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.

Peter Fray

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