Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Portrait of a thug

The man who will possibly be Australia’s next Prime Minister has made an art form out of denouncing unions for their “thuggery” and “intimidation”.

In his case, the old adage that it “takes one to know one” rings only too truly.

Journalist David Marr has recounted the story of Barbara Ramjan, a candidate for the position of president of the Sydney University Student Representative Council in 1977.

Abbott, who had contested the position as a right-wing Catholic candidate and was beaten by Ms Ramjan, approached her in a rage.

She said that she thought he was approaching to congratulate her, but that he invaded her body space, placing his head an inch away from hers, and then proceeded to punch a wall with blows to either side of her head.

Abbott told Marr he had no recollection of the incident. Denial is the first refuge of the bully, although strictly speaking, and cleverly, Abbott has not denied the incident.

“It would be profoundly out of character had it occurred,” he said.

The second refuge is to seek safety in the members of your gang.

Hence comprador journalist Greg Sheridan and right-wing commentator Gerard Henderson both springing to the defence of their mate.

For Sheridan, the Abbott he knew at that time was “never a violent person”.

According to Henderson: “A reading of Marr's essay reveals that Ramjan's claim is based on her memory alone of an event that allegedly took place 35 years ago. There are no witnesses. And there is no contemporaneous record of the occasion - not even in the student press.”

Unfortunately for this gang of three – Abbott, Sheridan and Henderson – there is now a witness and a person with a contemporaneous knowledge of Ramjan’s claim.

The witness, a student at the time, said he was outside the Student Representative Council's offices photocopying when "Abbott's famous flying squad of goons crashed down the stairs, threw me against the wall, kicked in the doors of the SRC, and started creating havoc".

The man, who emphasises that he was not involved in the SRC election, said it was extremely scary, as they were clearly looking for a fight. But he was so angry he followed them into the building.

"I saw Abbott throw a punch at Barbara Ramjan, but didn't see it land ... when next I saw her, she was in an extremely shocked condition, leaning against the wall ... I thought he had actually struck her, but I can see that was simply my assumption and rationalisation.

"If Ms Ramjan says the punches were aimed next to her head, I can't actually in fact contradict that ... simply I saw Abbott swinging punches, and certainly indulging in serious argy-bargy. I saw him swing a punch, I saw her in great distress."

The witness wishes to remain anonymous but says he is willing to sign a statutory declaration about what he saw, if necessary.

And a Sydney barrister, David Patch, has corroborated Ramjan’s claim

Mr Patch, who won the SRC presidency in 1975, said he had been Ms Ramjan's campaign manager in 1977, and she had told him about the Abbott incident immediately after it happened.

He wrote in the Age: ''I did not see the incident, but I was nearby. The count had just finished. Barbara found me. She is a small woman, and Tony Abbott was (and is) a strong man. She was very shaken, scared and angry. She told me that Tony Abbott had come up to her, put his face in her face, and punched the wall on either side of her head.

''So, I am a witness. Barbara's immediate complaint to me about what Abbott had just done had the absolute ring of truth about it. I believed Barbara at the time, and still do.''

The wall-punching event was not an isolated one, he writes. ''As President, Ramjan chaired SRC meetings. She did not want to be called 'Mr Chairman', but preferred 'Chairperson'. But for an entire year Abbott called Ramjan 'Chairthing' whenever he addressed her at SRC meetings.

''The gender-based disrespect for her office and her person is remarkably similar to the disrespectful way that Abbott treats the Prime Minister, and her office, today.''

As if this is not enough to establish that Abbott was, indeed, a violent person, yet another person has come forward with details of an incident in which an argument over a woman's right to abortion led to a threat, by Abbott, to punch his head in. And guess who intervened to stop Abbott?  None other than Greg Sheridan!

So this is the character of the man who described the militant but disciplined construction workers picketing the Grocon site in Melbourne as “absolutely out of line, thuggish and illegal”.

It is the man who is being sued for defamation by the Victorian CFMEU’s John Setka who was described by Abbott as a self-confessed thug who intimidated people in the building industry by visiting them at home and acting aggressively towards them.

No wonder Abbott can speak of such behaviour with intimate familiarity.

The man is a grub and a thug who has no right to lead a fly to a cowpat, let alone a political party, or the nation.

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