By Noni Sproule
I’ve been wanting to write something about the furor over Tony Abbott’s alleged behaviour while he was a student politician at The University of Sydney. So far, I haven’t been able to work out how to write a piece that didn’t overly rely on the fact that I hate him (which I do) fall back on stereotypes about Young Liberals (they exist for a reason) or simply rehash allegations (that are probably true) of which I have no insight.
Within Sydney Uni circles stories of his behaviour while President are well known. He openly brags about his disrespect toward the women’s room and his passion for the destruction of the SRC from the inside. I can only assume that other well known stories are not reported with good reason and so shall remain unprinted here, except to say that what’s been reported is allegedly only the tip of the iceberg.
Mr Abbott has spent some time this week disputing the allegations and then, when admitting to some of them, claiming that that was a long time ago and ‘boys will be boys’ so what does it matter? So followed a significant chorus (as always) from the conservative elements of the media, it was 30 years ago, he’s a changed man (he HAS had 3 daughters and cares immensely about their ‘precious gifts’) so talking about it to David Marr was really just about the evilness of the Labor party.
Some less conservative sections of the media have repeated the question of why does it matter. Student Politics is dirty and we all do things that we aren’t proud of, why should Abbott be held to a different standard?
Well, first of all, Julia Gillard’s past involvement with communist parties on campus has been brought up along with any number of other superfluous decisions and entanglements from her youth. Sometimes by the media and many by Mr Abbott and his team, if whether the Prime Minister shacked up with her boyfriend or not is a matter in the national interest then whether Abbott acted in an incredibly violent and intimidating fashion toward a woman who beat him in an election certainly is.
I’ve been involved in student politics for four years and there is an element of it that is quite dirty and some behaviour can be expected as part of the push and pull of campus politics. Should the country hear about who stole the skeleton from anatomy and paraded it though campus in a campaign t-shirt, probably not. Should the country hear about the fact that Mr Abbott was unwilling to refer to the elected president of the Sydney SRC as ‘Chairperson’ preferring to call her ‘Chairthing’ probably, they should care about it too. It speaks to the kind of attitudes he has towards women, particularly towards women who beat him and the profound disrespect he has toward those who disagree with him.
In my experience, those who begin with such little respect toward others don’t improve this character flaw with time. We will never know if Mr Abbott would have behaved the same if the person who beat him was a man, however I’m pretty certain he wouldn’t have found the need to refer to a man as a thing.
Herein lies the problem with Tony Abbott’s behaviour. He, and his party, has shown time and time again they believe that women are less people than men are.
Mr Abbott might like to explain away the ‘chair thing’ comments and people might even let him, but he cannot explain away his behaviour while health minister where he let his own personal beliefs on Abortion get in the way of women accessing the RU486 drug, forcing an emotional debate in the parliament that should never have been had.
His arrogant belief that he knew what was best for millions of Australian women combined with his position allowed him to deny women in rural and regional areas, women who did not want surgical abortions and those whose doctors believed a chemical abortion was better access to A LEGAL option.
The Australian public should care a great deal about what Tony Abbott called those women in Sydney 30 years ago because they speak to his character and his beliefs. These beliefs will continue to inform his behaviour if (god forbid) he is elected to be Prime Minister of this country.
This opinion is my own and not that of the National Union of Students or the National Women’s Department.
I have opened up comments on this post however they will continue to be moderated.