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Tag Archives: Sydney University

Tony Abbott is Prime Minister of Australia – go figure.

Tony Abbott is Prime Minister of Australia.  It is one of those things that you know is true but remains incomprehensible.  Like the concept of infinity.  It’s hard to get your head around.

In most jobs you need to satisfy key criteria to even get an interview.  To get a managerial position you must have experience and proven expertise.  Along the way your success in meeting key performance indicators will be assessed.

Leaders should be people who inspire others, they should be role models and protectors, they should listen and empower, they should have good people skills and be able to negotiate, they should be trustworthy and able to explain the reasons for their decisions.

Or you can just agree to say climate change is crap, and become the leader of the nation.

But how did Tony even become a contender?

He attended a Catholic boys school where he bemoaned the fact that he was never chosen for the First XV rugby team.  Apparently this was not due to a lack of talent but to selectors who did not recognise Tony’s ability.

Tony then went on to study economics/law at Sydney University (for free) even though he never worked in either field and described economics as a boring “dismal science”.

Tony was active in student politics, eventually becoming an unpopular leader of the Student Representative Council.

“During my term, despite my objections, the SRC, continued to give money to feminist, environmental and anti-nuclear groups. I never managed to have the feminist and homosexuals’ slogans on the SRC walls painted over nor to open the ‘Womens’ Room’ to men, nor to make the SRC more accountable by ending compulsory SRC fees.”

Contacts within the Jesuit network secured a Rhodes scholarship for Tony to study Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Oxford even though he had campaigned fiercely against the Philosophy and Political Economy courses at Sydney University describing them as a waste of resources and a hotbed of Marxist feminists.

The selectors for the Oxford rugby team also failed to appreciate Tony’s talent, dropping him after one game and suggesting that his ability had been overstated.

When he returned to Australia, Tony entered the seminary to train for the priesthood but quickly became disillusioned with a church who had “lost its way” in his opinion.

“Looking back, it seems that I was seeking a spiritual and human excellence to which the Church is no longer sure she aspires. My feeble attempts to recall her to her duty — as I saw it — betrayed a fathomless disappointment at the collapse of a cherished ideal.

In addition, a “cooperative” style of management ran counter to the Church’s age-old hierarchical structure.

The more they played up lay ministry and ecumenism and played down the unique role of the priest in the one true Church, the more the struggle seemed pointless and the more I wanted to participate in worldly activities which were much more to my taste.

l felt “had” by a seminary that so stressed ”empathy” with sinners and “dialogue” with the Church’s enemies that the priesthood seemed to have lost its point.”

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.”

Tony had been writing the occasional article for the Catholic Weekly and, when he left the seminary, he began writing for the Packer-owned Bulletin where, interestingly, he instigated strike action over the sacking of photographers.

“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.”

Tony only lasted about a year before he was writing to wealthy contacts looking for a job.  Through the Jesuit network, he got one managing a concrete plant and very quickly found himself causing a total shutdown through his inept handling of employees.

In a 2001 interview with Workers Online Tony explained what happened.  Interestingly, some time between me quoting the article in August and now, it has been removed.  I guess we now know what all those people employed to trawl social media are being paid to do – erase history.  It is happening to an increasing number of links but it is too late, the information is out there.

“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.”

Tony then took it upon himself to take delivery and run the conveyer belt on his own.

“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!”

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.  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.”

Abbott soon quit the job as it wasn’t paying enough money and accepted a position with The Australian as a journalist. 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.

He continued writing at The Australian until John Howard recommended him for a position as the then Federal Liberal leader John Hewson’s press secretary.  Tony was responsible for the infamous line in a Hewson speech saying you could tell the rental houses in a street.

Is it any wonder that Hockey thinks that “poor people don’t drive” and Pyne thinks that “women don’t take expensive degrees”?

In 1994 Tony was gifted the safe Liberal seat of Warringah in a by-election and has been skating ever since.

He has changed his mind on innumerable things, lied and contradicted himself countless times, and then denied lying, even changing his words and removing online links.

He is a man whose convictions are dictated to him by polls and focus groups in marginal seats and by marketing teams.  Peta Credlin has increasingly centralized control failing to learn the Rudd lesson.

Tony learns his script but does not bother reading actual reports, relying on others to just tell him what to say.  His Star Chamber silence dissent, pay hacks to produce reports saying what they want to hear, refuse to release any that may be critical or negative, while arrogantly and blatantly rewarding their political donors.

Tony is not a leader by any stretch of the imagination.

It is not the Labor Party who is stopping this from being a decent government.

Darren Lockyer, the Pope, Tony Abbott and a school boy were all on the same plane when the engine failed and started to plummet towards the Earth.

They all realised that there was four of them and only three parachutes.

Darren Lockyer got up and said, “I am a sporting superstar and must live so that I can please my fans and continue my career to beat the Kiwis and the Poms in the tri-nations series.”

So he grabbed a parachute and jumped out of the plane.

Then Tony Abbott got up and said, “I am the smartest Prime Minister Australia has ever had and I need to live to continue to govern the nation.”

So he grabbed a parachute and jumped out of the plane.

Then the Pope said to the school boy, “I am old and have lived my life so you should take the last parachute instead of me.”

The school boy replied, “No, it’s okay, the worlds smartest Prime Minister took my school bag so there’s one for each of us!”

Captain Confrontation

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.

Callow or shallow?

When Nelson Mandela died last year, Tony Abbott joined many other world leaders in singing his praises.

“The world mourns the passing of Nelson Mandela. Nelson Mandela will forever be remembered as more than a political leader, he was a moral leader. He spent much of his life standing against the injustice of apartheid.”

But Tony didn’t always feel that way.

When Abbott was President of the Students’ Representative Council at Sydney University, he wrote in Honi Soit that Voluntary Student Unionism “would finally stop all students being taxed so the SRC can fund groups such as International Socialists, South African Terrorists, the Spartacists, Lidcombe Health Workers Collective etc. which are quite irrelevant, not to say obnoxious, to student purposes.”

Abbott’s “South African Terrorists” were the members of Mandela’s African National Congress (ANC) political party, to whom the SRC had previously been giving money.

Malcolm Fraser’s Liberal Party, and its associated Liberal student groups at universities, supported the Commonwealth campaign to abolish Apartheid. Abbott did not join these efforts. He was President of the University of Sydney Democratic Club, an affiliate organization of B.A. Santamaria’s militantly anti-Communist National Civic Council and Democratic Labor Party.

These organisations actively supported South Africa’s Apartheid government, if not the Apartheid system itself. Abbott wrote and published the club’s bulletin, The Democrat, and was a close friend of Santamaria. The Apartheid government was seen in Western conservative circles as an important bulwark against Afro-Communist tendencies, which the ANC was thought to exhibit.

Anti-Apartheid activity was alive and well in Australia at this time. Many Australians supported fundraising efforts for the ANC, and participated in anti-Apartheid demonstrations throughout the 1960s and 1970s. The racially exclusive Springboks were banned from playing in Australia between 1974 and the end of Apartheid in 1994. In 1981, the Fraser government refused permission for the aircraft carrying the Springboks to a tour of New Zealand to refuel on Australian territory. Abbott, however, accepted a rugby scholarship to tour South Africa in what former Federal Labor Minister Barry Cohen described as a “universally acknowledged… promotional tour of Apartheid”.

Tony isn’t the only Liberal to change his tune since University days.

A few years earlier, a young Malcolm Turnbull, while describing then-PM Gough Whitlam as an arrogant egomaniac, lauded the Labor Party as a “wealth of opinion and class…diverse and less likely than the conservatives to blindly rally behind one great leader”.  Menzies’ Liberals, on the other hand, had “warmed the treasury benches” for 23 years with “the steak-fed bottoms of the sons of Toorak and the champions of Double Bay” – an interesting observation as Malcolm grew up in Vaucluse and Double Bay and he and his wife Lucy have lived in the Wentworth electorate all their lives.

In 1984, Christopher Pyne signed up for the Adelaide University Liberal Club and the Young Liberal Party before he even went to his first lecture. Soon enough, he was running both shows. Ruthlessly he purged right-wingers from the executive of the Liberal Club. When half of the 400-strong membership threatened to quit in protest, Pyne cheerfully collected the resignations.  He has freely admitted that he campaigned against the reintroduction of university fees purely to win an election, a view he reiterated when interviewed recently saying “Those people who see me as some kind of political warrior are right to think that I would do everything I can to win, so that the Coalition is in government … I’ll do what I need to do to position the Coalition to win elections.”

Sydney University was a very different place by 1987, when Joe Hockey took the reins of the SRC Presidency. The dominant political grouping was the Sydney University Liberal Club, a conglomerate of liberals, soft conservatives, and careerist moderates.

Liberals and Left Action were the two major factions on the SRC, but Hockey was from neither. Indeed, he disparaged the student newspaper, Honi Soit, for their obsession with the ‘return of Liberalism’ and its reluctance to report on student protests.

“One wonders whether Honi Soit is a NEWSpaper or a front for political masturbation,” he wrote in a 1987 Presidential report. “They do not seem to have any shortage of contributors espousing the virtues of Liberalism on campus but when there is student news there is no local coverage.”

Hockey’s policy statement in the 1986 election edition of Honi: “There is no question in my mind that students will never accept fees. I totally oppose any compromise the government may offer.”

His year as SRC President was chiefly spent fighting Labor’s re-introduction of university fees, which had been abolished under Gough Whitlam. But according to a 2012 profile by Bernard Keane, he was “accused of failing to aggressively lead student demonstrations for fear of endangering his Solicitors’ and Barristers’ Admission Board enrolment”.

Hockey’s backers, a ticket called “Varsity”, were decidedly centrist and unaffiliated, declaring they would “fight the burden of factionalism presently hindering the SRC’s effective operation”. In stark contrast to Abbott, Varsity was emphatic: “There should be no further government cuts to university funding.”

Whilst I acknowledge that these were words spoken a long time ago, it appears that, as university students, our current ministers were more endowed with confidence than conviction.  As their careers have unfolded we have seen political expediency trump passion with backflips on not only university fees but climate change, paid parental leave, compulsory superannuation, banking regulation, unaccompanied minors being sent offshore, environmental protection – the list of discarded beliefs is long and growing.

Yes, they were young, but one wonders whether their views were those of callow youth or shallow men.

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