References to David Marr’s Quarterly Essay 47, “Political Animal: The Making of Tony Abbott” in Gerard Henderson's Media Watch Dog, Issues 154, 156, 164, 166, 172



● (Almost) Special Issue On David Marr’s Essay On Tony Abbott – Including MWD's Scoop On What Barbara Ramjan Really Said About Tony Abbott In 1977 & Abbott’s 1977 Response

● Also Featuring: Michelle Grattan, Barbara Ramjan, David Patch, Anonymous, Samantha Maiden, Emma Alberici, Geraldine Doogue and Much More

● Plus MWD Exclusive  – David Marr’s Bad Memory Fully Documented

● Correspondence: Concerning Samantha Maiden’s Strange Defence Of David Marr


In view of the publication last Monday of David Marr’s Quarterly Essay on Tony Abbott and its soft coverage in sections of the media, this issue of MWD is primarily devoted to the resultant controversy. Some material intended for MWD Issue 154 has been held over for future editions.



What a truly stunning performance by Michelle Grattan, The Age’s political editor and RN Breakfast’s political correspondent, yesterday and today.  Yesterday, on Page 1 of The Age, Ms Grattan favourably reported leftist lawyer David Patch’s criticisms of Tony Abbott – which were covered in the print edition of The Age’s “Comment & Debate” page.  Patch’s article was a reply to Gerard Henderson’s Sydney Morning Herald column of last Tuesday – which was neither covered nor reported in The Age’s print edition .  So far at least,

Then this morning Michelle Grattan paid out on Tony Abbott on her daily slot on ABC Radio National Breakfastprogram. RN Breakfast has not one regular conservative commentator. Not one. However, it has leftist and left-of-centre presenters and commentators aplenty –  led by Fran “I’m an activist” Kelly.

Ms Grattan these days is a political barracker – with a particular distaste for Tony Abbott’s social conservatism. [Do you reckon there might be, say, two members of the Canberra Press Gallery who support Abbott’s opposition to what is called same-sex marriage? Just two? – Ed].

In any event, this is what Michelle Grattan said about Tony Abbott – when speaking to RN Breakfast presenter Richard Aedy, who essentially agreed with her.

▪ Grattan declared that David Marr “did a great deal of research” for his latest Quarterly Essay.  This is evidently not the case – as this issue of MWD demonstrates.

▪ Grattan opined that it is “frankly utterly contradictory” for Tony Abbott to say – with respect to Barbara Ramjan’s allegations against him – “I don’t recall” and then say “ It didn’t happen”.  But how could Abbott recall something that did not happen?  Grattan did not say.

▪ Grattan then referred to long-time Abbott critic David Patch as a “respected Sydney lawyer” and described his evidence as “really quite compelling”.  The RESPECTED Mr Patch’s so-called evidence consisted of saying that he was a witness to an incident which he did not see. How compelling can you get?  At best, Patch provided hearsay evidence – over three decades after the event –  about a conversation he had had 35 years ago. But, it was “really quite compelling” for Grattan. How about that?

▪ Then Grattan declared –  with respect to Abbott’s named (Barbara Ramjan, David Patch) and unnamed critics:

Now I can’t really see why these people would be going on the record in this way, risking their own reputations in this situation if they didn’t believe what they were saying.

Here’s a possible answer.  Maybe their memory has been distorted by the fact that they have regarded Abbott as a political enemy since they first met him nearly four decades ago.

Finally, Grattan concluded:

… Tony Abbott didn’t punch the woman, he punched the wall.  It was obviously an aggressive act but it was a long time ago.  It was during a period of very turbulent student politics.  I don’t think it would be an important issue if it didn’t involve this question of current truthfulness.

 Here The Age’s political editor and RN Breakfast’s political correspondent declared that Tony Abbott had “punched the wall” in 1977 – despite the fact that there is no independent evidence to this effect.  Michelle Grattan concluded by implying that Abbott is a liar.

[I wonder what Ms Grattan – in her anti-Abbott phase – thinks about the Opposition leader’s behaviour when in kindergarten circa 1961? – Ed].


There is nothing new in David Marr’s Quarterly Essay 47 titled Political Animal: The Making of Tony Abbott which was released by the leftist publisher Black Inc last Monday and extracts from which were published in Fairfax Media’s Good Weekend at the weekend.  Except, of course, Marr’s claim that Barbara Ramjan had said this of Tony Abbott – concerning the night of 7 September 1977, following Ramjan’s victory over Abbott in the Student Representative Council election at Sydney University:

He came up to within an inch of my nose and punched the wall on either side of my heard.  It was done to intimidate.

There is no independent witness of this (alleged) incident.  Yesterday, the left-wing lawyer David Patch, who was Ramjan’s campaign manager in 1977, claimed in an article in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age that he was “a witness” to the incident.  This is nonsense since Patch acknowledged in the same article: “I did not see the incident but I was nearby.”  A lawyer like Patch should know that you cannot be a witness to an event which you did not see.

David Patch’s recollections 35 years after the event amount only to hearsay.  He claims that on the evening of 7 September 1977 Barbara Ramjan told him the story she told David Marr 35 years later.  That’s all.

Today, the Sydney Morning Herald ran a report by Mark Coulton and Phillip Coorey about someone who claimed to have seen Tony Abbott “throw a punch at Ramjan but didn’t see it land”. Fancy that.  This is not evidence to support Ramjan’s specific claim. Moreover, the source is anonymous. Which means useless.  Yet it was enough to convince Richard Glover on the ABC 702 Drive program yesterday that there was substance in Marr’s assertion. Glover should know that such so-called “evidence” would not be admissible in any court of law. Glover’s producer declined to make an on-air correction or clarification.

So, there is still no witness to support Ramjan’s assertion – made on the public record, for the first time, 35 years after the incident.  Well, what about contemporaneous evidence?  The answer is – Zip.  Neither Ramjan nor Patch has ever made this claim before – either in writing or on the electronic media.  What’s more, Ramjan’s story as told to David Marr in 2012 is significantly different from the story she told about the incident in two contemporaneous letters which she wrote to the Sydney University student newspaper Honi Soit in late 1977.

David Marr had a researcher, Rebecca Giggs, who worked on Political Animal.  But neither Marr nor Giggs bothered to travel to Sydney University and read the microfilm copies of Honi Soit which are in the Fisher Library.  This was due to either negligence or laziness. The existence of such documents is on the public record – since Ramjan’s Honi Soitcorrespondence was cited in an article written in the Sun-Herald by Kerry-Anne Walsh and Candice Sutton on 18 July 2004. [See Gerard Henderson’s letter to Samantha Maiden in today’s Correspondence section].

Unlike David Marr and some other journalists who have commented on Ramjan’s claim, MWD took the trip to the Fisher Library.  Published below are the two letters which Barbara Ramjan wrote to Honi Soit. They were printed on 13 September 1977 and 3 October 1977 respectively.  Neither made any reference to any incident where Tony Abbott punched a wall behind Ramjan’s head at Sydney University on the evening of 7 September 1977 – even though both letters are highly critical of the behaviour of Abbott and his supporters during the 1977 SRC election. For the sake of completeness, Tony Abbott’s letter to Honi Soit – dated 27 September 1977 – is also published below along with his letter to Honi Soit on 17 October 1977.

The publication of Barbara Ramjan’s 1977 Honi Soit letters demonstrate that there is no contemporaneous evidence to support the statement she made to David Marr concerning Tony Abbott’s behaviour towards her at Sydney University on 7 September 1977. Absolutely none.  Journalists should have been able to work this out for themselves. It’s called research.

David Marr lists his law degree in his Who’s Who in Australia entry.  As a law graduate, Marr should know that when an allegation is made, 35 years after the event, that lacks the support of an identifiable witness or any contemporaneous evidence, it is worthless.  Yet David Marr has been banging on about this – the only new material in his Quarterly Essay on Tony Abbott – for a week.  Especially on the taxpayer funded ABC.

Here are Barbara Ramjan’s 1977 letters to Honi Soit – neither of which are cited in Marr’s essay on Tony Abbott. Yet another service to MWD readers. And here are Tony Abbott’s contemporaneous accounts.


Let’s open David Marr’s Political Animal: The Making of Tony Abbott (Black Inc) at the following pages:

 Page 2 : Tony Abbott becomes Liberal Party leader in December 2009. According to Marr, a Liberal MP declares in the party room: “God almighty. What have we done?”   Who is this?  Alas, Mr or Ms Anonymous. That’s who.

▪ Page 2 : There is a reference to Julie Bishop’s “coquettish amusement” and dazed “eyes” following Abbott’s defeat of Malcolm Turnbull in the Liberal Party room on 1 December 2009. Gosh.

▪ Page 3 : Here is Marr’s initial description of Abbott –  “loudmouth bigot” when at university; “the homophobe”; “the blinkered Vatican warrior”;  “the rugger bugger”; “the white Australian”; and “the junkyard dog of parliament”.  All clear?

▪ Page 6 : St Ignatius College Riverview, where Abbott studied as a secondary student, has a “gothic tower”. Moreover, it’s “an Italian palace”. Really. In suburban Sydney, no less.  Stand by for more David Marr hyperbole.

▪ Page 8 : The Jesuit priest, Fr Emmet Costello S.J., spends his priestly career ministering “to the rich, pursuing death-bed conversions in harbour mansions and bringing distinguished lapsed Catholics back into the fold”.  That’s all he does, apparently.  He is a friend of Abbott.

▪ Pages 8-9 : Three men recruited Abbott into the Peace With Freedom movement – which was supported by B.A. (Bob) Santamaria’s National Civil Council.  The first, journalist Peter Samuel, was “cranky”. The second, Professor Warren Hogan, was “embattled”. And the third, trade union organiser Joe de Bruyn, was a “hard-line Catholic”.  Get the picture?

▪ Page 9 : According to Marr, during the period of the Whitlam Labor government, Santamaria “had privately discussed the need to raise a secret army to defend democracy against the scourge of Labor”. There is no evidence for this assertion.

▪ Page 10 : According to Marr, the Democratic Clubs which Santamaria supported on some university campuses in the 1970s were “extreme: as far to the right as the Maoists and Trotskyites on campus were to the left”.  Marr’s only evidence for this claim is an article in the left-wing student newspaper Honi Soit in 1977 by an anonymous contributor. Marr overlooks the fact that student opponents of the campus left comprised not only socially  conservative Catholics – but also other Christians along with Jews. There were also politically motivated anti-communists whose orientation was of a social democratic or politically conservative bent.

▪ Page 13 : Marr refers to the fact that Abbott’s girlfriend Kathy McDonald fell pregnant while at university (it was found out, years later, to someone other than Abbott) as “the old Catholic catastrophe: no chastity, no contraception, no abortion, and…no marriage”.  Marr seems to believe that such a fate only befell young Catholic women in the 1970s.  So what were the non-Catholic orphanages all about, then?

▪ Page 17 : Marr quotes Barbara Ramjan as declaring that, unlike Abbott, there were “other Liberal Party and DLP types on campus” with whom you could “have a cup of tea with”. How frightfully nice.  Except that Ross Kerridge, a contemporary of Abbott and Ramjan, recalls that  Ramjan was “no shrinking violet” who had once reduced Tanya Coleman to tears with attacks on her father the (then) Liberal MP Peter Coleman.  This was reported in the Sydney Morning Herald yesterday but, alas, not in Michelle Grattan’s report in The Age.

▪ Page 19 : Marr quotes “a distinguished Sydney lawyer” who is critical of Abbott’s alleged negativity and destruction while at Sydney University”.  Distinguished, maybe. Anonymous, certainly.

▪ Page 22 :  Marr mocks the fact that Abbott won a Rhodes scholarship claiming: “For Anglophiles and rugby players, the Rhodes was died-and-gone-to-heaven time.”  No mention is made of the fact that Labor hero Bob Hawke was a Rhodes Scholar before Abbott – and he came from Western Australia where Australian Rules Football, not Rugby, was the main campus winter game.

▪ Page 24 :  Here Marr refers, with his traditional sneer, to Abbott’s private parts. Referring to photographs of Abbott in Speedos (swimming) and Lycra (cycling) gear, Marr sneers “it can be said that never in the political annals of the country have so many seen so much of so little.”  Funny, eh?

▪  Page 25 : Marr refers to Abbott’s “hooded eyes” and “faintly menacing” demeanour. Dangerous, yeah?

▪ Page 30 : Marr links Abbott with “the DLP” –  i.e. the Democratic Labor Party. In fact, Abbott had no association with the DLP – which effectively went out of operation after the May 1974 double dissolution election (when Abbott was aged 16) and was formally wound up in early 1978.  Moreover, the DLP was never a significant organisation in New South Wales – its base was in Victoria and Queensland.  Abbott was associated with the National Civic Council which was headed by Bob Santamaria. Santamaria was never a member of the DLP.

▪ Pages 33-34 : At Page 34 Marr claims that, when Abbott worked for the Opposition leader John Hewson in the early 1990s, Hewson “didn’t use Abbott’s speeches”. But at Page 33 Marr criticises Abbott for the content of a speech he wrote for Hewson and which Hewson used.  So there you go.  Hewson did not use Abbott’s speeches – except when he did.

▪ Page 36 : Marr accuses Abbott of running “a Jesuitical line” on refugees.  Marr seems unaware that many contemporary  members of the Catholic religious order the Society of Jesus – or Jesuits – are very sympathetic to the refugee cause.  Including Fr. Frank Brennan S.J. So where do you find the “Jesuitical line”?  This is yet another example of Marr’s anti-Catholic sectarianism.

▪ Page 38 : According to Marr, Abbott shared “the old DLP reverence for John Kerr”.  This is pure mythology.  In fact, within the NCC and DLP in the late 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s there was a sense of disappointment that Kerr had rejected an offer to join the DLP at the time of the Labor Split of the mid 1950s.  Kerr was never revered by DLP types.

▪ Page 39 : David Marr writes: “That was always the Santamaria way: when you haven’t got the numbers, be vicious”.  There is no source for this claim – which Marr appears to have simply made up.  In fact, Santamaria never advocated violence and the National Civic Council was never associated with violent behaviour.

▪ Page 57 :  David Marr labels Abbott’s friend David Flint as “the daffy gay lawyer”. What a double standard.  If Abbott had branded one of Marr’s mates as “gay”, Abbott would almost certainly be accused by the likes of Marr of being a homophobe (see Page 3 above).

▪ Page 59 : Marr refers to Abbott’s habit, when a Cabinet minister in the Howard government, to close “his door to write all those opinion pieces” for newspapers.  In fact, most of this time Abbott was writing his own speeches.  He is one of the few politicians who has consistently written his own speeches.  Marr seems unaware of this.

▪ Page 61 According to Marr, Abbott sounds like “a Vatican ideologue”. More anti-Catholic sectarianism for which Marr is well known.

▪ Page 65 : According to Marr, John Howard “turned his back on the [Kyoto] treaty as an act of solidarity with George W. Bush”.  In fact, Howard considered the Kyoto agreement to be contrary to Australia’s national interest.  He might have been right – or wrong – but that that was his position.

▪ Page 71 : According to Marr, Santamaria “raged against working mothers”.  Not all of them.  At least one of Santamaria’s daughters was a working mother with a school-aged child when B.A. Santamaria was alive. Yet more Marr hyperbole.

▪ Page 82 :  Marr, who lists Sebastian Torosiero as his partner in his Who’s Who in Australia entry, seems to be an expert on the Tony Abbott-Maggie Abbott (nee Aitken) marriage. According to Marr, Abbott is “a lonely political figure…in that marriage”. What would Marr know about Abbott’s marriage?  About as much as Abbott would know about Marr’s partnership. Meaning – nothing much at all.

▪ Page 84 : Marr, apparently, is also an expert on political unions.  He criticises Abbott for not being able to form a minority government after the 2010 election.  According to Marr, “Abbott held back too long and came in too hard”.  Here Marr, naively, accepts the opinion of Independent MP Tony Windsor who supported the Gillard minority government.   Marr simply overlooks the fact that, before the election, Windsor had compared the National Party to cancer. Windsor was never going to support the formation of a Liberal-Party/National Party Coalition government headed by Abbott.  Marr is naive in the extreme to uncritically accept the testimony of Windsor who is known to detest Abbott.

▪ Page 85 : According to Marr, Abbott has “managed to abuse…all de-facto couples, everyone who doesn’t believe in God, and republicans, who make up roughly half the country”.  In Marr’s view, “these are not Abbott’s people”. Strange, then, that the Abbott-led Coalition has been well ahead of Labor in the opinion polls for over a year and currently enjoys the support of more than half the country.

▪ Page 92 : According to Marr, it is likely that at the next election Abbott “will be asking us to do something we’ve never done before: replace a government we don’t like with a leader we don’t like either”. This is pure mythology.  Malcolm Fraser was not popular when he won in December 1975. The same is true of John Howard in March 1996.

In short, there is little new in Political Animal. David Marr only conducted six interviews for his Quarterly Essay – with union organiser Joe Bullock, leftist social worker Barbara Ramjan, ABC broadcaster Noel Debien, leftist journalist Alan Kennedy, former Liberal senator Helen Coonan and Abbott critic Tony Windsor. Just six.  There are also anonymous sources – including an anonymous “jibe” (Page 22), “a senior bureaucrat” (Page 49), someone or other (Page 59) and, of course, the oh-so-distinguished “distinguished Sydney lawyer”. (Page 19).

The evidence suggests that David Marr did little research for his latest Quarterly Essay. Which explains why it contains virtually no new material.  Political Animal is a shoddy, unprofessional piece of work. Which, no doubt, explains why it has engendered such a leftist cheer-squad among the sneering secularists in the ABC and elsewhere.



Normally Nancy’s co-owner would regard it as impolite to comment on the memory of another.  However, in view of David Marr’s soft interview with Geraldine Doogue on Radio National Breakfast and with Emma Alberici on Lateline last Monday, the topic now seems open to all comers.   Especially since Mr Marr said to Alberici that he had “no doubt” about the veracity of Barbara Ramjan’s allegation in 2012 that Tony Abbott had punched the wall behind her head in 1977.  There is no independent witness to this (alleged) incident.  Nor is there any contemporaneous evidence. Earlier in the day, Marr said to Doogue that Ramjan “remembered very vividly” the 1977 incident and “was absolutely adamant and clear cut about what happened”. Doogue subsequently referred to Abbott’s past “savagery”.

So, clearly, David Marr trusts the uncorroborated memory of Barbara Ramjan 35 years after the event.  But what about David Marr’s memory?  Well, on the available evidence, it’s none too flash.  Here are a couple of examples.

● David Marr’s False Memory on Journalists as Lefties

In his Sydney Morning Herald column on 8 March 2005, Gerard Henderson wrote:

In his Overland lecture last year, Marr rejected the term “left” as having relevance to modern Australian journalism. However, at a seminar recorded by the ABC radio Big Ideas program in September, he said that “the natural culture of journalism is kind of vaguely soft left” and “sceptical of authority”. Marr maintained that if journalists “don’t come out of that world” they should “find another job”.

Later that morning, Marr emailed Henderson denying that he had ever made the comment which was quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald, viz:


 I would hate your readers to come away from the column this morning thinking I believe all journalists should be Lefties. That’s most emphatically not my position. My argument – last voiced at the Sydney Institute the other evening – is that all journalists have to question authority. That’s the only “world” they have to come from as far as I’m concerned.

 David Marr

Later that day, Gerard Henderson emailed David Marr, viz:


 I have just returned from a (delayed) flight from Melbourne.  Hence the delay in responding to your note.

 I do not wish to misquote you and I do not believe that I did misquote you in today’s column.  The text of your remarks – which went to air on Big Ideas on 26 September 2004 – were as follows:

 The natural culture of journalism is kind of vaguely soft left enquiry sceptical of authority.  I mean, that’s just the world out of which journalists come.  If they don’t come out of that world, they really can’t be reporters.  I mean, if you’re not sceptical of authority, find another job. You know, just find another job.  And that is kind of a soft-leftie kind of culture.   The way of balancing that is to hire right-wing thugs as commentators and that gives you this appearance of balance.  And it’s also very economical – couldn’t be better.

 As you will recall, I quoted some of your comments about journalism’s “vague soft left enquiry” ethos which is “sceptical of authority” at The Sydney Institute function.  You replied by re-stating the position you expressed on the Big Ideas program.  In other words, you equated scepticism of authority with what you have termed a “soft-leftie kind of culture”.

 On another matter, I do not believe that journalists must be sceptical.  However, I do believe that they should be critical. There is a difference –  but that’s another point.

 I assumed that you meant what you said at both the gig recorded by Big Ideas and at The Sydney Institute.



Later that afternoon, David Marr replied:


 My apologies. I’ve been trying to track down the transcript all day and should have held off until I saw it myself. My memory is wrong – and your interpretation is fair enough. It was sloppy of me – but that is what I said. What I actually believe is that neither Right, Left nor Centre has a monopoly on scepticism. True, most journalists do come from the soft Left, but there is no reason why the same instinct to doubt and question can’t be found anywhere along the political spectrum. We both know this – and I should have said so at the time….


So there you go.  David Marr was not able to remember in March 2005 what he had said in September 2004. But Marr maintains that we should trust Barbara Ranjam’s memory of an event which occurred 35 years ago.

● David Marr’s Bad Memory About What He Did In The 1970s And What He Said And Read Four Decades Later

In the “Sandalista Watch” segment of the January 2011 issue of The Sydney Institute Quarterly, Gerard Henderson wrote an article about the prisoner/playwright Jim McNeil (1935-1982). The piece was based on Jim Honeywill’s bookWasted: The True Story of Jim McNeill: Violent Criminal and Brilliant Playwright (Viking, 2010).  In the article Gerard Henderson made the following point:

There were riots at Bathurst Prison.  This motivated [Katharine] Brisbane to work even harder to get McNeil released on parole.  He was moved to and from Goulburn Prison.  Back in Bathurst, David Marr was given permission to stage a gay party for Jim McNeil and his lover Stephen Nittes (a graduate in armed robbery).  By now, McNeil was bisexual.

That was January 2011.  On the evening of Monday 12 March 2012 – over a year later – David Marr left the following message on Gerard Henderson’s answering machine at home:

Gerard, it’s David Marr speaking. I’d be grateful if you could give me a ring. My home number is ** my mobile number is **. I’ve not yet had time to read the whole of your latest crazed attack on me and my friends over Jim McNeil. But there are statements in it which are simply wrong – reflect badly on me – and are wrong. You are the man who continually says about the need to check with people before publication and the need for us to get things right. Now if you are curious about these errors, as I’m sure you will be, you give me a ring. Tonight please. Thank you.

When Gerard Henderson returned the call, he said that there was no “latest crazed attack” on David Marr and his friends.  Rather the reference was to an article written in January 2011. It was a tense conversation.  But Henderson attempted to remind Marr that he had complained about the SIQ article in January 2011 and that he had broken off all contact with The Sydney Institute because of it.

Marr responded by again accusing Henderson of making up the gay party episode.  Henderson replied that all the material  in his article about McNeil and friends had been taken from Ross Honeywill’s book and that this had been acknowledged in his Sydney Institute  Quarterly article.  Marr responded that he had read the Honeywill book and there was no reference to him having staged a gay party for McNeil at Bathhurst Prison.

Gerard Henderson told an extremely angry David Marr that he would locate Ross Honeywill’s book in his library and get back to David Marr.  Marr demanded an immediate response and retraction.

Shortly after the phone conversation ended, David Marr sent Gerard Henderson a text which read as follows:

Gerard, I was intemperate but I want this ridiculous claim corrected. DM

On 13 March 2012 Gerard Henderson wrote to David Marr as follows:

As you will recall, last night you accused me of making up the “gay party” episode.  I replied that all the material in my article on Jim McNeil had been taken from Ross Honeywill’s Wasted: The true story of Jim McNeil, violent criminal and brilliant playwright (Viking, 2010) – and that this was acknowledged in my article.  You responded that you had read the Honeywill book and that there was no reference to you having staged a gay party for McNeil.

 I have just located Ross Honeywill’s book in my library.  I refer you to Page 220 of Wasted – which contains the following paragraph concerning the relationship between the criminals Jim McNeil and Stephen Nittes, viz:

 …in Bathurst, and occasionally in Kirconnell minimum security prison, thirty kilometres east of Bathurst, the relationship continued, helped rather than hindered on one occasion by David Marr, who staged a very gay party for Jim and Nittes – a party that threatened to go horribly wrong. “There we were,” he recalls, “Jim and Steve in the visiting box, two camps, a bundle of muscle magazines and Playboys, party hats, etc. And in walked Nancy [McNeil], young  Douglas [McNeil] and Jim’s niece Kerry: the family unexpectedly from Melbourne.  A memorable afternoon. Jim was the only one who maintained anything like control of the situation…”.

So, these are the facts:

 ▪ Ross Honeywill did write that you staged a “very gay party” for McNeil and Nittes at Bathurst Prison.

 ▪ According to Ross Honeywill, he found out about the event during an interview with you.

 As discussed, I am willing to correct any errors in any of The Sydney Institute’s publications.  However, in this case the error is not mine.  Moreover, according to the author of Wasted, the error is yours.

 In conclusion, I should formally respond to your question as to why I write material like the piece on Jim McNeil. As explained, I enjoy laughing at the left intelligentsia – just like you enjoy laughing at social conservatives. As I have said on previous occasions, you criticise others but are oh-so-sensitive when someone criticises you.

 Best wishes

 Gerard Henderson

 On 13 March 2012, David Marr replied:


That! I had entirely forgotten. Unreserved apologies for both my doubts and fury.


At the time Gerard Henderson declared that he would regard this correspondence as private. But since David Marr has placed such reliance on the 35 year old memory of Barbara Ramjan, it’s important to point out that David Marr cannot even remember in 2012 what he did at Bathurst Prison in the early 1970s nor what he told Bill Honeywill in recent years nor what he complained about as recently as early 2011.


If David Marr was self-aware he would know that memory is very fallible. Marr’s memory is fallible.  And so is Barbara Ramjan’s sense of recall – especially 35 years after the event.



Gerard Henderson to Samantha Maiden – 13 September 2012


I refer to your (somewhat agitated) phone call on Tuesday at around 11 am in response to my column in The Sydney Morning Herald concerning David Marr’s Quarterly Essay Political Animal: The Making of Tony Abbott.

As you will recall, you took particular exception to that part of my column where I wrote:

A reading of Marr’s essay reveals that [Barbara] 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.

You were emphatic that I was wrong in claiming that Barbara Ramjan had spoken to the Sun-Herald in July 2004.  When I said I would check my clippings, you replied in words to this effect: “Don’t bother checking, Gerard.  You’re wrong.”

As it turned out, I had the relevant file on my desk.  You will remember that I read you the relevant section of the article titled “Fellow students recall a champion of the right” – which was written by Kerry-Ann Walsh and Candice Sutton (and published on 18 July 2004), viz:

Barbara Ramjan, now a social worker, who defeated Mr Abbott for the SRC presidency that year, remembers[emphasis added] the night of September 7, 1977 when officer elections were held.

As I pointed out to you, the use of the present tense by Ms Walsh and Ms Sutton clearly indicates that Barbara Ramjan did speak to the Sun-Herald in 2004.

During our conversation, you reacted to my point that there was neither a witness to, nor contemporaneous evidence of, Barbara Ramjan’s claim – as told to David Marr in 2012 – that Tony Abbott had punched a wall behind her in 1977.  You said that this material might be in the letters which Ramjan wrote to Honi Soit in late 1977 about the incident.  I responded that that David Marr had not quoted from this Honi Soit correspondence in his Quarterly Essay and that no reference had been made to “the punch” allegation when the Honi Soit letters were referred to by the Sun-Herald in its 2004 report.

Since you challenged my comment in the SMH that there is no record in the contemporaneous press about what David Marr called “the punch”, I told you that I look forward to receiving any evidence that you might have with respect to this matter.

Shortly after this, you said you had to go.  There was no apology for your error and no explanation for why you felt you had to contact me about what I wrote concerning David Marr – especially since you write for News Limited publications and extracts of Political Animal were published in Fairfax Media newspapers.

For the record, if you do find any evidence about “the punch” I would like to receive it.

Best wishes

Gerard Henderson

* * * *

Until next time.



 ● Documentation: A Barbara Ramjan Update Re David Marr and Bruce Hawker



It is a well-known phenomenon that people believe what they want to believe. In Political Animal: The Making of Tony Abbott (Quarterly Essay, 47, 2012), David Marr believed Barbara Ramjan’s claim that Tony Abbott had punched the wall behind her head at Sydney University on 7 September 1977.

David Marr’s Belief – Without Evidence

David Marr believed Barbara Ramjan despite the following facts:

▪ Barbara Ramjan did not mention “the punch” when she wrote to Honi Soit on 13 September 1977 and 3 October 1977 complaining about the behaviour of Tony Abbott and his colleagues. David Marr was too lazy to check Honi Soit’s records before writing his Quarterly Essay. By failing to read Honi Soit, David Marr overlooked the only contemporaneous evidence there was of what Barbara Ramjan said and did at the time of the alleged incident.

▪ Ms Ramjan was known to make allegations about her political rivals at the time. For example, on 3 August 1978 she claimed in a leaflet that a number of members of the Spartacist Group at Sydney University had “threatened to arrange her battering to death”. For the record, Ramjan’s assertion was denied at the time.

Barbara Ramjan’s claim that she had been threatened with death by battering can be found on Pages 16 and 17 of the Spartacist Bulletin tilted “Is a little bit of scabbing alright” which contains a collection of documents and leaflets from the Sydney University “campus war” circa 1978. See here.

If Barbara Ramjan was willing to allege that Spartacist League members had intimidated her in 1978, it would stand to reason that she would have reported an act of intimidation by Tony Abbott in 1977. She didn’t.

▪ No one witnessed the alleged “punch”. David Patch claims that he was a witness but concedes that he did not see the incident. An anonymous person claims to have seen the beginning of the punch but not where it landed. So he/she is not a witness – since he/she did not see what Ramjan claimed happened. See MWD 154. Despite the lack of witnesses, many journalists embraced the Ramjan allegation.

▪ Barbara Ramjan’s allegations about “the punch” were not reported until the publication of David Marr’s Quarterly Essay – some 35 years after the event.

▪ Samantha Maiden wrote in the Sunday Telegraph that Ramjan had told journalist Andrew West about “the punch” in 2001 or 2002. However, Mr West has no recollection of having been told this by Ramjan. See MWD Issue 155.

Bruce Hawker’s Contradictory Intervention

The only other person who is on the record as claiming that he heard about “the punch” allegation before the publication of David Marr’s Quarterly Essay is Labor apparatchik Bruce Hawker. The following exchange took place on the Sky News PM Agenda program on 17 September 2012:

David Speers: Bruce, we’re nearly out of time. But just finally, I did want to get you to respond to something Julie Bishop was saying earlier – that you knew about the allegations from Barbara Ramjan that Tony Abbott punched the wall back in student politics days. This was, she’s [i.e. Bishop’s] now suggested, part of a Labor operation to attack Tony Abbott. Did you know about it?

 Bruce Hawker: I – absolutely I knew about it. And because I didn’t say anything about it, I think that gives the lie to what Julie Bishop was saying. I’ve known Barbara Ramjan –

David Speers: So you didn’t say anything to David Marr or anyone else associated with this story?

Bruce Hawker: No, not at all. And I think David Marr will confirm that as well. But I did know about it. And it was several years ago – about two or three years ago – that she told me about it. And I’ve known Barbara for twenty years or more. And it was in the general discussion about Tony Abbott and his days at Sydney University that it came up. And the account that she gave was pretty much verbatim what she told me. So the reason I made that comment publicly yesterday was that Liberals around the place were doubting the honesty of her statements. Well she’s made that statement a long time ago privately – and she’s made it publicly. And I think there are a lot more people who have heard the story and there were witnesses to it as well.

David Speers : Alright. We’re going to have to wrap it up on that point.

In fact, there are no witnesses to “the punch”. None. Moreover, Bruce Hawker’s response to David Speers was contradictory – for the following reasons:

▪ Hawker said that Ramjan told him about “the punch” some “two or three years ago”. This would mean that Ramjan told Hawker in 2010 or 2009 about an event which (allegedly) took place in 1977 – i.e. over three decades previously. This in spite of the fact that Hawker has known Ramjan since around 1992 and Tony Abbott has been a public figure since at least 1993 and a parliamentarian since 1994.

▪ Hawker also said that Ramjan made “the statement a long time ago privately”. There is no evidence to support this claim. Certainly Hawker did not name anyone who was a recipient of this information.

▪ Hawker said that “there are a lot of people who have heard the story” before the publication of David Marr’s essay. Once again, he did not name one such person. Not one.


23 NOVEMBER 2012

● MWD Exclusive: Quarterly Essay Censors David Marr Critic As the Errors in “Political Animal” Remain Uncorrected

● Correspondence:  David Marr Helps Out (Thanks to all)


The “Correspondence” Section in Quarterly Essay Issue 48 (released this week) is primarily devoted to an analysis of David Marr’s essay in Quarterly Essay Issue 47 titled “Political Animal: The Making of Tony Abbott”. There is (i) an interesting piece by Senator George Brandis on Abbott’s days at Oxford University, (ii) a somewhat bland contribution by ABC journalist Chris Uhlmann which restates prevailing mythology about the Labor Split of 1955, (iii) a predictable rave by Mark Latham (which already has been published in the Australian Financial Review), (iv) a psycho-babble analysis by academic Judith Brett who describes Abbott as a “post-feminist man”, (v) a comment (which has already been published in the Canberra Times) by Jack Waterford who maintains that Abbott “does not really belong to the Liberal Party” and (vi) David Marr’s “Response” to none of the above.

Chris Curtis Censored by Quarterly Essay

Chris Feik, the editor of Quarterly Essay censored a letter from Chris Curtis (an ALP member in Victoria) who criticised David Marr’s interpretation of Tony Abbott’s university days.  Curtis picked up several howlers in Marr’s essay – including his belief that Abbott was active in the Democratic Labor Party (DLP) and his total misunderstanding of what the campus Democratic Clubs – including the one to which Abbott belonged at Sydney University in the late 1970s – were about. Following initial rejection, Curtis offered to cut his piece – which can be found here.  But Feik was not willing to publish any of Curtis’ corrections of Marr’s errors, however long or short. And so it came to pass that there is no substantial criticism of Marr’s Political  Animal  essay in Quarterly Essay 48.

David Marr’s Inadequate Response

In his Response, David Marr did not bother to even mention the contributions of Brandis, Uhlmann, Latham, Brett or Waterford.  All five were totally ignored.  Nor did Marr bother to explain the errors in Political Animal – which have been identified by Greg Sheridan and also by Gerard Henderson (See MWD Issue 154). Instead David Marr banged on about how David Marr was right all along.  MWD was particularly impressed by the extent to which Marr will go to deny his errors and misinterpretations – even to the extent of fawning. Here are some highlights.

▪ David Marr described David Patch as a “witness” to Barbara Ramjan’s claim that Tony Abbott had punched the wall behind her head on two occasions at Sydney University in September 1977.

However, in David Patch’s article which was published in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age on 13 September 2012, Patch conceded that he “did not see the incident”.  Marr should understand that you cannot be a witness to an event which you did not see – or witness.

▪ David Marr referred to “another witness – unnamed but willing to go on the record if need be”. This person is described as a male but is anonymous.  The fact is that this man also did not – like David Patch –  see the incident.  This is what he told journalists Mark Coultan and Phillip Coorey – as reported in the Sydney Morning Herald online on 14 September 2012: “I saw Abbott throw a punch at Barbara Ramjan but didn’t see it land”.  Since the difference between a punch commencing and hitting a target would be a fraction of second, this evidence is not evidence at all.

▪ The (alleged) punch took place in 1977. In his “Response”, David Marr writes that “he first heard about the punch early this year from a number of judges at the fortieth anniversary of my law school graduation class”. In other words, Marr first heard about the punch some 35 years after the (alleged) event.  He sought to give credibility to the story by saying that he was told the story by a “number of judges” – not mere barristers or solicitors  or former lawyers. Judges, no less.

▪ It seems that David Marr is something of a snob when it comes to the judiciary, barristers, solicitors and the like.  At Page 19 of Political Animal, Marr quotes a highly critical account of Abbott at Sydney University by “a distinguished Sydney lawyer active in university politics then”. If this lawyer is so “distinguished”, why did he so insist on anonymity?  Marr should know that anonymous sources are worthless and that a case is not strengthened by the distinction of its advocate.

In his “Response”, David Marr continues his legal snobbery – referring to Barbara Ramjan as “a respected figure in Sydney, with connections to the highest levels of the judiciary”.  Wow. Apparently Ms Ramjan is married to a man who became a judge. Wow again.  Moreover, apparently Ms Ramjan mixes not only with judges but also with judges who have reached the highest levels of the judiciary. Wow – and wow.

The Questions that David Marr Will Not Answer about his Political Animal Essay

1. David Marr says that he, or his researcher, read the Sydney University newspaper Honi Soit covering the period when Tony Abbott and Barbara Ramjan were students.

In view of this, why did Political Animal omit to mention that when Barbara Ramjan complained on two occasions in letters to Honi Soit about Abbott’s behaviour during the 1977 Student Representative Council election, she made no reference whatsoever to the now famous (alleged) punch?  David Marr will not say.  Nor will he admit that Ramjan’s letters to Honi Soit in 1977 suggest that there was no “punch”.

2. How does David Marr justify referring to David Patch and an anonymous man as having witnessed the punch – when Mr Patch never saw the alleged punch incident and the anonymous man never saw where the alleged punch landed?

3. What is David Marr’s evidence to support his claim in Political Animal that the Democratic Clubs were “extreme as far to the right as the Maoists and Trotskyites on campus were to the left”. The only source cited in Political Animal  is an anonymous article in Honi Soit in 1977, written by a left-wing activist.  This is not evidence for anything.  As the acclaimed biographer of Patrick White, Marr should understand this.

4. In Political Animal, Marr attributed to the late B.A. Santamaria the following strategy: “When you haven’t got the numbers, be vicious.”  What is Marr’s evidence for this undocumented assertion?  There is no evidence in Political Animal or in Marr’s response in the current issue of Quarterly Essay. This suggests that David Marr just invented the quote in an attempt to damage Abbott with reference to his one-time association with Santamaria.

An Opportunity to Correct The Revised Edition of Political Animal

David Marr has told Gerard Henderson (see Correspondence Section of this issue of MWD) that there will be a revised edition of Political Animal published in 2013.  This will give the author and his publisher a chance to correct errors, junk exaggerations and provide evidence for undocumented allegations.  Stay tuned – but don’t hold your breath.


David Marr and Gerard Henderson – along with Lenore Taylor – appeared on the ABC TV Insiders program on Sunday.  Marr and Henderson enjoyed a lively discussion in the Green Room before the program commenced – concerning Mr Marr’s “Response” in Quarterly Essay Issue 48 to his earlier essay titled Political Animal (Quarterly EssayIssue 47). After Insiders, Marr emailed Henderson and the following correspondence took place.


David Marr to Gerard Henderson – 18 November 2012


Splendid exchanges today – off and on camera. I do, in fact have Chris Curtis’s email. It was forwarded to me after publication (of course) and I’ll take it into account when the essay is reissued next year. Your objection, if I remember right, was to me using the expression “DLP club” (or some variant of that) to describe the Democratic Club. But where do I do this? I’ve just done a computer check through the essay. In the context of Abbott’s university years, “DLP” appears only twice, both times in quotes – on p.17 I quote Barbara Ramjan saying “DLP types” and on p.18 Turnbull writing “old-fashioned DLP image”. But have I misunderstood what you’re getting at?


Gerard Henderson to David Marr – 20 November 2012


I was busy yesterday and now am in a position to respond more fully to your email of last Sunday.

My main point about the Chris Curtis piece is that it was censored by Quarterly Essay in order, I presume, to protect you from criticism for some of the errors in Political Animal. On Sunday, when you asked for an example, I mentioned the “DLP Club” issue. But, as you know having read the Curtis piece, there were more matters. Many more.

In your email of last Sunday, you queried as to where you had used the term “DLP Club” with respect to Political Animal. You refer to the term DLP being used in quotes from Barbara Ramjan (Page 17) and Malcolm Turnbull (Page 18).

As I have commented in our correspondence of March 2012, you do not have a very good memory as to what you have previously written and/or said.

In your (soft) Lateline interview with Emma Alberici on 10 September 2012, you said that Tony Abbott came “out of the DLP” and at Sydney University was a “leader of the DLPers”. You also referred to Abbott as having addressed some “DLP students” in Adelaide in 2004. In fact, he addressed the Adelaide University Democratic Club.

The fact is that all DLP senators lost their seats in May 1974 and the DLP was formally wound up in 1978. Subsequently, a new entity, also titled the DLP, was formed. But there is no causal link between the contemporary DLP and the DLP which existed between the mid 1950s and the mid 1970s.

As I tried to explain on Sunday, the campus Democratic Clubs were linked to B A Santamaria’s National Civic Council. They were never linked to the DLP which had no connections of any kind to university student groups. In other words, it is incorrect for you – and Ms Ramjan – to depict Tony Abbott as a “DLPer” student.

Needless to say, Chris Curtis had numerous other criticisms of your Political Animal piece. Since Quarterly Essayrefused to publish Chris Curtis’ contribution, I shall give it a run in next Friday’s issue of my Media Watch Dog blog. I shall also raise the issue of why you did not refer to Barbara Ramjan’s 1977 criticisms of Abbott – which did not mention the (alleged) punch. This will follow up my critical review of Political Animal which appeared in MWD Issue 154 on 7 September 2012.

Best wishes – and have a truly wonderful time in Barcelona.


David Marr to Gerard Henderson – 20 November 2012


I’m in the departure lounge at Mascot and in no position to reply at length. Two things. Your DLP point is furious nit picking. In the language of the time people like Abbott were called ‘DLP types’. One example is the contemporaneous Turnbull quote in the essay. Ramjan today uses the same term. Have a row with them if you want to reform the language.

One reason for us not using Curtis was his same passion for insisting on these minute to pointless distinctions. Same politics, same movement, same leader. To pretend at this late stage that the DLP/NCC/Democratic clubs weren’t inextricably entwined in the late 1970s is wasting all our time.

The punch happened. By all means keep on insisting it didn’t but there’s an old saying in newsrooms worth remembering: when you’re in a hole, stop digging.

Now that we’re corresponding it’s worth me saying my researcher did – contrary to your hostile speculation – spend days in Sydney University archives. Endlessly fascinating stuff. I recommend it.

I’m off to do the camino…

All the best,


* * * * *

With David Marr enjoying himself on The Way of Saint James (El Camino to Spanish speakers), that’s all until next time.



● Chris Curtis Clarifies His Censorship by Quarterly Essay


The “MWD Exclusive”  in MWD Issue 164 revealed how Quarterly Essay had censored Chris Curtis’ letter in response to David Marr’s “Political Animal: The Making of Tony Abbott”.  Mr Curtis, an ALP member, was a member of the  Democratic Club at La Trobe University around the time that Tony Abbott was a member of the Democratic Club at Sydney University.

In other words, Curtis – unlike Marr – knew what he was talking about when discussing the Democratic Club phenomenon in the 1970s.  MWD Issue 164 published a link to the rejected correspondence – commenting in the process:

Following initial rejection, Curtis offered to cut his piece.  But [Quarterly Essay editor Chris] Feik was not willing to publish any of Curtis’ corrections of Marr’s errors, however long or short.

Chris Curtis has advised that this reference is not correct.  He has indicated that Chris Feik said that his letter would not be published by Quarterly Essay for reasons of space.  Curtis asked for the decision to be reconsidered – but Feik did not reply.  As Curtis has commented:

I bought the next issue of Quarterly Essay to see who had submitted the successful correspondence.  I now know that re-publication of articles from well-known people who have their own columns is more important than the testimony of one who was actually active in Democratic Club politics at the time.

Quite so. Quarterly  Essay re-published the views of Mark Latham (originally printed in the Australian Financial Review) and Jack Waterford (originally printed in the Canberra Times) but did not have space for an original contribution from someone who had first-hand knowledge of Democratic Club politics in the late 1970s.

How frightfully Quarterly Essay  – a journal of the left, by the left, for the left.

* * * *

Until next time.


1 MARCH 2013

● Documentation – An Open Letter to David Marr Concerning his Political Animal Tract



Dear David

When we met on Insiders early last month, you said that you were in the process of revising for publication yourPolitical Animal: The Making of Tony Abbott (Quarterly Essay, Issue 47). I understand that you are currently interviewing some people for the revised edition. I expect that you also intend to make revisions/corrections.

You may, or may not, recall our (somewhat heated) discussion in the Insiders green room on Sunday 18 November 2012 concerning Tony Abbott. As I recall, the argument continued on the set – albeit on a slightly different topic.

In our green room discussion last November, I pointed out some errors in Political Animal and in your subsequent “Response to Correspondence” which was published in Quarterly Essay Issue 48 late last year.

I also drew attention to the fact that Chris Feik, the Quarterly Essay editor, had censored a letter from Chris Curtis intended for the “Correspondence” section in Issue 48 – containing responses to Political Animal. Since Quarterly Essay is essentially a publication of the left, by the left, for the left – it was not surprising to see comments from the likes of Judith Brett, Mark Latham and Jack Waterford – in addition to your response to their responses.

Nevertheless, Chris Curtis was attempting to be helpful in correcting a significant error concerning your description of political affiliations during Tony Abbott’s university days. As you may or may not know, I published Chris Curtis’ letter in Media Watch Dog Issue 164 (23 November 2012)

You said that, prior to our Insiders green room conversation, you were unaware that Chris Curtis had written toQuarterly Essay – but you subsequently defended Chris Feik’s decision to spike his letter. As I recall, you maintained that Chris Curtis’ correction was unimportant.

According to reports, Political Animal was a big seller for Morry Schwartz and the leftist team at Schwartz Media’s Black Inc. In view of the importance of Political Animal, I have set out below some comments/corrections which you may – or may not – find useful. Here we go.


Page 1 Political Animal commences with the comment: “Australia doesn’t want Tony Abbott. We never have.” When we last met in February, I mentioned that Malcolm Fraser, in his last poll as Opposition leader in November 1975, was  not popular but went on to win one of the greatest victories in Australian political history. You said that you were unaware of this but would look in to the matter. Well, here are the figures.

In the 1970s, the most authoritative poll was the Morgan Gallup Poll which was published in The Bulletin around every fortnight. The last opinion poll published before the dismissal of Gough Whitlam’s Labor government read as follows:

Coalition: 46 per cent

Labor: 44 per cent

Democratic Labor Party: 3 per cent

Australia Party: 2 per cent

Others: 5 per cent

The approval/disapproval figures of the political leaders were as follows:

Gough Whitlam

Approve: 46 per cent

Disapprove: 46 per cent

Undecided: 8 per cent

Malcolm Fraser

Approve: 33 per cent

Disapprove: 54 per cent

Undecided: 13 per cent

In other words, Tony Abbott’s disapproval rating around the time when Political Animal was published last year was about identical to that of Malcolm Fraser shortly before the Liberal-National Party’s huge victory in the 1975 election.

There is another side to this argument. The evidence suggests that only three Opposition leaders have been very popular before winning elections. Namely Joseph Lyons in 1931, Bob Hawke in 1983 and Kevin Rudd in 2007. Robert Menzies and John Howard – Australia’s most electorally successful prime ministers – were never particularly popular before they became prime minister.

Your assertion, at Page 4, that high disapproval ratings for political leaders equate with “roadkill” is not supported by the available evidence.

. Page 2 – The reference to Julie Bishop’s (alleged) “coquettish amusement” at Tony Abbott’s election as Liberal leader in December 2009 overlooks the fact that Ms Bishop is on record as saying that she is a friend of Mr Abbott and worked well with him in John Howard’s government.

Page 2 – You assert that Tony Abbott is a “profoundly Catholic man”. It’s not clear precisely what you mean by this. In my view, the suggestion that Abbott is “profoundly Catholic” amounts to a significant misunderstanding of the Liberal leader.

Page 6 – The description of St Ignatius College Riverview as an “Italian palace” is somewhat over the top.

Page 8 – Your sneering claim that Fr Emmett Costello SJ “ministered to the rich, pursuing death-bed conversions in harbour mansions” is somewhat hyperbolic. Who? How many?

Page 8 – If the B A Santamaria aligned front organisation called Peace with Freedom was so “secret,” how did Abbott (as you claim) attend a PWF function in 1976 without an invitation? By the way, two of the three men you mention as running Peace with Freedom – i.e. Peter Samuel and Warren Hogan – were not Catholic and were not members of B A Santamaria’s National Civic Council.

Page 9 – As readers of my work, including my book Mr Santamaria and The Bishops (1982) will know, I was a critic of B A Santamaria in the late 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. However, your description of Santamaria is significantly exaggerated. I refer in particular to the following comment on Page 9, viz:

Inside and outside politics, inside and outside the Catholic Church, Santamaria was also widely hated. His venom was phenomenal; his energy inextinguishable; and his fears legion. In the Whitlam crisis … he had privately discussed the need to raise a secret army to defend democracy against the scourge of Labor.

Sure, Santamaria was widely hated by some in and outside the Catholic Church. But he was also widely admired by some Catholics and non-Catholics alike. The (unsourced) claim that Santamaria wanted “to raise a secret army to defend democracy against the scourge of Labor” is far-fetched.

Page 10 – Here you refer to the campus Democratic Clubs, which were supported by B A Santamaria’s National Civic Council in the 1970s and 1980s, in the following terms:

The Democratic Clubs were small and their membership carefully controlled. The correct line was strictly enforced. They used tactics Santamaria developed to fight the Reds in the unions: provocative campaigning, ceaseless leafleting and infiltrating rival organisations. They called themselves moderates but their position was extreme: as far to the right as the Maoists and Trotskyists on campus were to the left. They were accused of rough-house tactics and wrecking what they couldn’t control.

This comment is profoundly false. As Chris Curtis pointed out in his unpublished letter to Quarterly Essay, membership of Democratic Clubs was not “carefully controlled”. Moreover, the members of the Democratic Clubs cannot be equated with the Maoists and the Trotskyites on campuses at that time.

Some Maoists and Trotskyites used violence against both individuals and property. Peter Costello, when a student at Monash University, was bashed by a Maoist. As a senior tutor at La Trobe University in the early 1970s, my office was broken into and the wheel-bolts were loosened on my car following my support of a South Vietnamese Embassy member who was attacked by the campus left. There are many such examples – of which you seem blissfully ignorant.

By the way, your one source in support of your position is the left-wing dominated Honi Soit. This would be a bit like quoting The Catholic Weekly as an authoritative source for an undocumented attack on, say, Patrick White.

Page 13 – Here again, your anti-Catholic sectarianism is evident when you write:

His [Abbott’s] girlfriend Kathy McDonald was three months pregnant. It was the old Catholic catastrophe: no chastity, no contraception, no abortion and, it would turn out, no marriage.

There was nothing particularly “Catholic” about such a “catastrophe”.

Page 16 – This section of your essay contains the media-grabbing allegation that Tony Abbott engaged in an act of violence against left-wing student Barbara Ramjan following her victory in the Student Representative Council elections at Sydney University on 7 September 1977:

Barbara Ramjan … was of the left but her work as the SRC’s welfare officer made her a popular figure on campus. The night her victory was declared, the SRC offices saw wild scenes of bad boy behaviour: flashing, mooning, jeering and abuse. Abbott watched all this. His loss was a very public disappointment, one of the first defeats of his life that mattered, one he would remember for a long time. He approached Ramjan. She thought he was coming over to congratulate her. “But no, that’s not what he wanted. He came up to within an inch of my nose and punched the wall on either side of my head.”

This was effectively a recovered memory on Ms Ramjan’s behalf – made for the first time on the public record some 35 years after the alleged event. There is no contemporaneous evidence of damage to a wall or to Tony Abbott’s hands and there are no independent witnesses.

In our discussion last November, you exhibited anger at my long-standing comment that, in Political Animal, you did not refer to the contemporaneous evidence concerning this matter – including the two letters which Ms Ramjan wrote to Honi Soit complaining about Tony Abbott in late 1977. In response, I said that, if this was the case, and you were aware of the correspondence, then it was unprofessional for you not to mention these letters in Political Animalsince they support Abbott’s case and discredit Ramjan’s case.

The fact is that Barbara Ramjan had letters about Tony Abbott’s behaviour published in Honi Soit on 13 September 1977 and 3 October 1977. On neither occasion did she refer to any wall-punching incident – even though there was ample opportunity to do so and even though she complained about Abbott’s behavior following the SRC election.

In our discussion last November, you described David Patch’s article in The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age on 13 September 2012 as evidence in support of Ramjan’s allegation. But Patch, a friend of Barbara Ramjan admitted that he did not see the incident. The fact is that a person cannot be a witness to an event that he/she did not see. As someone with a law degree, you should understand this. In any event, you don’t need a law degree to know what the word “witness” means.

Page 17 – Here you quote Barbara Ramjan as referring to Tony Abbott as a “DLP type”. You made a similar point in your (soft) interview with Emma Alberici on Lateline  last year (10 September 2012).

In fact, the Democratic Labor Party (DLP) effectively went out of existence after its five sitting senators were defeated in the 1974 double dissolution election. The DLP was formally wound up in 1978. The entity which emerged around a decade ago is not legally linked to the original DLP.

The fact is that Tony Abbott had no connection with the DLP when he was a university student for the simple reason that the DLP did not exist. By the way, Bob Santamaria was never a member of the DLP and was frequently in disagreement with DLP senators.

Page 19 – Anonymous sources are not worth much. You refer to a critic of Abbott’s time at university as a “distinguished Sydney lawyer”. Why does he/she seek anonymity? And does it matter whether or not a lawyer is distinguished?

Page 22 – The reference to Tony Abbott’s Rhodes Scholarship seems unnecessarily mocking. You wrote:

… he was awarded one of those great scholarships of the world: two years at Oxford courtesy of the diamond-mining fortune of Cecil Rhodes. For Anglophiles and rugby players, the Rhodes was died-and-gone-to-heaven time. Winners must be scholars fond of sport who display “moral force of character and instincts to lead”.

Bob Hawke also enjoyed his Rhodes Scholarship. Hawke was neither an Anglophile nor a rugby player – but he enjoyed it all the same.

Page 38 – You refer to the “old DLP reverence for John Kerr”. There is no evidence that the DLP revered Sir John Kerr, who was appointed governor-general by Labor’s Gough Whitlam. In fact, some DLP supporters were disappointed that Kerr had declined an invitation to join the DLP in the mid-1950s. Kerr was never close to the DLP – and the DLP was never close to Kerr.

Page 39 – Here you simply verbal Bob Santamaria when you write:

That was always the Santamaria way: when you haven’t got the numbers, be vicious. It’s called minority politics.

There is no evidence – and you provide no evidence – that Santamaria was “vicious” with respect to his political opponents. If you have the evidence, then you should cite it in the next edition of Political Animal. No one has ever equated Santamaria or his organisation with political violence.

Page 61 – You refer to Tony Abbott’s speech on abortion to the Adelaide UniversityDemocratic Club in March 2004 as containing the language of a “Vatican ideologue”. Maybe. But there are many non-Catholic Christians and Muslims who have stated stronger opposition to abortion than that made by Abbott. Opposition to abortion is not an exclusively Catholic position.

 Page 71 – Your comment that “Santamaria raged against working mothers” is an overstatement. As I recall, at least one – and possibly more – of Santamaria’s children was a working mother.

Page 85 – Your suggestion that “all de facto couples, everyone who doesn’t believe in God, and republicans who make up half the country” are “not Abbott’s people” requires a re-write. If you are correct, then the opinion polls are wrong


Page 98 – You describe David Patch’s defence of his long-time friend Barbara Ramjan as “devastating” with respect to Tony Abbott. Yet, as previously mentioned, Patch claimed to be a “witness” to an alleged event that he did not see. The Sydney Morning Herald subsequently changed its headline which originally referred to Patch as a witness by putting the word “witness” in inverted commas. You should note this precedent.

Page 99 – You cite another male witness in addition to David Patch. Not only is this person anonymous – more seriously, he subsequently alleged to have seen Abbott deliver the punch but in fact had not seen it land. Pretty worthless, don’t you think? Especially since there would be less than a second between a punch being thrown and landing.

Page 100 – You write that Barbara Ramjan “is a respected figure in Sydney, with connections to the highest levels of the judiciary”. Are you seriously suggesting that a person’s 35 year old memory is more reliable if they know a lot of judges in later life?

Page 101 – You imply that commentators who criticised Ms Ramjan and Mr Patch were “attack dogs” who had been “unleashed” by Mr Abbott. You provide no evidence for this assertion.

For the record, this comment is completely false with respect to me. I wrote my column criticising Ms Ramjan in The Sydney Morning Herald on 11 September 2012 without communicating with Tony Abbott or the Opposition leader’s office. If you had asked me about this, I would have advised that your conspiracy theory was false. You should have done some fact-checking – you have my email and phone contacts.

Page 101 – Your claim that Tony Abbott “is an old-fashioned Catholic sexist” says much about your old-fashioned anti-Catholic sectarianism. But it says nothing about Tony Abbott that is worth hearing, let alone fresh. What’s missing from Political Animal and your follow-up is any assessment about how it is that Tony Abbott came so close to defeating a first-term government in August 2010 and is currently performing so well in the polls.

Page 102 – I note with interest your opinion, proffered in early 2013, that “the numbers are going the wrong way for Abbott”. This reminded me of the thesis of your 2010 Quarterly Essay (Issue 38) titled “Power Trip: The Political Journey of Kevin Rudd” There you described the suggestion that Kevin Rudd would be replaced by Julia Gillard before the 2010 election as “rubbish.”

As a matter of personal experience, I have always found that today’s prophet is tomorrow’s false prophet. But what would I know?

All the best with the revised edition of Political Animal.

Gerard Henderson


Until next time. In the meantime, keep morale high.


2017-04-20T04:18:20+10:0012 April 2013|Categories: Uncategorized|