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Oct 5, 2011

Tony Abbott's uni past gets another guernsey

Tony Abbott gave some wacky interviews in his uni days. One of these flicked around by dissidents to cast doubt on Abbott's morals in recent days is this crystal clear recording from ABC-TV's Nationwide program on 20 March 1979.


Tony Abbott gave some amusing interviews while president of the Sydney University SRC in the late 1970s. One of those flicked around by dissidents to cast doubt on Abbott’s morals 31 years later is a crystal clear recording from ABCTV’s Nationwide program on 20 March 1979.

The interview forms part of a cache of material circulating among anti-Coalition forces following the release of Susan Mitchell’s hyper-critical book A Man’s Man last week.

In a debate with then-Macquarie University student council president (now Slater & Gordon class action specialist) Steven Lewis — short excerpts of which ran in the Sun Herald over the weekend — the 21-year-old firebrand says Marxist academics had set out to deliberately lower academic and moral standards, presumably to purge liberal democracy of intellectuals in a Pol Pot-inspired cleansing policy.

The Fraser Government should immediately slash the $550 million provided to universities in annual funding, Abbott says, to force left wing lecturers to abandon their flights of fancy and get back to basics.

“Should they teach what is socially useful or would they be able to continue as they have done and waste money on such things as the politics of lesbianism?” the future opposition leader asks.

The full audio of the Nationwide interview makes for an interesting listen, especially an exchange with reporter Mark Hamlyn over Abbott’s description of the secret Marxist plot.

Hamlyn: “Why are you so concerned about that [the left wing presence on campus]? After all, in our society, politically people are allowed if they wish to think left wing thoughts.”

Abbott: “They are indeed and that’s their privilege…you see the Marxists that I said are operating in the universities…they realise now that the universities play a crucial role in the education of the elite of modern society. And they understand that if they destroy the academic standards and perhaps even the moral standards of that elite well then they have perhaps fundamentally and fatally undermined liberal democratic society…”

Hamlyn: “Excuse me I just want to get this absolutely clear. You’re saying there is a Marxist plot in Australian universities these days to undermine the university system morally and academically and therefore Australian society.

Abbott: “What I am saying is that there are a number of academics of Marxist leanings in the university who are actively working to destroy academic standards. I wouldn’t put a plot coordinated from the Kremlin but there is certainly a general tendency towards destroying academic standards and the impetus is coming from this sort of person.”

Abbott was no stranger to the airwaves in his uni days, granting an interview to the University of New England radio station 2UNE, the audio of which emerged last year. In a precursor to the Voluntary Student Unionism wars, Abbott says leftist special interest groups like women, Aboriginals, homosexuals and immigrants were unrepresentative of the broader student body.

“Well I see women as having an equal opportunity in every area as men have…mind you, I must add the proviso that while I think men and women are equal they are also different and I think that it is inevitable and don’t think it’s a bad thing at all that we will always have, say, more women doing things like physiotherapy and an enormous number of women simply doing housework and probably more men doing things like digging ditches…”

Other Abbott highlights were of course scattered in that year’s Honi Soit. In a breakout quote next to an ad for excellent Newtown noshery Pasha’s Kebab House, Abbott says it was “folly” that women will ever approach equal representation for “physiological” reasons. He also repeats calls for the end of political economy and general philosophy courses. Voluntary student union fees wouldn’t destroy the SRC but would “destroy the SRC as we know it.”

Crikey understands anti-Abbott forces have been working hard to dredge up the old material after A Man’s Man portrayed Abbott as an unreconstructed 1950s social conservative. However, others, including Abbott’s left-wing publisher Louise Adler, have criticised the tract for failing to turn up anything new.


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39 thoughts on “Tony Abbott’s uni past gets another guernsey

  1. Stiofan

    Fair dos – after all, Lee Rhiannon’s past is fair game, too – isn’t it?

    Steve Lewis debating Tony Abbott – one private school boy arguing with another. Student politics has ever been thus!

  2. John

    I’ve been treated more often by male physiotherapists than females.
    As for digging ditches, women can operate machines as easily as men.
    And Abbott is wrong about housework too.

  3. SimsonMc

    For all the bleating about union thugs and their modus operandi within the Labor movement, they really are quite amateurish when it comes to fighting dirty and playing the man. If this is the standard, they seriously need to go away and have a good hard look at themselves. Better still go have a look at the Tea Party and Fox News in the USA.

  4. LacqueredStudio

    [However, others, including Abbott’s left-wing publisher Louise Adler, have criticised the tract for failing to turn up anything new.]

    Well yeah, there’s little “new” about an armload of 30+ year-old recordings. Big deal. If that’s their only gripe, I’d chalk that up as a ringing endorsement.

  5. Michael Harvey

    Abbott’s past thoughts are obviously what he really thinks now – we cannot let this religious maniac lead our country.

  6. Sarah McMillan

    Agreed Michael Harvey – I don’t think people’s fundamental attitudes towards this sort of stuff ever change. A leopard doesn’t change his spots, as they say.

    He’s homphobic, and he’s sexist.

    And I hate how people claim Abbott can’t be sexist because he’s got a wife and daughter, and women working for him. As if no woman’s ever had a sexist husband, father or boss.


  7. FunkyJ

    I would normally disagree with Abbot’s ideals but I think he’s right about something here:

    “Should they teach what is socially useful or would they be able to continue as they have done and waste money on such things as the politics of lesbianism?”

    Maybe if the idiots who did such a class (and I include myself in this term, as I studied feminism myself) studied a real uni course instead, we’d have a society full of people who knew what to do about immigration and climate change and water resources and mining profits, instead of a bunch of people who only know how to argue about who should do what, whilst not actually doing anything, ever.

  8. Sarah McMillan

    Maybe if more people had studied lesbian politics, we might have people who know what to do about gay marriage.

    Not everything studied at university needs to be vocational training – some of us went to uni to learn about things we found interesting, and to learn how to think and study – skills that are far more important than mere vocational skills and that you can certainly learn by studying lesbian politics or indeed feminism.

  9. Michael Harvey

    Well put Ms McMillan and at least you use your name. And to be fair to Mr Abbott I should have called him a religious fundamentalist.

  10. jaywhar

    yes he said those things, but did he write them down? Isn’t that the benchmark?

  11. Mack the Knife

    I heard from a bloke in my pub who heard from someone else’s sister that Abbott is going to raise the GST to 40% as soon as he gets his hands on power.

    Spread it around but don’t tell where you heard it.

  12. Marrickville Mauler

    Geez, does Andrew Crook really think its a damaging disclosure that Tony Abbott thought Sydney’s courses in General Philosophy and Political Economy were a waste of public money? Lots of us on the left thought the same thing at the time, it just wasnt fashionable to say so very openly. Please..

  13. westral

    I put my hand up to being almost an Abbott hater, I think he would be the worst Prime Minister we could ever have but I don’t hold the university speeches against him as everyone says stupid things in their youth.

  14. Fran Barlow

    It is said that he has no interest in “economics” and finds it “boring” — fair enough — but on his CV is something about which I must confess I know little — He was apparently the SU SRC’s Ecomomics Rep in 1976,78.

    I was there in 1978, and that position is one I never heard of. Perhaps it was one of those “socially useful” things he was banging on about — something about how “moms” manage their homes or similar.

    Doubtless those foul leftists ensure that such socially useful and morally uplifting things never made the academic list! Which right thinking person could disagree?

  15. Stiofan

    @Sarah McMillan

    “skills that are far more important than mere vocational skills and that you can certainly learn by studying lesbian politics”

    MERE vocational skills????

    How many lesbians does it take to change a lightbulb/fix your car/repair a leaking waterpipe/replace a rotting floorboard?

  16. Lambikins

    not really surprising. sort of shows his consistency if anything.

  17. archibald


    Economics rep would simply be the representative of that Faculty on the SRC. The would have been a Med rep and a Law rep and so on. Faculties elect their own representative.

  18. Fran Barlow

    So there was a Faculty of Ecomomics then?

  19. klewso

    And who better to judge “what is socially useful” – and try to slash and burn down anything he considers doesn’t fit his “ideals du jour” – he’s been doing it for years.

  20. klewso

    Jaywhar, after SAYING “not to trust what he says – only what he’s writes” (and that wasn’t even 18 months ago), where does that leave us, when it comes to how we take his “written undertakings and word”?
    Don’t trust anything he says or writes?

  21. kate

    @Stiofan: How many lesbians does it take to change a light bulb ?
    One, why would a lesbian need help with changing a light bulb!??

    or possibly
    Three. One to screw it in and two to talk about how much better it is than with a man.

    or even
    Five, one to change it and four to make the documentary about it.

    And while we’re there…

    How many Gay men does it take to change a light bulb?
    Five. One to change it, and four to wring their hands, and screech “Faabulous!” when the light comes back on.

  22. sottile6

    Abbott’s views would be mild by the standards of today’s student Liberals who are even harder right and in control of two major student unions in Brisbane, UQ and QUT. They seem to want to destroy student unions from the inside.

  23. archibald

    @ Fran

    Current title @ Macquarie is Faculty of Business and Economics. Economics is a department within that faculty. What it was called in 1970s I don’t know.

  24. LacqueredStudio


    Yeah, but in Abbott’s case, the stupid things he said in his youth shake hands with the crap he talks today. The man has not evolved one step during his time in this world, save for his propensity for holding all positions at once. At least back in the day he didn’t bother with the disclaimers and just said what he really thought.

  25. Meski

    OMG, that turtle-neck sweater with that face!

  26. Stiofan

    Abbott was at Sydney, not Macquarie.

    Hahaha – but I think that you may have missed the point of my post!

  27. jaywhar

    @klewso – I wondered the same thing. While he might have proposed an end to teaching general philosophy, it seems that he’s perfectly across practical application of the liar’s paradox.

  28. Son of foro

    What Tony Abbott said in his university days is irrelevant, as irrelevant in fact as who Julia Gillard shared a bed with in Fitzroy.

    Yet one of these became a major news story.

    For the life of me I can’t figure out why…

  29. ffs_melb

    “The Fraser Government should immediately slash the $550 million provided to universities in annual funding, Abbott says, to force left wing lecturers to abandon their flights of fancy and get back to basics.”

    You seem to be treating this as if it was errant nonsense, but it was Howard government policy! I don’t know if anyone abandoned their “flights of fancy” but every academic, regardless of their political inclinations, has been forced to give up any sort of ideals in pursuit of the almighty dollar. In the process managerialism displaced collegiality, vice chancellors sacked hundreds of academics while employing dozens of marketing wizards etc etc

    Don’t think for a minute these rants from long ago were just youthful exuberance — they’re the closest thing we’re going to get too an honest policy statement from Tony Abbott

  30. Stiofan


    It was the ALP which reintroduced university fees and which downgraded university education by reclassifying CAEs as universities. Howard only continued the work the ALP began.

  31. Sancho

    I’m generally skeptical of dragging up old comments from public figures, because people change their minds as they mature.

    What’s interesting about this case is how little Tony Abbott’s mind has changed, and how he’s still wrong.

    Apparently Marxist academics have been undermining society and academia for the past thirty years, and the result is that Australia is one of the most successful, happiest democracies in history, run by a centre-right government with union support that has – according to some – the world’s best treasurer, who guided Australia all but unscathed through the greatest economic collapse of the past century.

    Yeah, it sure is important to fight those Marxists, Tony. Who knows where we’d be if they had their way.

  32. SimsonMc

    What’s the difference between Tony Abbott and Andrew Bolt?

    At least when Tony writes something there might be some truth in it.

  33. Malcolm Street

    You need to understand his exchange with Hamlyn in the context of bitter ideological bunfights within the humanities at Sydney University at the time.

    First there was a left/right split in Philosophy, which resulted in new schools of Traditional and Modern Philosophy (Right) and General Philosophy (Left). The charge against Philosophy that led to the split was that it was dominated by disciples of French Marxist philosopher Luis Althuser (sp?).

    The second case was in the Economics faculty, with a Left group, in particular followers of Marxist economics, who felt that the Economics faculty was dominated by Keyneseyans (sp?) and wanted to set up a separate school of Political Economy. (Incidentally, one boast of the Political Economy group was that you learnt more about Milton Friedman in their course than in the main one!). In this case the vice-chancellor declined and while allowing courses didn’t allow a separate Political Economy degree.

    So *within the context of late 1970s Sydney University* there were two cases of Marxist groups setting up separate courses and ideally faculties and IMHO his interview comments could be understood as an unjustified extrapolation from this, rather than a barking mad conspiracy theory.

    This is not to defend Abbott btw. I was there at the time (studying Engineering, actually) and the man was and is an unreconstructed anti-intellectual misogynist, bully and hard-core Catholic reactionary who is wildly unsuited to be PM.

  34. Bob the builder

    What stood out for me here was that there was a calm discussion of policy that went on for over eight minutes. Even on the supposedly blue-ribbon AM/PM/WorldToday that would be unthinkable.
    What a far away world it seems…

  35. Peter Ormonde

    Geez … and here was me thinking Abbott was just pretending to be stupid to cadge the dolt vote.

  36. Sarah McMillan

    @Stiofan, we were talking about *university* courses – how many university courses do you know that teach changing lightbulbs, fixing cars, repairing pipes or replacing floorboards???

    I was talking about things like commerce degrees – vocationally-oriented university courses.

  37. Maninmelbourne

    Nothing you’ve highlighted here is going to cause him any embarrassment. Unfortunately.

  38. Filth Dimension

    The man is invincible. Pity he is not invisible.

  39. Liamj

    Its touching to get these glimpses of the Tony that was – always a theocratic loon, but at least back then he’d keep a policy for a week or two before moving on.

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