“Media Watch Dog on Fridays…is a sort of popular read in the Crikey office”

Crikey’s Andrew Crook on ABC 2 News Breakfast, 24 September 2010.

“Gerard Henderson is big enough to take care of himself, but that doesn’t stop us worrying about him from time to time.

Lately it’s Hendo’s tendency to self-harm that has us losing sleep. For example, peruse the correspondence he’s published in his latest Media Watch Dog blog…..There’s a part of us that just wants to ask:

“Hendo, are you OK?”

– James Jeffrey’s “Strewth!” column, The Australian, 8 November 2010.

“I realise this makes me practically retarded, but until five minutes ago 

I thought Nancy was Gerard Henderson’s wife, not his dog.”

– Byronbache via Twitter, Monday 7 February 2011

“Before going further can you write to confirm that these emails

are private correspondence and not for publication” – ABC News Radio’s

Marius Benson, 11 March 2011. He did go further – see MWD Issue 86.

Media Watch Dog – “disgraceful”, “sick”

– Professor Robert Manne, April Fool’s Day 2011.

“Go to the Sydney Institute Media Watch Dog website to marvel at [its] work”

– Mark Latham The Spectator Australia 11 June 2011.

“Henderson…What a pompous, pretentious turd you are.”

– Mike Carlton, Saturday 13 August 2011 (after lunch)

“We’d better be careful what we say, just in case Gerard’s offsider pooch Nancy is keeping an eye on us for his delightfully earnest Media Watch Dog”

– Tom Cowie of The Power Index, Crikey 20 January 2012

“What a haughty flapping half-arsed buffoon he [Henderson] is”

– Bob Ellis on his Table Talk blog, 8 May 2012 (before breakfast)

“Gerard [Henderson] is a complete f-ckwit”

– Malcolm Farr, via Twitter, 29 June 2012 (circa pre-dinner drinks)

Stop Press: Cate Blanchett On the (So-Called) Climate Debate Silence

● A Linda Mottram Moment: Reading Tweets About Gina Rinehart and Tony Abbott

● New Feature: Nancy’s Gong for Invincible Historical Ignorance: Ray Martin Scores on the 1930s and 1970s

MWD Essay : A Leftist World-View Identified in New York Times But Rejected by Jim Spigelman for the ABC

● Nancy’s Pick-of-the-Week: Paul Bongiorno All Excited about Malcolm Turnbull and Wayne Swan

● Can You Bear It?: Phillip Adams of The Weekend Australian, Adam Morton of The Age; Jane Cowan’s Goose-Bumps &

The-Guardian-on-the-Yarra’s Michael Leunig Condemns Every War

● Liberty Sanger tells News Breakfast What Should Be On The News (Again)

● Nancy’s Five Paws Award: Well Done John Nethercote (On Gough Whitlam) and Ross Fitzgerald & Stephen Holt (On Arthur Calwell)



Great scoop on ABC TV News last night.  In one of the ABC’s free plugs for commercial artistic ventures, ABC arts reporter Anne Maria Nicholson did a promotion of the Sydney Theatre Company’s co-artistic director Cate Blanchett’s decision to step down from the gig.  Blanchett’s husband, Andrew Upton, who will move from the position of co-artistic director to sole director, was also interviewed for the story.

Nancy watched traumatised as Anne Marie Nicholson alleged that Cate Blanchett was personally attacked for taking part in an advertisement advocating a price on carbon in May 2011 – and Ms Blanchett’s concurrence with this view.  Let’s go to the unscripted transcript – which, it so happens, demonstrates why even great actors need good scripts:

Anna Marie Nicholson:  While running Sydney Theatre, Cate Blanchett attracted world wide publicity for appearing in an advertisement that supported a price on carbon.  Although she was personally attacked for speaking out, she says she’d do it again.

Cate Blanchett:  It was an apolitical stance that was based on wanting to do something, um, about climate change.  Which, frankly, is still – even though it is profoundly and terrifyingly off the current, you know, agenda, um, the silence around it is terrifying – it’s, we felt it really, or I thought it was really important.

What a load of tosh.  The truth is that the Upton/Blanchett household has a somewhat large carbon footprint.

For starters, Cate Blanchett was not personally attacked for speaking on climate change.  Rather, some commentators (Nancy’s co-owner included) thought it was a bit rich for Cate Blanchett to be lecturing others about the need to reduce carbon emissions when she lived in a huge house in Sydney’s Hunters Hill and regularly commuted by jet between Sydney and Hollywood. That’s all. The critique was not a personal attack – but, rather, a comment about double standards.

As to Cate Blanchett’s seriously incoherent comment – as reported by ABC TV News last night – well it, too, is absolute tosh.  Climate change has been at the centre of the Australian political debate since at least 2007 – and it was a big issue in the 2007 and 2010 election campaigns and remains front and centre of the contemporary political debate in Australia.  Ms Blanchett’s claim that climate is “profoundly and terrifyingly off the current agenda” is hopelessly wrong.  Yet it got an uncritical run on the ABC TV last night.



As the Biblical saying goes: “Ye shall know them by their fruits.”  As Nancy’s paraphrase goes : “You shall know them by their tweets.”

Prime Minister Julia Gillard was interviewed on Mornings with Linda Mottram on ABC Radio 702 last Wednesday.  At the conclusion of the interview, Ms Mottram read out two tweets which had been chosen by her production team.  Let’s go to the audio tape:

Linda Mottram : Mora on the text says: “Sounds like Gina Rinehart would like to see South African working conditions in our mines, pay workers two dollars a day and the police can shoot them if they object. Stick to your guns Julia”. Says Mora.

And Paul says: “Gina Rinehart should shut up about African workers. Obviously she is trying to bring back WorkChoices or worse, it wouldn’t surprise me if she had cleared what was going to be said with Tony Abbott”.  Okay, that’s Paul’s view.

Okay. But Linda Mottram did not have to read out the anonymous tweets of Mora or Paul.  The imputation that Gina Rinehart advocates that police should shoot striking miners is clearly defamatory.  [Don’t worry. The taxpayer pays for defamation costs awarded against the public broadcaster. – Ed].  Moreover, it is pure mythology that Ms Rinehart gets her views cleared by Tony Abbott.

Verily, A Linda Mottram Moment.


And the winner of this inaugural gong is – insert Drum Roll here – freelance journalist Ray Martin.  This is what Mr Martin said when discussing the decision to allow Chinese interests to purchase Cubbie Station in south-east Queensland on  Richard Glover’s 702 Drive program yesterday. After supporting the decision of the Foreign Investment Review Board to allow the purchase, Ray Martin reflected on (alleged) historical matters.

Ray Martin : The sale of [sic] the Chinese is not going to affect the water rights. The water rights stay exactly the same whether the Chinese own it or the Australians own it….  In the ‘30s, in the Depression, the Brits who owned this country economically just held us to ransom – in terms of Australia. We suffered more than the Brits did in the Depression because they closed down the shop. Similarly, I remember talking to a boss of General Motors in the ‘70s when Whitlam took over and he [Whitlam] upset the multinationals.  And they said: “Well that’s alright, we’ll just close Australia down until another government comes along.” They’ve been doing this to us for 100 years, why are the Chinese different?

What Invincible Historical Ignorance.  The British did not close “down the shop” in Australia during the Great Depression.   In fact, Australia’s rate of recovery during the 1930s was only slightly behind that of Britain and well in advance of that of the United States.  Also, it’s complete mythology to assert that American financial interests closed down Australia during the Whitlam Government in the early 1970s.  There was no foreign investment strike. It’s just did not happen.




For the record, Gerard Henderson has always supported the existence of a taxpayer funded public broadcaster and has never advocated that the ABC be funded by commercial advertising.  His constant position is that the ABC should be more pluralist, that it should desist from advertising its own commercial products and that it should not have moved into the publication of on-line news and opinion where it now competes with the commercial print media – for example, Fairfax Media and News Limited.  Gerard Henderson also believes that James Spigelman should have been appointed Chief Justice of the High Court to succeed Murray Gleeson. As it turned out, Kevin Rudd chose another.

That having been said, new ABC chairman James Spigelman put in a somewhat light performance in his first interview as ABC chairman on Wednesday – following his speech that day to the RIPE@2012 conference.

James Spigelman Runs Traditional ABC Line on ABC Lateline Program

In his first public comments as ABC chairman, Mr Spigelman proclaimed to Lateline’s Tony Jones the everything-is-fine-at-the-public-broadcaster-provided-Canberra-kicks-in-enough-money-to-properly-fund-the-ABC mantra.  It was much the same mantra that Donald McDonald ran when he was ABC chairman between 1996 and 2006.  In particular:

▪ Jim Spigelman distanced himself from the criticism, voiced by incumbent Labor and Coalition governments alike, that the ABC lacks political balance.  According to his view, this is a “healthy reaction”.  What Mr Spigelman overlooks is the fact that both Labor and the Coalition object to the way they are invariably criticised on the ABC from the left.    This is not evidence of a healthy situation of political diversity – but, rather, of a lack of diversity.  Neither Labor nor the Coalition has complained of being attacked by the ABC from the right.  The political party which most strongly supports the ABC is the leftist Greens.  Greens supporters know that many ABC staff who live in the capital cities support the inner-city leftist policies associated with the Greens.

▪ Jim Spigelman also defended the fact that the ABC advertises a whole range of products – books, CDs, DVDs, events and the like.  He maintained that this was okay since the “ABC does not…intersperse advertisements during programs”.  Mr Spigelman commented that these promotions only occur during “breaks”.  So that’s okay then, apparently.  At least this is an improvement on ABC managing director Mark Scott’s claim that what is evident ABC advertising is not advertising at all.

▪ Jim Spigelman distanced himself from the view of his immediate predecessor Maurice Newman (ABC chairman between 2007 and 2011) that there is a “group think” within the public broadcaster. Mr Spigelman said that it was “right” that the ABC exhibits a “group think” on such issues as “genocide, slavery, torture” This is a soft point – since only the evil or the mad support genocide and the like. Mr Spigelman implied that once  there may have been – but no longer is – an ABC “group think” position on climate change. In any event, he was untroubled by this.  James Spigelman did not acknowledge the prevalence of a fashionable leftist political orthodoxy within the ABC.  The ABC chairman’s position was that the ABC is essentially okay because it has considerable backing in rural and regional areas where the National Party has significant support.

There is nothing surprising about James Spigelman’s positions. After all, the chairs of taxpayer funded organisations invariably defend them from criticism.  That’s what they do.  Moreover, individuals within organisations invariably fail to see what outsiders see – a point made by Arthur S. Brisbane, who has recently completed a two year term as The New York Times’ public editor (formerly termed ombudsman).

Arthur S. Brisbane Concedes New York Times’ Left-Liberal Agenda

In an article in The New York Times Sunday Review on 25 August 2012 (see here), Arthur S. Brisbane acknowledged that there is a left liberal “political-cultural worldview” which “virtually bleeds through the fabric of The [New York] Times”. He also wrote that the newspaper’s “culture of like minds” was more easily identified from outside The New York Times than from within the newspaper.  This is the gist of Arthur S. Brisbane’s observations following his two years as The New York Times’ public editor:

I noted two years ago that I had taken up the public editor duties believing “there is no conspiracy” and that The Times’s output was too vast and complex to be dictated by any Wizard of Oz-like individual or cabal. I still believe that, but also see that the hive on Eighth Avenue is powerfully shaped by a culture of like minds — a phenomenon, I believe, that is more easily recognized from without than from within.

When The Times covers a national presidential campaign, I have found that the lead editors and reporters are disciplined about enforcing fairness and balance, and usually succeed in doing so. Across the paper’s many departments, though, so many share a kind of political and cultural progressivism — for lack of a better term — that this worldview virtually bleeds through the fabric of The Times.  As a result, developments like the Occupy movement and gay marriage seem almost to erupt in The Times, overloved and undermanaged, more like causes than news subjects.

Stepping back, I can see that as the digital transformation proceeds, as The Times disaggregates and as an empowered staff finds new ways to express itself, a kind of Times Nation has formed around the paper’s political-cultural worldview, an audience unbound by geography (as distinct from the old days of print) and one that self-selects in digital space.

It’s a huge success story — it is hard to argue with the enormous size of Times Nation — but one that carries risk as well. A just-released Pew Research Center survey found that The Times’s “believability rating” had dropped drastically among Republicans compared with Democrats, and was an almost-perfect mirror opposite of Fox News’s rating. Can that be good?

How To Indentify The ABC’s Left-Liberal Agenda

In other words, Brisbane’s observation is that The New York Times upsets Republicans in much the same way as Fox News upsets Democrats. He sees this as diminishing the newspaper’s support among readers and advertisers.

Arthur S. Brisbane’s analysis of The New York Times’ left-liberal “political and cultural progressivism” helps explain why a similar phenomenon within the ABC has led to a situation in which:

▪ The ABC does not employ even one conservative as a presenter or producer or editor on any of its significant television or radio or on-line products. Yet the ABC is replete with left-of-centre and leftist types in key positions.  Including Phillip Adams, Waleed Aly, Jon Faine, Jonathan Green, Jonathan Holmes, Tony Jones, Fran Kelly, Peter McEvoy (executive producer Q&A), Julian Morrow, Linda Mottram, Tim Palmer, Margaret Promeranz, Chip Rowley, Robyn Williams and many more.  But not one conservative.

▪ The ABC frequently runs segments on television and radio where everyone agrees with everyone else in a fashionably leftist way.  See MWD passim.  The public broadcaster’s culture-of-like-minds is such that ABC presenters/producers/editors seem unaware that there is a contrary, considered view to the prevailing leftist worldview.  As with The New York Times, gay marriage provides a case study.  The overwhelming orthodoxy within the public broadcaster is to support what is called marriage equality.  No other view is considered worthy of coverage on many programs.  Here the ABC’s political and cultural worldview reflects the concerns of the inner-city tertiary-educated left and is divorced from that of the social conservatives in the suburbs and regional centres.

▪  A greater diversity of views can be heard on many of Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News programs than on the ABC.  Fox News tries hard to preside over debates – where the views of left-liberals clash with those of conservatives.  For example, the Fox News News Watch program facilitates debate. The ABC’s Media Watch program, on the other hand, has always had a left-of-centre presenter – Stuart Littlemore, Richard Ackland, Paul Barry, Liz Jackson, David Marr, Monica Attard and Jonathan Holmes. In over two decades, the ABC has not been able to find one conservative to present the program. Not one.

▪ As Shelley Gare has commented, some ABC programs spike conservative opinions by the simple tactic of not asking considered and articulate conservatives on to programs.  Some ABC presenters and producers and editors run an effective “black book” on prominent Australians who are not to be invited – or rarely invited – to air their views.  It’s a form of censorship by avoidance.


Certainly some influential programs give significant gigs to conservatives on occasions – Insiders, Q&A and Lateline come to mind. But this is unusual.  The current coverage of the US election on the influential Radio National network provides a convenient case study.  On RN Breakfast Fran Kelly, or her stand-in presenter, talks to the mainstream Democrat supporter E.J. Dionne. On RN Late Night Live, Phillip Adams talks to the leftist Bruce Shapiro.  RN cannot find one American conservative to be a regular commentator on US politics. Not one. Indeed neither RN Breakfast nor Late Night Live has one regular conservative commentator.  Not one.

John Howard’s Coalition failed to reform the ABC to ensure that it was a genuinely pluralist organisation.  The Labor governments of Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard do not seem interested in the task – unlike their predecessors Bob Hawke and Paul Keating.  James Spigelman was a fine administrator and a reforming jurist in his earlier careers.  Judged by his inaugural public comments as ABC chairman, he has no reformist agenda at the public broadcaster which receives around $1 billion of taxpayer (left-of-centre and right-of-centre alike) funds each year.


Whatever the influence of Gina Rinehart on Channel 10, she has certainly not silenced the television channel’s in-house leftist and political editor Paul Bongiorno.  Here’s a recent run down of your man Bonge’s behaviour in recent times.

▪ Paul Bongiorno appears on the Radio National Breakfast program on 20 August 2012 and identifies himself with “liberals in the true sense of the word”.  This is the traditional usage of the word liberal. It means left-of-centre.  PB goes on to declare that left-liberals like him “will always err on the side of optimism rather than pessimism”.  How about that?

▪ Paul Bongiorno appears on “Mornings with Linda Mottram” on 23 August 2012 and declares that “any uncertainty over taxation in Australia is largely the result of the fact that our Opposition is promising to repeal the carbon tax and the mining tax”. So it’s all Tony Abbott’s fault, you see.

▪  Paul Bongiorno is the only journalist interviewed on the Australian Story on 27 August 2012 titled “Kicking the Habit” on Attorney-General Nicola Roxon.  He sounds like the Minister’s spinner.

▪ Paul Bongiorno appears on “Mornings with Linda Mottram” on 6 September 2012.  He declares that Malcolm Turnbull (who on some issues is closer to the Labor/Greens alliance than to the Coalition) is “extremely inspiring” and “looks like a statesman”. Bonge then levels buckets of praise on Wayne Swan, supports Julia Gillard and criticises Tony Abbott’s climate change policies.  Bonge concludes by acknowledging: “You wound me up today, Linda.”  The truth is that Bonge winds himself up – which is why he goes on for so long.

[No sign of Ms Rinehart’s censorship there. By the way you must chase up Bonge’s prophecy – as told to Channel 10 viewers – that Tony Abbott was to be interviewed by the Australian Federal Police for upsetting Labor’s Craig Thomson and report back on Bonge’s soothsaying. See MWD Issue 139 – Ed]


▪ Phillip Adams on Death (Again)

Gee, the Man In Black must have nothing to write about these days.  Except for death, that is.  Last weekend in The Weekend Australian Magazine, Phillip Adams wrote his 427th column on Death.  Really. Except on this occasion he declared: “I’d been dead before I was born!”  The exclamation mark sure helped!!!!!!  Can you bear it?

Adam Morton’s Country Confusion

Did anyone catch The Age’s Adam Morton on Channel 10’s Meet The Press last Sunday.  The-Guardian-on-the-Yarra decided to go into lecture mode with the following question to Opposition climate change spokesman Greg Hunt:

Adam Morton: But, Mr Hunt, do you accept that countries are increasingly moving towards emissions trading as the model? China is trialling seven schemes; California, a much bigger economy than Australia’s, is introducing a scheme next year; South Korea is introducing a scheme; New Zealand, much smaller, has a scheme; and obviously Australia and Europe. Now, the Government says this covers 850 million people. There’s clearly a trend in that direction, isn’t there? At what point does the Coalition say “Okay, this is going to be the future model, even if it is happening in fits and starts”?

The answer to this leading question is as follows. California is not a country – it is a state of the United States of America and it is effectively broke.  Trials in seven provinces of China do not a scheme – still less a country – make.  New Zealand’s emissions trading scheme will make almost no impact on its carbon emissions. The nations of Western Europe are not doing too well – and none has an economy like Australia.  And yet Adam Morton reckons the Coalition should follow this lot.  Can you bear it?

▪ Jane Cowan’s Goose-Bumps in America

How about Jane Cowan, the ABC North American correspondent, who was overcome at the sight of sassy, articulate Michelle Obama this week. [How many ABC staffers are currently in North America? – Ed].  Here’s what Ms Cowan told The World Today on Wednesday.

When Michelle Obama walked in, the crowd roared and it was hard not to get goose bumps no matter what your politics are.

Can you bear it?

Read All About It: Michael Leunig’s Anti-War Poem Up To and Including the Second World War

Meanwhile did anyone see the cartoon/poem by “The-Guardian-on-the-Yarra’s in-house leftist Michael Leunig on Wednesday?  It was his usual surrender plea which concluded:

If we don’t have blood on our hands

We cannot be at war;

The sad and brutal truth demands

We have to share the gore

So, according to Leunig, all those who went to war with Nazi Germany between 1939 and 1945 have blood on their hands.  Can you bear it?

[No. Ed.  But you may be interested in this poem which was found in Nancy’s kennel this morning.]

Since we buy The Age each Dawn

We have to condemn all war

But now a brutal truth has dawned

I’m over that Leunig bore.

[All Nancy’s own work.  Age: 6. Time taken: 3 minutes. Copyright C/- Nancy’s Kennel]


What another stunning performance by the sassy Liberty Sanger – MWD’s favourite labour lawyer – on ABC News Breakfast last Wednesday.

Interviewed by Karina Carvalho and Paul Kennedy for the “Newspapers” segment, the Maurice Blackburn Lawyers partner was quick to tell viewers what, in fact, was not in the news. Not at all. Rather, Ms Sanger pulled her usual stunt by declaring what should be the news.  Let’s go to the DVD:

Karina Carvalho : We’re going to start with that Victorian teachers’ strike and the front page of The Age.

Liberty Sanger : Yes, the story on the front page of The Age is about an advertisement that the Baillieu [government] – well, in fact, the Department of Education – took out in The Age on the weekend encouraging parents to still send their children to school today. Asserting that there was a duty of care owed by the schools and they should be sending them to school.

Of course, this is quite disruptive if there’s not going to be any teachers there and many principals are joining today’s strike. So, there’s quite a lot of anger at the part of the AEU [Australian Education Union] towards the fact that this advertisement – and the encouragement from the [Education] Department and [Baillieu] government – appears to have been given. Obviously, in the background – or perhaps at the forefront – is the actual strike today. So, they’re expecting more than 35,000 teachers, principals and support staff to be going on strike today. Awful number of teachers to be going on strike and I think at the heart of this issue is that really that performance pay issue versus the pledge about making Victorian teachers the best paid in the country.

And so it went on.  The industrial relations lawyer from the left-wing Maurice Blackburn Lawyers soon bagged the Coalition government in Victoria led by Ted Baillieu. Let’s go back to the transcript where Paul Kennedy agrees with Liberty Sanger who agrees with Karina Carvalho who agrees with Liberty Sanger who agrees with Paul Kennedy. [Shouldn’t this be in your most popular Maurice Newman Segment? Where’s that today? – Ed].

Paul Kennedy : So, what’s different about that open letter? Were they trying to put the acid on parents and make the parents feel guilty for not sending their kids to school?

Liberty Sanger : Oh who? – I don’t know. But it doesn’t seem like a very practical way of addressing today’s situation. In fact, a more practical way  would have been: “You’ll need to make alternative arrangements for today”.  Because so many teachers had flagged that they were intending to go on strike and not be there.

Paul Kennedy: Yeah.

Karina Carvalho : And most parents would know that, right? So, it’s almost a confusing message that ad on Saturday.

Liberty Sanger : I think so, because parents wouldn’t be quite sure what they are supposed to do today, and obviously they need to make arrangements. Most parents work, most parents need to arrange drop-off and pick-up.  So that wasn’t a very helpful addition, I think, to today’s strike.

Come to think of it, the “Newspapers” segment on Wednesday was a bit like a class presided over by an opinionated teacher.  Liberty Sanger declared that the  Victorian Education Department’s advertisement “wasn’t very helpful”. Karina Carvalho said that the same advertisement sent a “confusing message”. And Paul Kennedy suggested that the naughty Education Department was trying to make parents feel guilty.

Later on, Liberty Sanger declared that teachers should be paid more, financed by higher taxation.

Liberty Sanger : So, what do we have to do to make our students in the top five around the world? Is one of the things we have to do to pay our teachers more? I suspect that would be a very good start. And certainly, for my part – for what’s it worth – I’m more than happy to pay more tax to do that. [Laughs].

Paul Kennedy : Yeah, well it’s pretty important isn’t it?

Liberty Sanger: Absolutely.

Yeah. Absolutely. All pretty simple, really.  As simple as Ms Sanger agreeing with herself.  To get better educated students all you need to do is pay teachers more.  And the well remunerated legal partner Liberty Sanger is happy to pay more tax.  No one discussed the ability of workers on moderate wages with dependent children to pay higher taxes.  But, what would they know?


▪ J.R. Nethercote’s Review Of Jenny Hocking’s Gough Whitlam: A Life (MUP, 2012) In The Canberra Times

The September 2012 edition of “The Public Sector Informant”, which is published in the Canberra Times early each month, contains J.R. Nethercote’s review of the second volume of Jenny Hocking’s Gough Whitlam biography.  John Nethercote was on the staff of the Public Service Board from 1970 to 1987 and worked for the Royal Commission on Australian Government Administration from 1974 to 1976.  As such, he was uniquely placed to view the administration of the Whitlam Government between its election in December 1972 and its dismissal on 11 November 1975 (which happened to be Remembrance Day).

Nethercote makes the point that Gough Whitlam came to office without much thought about how to finance or implement his big-spending programs. Nethercote suggests that, almost four decades after Labor’s 1972 victory, members of the Whitlam Fan Club – like Professor Hocking – are still not much interested in administration in general or the Commonwealth Public Service in particular. In his article titled “Whitlam and his public service demons”, Professor Nethercote writes:

Professor Jenny Hocking’s latest biographical volume, Gough Whitlam: His Time, about the Labor prime minister from 1972 to 1975, is not much interested in the public service; its main interest is the events of Remembrance Day 1975 and the trail leading to it. The prime minister’s notable Garran oration in 1973 goes unnoticed and unlisted in the bibliography. There is the obligatory eulogy to H. C. Coombs but … there is no mention of the Royal Commission on Australian Government Administration, which he chaired, nor the report, with four research volumes, that it produced.

The flavour of the work’s approach to the public service is disclosed without much delay. Early in the book, the reader is informed: ”For the new government with its own priorities and its own bureaucratic requirements, the difficulty lay with neither the establishment of new departments nor the closure of existing ones … but with the existing departmental secretaries.”

Nethercote comments that, in time, the Whitlam government confronted such Commonwealth Public Service departmental secretaries as Sir Keith Waller, Sir John Bunting and Sir Frederick Wheeler and favoured the likes of Alan Renouf, Sir Lennox Hewitt, Peter Wilkinski and James Spigelman.  Nethercote writes that Jenny Hocking has failed to acknowledge that, far from being a Liberal Party barracker, Wheeler was once very close to Labor prime minister Ben Chifley.  And Nethercote demolishes Hocking’s claim that Hewitt was discriminated against during the time of the McMahon Coalition government.  Nethercote concluded his critique of Jenny Hocking’s taxpayer subsidised hagiography as follows:

Apart from the central figures in the dismissal, [Frederick] Wheeler is the largest figure in the book’s various lilliputian fantasies thwarting the Labor government. There is an inadequate account of events leading to Jim Cairns’s removal as treasurer, not marked by any notable comprehension of relevant administrative practices applicable in such cases.

The great confrontation between Whitlam and Wheeler over the [Rex] Connor loans proposals goes unrecorded.  In a clash of Wagnerian proportions, Wheeler, when told by the prime minister that he was on the skids, responded: ”Prime minister, I simply seek to inform you of facts your ignorance of which will bring you down.” Not the sort of thing you can put in a family biography of this kind…

This is a very conventional biography generously financed by the Australian Research Council. Readers of the recent fourth volume of Robert Caro’s The Years of Lyndon Johnson will notice many opportunities presented by Whitlam’s time as prime minister, which a truly innovative and insightful biographer would have exploited with considerable dramatic and illuminating effect….

But for the revelations about Sir Anthony Mason’s part in the deeds of Remembrance Day, this biography would have been accounted a very ordinary book indeed. And even they, as his subsequent rebuttal suggests, are incomplete.

John Nethercote: Five Paws

Ross Fitzgerald + Stephen Holt Reveal Arthur Calwell’s Lenin Gong In The Weekend Australian

Nancy’s co-owner has read – and has a copy of (see below) – the 1970 pamphlet Lenin –  Through Australian Eyes which was published by the Soviet Union’s Novosti Press Agency to commemorate the centenary of Vladimir Lenin (1870-1921). This Stalinist tract contains praise of Lenin by such Communist Party hacks as Katharine Susannah Prichard, Pat Clancy, Ralph Gibson and W.J. Brown – along with one-time ALP leader Arthur Calwell whose chapter in the collection is titled “A Great Russian Patriot”.

W.J. “Bill” Brown is today best remembered as the old man of Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon (nee Brown). Bill Brown wrote a truly fetching poem in the pamphlet to the founder of the Soviet Union along with the totalitarian communist political system based on terror and the secret police.  This is Bill Brown’s take of Lenin in 1970, at the time when Lenin’s heir Leonid Brezhnev ruled in Moscow:

Stand where Lenin stood

by Bill Brown

To stand where Lenin stood –

In endless pilgrimage,

From every land we come





In wordless reverence,

To stand upon the ground

where Lenin stood.


The Smolny!

Where Lenin’s pointing finger

Stabbed a path

Through Revolution’s smoke and whirl


The Kremlin!

Where Lenin stood in common triumph

with all

Who ever raised a hand to see

The flag of workers’ power

finally unfurl.

Nancy still has a tear in her eye from when she first read this dreadful poetic sludge. Or is it sand causing Nancy to tear up?

In any event, Ross Fitzgerald and Stephen Holt deserve a reward for drawing attention to the fact that Arthur Calwell (Labor leader from 1960 till 1966) praised the communist state (founded by Lenin) in 1970 – i.e. not long after the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Soviet Union – in the Soviet financed Novosti Press pamphlet.    In their article in The Weekend Australian on 1-2 September 2012, Fitzgerald and Holt also revealed that Arthur Calwell (when an ALP backbencher) received a Soviet medallion commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution during a visit to Moscow in 1967.

Ross Fitzgerald and Stephen Holt: Five Paws each.

[I wonder if Mark Latham – who, like Arthur Calwell, is also a failed Labor leader – was influenced by Calwell’s account of Vladimir Lenin when he claimed earlier this year that Lenin was a touchy-feely hand-holder who knew how to relax and who spent his summer hols constructing sandcastles near the Caspian Sea.  See MWD 2012 passim. Just a thought – Ed].

* * * *

Until next time.