10 November 2017

The inaugural issue of “Gerard Henderson’s Media Watch” was published in April 1988 – over a year before the first edition of the ABC TV Media Watch program went to air. Between November 1997 and October 2015 “Gerard Henderson’s Media Watch” was published as part of The Sydney Institute Quarterly. In March 2009 Gerard Henderson’s Media Watch Dog blog commenced publication.


  • Stop Press: Ex-ABC Boss Mark Scott Gets Soft Interview on Lateline
  • New Feature: Fairfax Media – Independent. Sometimes. – As Malcolm Turnbull Photographs Indicate
  • Hear about The Dismissal on Saturday and James McAuley on Sunday (in Melbourne)
  • Can You Bear It? Tony Wright Forgets His Age; Lisa Millar Forgets Her Viewers
  • Media Fools of the Week: Julian Burnside on the 1917 Charge at Beersheba & Helen Razer on the 1917 Russian Revolution
  • MWD Exclusive: A First Reading of Tony Jones’ over-written New Novel – Or is it Non-Fiction?
  • An ABC Update: Paul Barry’s Media Watch (ABC) Lacks the Courage of Howard Kurtz’s Mediabuzz (Fox News)
  • History Corner: In which Michael Rowland Hangs out A Whopper on the Brisbane Line
  • Correspondence: Stephen Heydt Helps Out re the Insiders’ panel, Beersheba & Israel




Lateline  is in extremis – and will not return next year.  It would be best to kill it off today – its slow death is not a pretty sight.

Take last night, for example.  At the time of President Donald J. Trump’s visit to Asia, the political crisis afflicting Britain and Spain along with the citizenship debacle at home, Lateline presenter Emma Alberici interviewed, wait for it, Mark Scott.  Yes, Nice Mr Scott, former ABC managing director and (so-called) editor-in-chief. There was also a story on the soprano singer Danielle de Niese and another on what children can learn from robots.  This is not hard-hitting news and current affairs.

In fact, as Chris Mitchell has written in The Australian, it was during Mark Scott’s time as ABC managing director that Lateline was moved to an earlier time slot and placed on the public broadcaster’s second channel – with a repeat at 10.30 pm on the main network.  Lateline’s resources were also reduced.

Mark Scott is currently Secretary of the NSW Department of Education. In other words, he is a senior government bureaucrat in NSW. That’s all. Yet, last night Nice Mr Scott was given a soft interview by Ms Alberici about not very much at all.  It was very much an “ask-me-a-simple-question-and-I’ll-answer-with-a-platitude” interview.  For example, last night Mark told Emma: “There’s more to life than money”. Well, thanks for that.

Then, at the end of the interview, ABC presenter Emma Alberici asked her former ABC boss whether he thought the ABC is “fair and balanced”. Nice Mr Scott – he still refers to the ABC by the term “we” – replied that the ABC is “fair and balanced”.  Really.  Quelle surprise!

It’s most unlikely that Mark Scott would have been asked to do a long-form interview on Lateline  on education and the ABC if he did not have besties within the taxpayer funded public broadcaster.

If this is the best current affairs television Lateline can provide, it would be appropriate to put the once influential program out of its misery immediately.


Fairfax Media likes to boast that it is “Independent. Always.” – but it doesn’t say from whom or from what.

Here’s how Fairfax Media’s The Age (left) and the Canberra Times (right) chose to depict Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull last Tuesday.

Fairfax Media – “Independent. Always”? Turn it up.


Jackie’s co-owners have had to decline a kind invitation to hear the taxpayer funded academic Jenny Hocking talk about the 1975 Dismissal of Gough Whitlam’s Labor government at the taxpayer funded Whitlam Institute at the taxpayer funded Western Sydney University tomorrow.

Dr Hocking (for a doctor she is) will be updating her conspiracy theory that Her Maj and The Palace played a part in Governor-General Sir John Kerr’s decision to dismiss the prime minister and require a double dissolution election.

Well, at least the leftist Dr Hocking is not embracing the traditional leftist line that it was the CIA what done it.  By the way, the remembrance of the Dismissal will take place at 11 am on 11 November. Sound familiar?

However, Jackie’s co-owners will be at a presentation at the commemoration of poet and literary critic James McAuley (1917-1976) on the occasion of the centenary of his birth.  There will be poetry, hymns, music and recollections of Professor McAuley (the founder of Quadrant) who had the courage to be an anti-communist when such a stance was profoundly unfashionable in intellectual circles.

The McAuley Commemoration will be held at 2 pm at St Peter’s Catholic Church in the Melbourne suburb of Toorak on Sunday. Tickets, at $25 each, can still be purchased here.

MWD understands that the James McAuley Commemoration will conclude with a Gin & Tonic or two. By the way, Jim McAuley was a mate of John Kerr – but don’t tell Jenny Hocking lest she finds out that the Queen once read McAuley’s poems, or sang his hymns or shared an interest in Gin & Tonic or whatever.




Meet Tony Wright, Fairfax Media parliamentary “Sketch” writer. It seems that your man Wright is intent on pushing out The [Boring] Saturday Paper’s Mike Seccombe as the leading sneerer in the Canberra Parliamentary Press Gallery.

Believe it or not, last Saturday The Age ran Tony Wright’s “Sneer” comment on its first page – under the heading “Spare a Thought for Kevin. He still can’t get Malcolm off the lawn”.  In the Sydney Morning Herald, the heading was “What a drag to be Father Kevin Andrews”.

Needless to say, Tony Wright’s piece was long on ridicule and short on analysis.  This is how it commenced:

Kevin Andrews, you may not know, rejoices in the parliamentary title of Father of the House, which means he is currently the longest continuously serving member of the House of Representatives. He is, lamentably, a mere backbencher these days. Having been a Cabinet minister in both the Howard and Abbott administrations, his brilliance was unaccountably overlooked when Malcolm Turnbull came to the leadership.

You can imagine how he feels. Fathers want to be honoured as they grow old. They tend to get cranky when they are left sitting in the shade, a car rug over their knees, reduced to shaking their walking sticks and hollering “get off my lawn!”

Kevin has known this feeling for too long, particularly when that fancy fellow Malcolm Turnbull hogs the light. Why, way back in 2009 Kevin was so annoyed that Turnbull was Liberal leader, he actually declared himself ready to take over and moved to spill Malcolm’s leadership. Regrettably, a majority of his fellow party members, some of whom were thought to be rolling around the party room in hysterics, couldn’t bring themselves to agree with him.

Still, his work bore fruit. A few days later, the party accidentally voted Tony Abbott into the leadership by a single vote after Joe Hockey entered the fray, confusing Liberal MPs who’d never worked out how to handle a threesome.

How funny can a sketch get? A joke about (political) threesomes.  Pardon Hendo while he slaps his thigh at the Wit of Wright.  Attempted humour aside, Mr Wright missed the point that in his challenge to Malcolm Turnbull in late 2009, Kevin Andrews won the support of about a third of the Liberal Party room.  It was this move which set up Malcolm Turnbull’s defeat by Tony Abbott for the Liberal Party leadership on 1 December 2009.

Needless to say, Tony Wright’s ridicule continued until the conclusion:

Poor Father Kevin. No matter how hard he shakes his stick, Malcolm’s still on his lawn. What a drag it must be, getting old.

Yeah, what a drag getting old must be.  After all, Tony Wright (born 1951) is four years older than Kevin Andrews (born 1955). Can You Bear It?

[Er, no. Not really.  I have an image of Tony Wright sitting in the shade with a pile of unread copies of The Age over his knees waving his stick at the sky while planning his next sketch for Fairfax Media.  If Mr Wright reckons that men in their sixties should retire – then the (exit) door is open for him to set the example.  MWD Editor.]



MWD is invariably surprised about just how many taxpayer-funded ABC reporters bob up in London and Washington or New York to report events in Europe and North America respectively – often from afar.  Something is happening in Spain?  Check out what the ABC’s man in London has to say about this.  A disaster in Houston?  Get an update from the ABC woman in Washington DC.

MWD hears you cry – why not do a live cross from the ABC to a local journalist on the ground who speaks the local language and who has passable English?  Well, it would remove one of the taxpayer funded broadcaster’s most attractive perks – the position of a foreign correspondent.

It turned out yesterday that the ABC’s intrepid foreign correspondent Lisa Millar happened to be in London when real news broke about British politics.  So here was a chance of a real insight.  An on-the-spot ABC journalist about to speak about on-the-spot local politics.

After all, the decision by Prime Minister Theresa May to sack Priti Patel (the UK Secretary of State for International Development) for conducting a series of private meetings with Israeli ministers was a big story. Except that the ABC correspondent in London did not seem to think the reasons for sacking Priti Patel were important. Let’s go to the transcript of what London-based Lisa Millar said about this on the ABC TV News Breakfast program yesterday to Virginia Trioli and Michael Rowland.

Lisa Millar: She [Priti Patel] quit before she was going to be sacked, because there was no way that Priti Patel was going to survive this. All day there’d been this almost ridiculous level of tension building, Michael –  as she flew back from Africa with helicopters following her car once her plane landed, with live cameras on the jet, it was a bit like those LA freeway chases. She finally arrived at Downing Street, had a 30-minute meeting with the Prime Minister and then left, both of them delivering statements.

Look, the details of it, I don’t think viewers really need to know. But what the headline news is – this is really messy for Theresa May. I mean, she’s only been re-elected – oh that terrible damaging election five months ago. Five months! And it’s just been non-stop scandal, crises. So a week ago she lost her defence secretary because of the Westminster sleaze scandal. Now she’s lost Priti Patel. Boris Johnson’s in a load of trouble.  Hello! they’re supposed to be dealing with Brexit [laughs]. Like, that’s the big issue. They don’t have time for that because they’re dealing with all the crises in the government.

Hello! – as Lisa Millar is wont to say.  Here’s one of the ABC’s London-based foreign correspondents telling Australian viewers that they do not “really need to know” why Ms Patel was sacked.  Not at all.  All they needed was a celebrity gossip report about paparazzi chasing footage, LA-style freeway chases and the like. Hello!  Can You Bear It?

Media Fool of The Week



Julian (“I just love flashing my post-nominals”) Burnside  AO QC sent out the following text last Sunday – after lunch:


Julian Burnside (@JulianBurnside)
6/11/17, 3:23 pm

On #Insiders Gerard Henderson said Palestine didn’t exist in 1917.
He’s wrong.
The Balfour Declaration of 2 Nov 1917 refers to Palestine


This matter is covered in MWD’s (hugely popular) Correspondence segment today.  On Insiders last Sunday morning, Hendo said that neither Palestine nor Israel existed on 31 October 1917 at the time of the Australia Light Horse attack on the Ottoman Turks in Beersheba.  This is correct.

On 31 October 1917. Beersheba was part of the Ottoman Empire.  After the defeat of the Ottoman Turks by the British and Dominion forces, Beersheba became part of the British Mandate.  In 1948, Beersheba became part of Israel after the creation of that nation by the United Nations.

Certainly the Balfour Declaration of 2 November 2017 referred to “the establishment in Palestine of a National Home for the Jewish people”. But there was no suggestion that a state or an entity named Palestine existed at the time.  Julian Burnside should know this.

If JB AO QC reckons that an entity named Palestine existed in 1917, perhaps he might try and define the area of the Middle East which it occupied.

Julian Burnside: Media Fool of the Week.


As avid readers will know, Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks (Leon Trotsky, Josef Stalin and all that lot) came to power in Russia on Wednesday 7 November 1917 – European time. On 8 November 2017, Fran (“I’m an activist”) Kelly introduced Helen Razer who was provided with the opportunity to do a rant about Karl Marx, the Russian Revolution and all that on the ABC Radio National Breakfast program.

Ms Razer’s performance was so bad that it was really, really good.  So MWD has reproduced the words of the segment.  But not, alas, the dramatic music which formed a wall of sound behind the rant.  Let’s go to the transcript:

Fran Kelly: Today marks one hundred years since the Russian Revolution. Writer and broadcaster Helen Razer believes millennials could learn a thing or two from Karl Marx and his Communist Manifesto.

Helen Razer: My name is Helen Razer. I am a white, tertiary educated perimenopausal queer lady. I’m a writer who works on zero-hour contracts for a number of great independent publications. And I’m telling you, if we don’t remediate capitalism right now, capitalism with remediate us.

[Dramatic Music Starts]

Russia in the early 20th century was a place where the peasantry was starving, there was a small number of liberals who felt that something was wrong, but essentially were still living in a time of feudalism, were still living in a time of famine, people did not have the crude material stuff of life. Now it need not have been a so-called communist revolution. An extraordinary man like Lenin, and then his extraordinary deputy Trotsky, may not have been the people who rose to the fore.

But history produces certain results. And Marx provided not only an account of capitalism and feudalism and previous versions of what we call the mode of production, that is basically the way we ensure our own survival as a mass, but it was because of his view of history that he saw possibilities for movement. And the result that he wanted was something called communism. That was the abolition of all capitalism and the abolition of private property – which all Marxists believe is the root of most forms of inequality. Not all forms of inequality – you know, you can have no property and still have sexism. You can have no property and maybe still have racism. But what we see now, as wealth accumulation and Marx always said that wealth accumulation by a few was the inevitable result of an ongoing capitalist system.

We see these forms of wealth inequality returning to us in the Western present. We think, through globalisation, that we’ve got rid of our working class. Now instead we have a proletariat. Most of them are of millennial age. Most millennials cannot afford to buy a house. Are not good loan prospects so they can acquire their own private property. And what we see happening, or at least what I see happening, is a real need to return to the internal contradictions of capitalism that cannot be maintained. And I see millennials as a revolutionary class.

So, go back to Marx, the philosopher, the literary critic, the economist. And see what he has to teach you. And even if the only thing that he teaches you is that if you, as a mass, if you forget your differences, put them aside and stand shoulder to with your comrades and work in a robust sense of disagreement, but also peaceably in this kind of totalised answer to capitalism. It need not end in revolution. But hey, entre nous, I wouldn’t mind seizing revolution.

Where to start?  And where to end?  The fact is that the Russian Revolution of November 1917 had little to do with the  German philosopher Karl Marx who died in London in 1883.

To Marx, revolution would occur in capitalist societies with a large proletariat – or working class.  Marx did not believe that revolutions would take place in essentially agrarian societies like Russia in 1917 – which had a large peasantry but a small proletariat.

In November 1917, Lenin and the Bolsheviks seized power in a coup – not against the Czar but against the social democrat government headed by Alexander Kerensky.

Helen Razer regards Lenin and Trotsky as “extraordinary” men.  In fact Lenin was a brutal dictator who set up the totalitarian state.  Trotsky put down the sailors’ revolt at Kronstadt in 1921 with extreme brutality.  And then there was the mass murderer Josef Stalin who followed Lenin and exiled and then murdered Trotsky.

Marx’s predictions were wrong. The masses did not rise up and overturn capitalism.  Communist regimes were established by the seizure of power by revolutionary intellectuals like Lenin and Trotsky and Stalin – not by members of the lumpen proletariat.

As to millennials storming the barricades – well, it might happen. But it’s unlikely. Karl Marx’s motto was “Workers of the world unite/You’ve nothing to lose but your chains.” Helen Razer’s (RN Breakfast-endorsed) motto seems to be “Millennials of the world unite/You’ve nothing to lose but your social safety net.”

Helen Razer: Media Fool of the Week.



ABC TV Q&A presenter Tony Jones has just published his first book.  It’s a novel – or is it? – and it’s called The Twentieth Man (Allen & Unwin, 2017). Your man Jones worked part-time for the ABC while writing this tome. Was it worth the effort?  You be the judge.

Gerard Henderson took it upon himself to read and review The Twentieth Man. Well, someone has to do it. Hendo’s review will be published in The Sydney Institute Review Online in the future.  However, in view of the anticipation of lotsa avid readers on this matter, there will be a few previews of the review in MWD.  Here we go.

The Twentieth Man is a very, very long novel – running to over 470 pages. A book at half this length would have been better.  There is a lot of over-writing. For example, it commences as follows: “The figures on the platform blurred as the train gathered speed through Central Station”.  One of the passengers on the train is a woman “clasping a handbag on her lap, avoiding eye contact, as if in a doctor’s reception waiting for some shameful procedure”.  Later on, the “train thrust out of the tunnel and into the urinous light of Town Hall Station”. And so on. You get the idea.

It has been known that Tony Jones wanted to do a play on the late Lionel Murphy –the attorney-general in Gough Whitlam’s Labor government who was appointed by Prime Minister Whitlam to the High Court in early 1975.  Apparently the ABC rejected the proposal – hence the publication of The Twentieth Man which the author maintains was “buried in a manuscript that encompassed thirty-five years of the main characters’ lives” – whatever that means.

The problem here is that some of the characters are invented while others are real. The Twentieth Man refers to Labor (Jim Cairns, Lionel Murphy, Jim McClelland, Arthur Gietzelt, John Wheeldon, Al Grassby) and Coalition (Ivor Greenwood, William Wentworth, Malcolm Mackay, Bill Snedden, George Hannan and William McMahon) politicians.  There are also one-time Labor staffers (Eric Walsh, Peter Wilenski, George Negus) plus journalists (Michelle Grattan, Laurie Oakes) plus one-time ASIO head (Peter Barbour) and one-time Communist Party functionary (Wally Clayton) and Judith Wheeldon. And there is a former Commonwealth Police officer and one-time Murphy advisor – a certain Kerry Milte. By the way, Laurie Oakes has – or, rather, had – “sensuous lips”. Wow.

Confused?  No surprise.  The Twentieth Man contains the following author’s note on the second last page of the book:

This is a work of fiction based on real events in 1972 and 1973.  I have imagined how some of these events may have played out and allowed real historical characters to intermingle with fictional characters in that context.  Although much of the narrative really did happen I make no claim that this is true history.

How about that?  Tony Jones does not claim that The Twentieth Man is “true history”. But he reckons that it is “based on real events in 1972 and 1973”.  So, real characters intermingle with fictional characters.  Many readers – if many readers there will be – would have no idea which characters are real and which are fictional.  For example, how many readers born after 1965 would know about the likes of Ivor Greenwood, Jim Cairns and Wally Clayton?  To such readers, they could be real historical or fictional characters.

In The Twentieth Man, Tony Jones runs his familiar argument that in the late 1960s and early 1970s there were many Catholic Croatians in Australia who engaged in terrorist attacks on non-Catholic Serbians as part of their terrorist war on Tito’s government in Yugoslavia.  As avid readers will be aware, Tony Jones has not been able to name even one of the Catholic Croatian terrorists in Australia to whom he made reference on the Q&A program on 18 July 2016.  Not one.  See MWD issues 326 and 329.

There was evidence at this time – which is supported by John Blaxland’s The Protest Years: The Official History of ASIO 1963-1975, Volume 11 (Allen & Unwin, 2015) – that many of the attacks on Yugoslavian property in Australia were carried out by members of Tito’s secret police in an attempt to discredit anti-communist Croat Australians.

MWD  will return to this topic in a future issue.  In the meantime, MWD leaves avid readers with a taste of Mr Jones’ literary style – indicating a first-time novelist in search of an experienced editor.

Page 129:  In which Anna, the young female and (of course) communist, ABC journalist, awakes suddenly from a sleep in the inner-city Sydney suburb of Glebe (where else?) and picks up a “heavy bust” of Bolshevik revolutionary Leon Trotsky. This is how Tony Jones describes the incident as Anna awakens to confront the face of her Bolshevik hero:

Meeting Trotsky’s implacable gaze, Anna was suddenly aware of her own nakedness. She turned him to face the bookcase, closed the window and sat in the captain’s chair, feeling the coolness of the black leather against her flesh….

Fancy that.  Comrade Anna (born circa 1950) only realised that she was starkers when Comrade Trotsky (1879-1940) perved at her via a bust.

Page 146: In which Anna awakens from a deep sleep “to clear blue skies” on the NSW South Coast before heading for a remote location.  This is how Tony Jones describes her (road) journey:

There was a causeway over a river and then for a long time nothing but bush on either side of the road.  As she was drawn into it, Anna had the familiar sense of dissonance.  The green density of undifferentiated eucalypts as they crowded the narrow strip of road seemed threatening. She felt as though the vast sameness might swallow her up, erupt into flames and burn her existence away like an impurity in a forge.

Fancy that.  Comrade Anna is threatened by eucalyptus trees and worries that she might erupt in flames and be burnt to a cinder.

Needless to say, the taxpayer funded ABC journalist, Anna, is the (fictional) hero of The Twentieth Man.  According to the Acknowledgments section, the former ABC communist journalist Mark Aarons, along with a couple of others, “inspired the creation”. How nice.  It continues:

I would like to thank the former policemen, ASIO men, politicians, political advisors and journalists who enhanced my understanding of the dramatic true events in 1972 and ’73 that underpin my fictional story. I would particularly like to thank Kerry Milte, former Commonwealth Police Superintendent, barrister and Renaissance man, who resolutely appears under his own name in The Twentieth Man.

It’s not clear in what sense Kerry Milte “resolutely” appears in a novel which may or may not accurately depict events of close to half a century ago.  What is clear is that, in the second volume of the official history of ASIO, John Blaxland depicts Milte as something of a fantasist who on occasions gave inaccurate advice to Lionel Murphy.  Milte, who was involved in Murphy’s foolhardy raid on ASIO in early 1973, believed that ASIO had secret files on Murphy and himself. It didn’t.

The Acknowledgement section appears on the last page of The Twentieth Man. It is only then that the reader – if readers there be – learns that Tony Jones reckons his “fictional story” is inspired by “true events in 1972 and ‘73”. But the reader will never know what part of the author’s story is true and what part is fictional.

To be continued – perhaps next week.


As viewers of Fox News’ Mediabuzz program (which runs on Foxtel in Australia) will know – presenter Howard Kurtz has covered Fox News’ very own sexual harassment cases in some detail. These involve, most notably, the late Roger Ailes (formerly head of the station) and Bill O’Reilly (formerly Fox News’ leading on-air personality). Ailes stood down from his position and O’Reilly lost his The O’Reilly Factor program.

The scandals at Fox News have been reported regularly on Mediabuzz.  On one occasion, Howard Kurtz interviewed Matthew Belloni of The Hollywood Reporter who was quite critical of the culture that existed at Fox News during the time of Ailes and O’Reilly.

Compare this with Australia’s very own Media Watch which runs weekly on ABC TV.  On 16 October 2017, Media Watch presenter Paul Barry editorialised about the “silence and cover up” involved in the Harvey Weinstein case. During his lecture, your man Barry ran his usual attack on News Corps columnists Miranda Devine and Rita Panahi – and then criticised the behaviour of Ailes.  Barry’s point was that Miranda Devine and Rita Panahi had criticised the Hollywood cover up but had not referred to what happened at Fox News.  Let’s go to the transcript:

Paul Barry: Yes, Miranda reckons powerful figures like Weinstein earn a free pass from the media and immunity for their crimes by buying into causes like same-sex marriage. Or as Herald Sun commentator Rita Panahi put it to Andrew Bolt:

Rita Panahi : … it seems in Hollywood if you virtue-signal on all the fashionable lefty causes, you’re given a licence to carry on like an entitled pig.
— Sky News, The Bolt Report, 9 October, 2017

Oh really? Is that so? And what about those other famous sex pests who also got away with it for ages?

Fox News’ right-wing warrior Bill O’Reilly was recently dismissed for sexual harassment after years of cover up and pay offs by his employer.  And last year, a far more shocking and powerful serial abuser was also taken down.

Yup Roger Ailes was a right-wing Republican kingmaker who made billions for Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, which employs Devine and Panahi.

So, did these two columnists claim the Right had protected Ailes? Did they chide News Corp for ignoring his accusers? Indeed, did they write anything at all? Answer: no, no and no. They just stayed silent. And in the light of their comments about Weinstein, what can you say about that?

Fancy that.  This is the very same Paul Barry whose Media Watch program on the taxpayer funded public broadcaster has failed to cover the ABC’s very own sexual scandal cover up.  Namely, the failure of the ABC to report its very own historical child sexual abuse assault case – when former ABC TV producer Jon Stephens assaulted a 14-year-old male ABC casual employee while on ABC assignment near Gosford in 1981.  This crime took place six years after ABC Chairman Professor Richard Downing declared that “in general, men will sleep with young boys”.

The ABC has been all but silent on this issue.  And Paul Barry has joined in the cover up on both the Stephens case and the Downing statement, while attacking Fox News – which (unlike the ABC) has reported its own sexual scandals.  It’s called an unpleasant double standard.





Due to overwhelming popular demand, “History Corner” returns to MWD after what journalists like to call a W.E.B. – or Well Earned Break. (Mere mortals have holidays).

Thanks to the avid reader who drew MWD’s attention to the discussion that took place during the “Newspapers” segment on ABC TV’s News Breakfast on 1 November.  Co-presenter Michael Rowland was talking newspapers with The Australian’s Samantha Hutchinson – focusing on a report in The Australian Financial Review that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was not wanted by the Liberal National Party in the Queensland election campaign anywhere north of Gympie.  Reporter Phil Coorey referred to it as the Gympie Line. Now, let’s go to the transcript:

Michael Rowland:  So the “Gympie Line” – it used to be the Brisbane Line in World War Two, remember?  That was the line that they built to save South East Australia from the Yellow Peril’s push down into the country.  Now that’s been replaced by the Gympie Line.

Er, no. Not really.  There never was such an entity as the Brisbane Line. This was a figment of the imagination of left-wing Labor Party parliamentarian Eddie Ward (1899-1963) in an attempt to discredit Robert Menzies, who was prime minister during the early years of the Second World War.

The best account of the so-called Brisbane Line is contained in Paul Hasluck’s The Government and the People: 1942-1945 (Australian War Memorial, 1970).  Paul Hasluck was the official war historian covering the home front during the Second World War.  These are the facts:

▪ During an election campaign in Victoria in October 1942, the Minister for Labour and National Service, Eddie Ward, alleged that when the Curtin Labor government came to office in August 1941 a plan existed to abandon an important part of northern Australia to the Japanese Army without firing a single shot.  Ward’s claim covered the period of the prime ministerships of Robert Menzies (26 April 1939 to 29 August 1941) and Arthur Fadden (29 August 1941 to 7 October 1941).

Immediately, Robert Menzies and Arthur Fadden along with other members of previous United Australia Party and UAP – Country Party governments denied Ward’s claim.  They were supported by Prime Minister John Curtin who said that Ward should not have made the statement.

Despite Prime Minister Curtin’s intervention, Ward continued to make the allegation.  In May 1943 he asserted that a line – the Brisbane Line – had been drawn north of Brisbane and that the Menzies and Fadden governments had a “defeatist plan” to withdraw behind the Brisbane Line in the event of a Japanese invasion of Australia.

At this stage, in what Menzies described as a “cunning piece of evasion”, Curtin declined to specifically rebuke Ward’s claim.  It was not Mr Curtin’s proudest moment.

▪ In fact, the only proposal submitted concerning something like a Brisbane Line was made in February 1942 to the Curtin Labor government – by which time both Menzies and Fadden were in opposition.  Even so, Ward continued his allegation against Menzies and Fadden during the August 1943 election campaign.

▪ The Curtin government set up a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the matter – headed by Justice Lowe of the Victorian Supreme Court.  In due course, Justice Lowe found that any proposals not to re-inforce the defence of outlying parts of Australia were military proposals – not political proposals.  No such proposal came to the notice of the War Cabinet and/or Advisory War Council during the period of the Menzies and Fadden governments.  The military proposals which led to the Brisbane Line claim were rejected by government and non-government politicians alike.  Moreover, Curtin and his ministers – who had been members of the Advisory War Council under Menzies and Fadden – never provided support for Ward’s allegations, according to a study of contemporary government papers.

As Paul Hasluck wrote in The Government and the People: 1942-1945:

An examination of these and other records of the War Cabinet and Advisory War Council supports the opinion that, if there had been any discussions of this kind earlier than February 1942 – and the documents did not disclose any evidence of such discussions – they would have been discussions at the level of military planning and would have been tentative and speculative, being directed towards an imagined contingency and not to an existing situation or to a situation that was in clear prospect.  No evidence was discoverable that any such hypothetical case of the military abandonment of part of the continent ever reached the War Cabinet or Advisory War Council during the terms of the Menzies and Fadden Governments or that any political direction on the subject was ever given to the military planners [by the Menzies and Fadden Governments]…

The way in which the charges were originally made and persistently repeated suggests that Ward was wilfully and maliciously distorting the truth in order to gain political advantage.  The fact that he persisted in his charges to the embarrassment of his own party leader [John Curtin] leaves the historian in some doubt as to whether the only advantage he was trying to gain was the besmirching of the Opposition parties on the approach of an election.  The action of Ward in creating a false impression for political advantage was not novel.  The novelty was in Curtin’s conduct. His failure on this occasion to repudiate firmly suggestions which he must have known to be untrue fell below his customarily high standards of honesty and courage.

In short, there was no Brisbane Line.  It was a figment of Eddie Ward’s left-wing imagination and intended to discredit Robert Menzies and Arthur Fadden.

This overwhelmingly popular segment of Media Watch Dog usually works like this. Someone or other thinks it would be a you-beaut idea to write to Gerard Henderson about something or other. And Hendo, being a courteous and well-brought up kind of guy, replies. Then, hey presto, the correspondence is published in MWD – much to the delight of its avid readers.

There are occasions, however, when Nancy’s (male) co-owner decides to write a polite note to someone or other – who, in turn, believes that a reply is in order. Publication in MWD invariably follows. There are, alas, some occasions where Hendo sends a polite missive but does not receive the courtesy of a reply. Nevertheless, publication of this one-sided correspondence still takes place. For the record – and in the public interest, of course.

As MWD readers are aware, The Guardian Australia’s deputy editor Katharine Murphy put out the following tweet on 6 June 2014 at 4.33 pm – when that issue of MWD was “hot off the press”. Here is Ms Murphy’s tweet: “Without in any way wanting to breach anyone’s human rights or free speech – why do people write emails to Gerard Henderson?” It’s a very good question. Thankfully, not everyone follows Katharine Murphy’s wise counsel – not even Ms Murphy herself (See MWD Issue 297).


On the ABC Insiders program last Sunday, discussion turned to the centenary of the charge of the Australian Light Horse at Beersheba on 31 October 1917.  This victory over the Ottoman Turks led, shortly after, to the defeat – and collapse – of the Ottoman Empire.  Let’s go to the transcript of the discussion by the panel on the Insiders’ couch:

Barrie Cassidy:  …Have a look again at the footage of the re-enactment. You would think it would be historically correct wouldn’t you. What’s wrong with that picture? There’s an Israeli flag there, there’s also an Australian and New Zealand flag. That was 1917, Israel did not exist.

Mark Kenny: It wasn’t even Israel. It was Palestine. And they [the Palestinians] weren’t invited [unintelligible]

Gerard Henderson: Hang on.

Mark Kenny: The Palestinians weren’t invited to the re-enactment either.

Gerard Henderson: Hang on. Palestine didn’t exist in 1917 –  it was part of the Ottoman, that was Ottoman Empire territory. Beersheba was part of the Ottoman Empire, it wasn’t –

Barrie Cassidy: It wasn’t Israel.

Gerard Henderson: It wasn’t Israel and it wasn’t Palestine. It was part of –

Mark Kenny: It was the liberation of Palestine from the Ottoman Empire.

Barrie Cassidy: So we just thought it was a bit odd that the [Israeli] flag was there, that’s all – if it was going to be an accurate re-enactment.

Gerard Henderson: Yeah, but it’s nit-picking. I mean, we were on Israeli soil – and that part of Israel is inside of the Green Line.

Barrie Cassidy: It is now.

Gerard Henderson: No, it has been since 1948 – since the United Nations established the State of Israel.

Barrie Cassidy: But not in 1917.

Gerard Henderson:  No. But Palestine didn’t exist in 1917, nor did Israel. And someone’s put up a flag of a country they’re in the presence of, they’re visiting. I don’t really think it’s a big point.

The panel discussion led to the following correspondence. Now read on:


Stephen Heydt to Gerard Henderson – 5 November 2017

Hello Gerard,

Your comments on Insiders pertains:

“Palestine is the name (first referred to by the Ancient Greeks) of an area in the Middle East situated between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Palestine was absorbed into the Ottoman Empire in 1517 and remained under the rule of the Turks until World War One. Towards the end of this war, the Turks were defeated by the British forces led by General Allenby. In the peace talks that followed the end of the war, parts of the Ottoman Empire were handed over to the French to control and parts were handed over to the British – including Palestine. Britain governed this area under a League of Nations mandate from 1920 to 1948. To the Arab population who lived there, it was their homeland and had been promised to them by the Allies for help in defeating the Turks by the McMahon Agreement – though the British claimed the agreement gave no such promise.”

Ipso facto, Palestine existed long before 1917. While it may have been part of the Ottoman Empire, would you suggest that Australia didn’t exist before 1 January 1901?

Stephen Heydt

Gerard Henderson to Stephen Heydt – 10 November 2017


I refer to your recent note. It’s great that you watch Insiders which – as I understand it – is one of the ABC’s top-rating programs in view of its time slot.

The point I made on Insiders was that there has never been a state of Palestine – although, in recent times, there is an area which falls under the jurisdiction (broadly defined) of the Palestinian Authority.

In the Battle of Beersheba on 31 October 1917, the Australian Light Horse defeated the Ottoman Turks and took Beersheba. Soon after, the Ottoman Empire collapsed.  As you know, the Australians and New Zealand troops were Dominion forces fighting with the British.

The collapse of the Ottoman Empire led to the establishment of the British Mandate in the area which existed for close to three decades. In 1948 Israel was established by the United Nations inside what was termed the “Green Line”. The Green Line separated the new nation of Israel from its neighbours – Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. The United Nations did not establish a nation of Palestine in 1948 or since.

As Dilip Hiro put it in his Dictionary of the Middle East: “Under the Ottomans (1517-1917) there was no single administrative unit called Palestine.” Beersheba is in south Israel – inside the Green Line.  In other words, Beersheba has been part of Israel since 1948.  Between 1917 and 1948 it was never part of an entity named Palestine.

My point was simply that, since Beersheba has been part of Israel for close to seven decades, it was not unreasonable for Australians commemorating the Light Horse’s victory over the Ottoman Turks in 1917 to carry one Israeli flag – along with numerous Australian flags. After all, the commemoration took place on what has been Israel since that nation’s inception.

A similar point to the one I made last Sunday can be found in the statement by the scholar Abd Al-Ghani Salameh during an interview on official Palestinian TV on 1 November 2017.  The discussion went as follows:

Interviewer: There always was a historical struggle over Palestine, and many wanted to rule it. How did the aspirations to rule, affect the Palestinian existence, the Palestinians’ options, and the Palestinians’ possibilities of development?

Abd Al-Ghani Salameh: Before the Balfour Promise [the Balfour Declaration] when the Ottoman rule ended (1517-1917), Palestine’s political borders as we know them today did not exist, and there was nothing called a Palestinian people with a political identity as we know today, since Palestine’s lines of administrative division stretched from east to west and included Jordan and Southern Lebanon. And like all peoples of the region [the Palestinians] were liberated from the Turkish rule and immediately moved to colonial rule, without forming a Palestinian people’s political identity.”

That was my point on Insiders.  In late 1917 Beersheba was under the rule of the Ottoman Turks. It came under the rule of the British Mandate. And, from 1948, it became part of Israel. That’s all.

In answer to your question, the Commonwealth of Australia did not exist before 1901.  Following European settlement in 1788, various British colonies were established which, in time, became part of the Commonwealth of Australia.  The Australian troops who went to the Boer War did so as part of the colonial forces.

Yours sincerely

Gerard Henderson

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Until next time.

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