It speaks volumes for the ABC that one of its key current affairs programs has discussed the first anniversary of the Capitol building riot in the US but ignored the alleged arson attack on Old Parliament House in Canberra on December 30 last year.
On Radio National Breakfast last Thursday, presenter Hamish Macdonald interviewed Mick Mulvaney (a former chief-of-staff to president Donald J. Trump). His introduction was as follows: “US President Joe Biden will today mark the one year anniversary of a deadly riot at the US Capitol. The supporters of Donald J. Trump stormed the building and battled police in an effort to stop the transition of power after the 2020 election. Five people were killed in the melee that followed.”
There was a riot at the US Capitol on January 6 last year. But it was not deadly in the usual sense of the term. And five people were not “killed in the melee”. These are the facts. One person was killed during the riot. The 35-year-old US air force veteran Ashli Babbitt was shot dead by a Capitol Police officer – an action that was assessed as justifiable homicide. Two protesters died of natural causes and one appears to have been crushed to death during the demonstration. One Capitol Police officer died the day after the riot. The cause of death remains uncertain but the original view that he was hit on the head with a fire extinguisher has been disregarded.
If Macdonald had been following the North American media, he would be aware that a report attributed to the FBI – no friend of Trump – indicates that it has not found evidence of a plot to overturn the results of the 2020 US presidential election by means of insurrection, led by Trump.
Several hundred demonstrators have been charged by US federal authorities and some have already been sentenced to jail terms. However, the charges related primarily to occupying a federal building with some charges concerning the assault of police officers. No one has been charged with insurrection.
Trump acted unwisely, perhaps irresponsibly, in his address in front of the White House on January 6 last year, aimed at getting the US congress to overturn the result of the 2020 election as determined by the electoral college. However, in his rambling 75 minute speech, the US president said: “I know that everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol building to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard.”
This is not the chant of an insurrectionist. However, followers of the ABC would have a different impression if they accepted without question reports of its North American correspondent Kathryn Diss. On Thursday she described the events of January 6 last year as “an unforgettable felony” and compared the occasion with the attack on the Capitol by British forces in the War of 1812.
In her hyperbolic report, Diss overlooked the fact, from the available evidence, it would seem that the rioters were not armed. Moreover, there is no evidence of an attempt to burn the building to the ground. The evidence suggests the ABC exhibits much more interest in riots by right-wing forces in the US than by left-wing forces in Australia. When the ABC 7.30 program reported the Capitol Hill riot last year, it made only a fleeting reference to the violent attack on Australia’s Parliament House that occurred on August 19, 1996.
Called the Cavalcade to Canberra and organised by the ACTU, this led to what the academic Luke Deer has referred to as “the most forceful physical attack on the federal parliament in Australian history”.
This was a violent riot directed by left-wing trade unions at the recently elected, John Howard-led Coalition government in which the doors of Parliament House were broken down. It is not something the Australian left likes to remember these days. It’s easier to condemn riots undertaken by the American right wing.
It could be that the most recent attack on Old Parliament House – now called the Museum of Australian Democracy – is also destined to go down what George Orwell depicted as the memory hole.
On December 30, a fire was lit outside Old Parliament House that has caused significant damage to what was the home of the House of Representatives and the Senate between 1927 and 1988. This is one of the few heritage buildings erected in Australia during the 20th century.
It is common in sections of the media these days to cover criminal charges in such a way that makes it all but impossible for a defendant to get a fair trial. In view of this, it would be improper to make any comment about the Old Parliament House fire beyond the fact that a 30-year-old man has been charged with offences covering this instance.
However, it is appropriate to make a few points. Macdonald and his RN Breakfast team have discussed the US riot of January last year but not referred to the alleged arson event at Old Parliament House in the final days of 2021.
Lidia Thorpe, the Victoria- based Indigenous Greens senator, responded to the news of the fire as follows: “Seems like the colonial system is burning down. Happy New Year.” The tweet was soon deleted.
Thorpe has not explained what she meant by this. Moreover, it is not clear whether she totally condemns Australia’s “colonial system”. After all, she has a white father who was interviewed on Sky News’s The Bolt Report in May last year.
Greens leader Adam Bandt has tweeted that if the cause of the fire was arson then “it’s unacceptable”. But he has not said anything about Thorpe’s comments.
Nor have they been analysed by the ABC. This would suggest the ABC is more interested in what happened in Washington a year ago than what occurred in Canberra during the summer break.