ISSUE – NO. 422

7 September 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: Jane Norman’s source-free “scoop”; Good Night Tonightly; Sammy J’s Political Comedy (yawn)

  • The ABC’s Sky News Obsession – Starring Ellen Fanning & Fatima Measham in a (condescending) protection of the good people of Regional and Rural Australia

  • Can You Bear It? Madeleine Morris’s Simplistic Fact Check re White Australia; Tony Wright Forgets When Robert Menzies First Became Prime Minister

  • An ABC Update: Sam Neill, Justine Clarke and Jimmy Barnes Sing the ABC Chorus

  • Five Paws Award: Step Forward James Massola for Calling out ABC News 24

  • Correspondence: Ellen Fanning (sort of) and Sally Jackson (for real) Help Out on the Seal of Confession

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What a thrill to learn the latest news from Canberra this morning. An ABC EXCLUSIVE, indeed. Here’s what intrepid reporter Jane Norman had to say on ABC TV about the very latest leak from the Liberal Party aimed at discrediting either Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton or Prime Minister Scott Morrison – or both. Let’s go to the transcript:

Jane Norman: … It’s no secret that during what has been described as horrible and bruising week of the leadership spill, there were some nasty tactics really being employed by the Dutton camp. We heard MPs speak out publicly against this. Liberal MP Julia Banks from Victoria said she was so disgusted by the bullying and intimidation that she was subjected to that she’s quitting at the next election. Her South Australian Senate colleague Lucy Gichuhi has threatened to name and shame some of the worst culprits when Parliament returns next week. So we’re starting to get a bit of a picture of just what went on down that week.

… MPs have told me that members of the Dutton camp would be in their office first thing in the morning and would refuse to leave until they signed the petition. One MP said it took a very terse exchange for their colleague to leave the office. The pressure apparently continued on the floor of Parliament where during divisions – when there were a couple of minutes for the senators to mull around waiting for the vote to take place – Dutton’s forces would be at it again, sitting next to people whose support was sort of wavering, putting pressure on them to sign the petition.

Now of course, the then prime minister Malcolm Turnbull had really raised the stakes at this stage. He said: “Show me a petition with 43 names on it and then I will call a leadership spill”. So that was kind of the context of the pressure. Then we understand some Liberals were even threatened with their pre-selections unless they supported Peter Dutton’s challenge and on the day of the spill. On the Friday where Scott Morrison ended up winning, we understand people from Dutton’s camp actually told MPs that they would have to show another colleague their secret ballot paper to prove which way they voted. So this has been described to me as pretty nasty and extraordinary tactics by people in the Liberal Party and obviously there is still some deep seated anger within the party directed at the people who have sort of been called the Liberal insurgents.

What a stunning story. Can you believe that Peter Dutton’s backers canvassed support for their candidate in what had effectively become a non-secret ballot? Fancy that. And don’t you just love Ms Norman’s sources? Namely, “MPs”, “one MP” and “some Liberals”. How authoritative can a journalist be?

Isn’t it fascinating that the ABC has labelled Peter Dutton’s supporters as “insurgents”? MWD cannot remember Malcolm Turnbull’s supporters, who were active in overthrowing the incumbent Prime Minister Tony Abbott in 2015, being described as “insurgents”. But that was then and this is now – as the cliché goes. And most members of the Canberra Press Gallery wanted Mr Turnbull to remain Prime Minister.


MWD regrets the demise of Tonightly with Tom Ballard on the ABC TV’s Comedy channel.  It always provided good copy for Hendo. And it was a challenge each night to count the number of “F” and “C” words used by comedians with big egos and small vocabularies.  For the record, last night’s total was eight uses of the “F” word and one of the “C” word.  A month or so ago, Gerard Henderson was invited on to the program for a friendly chat with Mr Ballard – a gig he declined (courteously, of course) but the offer was appreciated.

Alas, Hendo won’t be able to attend his own rally this weekend outside the ABC headquarters in Sydney because he is off to Melbourne to sit on the Insiders couch with Katharine (“Malcolm always calls me Murpharoo”) Murphy and Malcolm (“Gerard Henderson is a total f-ckwit”) Farr.  However, he recommends that – in his absence –Tonightly fans should occupy Ultimo with a view to the show being reinstated.  MWD readers are invited to run off copies of the protest chant (see below) and take it to Ultimo with them.


Tonightly with Tom Ballard had its comedic moments.  But it constantly erred in attempting to combine humour with the advocacy of the Green/Left political causes. Yawn.

It seems that Sammy J. has moved into the position now vacated by your man Ballard.  Here’s what Sammy J. had to say in his political skit on ABC TV this morning about Australia’s recent propensity to change prime ministers.

Sammy J: Katie, I don’t think you recognise the significance of what you’ve discovered but this would appear – to my eyes at least – to be a photograph of a stable government.

Katie: Sorry, what?

Sammy J: A stable government. I guess you’re probably too young to recall. But from the mid-1970s until the first decade of the new millennium, Australians used to re-elect their prime ministers, Katie.

Katie: I don’t understand.

Sammy J: You see, back in those days governments were actually allowed to govern. This is before social media and the rise of late night Sky News hosts who encourage career driven blood thirsty megalomaniacs to knife their elected leaders…

So there you have it.  It’s all Sky News After Dark’s fault.

Your man J does not seem to know that Sky News had nothing to do with Labor’s decision to roll Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in 2010 or Prime Minister Julia Gillard in 2013 or the Liberal party’s decision to  roll Prime Minister Tony Abbott in 2015.  Indeed, it was the ABC and Fairfax Media who were most critical of Tony Abbott – not Sky News.

And is Sammy J. saying that Julia Gillard was a career-driven, blood-thirsty megalomaniac in 2010? – or that Malcom Turnbull fit into this category in 2015?

Perhaps Sammy J. should stick to channelling football coaches.



While on the topic of Sky News, let’s examine what ABC star journalist Ellen Fanning had to say when presenter of The Drum last Friday night. Let’s go to the exchange between Ms Fanning and panel member Fatima Measham concerning the establishment of Sky News on WIN in rural and regional Australia.

Ellen Fanning: On free-to-air there are rules, whether it’s ABC or commercial, there are kind of rules that govern journalism where it sort of broadly has to be objective. And certainly at the ABC there are very strong rules around that. Now, this [“Sky News After Dark”] is an unapologetically, hard right point of view. Does that matter if you turn on the telly in Orange or anywhere in Tasmania and you’re getting that at night?

Fatima Measham: Of course, it does matter – and we’ve seen the effect of Fox and Friends style sort of format in the US where people. I mean there are anecdotes of people talking about their parents who formerly voted Democrat but then some exposure to Fox News suddenly turned them really, really rabid [Republican voters]. So, there’s a concern about this sort of influence, that kind of style. I mean you can’t even call it reportage, at all.

How about that?  For starters, Ellen Fanning was wrong.  The creation of Sky News on Win entails that Sky News is subjected to the same rules which prevail with respect to other free-to-air channels in Australia when going out on Sky News on WIN.

Then there is the matter of condescension. Ellen Fanning seems to believe that those who live in towns like Orange or the state of Tasmania are not intelligent or educated enough to cope with Sky News coming into their homes or businesses at night.  How snobbish can you get?

As to Fatima Measham – well, she is worried that the parents of educated types like her might change their vote from left-of-centre to right-of-centre since they are too stupid to make up their own minds and only do what Fox News or Sky News tells them.  How elitist can you get?


Can You Bear It


MWD just loves it when ABC journalists praise ABC journalists on the ABC about their work for the ABC.  So, Hendo suspects, does anyone who’s into taxpayer subsidised self-indulgence.

As avid readers are aware, the ABC does not always check its own facts.  However, the RMIT ABC Fact Check unit is oh-so-keen to check the facts of others. [I understand that, financed by the RMIT University, Fact Check supremo Russell (“I don’t have much time for conservatives”) Skelton and his team recently visited Rome for a conference.  Interesting choice. As far as I can work it out, there are no facts in Italy – only opinions. – MWD Editor]

On Thursday, ABC TV News Breakfast co-presenters Michael Rowland and Virginia Trioli gave the floor to Fact Check presenter Madeleine Morris who opined about the White Australia Policy. Let’s go to the transcript:

Madeleine Morris: Who got rid of the White Australia Policy? In his first speech to parliament, Katter’s Australian Party senator Fraser Anning criticised Gough Whitlam for doing so in the 70s. But Liberal MP Tim Wilson has a different version of history. He tweeted “Fact: Liberal Prime Minister Harold Holt abolished the White Australia Policy over 50 years ago. It’s one of our proudest achievements.

Is Tim Wilson’s claim correct? Well, in fact, the White Australia Policy was dismantled over decades, spanning both Coalition and Labor governments. Actually, the White Australia Policy was more a collection of policies and regulations which supported a particular white Australian identity. In the ‘60s the Harold Holt government did indeed make significant changes to dismantle some of those policies. Holt levelled the playing field between Europeans and non-Europeans applying for citizenship, setting a five year wait time for both groups. Previously, non-Europeans had to wait 15 years. And his government made it easier for non-Europeans to get permanent residency. But, discrimination and immigration policy still remained. And it wasn’t until 1973 that Gough Whitlam’s government declared the White Australia Policy dead and stripped race as a factor from visa and citizenship applications.

So, we find Tim Wilson’s claim to be simplistic. For more details on the complicated history of the White Australia Policy and how we arrived at our verdict head to the website. I’m Madeleine Morris and that’s a fact check.

What a load of absolute tosh. Of a kind designed to make the left’s Saint Gough look great – despite the fact that Gough Whitlam was deputy leader to Arthur Calwell in the early 1960s when the Labor Party supported White Australia without qualification.

Ms Morris’ claim that Tim Wilson is into “simplistic” analysis is ahistorical. The fact is that there was a campaign waged throughout the 1950s and into the 1960s to abandon the White Australia Policy.  There was diverse support for the cause – its advocates included the Catholic Church and B.A. Santamaria’s National Civic Council, along with the Communist Party of Australia.  A leading player in the campaign was the Immigration Reform Group which included the likes of Vincent Buckley, Max Charlesworth, James Gobbo, Lorna Jones, J.A.C. Mackie and Kenneth Rivett.  It published the influential book Control or Colour Box?  in 1960.

In March 1966, shortly after he became prime minister, Harold Holt’s government announced the dismantling of the White Australia Policy. At the time, advocates for a change in policy like the Immigration Reform Group shut up shop (so to speak) – since they regarded the cause as having been won.  This certainly was the position of one-time Bulletin editor Donald Horne – who made this point to Gerard Henderson shortly before his death in 2005. Horne’s view was that Harold Holt abandoned the White Australia Policy in 1966. This was the common position at the time. Labor itself dropped its support for White Australia in 1967, shortly after Gough Whitlam replaced Arthur Calwell as Labor Party leader.

Madeleine Morris’ simplistic history also overlooks the fact that Asians only commenced moving to Australia in numbers during the time of Malcolm Fraser’s Coalition government.  It is a documented fact that, when prime minister in 1975, Gough Whitlam went out of his way to prevent refugees from South Vietnam entering Australia – describing them as “f-cking Vietnamese Balts”. What has the ABC Fact Check Unit said about this fact which paints Saint Gough in an unfavourable light? Nothing; Absolutely nothing.

In short, Tim Wilson’s claim is correct. And it is Madeleine Morris whose position is “simplistic” in this instance – since she is ignorant of how the March 1966 statement was regarded at the time.  Nevertheless, Mr Rowland and La Trioli gloated at Ms Morris’ (alleged) demolition of Mr Wilson:

Virginia Trioli: Tim Wilson won’t like being called “simplistic”. He won’t like his verdict being “simplistic”.

Michael Rowland: Is there anything Madeleine Morris can’t do?

Virginia Trioli: Nothing. Nothing at all.

Michael Rowland: Fact Check – she does finance, she fills in for you every now and then. She’s multi, multi-talented Madeleine.

Virginia Trioli: Bloody fabulous.

So viewers of News Breakfast had to listen to Michael Rowland and Virginia Trioli praise their colleague Madeleine Morris as “multi-talented” and “bloody fabulous” – after describing Ms Morris’ ahistorical analysis as a “verdict”.  A verdict?  Can You Bear It?

[Er,no. Not really. I assume that La Trioli was also praising the brilliance of the Fact Check head – a certain Mr Skelton. In which case, as Media Watch Dog has previously advised, a simple “Well done darling” would have done. – MWD Editor.]


While on the topic of facts, did anyone read the account of the 90th birthday of Heather Henderson (no relation) by The Age’s Tony Wright in Fairfax Media Newspapers on Wednesday? He covered a visit by Mrs Henderson to view a statue of her father Robert Menzies outside the Kew Library in Melbourne.  She was accompanied by Treasurer and Deputy Liberal Party leader Josh Frydenberg – the Federal member for Kooyong (which Robert Menzies held from 1934 until his retirement in 1966).  Here’s part of what your man Wright had to say:

A little bust of Sir Robert sits outside the Kew library. It was unveiled 11     years ago by Mrs Henderson, and she hadn’t seen it since. Mrs Henderson        turned 90 last month, and had travelled to Melbourne from her home in Canberra for a belated birthday party at The Windsor, the venerable hotel      where her late parents, Sir Robert and Dame Pattie, always stayed when        they were in Melbourne.

And so, there they were, the new Liberal deputy and the daughter of the old leader, reaching out in Kooyong to a glorious past in a time of inglorious party and leadership turmoil. Frydenberg placed his hand on the sculptured Menzies head. Could he have been searching for portent [sic]? He is 47 – precisely the age of Menzies himself when he first became prime minister in 1941.

How could this be the case?  Since it has always been said that Robert Menzies was 45 years old when he first became prime minister – and he was born in 1894.

Answer: Tony Wright got it wrong.  Robert Menzies first became prime minister in April 1939 – following the death in office of Joseph Lyons.  Mr Menzies stepped down as prime minister in August 1941 – having lost the support of his parliamentary colleagues. It appears that no one at The Age, in Menzies’ home town of Melbourne, knows anything about his first term as prime minister when he was leader of the United Australia Party.  Can You Bear It?




Jackie’s (male) co-owner just loves advertisements, promotions and the like.  That’s one of the reasons he watches the ABC – since the so-called advertisement-free taxpayer funded public broadcaster has lotsa ads promoting itself.

Go to YouTube to find this original version of the advertisement, titled “ABC Yours”, which the ABC is currently running about just how good it is.  This is how the promotion (with the song “I am Australian” as background sound) was described by the ABC on 12 August 2018:

What does the ABC mean to you?  We asked some familiar faces including Claudia Karvan, Elaine Crombie, Guy Pearce, Jimmy Barnes, Justine Clarke, Rove McManus, Sam Neill, Tim Minchin, Tim “Rosso” Ross and Warwick Thornton. “I Am Australian” written by Bruce Woodley and Dobe Newton, performed by triple j Unearthed artist Emily Wurramara.

Says something, doesn’t it? The ABC sources endorsements from left-of-centre actors, directors, presenters, singers, songwriters and the like.  You know, the type who have quite a fan-club in the inner-city Sandalista Land – close to the ABC studios in Sydney (Ultimo) and Southbank (Melbourne).  The ABC did not seek one endorsement from, say, a bricklayer or a hotel worker or a stay-at-home parent or a pensioner.  This lot is outside the mind-set of ABC management at Ultimo.

Currently ABC types are sensitive to the criticism that the ABC is a Conservative Free Zone – without one conservative presenter, producer or editor of any of its prominent television, radio or online outlets.  However, it’s notable that the ABC did not sign up one conservative to appear in its current promotion. Here’s the original script:

Rove McManus: Why do I love the ABC?

[Montage follows of the various actors saying “umm”.]

Justine Clarke: I don’t know how to describe it.

Tim Minchin: The words that spring to mind are –

Claudia Karvan: I think of –

Rove McManus: Quality.

Tim Minchin: Integrity.

Sam Neill: Iconic.

Justine Clarke: Diversity.

Claudia Karvan: Individual voices.

Jimmy Barnes: Fairness.

Claudia Karvan: Indigenous voices.

Jimmy Barnes: Accuracy.

Elaine Crombie: For Australians by Australians.

Rove McManus: The ABC is cool.

Justine Clarke: No commercials. [How strange that Ms Clarke does a promotion for the ABC declaring that it runs no commercials. Also, she seems unaware that the public broadcaster flogs ABC Books which is owned by HarperCollins. What an actor! – MWD Editor.]

Warwick Thornton: The ABC is a very unique beast.

Guy Pearce:  They’re not afraid to explore.

Tim ‘Rosso’ Ross: There’s a great honesty to the ABC.

Sam Neill: It does its job very well.

Rove McManus: It feels like it’s part of the fabric of my life.

Justine Clarke: What it means to be Australian.

Guy Pearce: My fondest memory of the ABC is Playschool.

Claudia Karvan: Mr Squiggle.

Rove McManus: Charlie Pickering.

Tim ‘Rosso’ Ross: I love watching Land Line.

Claudia Karvan: You Can’t Ask That.

Justine Clarke: Kath and Kim.

Warwick Thornton: Rage.

Tim Minchin: Triple J.

Guy Pearce: All the news that I’m after, the current affairs that I’m after.

Warwick Thornton: The ABC’s always been there.

Jimmy Barnes: When I’m driving the car I usually have the ABC on.

Sam Neill: It’s incredibly important that we have one source that we can rely on.

Claudia Karvan: It’s a recognisable place. It’s a place that’s been there since my childhood.

Guy Pearce: I think what’s essentially important about the ABC is the drive to allow everybody in this country to tell their story.

Tim Minchin: It’s just the place you keep coming back to.

Justine Clarke: The ABC is for everyone.

There you have it.  For all the talk about the ABC promoting diverse voices, ABC management did not give indigenous women much screen time in the promotion.  And not one conservative voice was heard – demonstrating that when the ABC managing director and (so-called) editor-in-chief Michelle Guthrie talks about the need for diversity she is not referring to political diversity. That’s why the ABC remains a Conservative Free Zone.

With a little help from Jackie, MWD was able to get a copy of extracts of the footage which will be used in updates of the “I-love-Aunty” advertisement.  Here they are – as told to Jackie:

Tim Minchin: The ABC enthusiastically runs any song I write which describes a social conservative as “scum”.  That’s how committed to freedom it is.

Jimmy Barnes:  In days of old when I was on the turps, I found that the ABC was the best thing to turn on at Hangover Time – whenever that happened to be.

Sam Neill:  Where would we be without the ABC in general – and Laura Tingle in particular?  La Tingle’s appearances on Insiders were so incisive that I used to text her even before we met. What a mind!

As to the background music that will be heard promoting the sandal-wearers in the Conservative Free Zone – here’s the chorus (as supplied to Jackie) which will be played behind the promotion:

We are one, a bunch of lefties

And from all the soviets we come

We share a dream and sing with one voice

I am, you are, we are Sandalistas



Media Watch Dog’s Five Paws Award was inaugurated in Issue Number 26 (4 September 2009) during the time of Nancy (2004-2017). The first winner was ABC TV presenter Emma Alberici.  Ms Alberici scored for remembering the Nazi-Soviet Pact of 23 August 1939 whereby Hitler and Stalin divided Eastern Europe between Germany and the Soviet Union.  And for stating that the Nazi-Soviet Pact had effectively started the Second World War, since it was immediately followed by Germany’s invasion of Poland (at a time when the Soviet Union had become an ally of Germany).

Over the years, the late Nancy’s Five Paws Award has become one of the world’s most prestigious gongs – rating just below the Nobel Prize and the Academy Awards.  Joe Aston, of the Australian Financial Review’s “Rear Window” column, has declared that he would much prefer to win a Five Paws Award than a Walkley.  Mr Aston is a past Five Paws Award recipient. He is joined today by James Massola.


When Mark Scott stepped down following his two terms as ABC managing director and (so-called) editor-in-chief, his besties looked around to find any achievements he had presided over during his time as supremo of the taxpayer funded public broadcaster.  It was not an easy task, since Nice Mr Scott squibbed on his main promise – namely to act as editor-in-chief in addition to his managing director responsibilities.

In the event, someone worked out that the creation of ABC 24 News on the ABC’s second channel, was Nice Mr Scott’s great achievement.  As it turned out, your man Scott concurred. There was a problem, however. You see, ABC News 24 was never a 24 hour news channel.  It ran about half that time in news – much of which was (boringly) repeated.  For the rest, it ran magazine type programs.

Now that Michelle Guthrie is ABC managing director and (so-called) editor-in-chief, ABC News 24 has been rebranded “ABC News”. Clever, eh? [You bet. I wonder just how many hours of butcher-paper-led meetings it took to come up with the clever idea?  – MWD Editor].  The only problem is that it still does not run much news.

Step forward Fairfax Media’s James Massola currently Fairfax Media’s man in Jakarta.  This is the tweet he sent out on the occasion of Scott Morrison’s first visit overseas as prime minister.

Yep. Bizarre.  Quite bizarre. ABC News is on the taxpayer funded broadcaster’s second channel and is supposed to run important news live.  And the ABC has a bureau in the Indonesian capital.  Yet when Prime Minister Morrison gave his first speech in a foreign capital, the ABC was out-to-lunch or dinner.  Thanks to James Massola for pointing this out – since Hendo was watching Sky News at the time.

James Massola: Five Paws.


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 Friday 31 August 2018, Ellen Fanning was in the presenter’s chair at ABC TV’s The Drum.  Her panel comprised Bob Carr, Kerryn Phelps, Erin Watson-Lynn and Fatima Measham with Brian Kenneally as a guest.  It was one of those oh-so-familiar Drum programs where everyone essentially agrees with everyone else on most issues – and conservative views are rarely, if ever, heard.

One of the topics listed for discussion was “the Catholic Church’s response to the Royal Commission recommendations”.  Ms Fanning ran the familiar ABC line that the seal of the confessional (i.e. secrecy) is a key factor in the contemporary child sexual abuse by Catholic priests against children.  The line runs a bit like this – a priest abuses a boy on Friday, goes to confession on Saturday where he is forgiven his sin, says Mass on Sunday and abuses the same boy on Monday.  For the record, sexual abuse by priests and brothers is essentially an historic crime in Australia and there have been few (if any) such crimes since the mid-1990s.

There is no evidence for this assertion made by Ms Fanning. For example, former Catholic priest Gerald Ridsdale – a notorious pedophile – told the Royal Commission that he never went to confession when he was a priest.  Moreover, when interviewed by the ABC AM program on Saturday 1 September 2018, Professor Patrick Parkinson (who is not a Catholic) made the following points.  Let’s go to the transcript:

Sarah Sedghi: One of the recommendations that the church has ruled out is for priests to be compelled to break the seal of the confessional, to report allegations of abuse to authorities. It says in some cases it could even make children less safe. Do you accept that?

Patrick Parkinson: I think that this is an issue where the Royal Commission may have been unwise. Overall, I felt they’d done a wonderful job. The recommendations were very sensible. But this recommendation about the confessional became the headline recommendation; whereas it is really very, very marginal to the protection of children. Other things are far more important.

I would like to see the church work out its theology very carefully around the seal of the confessional, so that if a child discloses abuse in the confessional, that’s not covered by the seal because the child is not admitting doing anything wrong; and, if a perpetrator confesses to sexual abuse of a child, that absolution be withheld until such time as that person has taken responsibility in a way that keeps children safe. Now those things can and should be done without the sledgehammer of removing the protection for the seal of the confessional.

Sarah Sedghi: But at the same time, some states and territories are moving on their own to make it illegal not to break the seal of confession in these cases. Does this mean that the church will effectively be operating above the law by not complying?

Patrick Parkinson: If there were a thousand recommendations listed in order of importance from the Royal Commission, the recommendations around the seal of confessional would be somewhere down the very bottom of the list, in terms of importance in child protection. And yet the focus has been more on this issue from states and territory governments and elsewhere than any other recommendation. Now, that should tell you that we have got our priorities wrong.

The reality is – and I’m not a Catholic and I don’t believe in the confessional – but the reality is that very few people now go to confession. It is extremely rare from all accounts for anybody to confess to sexual abuse in the confessional anyway. And so you’ve got to look at the knock-on effects of challenging religious beliefs on this issue and weigh the costs and benefits of it. And I do not see the benefits outweighing the costs.

During her piece to camera last Friday on The Drum, Ellen Fanning said that the Royal Commission heard instances of priests confessing to sexually abusing children in confession.  Gerard Henderson does not recall such a finding by the Royal Commission.  So he asked Ellen Fanning for evidence to support her assertion.  She did not reply, but Sally Jackson responded on her behalf. Now read on.

Gerard Henderson to Ellen Fanning – 4 September 2018


As you will recall, you made the following comments on The Drum last Friday:

Ellen Fanning: If we come to the issue Fatima of the focus on the confessional seal and what that means. Now people who aren’t Catholics might think well, why is there all this focus on the confessional seal? Archbishop Mark Coleridge said that it wouldn’t necessarily make children safer if priests breached that secrecy. And yet the Royal Commission heard instances of priests confessing to sexually abusing children in confession, and children talking about being abused in the confessional. And so really who do you think is in a better position to judge the safety of children in regards to that matter, the Catholic Church or the Royal Commission?

My question is – what is the evidence that “the Royal Commission heard instances of priests confessing to sexually abusing children in confession”?

I look forward to hearing from you in due course.

Best wishes

Gerard Henderson

Sally Jackson to Gerard Henderson – 6 September 2018

Hi Gerard, your email was passed on to me. Here is a direct quote from the “Criminal Justice”, which was released by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse on 14 August 2017:

“We understand the significance of religious confession – in particular, the inviolability of the confessional seal to people of some faiths, particularly the Catholic faith. However, we heard evidence of a number of instances where disclosures of child sexual abuse were made in religious confession, by both victims and perpetrators. We are satisfied that confession is a forum where Catholic children have disclosed their sexual abuse and where clergy have disclosed their abusive behaviour in order to deal with their own guilt. We heard evidence that perpetrators who confessed to sexually abusing children went on to re-offend and seek forgiveness again.”



Gerard Henderson to Sally Jackson – 7 September 2018


Thanks for your response to my query to Ellen Fanning. I reply to my own correspondence – but there you go.

I note that you have quoted from the two page summary of a section of the Royal Commission’s document titled Criminal Justice Report: Failure to report offence.

However, if Ms Fanning has read the full Criminal Justice Report – along with the Royal Commission’s various case studies on this issue – she would have come to a different conclusion.

On my reading of the Royal Commission’s report, there were few if any instances in Australia where there was clear evidence that a priest or religious brother or layman confessed the sin of pedophilia to a Catholic priest in confession.  For example this did not occur with respect to Case Study 28 or Case Study 11 which were discussed at the Royal Commission.

In Case Study 35, a priest confessed to a crime of child sexual assault with the intent of placing his confessor in a situation where the confessor (who already knew of the crime) could not report the crime to the authorities. As Fr Frank Brennan SJ, who gave evidence at the Royal Commission, has pointed out – this was not a genuine confession because the penitent was not genuine in seeking forgiveness and was merely attempting to cover up a crime.  Consequently, the seal of confession was not relevant in this instance since it was not a genuine confession.

If Ellen Fanning can provide case studies from the Royal Commission to support her claim on The Drum that “the Royal Commission heard instances of priests confessing to sexually abusing children” – she should cite the instances she claims were referred to by the Royal Commission’s main documents. So far she has not done so.

Best wishes

Gerard Henderson

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Until next time.

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