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.