A SYDNEY barrister, David Patch, has corroborated a woman's claim that Tony Abbott behaved in an intimidatory fashion when she beat him in a vote for Sydney University Student Representative Council president in 1977.
Mr Abbott has denied the account from Barbara Ramjan - published in David Marr's Quarterly Essay, ''Political Animal: The Making of Tony Abbott'' - that he came within an inch of her nose and punched the wall on either side of her head.
But Mr Patch, who won the SRC presidency in 1975, said he had been Ms Ramjan's campaign manager in 1977, and she had told him about the Abbott incident immediately after it happened.
He writes in today's Age: ''I did not see the incident, but I was nearby. The count had just finished. Barbara found me. She is a small woman, and Tony Abbott was (and is) a strong man. She was very shaken, scared and angry. She told me that Tony Abbott had come up to her, put his face in her face, and punched the wall on either side of her head.
''So, I am a witness. Barbara's immediate complaint to me about what Abbott had just done had the absolute ring of truth about it. I believed Barbara at the time, and still do.''
Mr Patch is a former judicial registrar of the Industrial Relations Court and of the Federal Court. He includes the disclaimer that he was the ALP candidate for Wentworth in 2004, when he ran against Malcolm Turnbull.
The wall-punching event was not an isolated one, he writes. ''As President, Ramjan chaired SRC meetings. She did not want to be called 'Mr Chairman', but preferred 'Chairperson'. But for an entire year Abbott called Ramjan 'Chairthing' whenever he addressed her at SRC meetings.
''The gender-based disrespect for her office and her person is remarkably similar to the disrespectful way that Abbott treats the Prime Minister, and her office, today.''
Mr Patch says he knew Mr Abbott well at the time, beating him for an election for student member of the University Senate. ''Although he was an active member of a fundamentalist political movement with a religious base (the DLP and the National Civic Council led by Bob Santamaria), it was his personally offensive behaviour which stood out.
''He was always (verbally) attacking gays and feminists and lefties. You certainly knew what he was against - the trouble was that you couldn't figure out what he was in favour of! Once again, the parallels with the way he operates today are, to those who knew him then, quite remarkable.''
Mr Patch - responding to an
article by Gerard Henderson, the head of the Sydney Institute, saying the only evidence that there had been a punch to a wall turned on an aggrieved person's memory - insists: ''I know what happened. I write not to land a blow on (or near) Mr Abbott, but to ensure that the debate about the character and suitability of a potential future prime minister is one which is fully and accurately informed''.
Mr Abbott told Marr he had no recollection of the wall punching and said ''it would be profoundly out of character had it occurred''. It was later that he hardened this up to a complete denial. He also denied a claim made this week by a woman who ran against him for the Democrats in 2007 that when she was handing out how-to-vote cards he put his face an inch from hers and grunted.
The government yesterday homed in on Mr Abbott's lack of media appearances since late last week.