ANDREW M. POTTS
Tony Abbott refused to condemn police for their treatment of the first Mardi Gras protesters in 1978.
Minutes of a 1978 Sydney University student representative council executive meeting show the federal Opposition leader not only refused to condemn the arrest of the 53 protesters, but voted against the council communicating its criticism of police to the then NSW government.
The information comes as Abbott attempts to smooth over his relationship with the gay and lesbian community after claiming last month he felt threatened by homosexuality.
The student council meeting occurred three days after the 1978 protest. The motion put forward by member Lesley Podesta proposed: “The executive condemns the unprovoked and unnecessary police violence against those involved in the Mardi Gras on June 24th at Kings Cross. That this SRC actively supports and promotes equal rights for all lesbians and male homosexuals.”
Abbott, who participated in other motions during the meeting, left the room for the vote. It was passed unanimously in his absence.
Abbott returned to cast the lone dissenting vote on a subsequent motion, “That this motion be conveyed to the Premier and Attorney-General.”
Of the then executive, a number are deceased while others contacted by The Star are senior public servants and unwilling to make public comment.
The Star put questions to Abbott about his recollections of the meeting, his feelings about the actions of police, and whether the Tony Abbott of 2010 would have acted differently. However, he avoided addressing these directly, simply responding, “I would never support unlawful violence.”
New Mardi Gras co-chair Steph Sands said she hoped Abbott had grown since his university days and invited him to attend next year’s parade.
“Whether Tony Abbott deliberately avoided condemning the police action at the first Mardi Gras or was simply on a toilet break, we cannot say,” Sands said. “However, if he did hesitate in recognising the utter unacceptability of unlawful police violence at the time, I trust he has become more enlightened since then. Otherwise we should be very concerned.”