Tony Abbott punch of a bygone era

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BolteANDREW BOLT THE LATEST TO APOLOGISE OVER TONY ABBOTT’S WALL PUNCH. Richard Ackland . The guardian, Thursday 10 July 2014.   Andrew Bolt on MTR radio, 2010. Photograph: /AAP.   As long as pundits keep questioning Barbara Ramjan’s account of the Abbott university wall punch, they’ll keep having to give grovelling apologies. 

Every time someone pops up and accuses Barbara Ramjan of lying over the infamous university incident when Tony Abbott flew his fists into a wall, there has been a handsome apology to her. If only you’d been listening on Monday night you’d have heard the latest in a series of grovels, this one from Andrew Bolt on 2GB’s Steve Price show.  Ramjan was the young woman who in 1977 enraged Tony Abbott and his band of university bovver boys, when she beat him in the election for the post of president of the University of Sydney’s student representative council.

She now works as guardian appearing for children in the NSW court system.  The interesting thing is: where does this series of apologies to Ramjan leave Tony Abbott’s denial of the incident? The story was reported in David Marr’s 2012 Quarterly Essay, Political Animal: The Making of Tony Abbott.   Ramjan told Marr that following the election Abbott approached her. “He came up to within an inch of my nose and punched the wall on either side of my head. It was done to intimidate,” she said. Another witness said that Abbott’s gang was screaming “commie” and “poofter” as they barged in to make their threatening protest to Ramjan.

Since then, Abbott has variously said that “it would be profoundly out of character had it occurred” and “it never happened”. In the first he leaves open the possibility it did happen and in the second he rules it out.  The publication of the Quarterly Essay provoked indignation and denials from hardcore right-wing warriors. Melbourne’s conservative pin-up boy Michael Kroger was laying into Ramjan, so was Alan Jones, so too The Australian and more recently Bolt on 2GB.  

Apparently it was inconceivable that Abbott would lie in denying such a thing. Ramjan had to be making it up.   Careless with the facts, Bolt on 19 May told 2GB’s listeners that: “Tony Abbott was falsely accused of punching a wall next to the head of the student official when he was at university…”   He was talking in the context of student demonstrations that greeted foreign minister Julie Bishop and how sad it was that there had not been the same amount of condemnation that greeted the story about Abbott and his wall punching. Bolt went on:

How many interviews did David Marr give about his book about Tony Abbott hitting a wall? I mean, on the ABC it was wall-to-wall. You couldn’t turn on the ABC without it. If that is such a terrible thing – and he [Abbott] denied it and there are no eye witness accounts of him actually doing it that are credible. If that is such a germane thing, something that happened 30 something years ago, why is there zero, zero condemnation [of Bishop being jostled], it seems to me, from the usual mouthpieces of the left? What’s happening to Liberal politicians today?

That woe-begotten spray contained a crucial error. There were two credible eye witnesses, one of whom had made a sworn statement about what happened in 1977.  Patrick George, Ramjan’s lawyer, quickly dispatched a letter of demand to Bolt, pointing out that his remarks gave rise to the imputation that his client had lied and there was a witness to say she had not lied. Bolt had nowhere to go, except to broadcast this grovel on Monday night:

On 19 May, I made some statements on air concerning an incident involving the prime minister which took place at the University of Sydney approximately 30 years ago. I have been told by Barbara Ramjan that my statements might have been understood to suggest that her evidence of the incident was not truthful. I have never accused Ms Ramjan of lying in giving her evidence of that incident. In referring to the incident I did not intend to suggest that she was a liar or that she had acted dishonestly and if anyone understood my statements to suggest that, then I apologise to her unreservedly.

In late 2012, Ramjan sued over vehement remarks made by Kroger on The Bolt Report on 23 September 2012, an interview he gave to Alan Jones on 2GB, and two articles in The Australian.   Among Kroger’s claims was the allegation that she is a “serial fabricator of false complaints”. Ramjan pleaded four imputations: she is a left wing lunatic, she is a disgraceful nobody, she fabricated the Abbott allegation, and she told a vicious lie about Abbott as part of a campaign to damage him.

Justice Henric Nicholas ordered a jury of 12 for the Kroger trial saying: “The first’s defendant’s prominence and conduct, the prominence and conduct of Mr Abbott, and of the plaintiff herself, are all matters capable of exciting prejudice and antagonism.”  By August 2013 The Australian and Kroger had settled and the newspaper published an apology for saying she had lied. Channel 10 had also apologised.

The day after the broadcast with Kroger, Jones went on air with a long explanation and apology, which concluded: “So if anything I have done had led to discomfort and concern for Barbara Ramjan then I do apologise and I want to assure her, I don’t know whether she listens to the program or not, as others know that’s not the way I conduct this program.”   Now it’s been Bolt’s turn this week to set the record straight. If other players have apologised for imputing that Barbara Ramjan lied about the punches and intimidation, Tony Abbott does seem out in the cold and alone with his “It never happened”.

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