Wilson Tuckey’s unexpected influence on my political life

As an inner-city, latte-sipping classical liberal you would not expect Wilson ‘Ironbar’ Tuckey, who lost his seat on Saturday, to have influenced my political life. But the somewhat embarrassing truth is that he did.

Way back in 1986, the Monash University Liberal Club, of which I was a member, rather provocatively invited Wilson Tuckey to speak on campus. The campus left were not big on freedom of speech, and decided not to let Tuckey speak. Having spent the earlier part of his career as the publican in a rough pub (the ‘Ironbar’ nickname came from some rather excessive means of ejecting unwanted customers), Tuckey was not easily intimidated. Though he could not give his talk, he refused to back down and spent his allotted time trading insults with the assorted lefties who had turned up to silence him.

When it came near to the scheduled end of the meeting, I was sent out to make sure that Tuckey’s Commonwealth car had arrived to get him off campus. Unfortunately it had not. I dashed to the car park to get my car as a back-up, knowing that the protest could be following him as he made his way to the designated pick-up point. I arrived at the pick-up point just before Tuckey did, surrounded as I feared by menacing Trots.

Tuckey got into my car, which was then surrounded by the protestors. They began rocking the car. Luckily I did not panic and just kept driving very slowly until we escaped them. Nobody was hurt. But I was furious.

That was the day I turned from being an ordinary Liberal Club activist to someone super-committed to opposing the radical left on campus.

My target was the Community Research Action Centre (CRAC), a left-over (no pun intended) from Monash’s ultra-radical days of the 1960s. It received about $100,000 in union funding plus an office, and was pretty much entirely unaccountable for its activities. I believed that they had organised the protest, and should pay with their existence.

Led by my friend Stephen Kenmar, I was part of a campaign to have CRAC abolished. In the Right’s first election win at Monash, we took control of the student union in a Liberal-Jewish students-Christian students coalition. We worked hard to get the university administration onside (this was the first time I met a vice-chancellor) and the staff representatives on the Union Board. I learnt a huge amount about politics in between my car being rocked and moving the 1987 Union Board motion to have CRAC wound up. We won by one vote.

I particularly enjoyed one aspect of CRAC’s downfall. A key issue was whether CRAC had actually organised the Tuckey protest. They initially denied it. But we had kept some of the posters advertising the demonstration, and being the greenie recyclers that they were they had printed them on the reverse side of other CRAC material. They saved paper but lost their funding.

If Wilson Tuckey had not come to campus that day my university political life would have been very different.

22 thoughts on “Wilson Tuckey’s unexpected influence on my political life

  1. So I guess you take a certain amount of pleasure in the pain of left student politicians at the moment?

    Seeing their pain scribbled in chalk all over campus pleases me.

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  2. Less pleasure than I would have 20 years ago. Maybe I am just out of touch, but the left now does not seem as bad as the left of my student days.

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  3. The campus left were not big on freedom of speech.

    Unless there’s something you’ve missed out of the story, that’s got nothing to do with freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is about whether the government (or I suppose, student union of a University) will create restrictions about what you can say and where and when you can say it.

    What you described was probably nothing more than bad manners. But to create a restriction against it would be a restriction of freedom of speech.

    If you actually described a misuse of freedom of speech, I’m sorry. It just really gets on my nerves when people misrepresent freedoms and it inclines me to oppose freedoms and rights just because.

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  4. Andrew, I can recall such Nazi-like behavior in my student days but not so much recently. For example I have been invited to address the Socialist Left at LTU and although I probably changed no views I was treated courteously.

    I had a similar moment to yours about 40 years ago when Peter Coleman was addressing a meeting on the Vietnam War. He was so dignified and persistent in his defense of the war effort in response to outrageous Nazi-like provocations from the extreme left that I listened hard to what he was saying and started to rethink my own attitudes both towards the war and the university left. A year I was reading ‘Capitalism and Freedom’.

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  5. Alexander – The only distinction here is that not being in power the left could not use the police to silence people they disagreed with. Their demonstration tactics have always been ugly previews of the kinds of regimes they would run in the unfortunate event that they ever gained real power.

    HC – I agree. So far as I am aware there has not been serious political violence or intimidation at the U of M for about a decade. The left has always gone through cycles of activism, but their current low appears to be the worst (for them, best for the rest of us) for many decades.

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  6. Great story 🙂
    One interesting thing I’ve noticed from many middle aged liberals is that they got into politics more from a wish to beat/reject the left than promoting their personal beliefs. Peter Costello seems to have got into politics for no more reason than to spite some people at Uni.

    Not sure what this says about the left or right from that period, but its intrigued me.

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  7. Andrew – I was already a free-market enthusiast before I arrived at university, so I have always had a ‘positive’ agenda. But aside from my personal experience, one of the lessons of that period was the importance of building coalitions to achieve objectives. One of the first things I had to do was persuade a ‘fundamentalist’ Christian whose views on creationism I had attacked in the student newspaper to run with us. Luckily at a personal level we liked each other, and we are still friendly nearly 25 years later.

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  8. Bloody good yarn – love it!
    But what is it with the left and their rotten behaviour. They’re just not civilised. I mean what posses them to rock someone’s car. I don’t agree with the policies of the left, but you don’t see me damaging property and throwing personal insults. It’s a disgrace!
    And you’re wrong on that point Norty. They may not be so blatant, but their totalitarian instincts are still on show! Just look at their treatment of the ‘Climate Change Deniers’!

    But good yarn!…keep it up.

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  9. The recent polling which asked why people were voting for a particular party reported that most voting Liberal did it because they hated or didn’t trust Labor.

    e.g. Voting Liberal was a protest vote against Labor.

    This rings true for many Liberal voters I know. They remember the Labor stuff ups like Whitlam or Cain/Kirner in Vic. They don’t actually agree with Liberal party on many policy issues.

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  10. hc: I think “Nazi-like” is pretty over the top – there’s a world of difference between shouting down someone at a talk and sending them to the gas chambers. Not even Tuckey’s eponymous treatment of Aboriginals deserves that epithet.

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  11. A year I was reading ‘Capitalism and Freedom’.

    Am I being unhelpful in suggesting you read it again, Harry? It seems you’ve forgotten huge slabs of it.

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  12. caf, There is no equivalence between shouting down people at meetings and physically assaultuing them and killing them I agree. Who suggested there was?

    But the totalitarian ethic that drives a group of ignorant, smelly, snot-nosed leftist idiots to shout down anyone is very Nazi like.

    These ‘lovers of freedom’ in the 1970s wanted the freedom to espouse the progressive theories of mass killers like Mao but saw anyone who disagreed with their fanatical views as reactionaries.

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  13. Good post Andrew. You should start a series and share how you progressed upward in later years from Monash to Melbourne and the great Melbourne University Liberal Club. Also, you’ll be pleased to know that I have moved from Cartlon back to South Yarra so I have no further issue with your description as Carlton’s lone Classical Liberal.

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  14. “Voting Liberal was a protest vote against Labor.
    This rings true for many Liberal voters I know. They remember the Labor stuff ups like Whitlam or Cain/Kirner in Vic. They don’t actually agree with Liberal party on many policy issues.”

    M – This has been said for a century about non-Labor politics, though apart from some of the recent polls you mention I have not seen much detailed analysis of it for some time. There was some research in the 1990s that showed that the views of Liberal candidates and Liberal voters were much closer than the views of Labor candidates and Labor voters. Of course that is not the same as saying there is a distance between Labor voters and Labor policies, since policies do not necessarily reflect the personal views of Labor politicians.

    Given the nature of the two-party system both parties must be broad church and therefore unlikely to perfectly match any one voter’s views. But I am not sure whether the average distance between party and voter would be higher for Labor or Liberal, particularly given the gulf between blue collar cultural attitudes and the views of the Labor elite.

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  15. hc: When the spectre of the Nazis is brought up, it naturally tends to evoke their greater crimes rather than their relatively minor impolitenesses!

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  16. My dear Andrew,

    While the left at Monash in the 1980s was often juvenile and illiberal, you edit out of your narrative the genuine nastiness of Wilson Tuckey. He specialised, as you well know, in quite an awful (pre-Hanson style) racism and Aboriginal bashing (literal and metaphorical, according to many reports). The Monash Liberals were illustrating their own extremist colours by even inviting this thug onto campus.

    With affection,

    Matt

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  17. Matthew – I recall listening to other racist extremists such as Malcolm Fraser and ‘Red Fred’ Chaney during my years in the Monash Liberals:) I can’t recall why Tuckey was invited, but it was presumably as a provocation of some kind.

    For other readers, while Matthew Gibney always enjoyed stirring me, despite our ideological differences he did foster my undergraduate intellectual development in sometimes long chats in the basement of the Monash Main Library in the mid to late 1980s. He has gone on to a distinguished international academic career.

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  18. It’s a good story Andrew. Early experiences do affect you. I was at Tas uni at the meeting where Eric Abetz was flour bombed. That had a similar impact on me – the thuggishness of the left appalled me. As a result of seeing that happen, when i was finally able to vote, i voted for Michael Hodgeman (Liberal) Federally and Max Bingham (Liberal) in the state.

    however, it didn’t last. Not much later the Tasmanian Liberal government wanted to flood the Franklin River for no good reason that i could see. Then the story came out of liberal Premier Robin Gray storing ‘donations’ in a football sock in his freezer at the same time as the bribery scandal.

    Ever since, i’ve not been able to take the Liberals seriously.

    (Sorry about the caps. My keyboard is a bit sticky).

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