ISSUE – NO. 418

10 August 2018


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.

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  • STOP PRESS: Michael Pascoe joins the Sky News Censors

  • CAN YOU BEAR IT? Peter FitzSimons; Mike Carlton; Glenn Dyer & Phillip Adams

  • ABC UPDATE: After ABC Life comes Literary Death

  • FIVE PAWS AWARD: Step Forward President Trump (with a little help from Barrie Cassidy, Insiders & Love Island)

  • John Laws Style Deliberate Mistake: And the Winners are Annabel Crabb & The Red Bandannaed One

  • Documentation: Father Frank Brennan’s attempt to obtain a copy of the decision in DPP v Wilson – The Very Latest

  • Hamish Macdonald’s Fake News: In Which (contrary to the Macdonald thesis) ABC Presenter Michael Rowland States an Opinion

  • History Corner: Fairfax Media’s Peter Hartcher Channels Bob Santamaria in Support of an Aussie Nuke

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What a stunning performance by Michael Pascoe – The New Daily’s contributing editor – on ABC TV’s The Drum last night.

Your man Pascoe’s resume tells of success and also unrequited (media) love. In 2003, he was “boned” by John Alexander when he was Channel 9’s finance editor. He went to Channel 7 among other places before joining Fairfax Media in 2008. Alas, he was “let go” by Fairfax Media in April 2018 and joined The New Daily – which is funded by the trade union industry superannuation funds. Oh yes, and he’s also been a regular writer for Crikey.

Last night, Michael Pascoe wound up and fired all barrels at Sky News – following the decision of the Victorian Labor government to ban Sky News products from showing at Metro Trains platforms in the Melbourne CBD. It followed the interview of extreme right-wing ideologue Blair Cottrell on The Adam Giles Show for which Sky News has apologised. This is what Michael Pascoe had to say:

Michael Pascoe: You’ve got a choice, you [Metro Trains] don’t have to have Sky, you can have the ABC. The ABC by its charter is not meant to stuff up the way Sky has. And it’s not just the Blair Cottrell interview. It’s the rubbish that happens on Sky, at night, when the adults go home, and the lunatics are allowed out to troll.

So there you have it. According to Michael Pascoe, after 6 pm Sky News presenters are “lunatics … out to troll”. When presenter Julia Baird asked whether he was objecting to what he termed right wing commentators on Sky News, the rant continued:

Michael Pascoe: I’m objecting to trolls, to unprofessional trolls. There’s nothing wrong with a right-wing conservative commentator. Sometimes I am, sometimes I’m not.  But when it is intentional, an intent to inflame, and attempt to outrage – why should a public service [i.e. Metro Trains] subject people to it?

I’m a frequent flyer, I spend a lot of time in Qantas Club Lounge. And at night time I look up and think, “Why have they got those clowns on insulting people in here”. I assume it’s a purely commercial relationship and they’re being paid to – otherwise it doesn’t make sense.

So in terms of a government [in Victoria] deciding: “Look this is offensive stuff being broadcast, we won’t take the risk, we’re less likely to get it … so we’ll have the ABC instead, or whatever.” Now you know, Blair Cottrell’s been on the ABC, the ABC has made that mistake too. But I think it’s a fair chance –

When Julia Baird pointed out that the controversial Blair Cottrell Sky News interview was not aired at railway stations in Melbourne or anywhere else, the rant still continued:

Michael Pascoe: It wasn’t broadcast there. But okay, if you have the Outsiders or Senator David Leyonhjelm on, if they’re broadcast – you know. Sky is part of the Murdoch Empire. It’s a big ugly empire, it doesn’t need anyone to protect it. It’s perfectly good at kicking heads itself, it’s what it does.

So the business reporter Michael Pascoe agrees with government intervention to stop Metro Trains showing Sky News – irrespective of any contractual obligations. And he wants Qantas (and presumably Virgin) to cease showing Sky News at airports – irrespective of any contractual obligations. Mr Pascoe seems to believe that it is compulsory to watch Sky News while in the Qantas Lounge. It isn’t – there are plenty of other places to go. And he wants Sky News replaced by the ABC – which is a conservative free zone, without a conservative presenter, producer or editor for any of its prominent television, radio or online outlets.

So here’s your man Pascoe’s solution to the current controversy. Censor the products of Rupert Murdoch’s “big ugly empire” and hand over the Metro Trains, Qantas and Virgin news gigs to the taxpayer funded public broadcaster. No wonder The New Daily’s contributing editor is a frequent panellist on The Drum. He appears to be in Aunty’s camp.

[Perhaps this segment should have run in your highly popular Can You Bear It? section. Just a thought. MWD editor]


Can You Bear It


Lotsa thanks to the avid reader who drew MWD’s attention to the article by Liam Donohoe in last Tuesday’s Honi Soit – the University of Sydney’s student newspaper, once commonly referred to as “Hanoi Soit”.

As followers of MWD will recall, the Australian Republican Movement as it then was – it’s now the Australian Republic Movement – held a Gala Dinner at Sydney University on 17 December 2016 to celebrate the organisation’s 25th anniversary. It was a special occasion for a couple of reasons. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was the guest speaker and ARM chair Peter FitzSimons doffed his hat to the prime minister by not wearing his look-at-me red bandanna on the occasion.

There were drinks on the Quadrangle lawns before the Red Bandannaed One led the Prime Minister into the Great Hall for dinner. Some 250 guests, who were charged $150 a head or $3000 for a gold table, rocked up. They were wined and dined and treated to a performance by Kate Ceberano. It was a memorable occasion – for those who can remember the occasion.

So what’s the story? – MWD  hears you cry. Well, according to Honi Soit, it’s this. The hiring fees for the Great Hall ($3894), Quadrangle Lawns ($440) and Nicholson Museum ($686) were waived for the event.

Why? Well, it seems that Sydney University did a favour for the Red Bandannaed one – who is one of its alumni and who, in December 2016, was one of its pro vice-chancellors and Senate fellows.

Now Hendo is a republican and was a financial member of the ARM until he came to the realisation that Australia would never get behind a campaign run by a leftist middle aged wealthy Neutral Bay resident who writes for Fairfax Media and is an occasional ABC presenter – and who wears a red rag on his head. So he became unfinancial and a non-starter at ARM functions.

For whatever reason, the Australian Taxation Alliance took out a freedom of information request to obtain details of Sydney University’s involvement in the ARM event. Liam Donohue broke the story for Honi Soit.

Now the ARM’s Gala Dinner was an invite-only occasion. Presumably to keep the riff-raff away from the black tie gig. And most of the guests were a well-heeled group with ample financial assets. Certainly enough to pay the extra $20 per head required to cover the booking fees for the Great Hall, Quadrangle Lawns and Nicholson Library for the night. Why, Fitz could have covered the cost with his loose change.

However, it seems that the Red Bandannaed One petitioned his alma mater to save his wealthy mates $20 a head. Money which could have been used to support financially challenged students living in garrets. Can You Bear It?

[Not at all. Perhaps someone should commence a campaign to take money from the middle aged republican rich and give it to the young republican poor. “#FitzGiveTheMoneyBack”. MWD editor]



While on the topic of well-heeled republicans, thanks to the heads-up by Tim Blair in The Daily Telegraph who warned readers last Monday that Mike (“I’ll pour the Gin”) Carlton’s autobiography On Air is soon to be released. [I’m so excited, I can barely wait. MWD editor] The question raised by Tim Blair is whether readers of The Prophet of Avalon Beach’s 1996 novel Off The Air (if readers there were) might be in for a non-fiction re-run. This is what Mr Blair had to say about Mr Carlton:

Back in 1997, Carlton wrote a novel called Off The Air, in which a lightly disguised Mike effortlessly tore down his foes. Like Mike, central character Bruce Braine owns an E-Type Jaguar, dreams of becoming a naval historian and — just to underline that Bruce really is Mike — was born in 1946. He’s an Australian journalist working in London radio, which was real-life Mike’s gig during the early ’90s.

Bruce is something of a wonder. He defies cowardly station management, selflessly arranges salary increases for underpaid station staff, wins awards and basically is a success at everything.

Possibly his only failing is that women find him just too attractive. Yes, this book has sex scenes — sex scenes featuring Mike writing about fantasy Mike having sex. You’ll need to visit my Daily Telegraph blog for further details, but here is one teaser: “She was a kitten, until they made love, when kitten gave way to cat.”

With writing like that, your man Carlton could have qualified to be short-listed for The Literary Review’s annual Bad Sex Prize for dreadful writing on the horizontal arts.

Last week Mike Carlton had an equally over-written piece in The [Boring] Saturday Paper – albeit without the kitten to cat (sexual) metamorphosis. This is how it commenced:

All over Italy the oleanders are in summer bloom. Great galleries of pink, red and white flowers cascade through Rome’s Villa Borghese gardens, flourish high on the terraced streets above the Bay of Naples, march along the E90 autostrada from Palermo to Messina. Our villa on a Sicilian hillside had drop-dead views over the Tyrrhenian Sea to the Aeolian Islands, where volcanic Stromboli glowered in the haze. The sunsets, gold and palest lilac, were pure J.M.W. Turner. The view backwards was less enticing. …

Go on. Unfortunately he did. The rest of the over-written sludge consisted of an alienated rant about Australia. There were references to “the dismal charade that is Australian public life”, “backwoods Australia”, “jabbering oiks”, the Mad Monk (ie Tony Abbott – how original is that?), the Murdochracy, the Liberal Party’s “Trump loving nutters” and “the barbarian Mitch Fifield” and so on

The only praise was for Fairfax’s National Times (1971-1986). The National Times was a loss-making left-wing stack, which expired through lack of interest and poor sales over three decades ago. But to Mike (“I’ll pour the Gin”) Carlton it is the one shining light (albeit an extinguished one) in Australia’s dark past. Can You Bear It?



Glenn Dyer, Crikey’s business and media commentator, did a rant about Sky News and its chief executive Angelos Frangopoulos in the Crikey newsletter on Tuesday. This followed the interview by Sky News presenter Adam Giles of right-wing extremist Blair Cottrell last Sunday. As readers will be aware, Sky News apologised for the error in interviewing Cottrell and suspended The Adam Giles Show pending an internal inquiry.

Guess what? This was not enough for your man Dyer who concluded his article, titled “Frangopoulos should get Sky’s house in order and quickly”, as follows:

As Crikey reported last month, Frangopoulos was handed a gong by the Turnbull government in January “for significant service to the broadcast media sector, to higher education and the promotion of journalistic standards, and to the community”. At the time we asked what Frangopoulos had really done to be given a gong. That still remains the question.

What a load of absolute tosh. It’s decades since the Commonwealth and State governments decided who would be recipients of awards. Awards in the Order of Australia are decided by the Australian Honours Secretariat, the chancellor of which is the Governor-General. Shane Stone is chairman of the Council for the Order of Australia which includes representatives from the community along with representatives of State, Territory and Commonwealth governments.

Currently, the community representatives comprise Philip Bacon, Elizabeth Broderick, Mathew Vadas, Bernard Wright, Tracey Hayes and Gabrielle Trainor. The Council makes decisions independent of government.

MWD understands that decisions on awards are unanimous. However, due to the honours-in-confidence provision, this cannot be confirmed. In any event, there is no evidence that prime ministers interfere in the proceedings of the Honours Secretariat.

So, what about Glenn Dyer’s claim that Mr Frangopoulos “was handed a gong by the Turnbull government”? Well, he just made this up. Can You Bear It?

[Er, no. Not at all. I note that Mr Dyer is hopelessly naïve if he believes that anyone will answer his question as to what the Sky News supremo “had really done to deserve a gong”. For starters, the reason for the award is stated in each citation. Moreover, the term honours-in-confidence means precisely what it says. It’s hard to believe that Crikey’s business and media commentator does not know this – but there you go. MWD Editor]



While on the matter of howlers, lotsa thanks to the avid reader who drew MWD’s attention to Phillip Adams’ column in Weekend Australian Magazine last Saturday titled “The man who wasn’t there”. In the online edition the title was “Malcolm Turnbull the invisible man”.

Julius Caesar got a mention – as did Tony Abbott and Harvey Norman and Kerry Packer and Malcolm Turnbull and Malcolm Muggeridge. But not one sheila. Not one. Phillip (“I was a teenage communist”) Adams’ theme was that Malcolm Turnbull is “the invisible man”. This led to your man Adams’ conclusion:

Another Malcolm, my old friend Malcolm Muggeridge, once made the deadly observation of David Frost that “he rose without trace”. That will be Turnbull’s political epitaph.

This comment surprised Jackie’s (male) co-owner, who has read much of the British journalist’s work, since he always thought that it was Malcolm’s wife Kitty who had made this bon mot. This was confirmed in an email received from film director Nicholas Partridge, – Malcolm Muggeridge’s former researcher – who wrote to MWD last Saturday as follows:

Phillip Adams has a column today (I had no idea that he and Malcolm were old friends). It wasn’t all that bad, but one fact was wrong.

It wasn’t Malcolm who first described Sir David Frost as having “risen without trace”. It was his wife Kitty. I researched for Malcolm Muggeridge for over twenty years. Kitty was very sharp and funny too.

Quite so. And to think that Phillip Adams – while writing on the invisible man – overlooked that very visible woman Kitty Muggeridge. Can You Bear It?



On 18 June 2018, Q&A presenter Tony Jones was told by Western Australian Liberal Party senator Linda Reynolds that the program should travel west for an episode. To which Mr Jones replied that he would like to do so – but Q&A’s budget did not extend to Perth and Port Hedland. Or words to that effect.

So Q&A cannot afford to do programs in Western Australia. Meanwhile there is no considered news and current affairs program on the ABC’s main channel at night since the demise of Lateline – on Emma Alberici’s watch – last year.

On Fridays there is no news and current affairs at all after the 7 pm bulletin – since 7.30 heads off for a Gin & Tonic each Friday evening and is replaced by an hour long episode of Gardening Australia. China could be at war with Taiwan or the United States bombing North Korea on a Friday – and viewers of the ABC’s main channel would be offered yet more footage of (Sydney based) back-to-earther Costa Georgiadis planting yet more organic kale or speaking to his compost heap on Gardening Australia.

Yet there is room in the taxpayer funded public broadcaster’s $1 billion annual budget to fund the ABC’s new online offering ABC Life – at an estimated cost of a mere $8 million a year.

For the record, Jackie’s (male) co-owner reckons that ABC Life is a real hoot – and believes that it will provide extra copy for MWD each and every Friday.

From MWD’s point of view, this week’s faves on ABC Life were:

  • Scott Mitchell’s piece titled “What happens when you sleep with your boss?” [You fall asleep, don’t you? MWD editor] This featured the reflections of Armin (aged 31) and Harriet (aged 24). The former a business consultant, the latter a legal assistant. Which suggests that, according to ABC Life, tradies and hair dressers don’t sleep with their employers. Or maybe they are not expected to follow ABC Your man Mitchell’s piece could have appeared in Cleo circa 1972.
  • Kellie Scott’s article titled “Settling for average could be the key to a happy relationship”. It told the story about how Felicity married Mr Average in the 21st Century version of a loveless union which has produced three children. She’s sort of bored but sort of happy. How about that? As to Mr Average, he may not know that Felicity does not love him but sure loves ABC Life.
  • Then Hendo had a look at “7 ways to start meditating” but fell asleep listening to the reflections of the poet Zohab Zee Khan. Waking up, he found the poet’s advocacy of a “mental feather duster” to brush thoughts along their way “nice and easily” of particular benefit. More valuable than Ms Scott’s piece on who should get the dog when a couple breaks up.

Which raises the question – how did Australians ever get along with their lives before ABC Life rocked up? Answer, they probably bought Women’s Weekly.

Here’s a suggestion. Perhaps Tony Jones could get a special “Life” edition of Q&A. In Perth or Port Hedland. Looking at ABC Life’s budget, money should not be a problem – and if Zohab Zee Khan has to cross the Nullarbor and back he will probably write less poetry, for a few days at least. And that could only be of benefit to the nation’s psyche.

[I recall that the Sydney born poet Jim McAuley (1917-1976) who moved to the University of Tasmania, wanted to establish Australia Council for the Arts grants for poets who agreed to cease writing poetry. A kind of Poets’ Anonymous – with government funding. Might the poet Khan be interested if such a scheme were established, I wonder. MWD Editor]



This is how presenter Barrie Cassidy closed up the ABC TV Insiders program last Sunday – with a discussion about the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the United Kingdom, Great Britain, Britain or perhaps England. Let’s go to the transcript.

Barrie Cassidy: Alright, now you’ll have to stay with me on this – but there’s always been some confusion on what countries make up the UK or Great Britain. Social media really took to this discussion on the British version of Love Island. We’ll look at that first.

Sheila: I’ve been thinking about the countries you know, on the map.

Sheila 2: Yeah.

Sheila: No, I’m being serious girls. So London is a capital. Yeah?

Sheila 3: Yeah, well done.

Sheila: Essex is a continent – So I’m from Liverpool, so I live in a country.

Sheila 2: No Liverpool is a city.

Sheila: A city?

Sheila 2: Yeah.

Sheila: If you go in a plane and go to another place, that’s still United Kingdom?

Sheila 3: Depends where. Where do you want to go?

Sheila: So, Spain.

Sheila 2: That’s Europe.

Sheila 3: That’s Europe.

Sheila: But it’s still in the United Kingdom?

Sheila 2: Europe is a continent.

Sheila 3: It’s in the EU. It’s in Europe.

Barrie Cassidy: Now, if you’re still confused, here’s some clarification from another reality TV star. We’ll leave you with that. Thanks for watching.

Donald J Trump: So, I have great respect for the UK, United Kingdom. Great respect. People call it Britain, they call it Great Britain, they used to call it England.

It turns out that President Trump is correct. People once called the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (i) the UK, (ii) the United Kingdom, (iii) Great Britain (iv) Britain and – wait for it – (v) England.

And what about the proof for President Trump’s claim that Britain was once termed England? Well, Hendo dug into a library and came up with the evidence from some prominent dead white males – namely former British prime minister Winston Churchill and former United States president John F. Kennedy, no less.

President Trump (with a little help from Barrie Cassidy and Insiders): 5 Paws.


In last week’s issue – in an article titled “Ellen Fanning’s Contrasting Interviewing Style” – it was suggested that Leigh Sales might have been on a well-earned break from 7.30MWD was not aware that Ms Sales was on leave at the time due to a family bereavement.  The reference has been removed from the website and Gerard Henderson apologises to Leigh Sales.



One of the most challenging tasks for avid readers each Friday – after lunch, of course – is to find a John-Laws-Style-Deliberate-Mistake in MWD. If there is one.

As avid MWD readers will know, Hendo is not into pedantry and does not focus on the written typos and verbal misstatements of journalists – since everyone makes them.  Not so some other scribblers.

Last week’s MWD contained a cunning trick.  On The Sydney Institute’s website, there was no John Laws-style-deliberate-mistake in Issue 417. However, The Australian came to the party and slipped one into a heading in MWD as it appears on The Australian Online each Friday afternoon.

Well done to the ABC’s Annabel Crabb and Fairfax Media’s Peter (“I look so cool with a red rag on my head”) FitzSimons who fired up on Twitter – in the erroneous view that the “deliberate mistake” was the work of Hendo.  This tweet was welcomed by The Red Bandanned One with the acclamation “Fabulous!”.  Here we go:

Well done Crabb and Fitz.  What skill to pick up a “cuple” for a culpa.  This duo were on the short-list for consideration to win a “Five Paws Award” this week for their stunning discovery. But they were disqualified after the judges read the following tweet from a certain Matthew (“Killjoy”) Glynn:


Funny about that.  Most journalists understand that content contributors do not write their own headlines.  Ah well, Ms Crabb’s tweet went out at 11.39 pm – that is, after post-dinner drinks.



There was considerable interest in last week’s MWD which contained a copy of Fr Father Brennan’s letter to NSW Attorney-General Mark Speakman calling for the release of a redacted copy of Magistrate Robert Stone’s decision in DPP v Wilson which was handed down on 29 May 2018. The decision is being appealed.

The conviction of Archbishop Philip Wilson for failing to report a case of child sexual abuse which occurred four decades ago has been widely commented on in Australia and internationally. However, the Newcastle Local Court has not released a copy (even in redacted form) of Magistrate Stone’s decision. Currently DPP v Wilson can only be read in Newcastle Local Court under supervision and only hand written notes can be taken of the decision.

As MWD has pointed out, ABC TV’s program The Drum devoted considerable time on 3 July 2018 to Archbishop Wilson’s conviction and sentence – despite the fact that neither the presenter nor any of the panellists informed viewers that they had not read the case. All participants criticised the Catholic Church in general and Philip Wilson in particular.

In view of the interest in this matter, MWD re-prints below the latest correspondence published over the last week in Eureka Street concerning DPP v Wilson.


Frank Brennan SJ | 03 August 2018

My letter to the NSW Attorney General seeking public access to the judgment in the Philip Wilson case is included in Gerard Henderson’s latest Media Watch Dog blog. [Published in The Australian online].

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Frank Brennan SJ | 07 August 2018

I note that Victoria has an Open Courts Act which sets out the duty to publish reasons, judgments or decisions. Section 16 provides: “Nothing in this Act limits or otherwise affects any duty of a court or tribunal to publish reasons for judgment or decisions, subject to the court or tribunal editing those reasons to the extent necessary to comply with any order of a court or tribunal or statutory provision restricting the publication of information.”

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Anthony McBride | 09 August 2018

Fr. Frank, I take it from your most recent post that you are still struggling to read/view a decipherable copy of the decision?

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Frank Brennan SJ | 09 August 2018

Anthony, no one can read the decision unless they first receive permission from the court, having then presented themselves at Newcastle court where they will be permitted to read the 59 pages under supervision in a public waiting area (without any desk).

Australian courts and royal commissions are well used to providing the public with redacted documents blanking out material which could cause the identification of any person entitled not to be publicly identified. But the Newcastle Local Court has not done so, and will not even provide for a supervised reading of the judgment in Sydney.

This has been a matter of considerable indifference to the media. But I think it matters, a lot. It’s called the rule of law, rather than rule by the media interpreting the law for us. That’s why I have written at length about the matter to the NSW Attorney-General. Watch this spot.

The substance of the judgment should be available to the public. The point is really quite simple. The fact that the accused is a Catholic bishop should not make any difference to the approach taken by the court, the media, or the human rights interest groups.

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Gerard Henderson supports Fr Frank Brennan’s view that – in accordance with the rule of law – the substance of DPP v Wilson should be available to be read by the public in Australia and overseas.

The ABC – which showed significant interest in DPP v Wilson when it was before the court – seems unconcerned that the decision is not available to be read. MWD takes a different position and will continue to pursue the case. Readers will be kept informed of any development.




Due to enormous popular demand, MWD has created a segment to monitor the accuracy – or otherwise – of Hamish Macdonald’s claim that ABC presenters are “not allowed to express opinions”. The assertion was made during your man Macdonald’s hostile interview on RN Breakfast with Senator Eric Abetz – the date was 20 June 2018.

Thanks to the avid reader who drew MWD’s attention to Les Hinton’s interview on the ABC TV News Breakfast program on 19 July 2018.  Virginia Trioli and Michael Rowland were the presenters and Les Hinton was in the ABC’s Southbank studio in Melbourne to discuss his book The Bootle Boy: An Untidy Life in News (Scribe, 2018). The author worked in the media for half a century – most of it in the employment of News Corp proprietor Rupert Murdoch.

The Bootle Boy’s coverage of Rupert Murdoch is critical but sympathetic.  The author recognises the head of News Corps’ tremendous success over the years while acknowledging his faults and occasional mistakes.

Towards the end of the interview, your man Rowland made the following statement:

Michael Rowland: You’ve written about and spoken lovingly about how Rupert [Murdoch] built up The Australian here in Australia from the early ’60s – made losses for many, many years. Many people see that as a paper containing many fine journalists and terrific journalists. But it’s also a paper that embarks in petty, ideological obsessions. Picks out individuals, picks out targets, picks out organisations like the ABC and just hammers, hammers and hammers and engages in what some people see as vendetta journalism. It’s a fairly valid criticism to make.

So ABC presenter Michael Rowland told News Breakfast viewers The Australian (proprietor Rupert Murdoch) “embarks in petty, ideological obsessions”, picks out “organisations like the ABC and just hammers…and engages in…vendetta journalism”.  Then Mr Rowland went on to describe what he claims are the views of “many people” and, later, “some people” about The Australian as “pretty valid criticism”.

Sounds somewhat opinionated, don’t you think?



Imagine Jackie’s (male) owner’s surprise when – on Saturday 16 June 2018 – he woke up to read a column by Peter Hartcher in the Sydney Morning Herald titled “The case for Australian nukes”. Yes, you got it – the case for Australia acquiring nuclear weapons.  This is how Fairfax Media’s international editor commenced his article:

Should Australia develop its own nuclear weapons? It seems an outlandish radical thought for such a safe country to consider. But a former adviser to Malcolm Turnbull and Julie Bishop thinks it’s an idea whose time is fast approaching. In his book launched this week, Why Australia Slept, Peter Hendy says that Australia needs to consider them because “if we could financially afford them, [they] would secure an even more independent foreign policy” for the country.

Hendy, a former Liberal federal MP, former head of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and now a consultant, is not the first to raise this delicate subject. The way things are going he won’t be the last. Three former deputy secretaries of Australia’s Defence Department – strategists Hugh White, Paul Dibb and Richard Brabin-Smith – have mooted the idea in the past year. Until these most recent months, it’s been something of a taboo topic in respectable circles.

You can say that again.  According to Hendo’s memory, the last prominent Australian to advocate that Australia acquire nuclear weapons was National Civic Council president – and Democratic Labor Party supporter – B.A. Santamaria (1915-1998).

The Bulletin of 19 June 1965 carried a symposium titled “An Australian Bomb?” The participants were Professor E.W. Titterton (who wrote about China’s nuclear capability and Indonesia’s intention in 1965 to acquire nuclear weapons), B.A. Santamaria and Professor Henry S. Albinski. Mr Santamaria wrote “A Case For” and Professor Albinski wrote “A Case Against”.

Santamaria’s article commenced as follows:

Communist China has now manufactured her own nuclear weapons. This fact faces Australia with awful dilemmas which will not vanish simply because they are not confronted.  One does not buy popularity by urging Australians to consider the argument for the acquisition of nuclear weapons.  But popularity is not everything!

The article then turned on B.A. Santamaria’s concern about China’s future involvement in the Asia Pacific.

…Australia must be concerned with the impact of China’s nuclear weapon on her own security. The strategic situation which Australia must face is dominated by three necessary assumptions.

(1) It must be assumed in the light of all the available material concerning her intentions that Communist China will seek to dominate the whole of South-East Asia – and much more besides. The area in which it will seek predominance includes Australia and New Zealand.  The predominance it seeks will not be merely or even necessarily cultural.  It will be military.  And that predominance, if achieved, will involve radical political changes within each country over which it operates.

(2) While we must act on the assumption that Communist China will seek predominance in this region, and while we may hope that the United States will challenge this objective by maintaining her own military presence at critical points in South-East Asia, we cannot be certain that that hope will inevitably be realised. Therefore we cannot found Australian policy on the assumption of the certainty of the American presence.

(3) There is, however, another certainty which is unfortunately unchangeable. Whether or not there is an American presence in South-East Asia, Australia will be there.  We are firmly established at the foot of the South-East Asian archipelago by the facts of geography…

For the USA, there is no comparison between the military and economic importance of Western Europe on the one hand, and of South-East Asia on the other.  Whenever the day dawns on which the Chinese Communists have the power to launch nuclear attacks on American cities, and such a threat is made to back up a Chinese demand for control of whatever parts of South-East Asia are not already under their control, how can we believe that the Americans would automatically risk their cities to ensure our security?  Under some circumstances, they might agree to risk them: but under no circumstances can this be regarded as an automatic choice.

There is another situation in which Australia could be confronted with nuclear peril by an enemy.  If all-out nuclear warfare occurred in the Northern Hemisphere, say between the Soviet Union on the one hand and Europe on the other, our allies would be fully occupied.  If Indonesia or China or both chose to attack us at that moment, our allies could not possibly come to our aid quickly enough and in sufficient strength.  Our hope of holding off even the conventional forces of these nations would depend on our technical superiority in fire-power.  Only nuclear weapons could supply this.

In either situation, there are very strong arguments for the acquisition of an adequate nuclear capacity by Australia.  In either situation we are confronted with the highly unpalatable prospect that an enemy armed with nuclear weapons could fight and win a war against us in a few days.  The possibility of transporting nuclear weapons to this country in such an emergency, to serve either as defence or deterrent, is remote.  Only weapons already in the country would be of any value.

When Bob Santamaria made his contribution to The Bulletin symposium over half a century ago, the sentiment among those who fitted into what Peter Hartcher terms “respectable circles” did regard his contribution as “taboo”.

However, over half a century later, Fairfax Media’s international editor has quoted the likes of Richard Brabin-Smith, Paul Dibb and Hugh White along with Peter Hendy as suggesting that Australia should acquire a nuclear capacity.  What’s more, Peter Hartcher gives the impression that he agrees with this position.


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Until next time.


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