stunts like this. We’ve had enough of it! We’re sick of it! Got to do something.” So I said, well, look why don’t we put the old final warning. That if I ever do this again, I’ll be run out of the industry. And there was silence on the end of the phone, and after about ten seconds he said: “I’m putting you on a final warning mate, if this ever happens again you will be run out of the industry.”
Tony left soon after and began writing for the Australian. When they went on strike over pay and conditions, Tony was by now campaigning on the side of management, arguing in front of six to seven hundred people at the lower Trades Hall in Sussex Street that they shouldn’t go on strike. His speech did not meet with a particularly warm reception and the strikes went ahead.
When Tony became Minister for Industrial Relations in 2001, when trying to sell his workplace agreements, he said “I would have thought that sensible, intelligent organisations – unions no less than political parties like to say that if you are not against me you are at least potentially for me. Whereas the union I think is saying, if you are not for me you are against me, which I think is a counter-productive attitude.” Pity he didn’t think of that before coming up with Team Australia.
As Health Minister in 2004, Abbott defended John Howard’s decision to invade Iraq.
“As the critics constantly point out, war means that innocent people die. Unfortunately, any peace which leaves tyrants in charge also means that innocent people die. Pacifism is an honourable course of action for an individual prepared to suffer the consequences of turning the other cheek. But requiring collective non-resistance is complicity in evil. It’s an odd moral universe where the accidental killing of Iraqis by soldiers of the Western alliance is worse than the deliberate killing of Iraqis by Saddam Hussein or where it’s immoral to risk hundreds of Western lives to save hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives.”
Tony has continued the tough guy rhetoric in recent times, offending China, Russia, Indonesia, Palestine, Malaysia, PNG, East Timor, and most Muslims. He is amplifying the danger to our national security every chance he gets (whilst admitting the actual threat has not changed) and is spending unending billions on defence, armaments, border protection, and anti-terrorist initiatives.
Captain Confrontation has chosen the ground and brought out the heavy roller to prepare the pitch for the spinners.