ISSUE – NO. 468

13 September 2019

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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 – Laura Tingle’s Julia Banks Fudge; Jane Hutcheon says goodbye to loving ABC family 

  • Vale Michael Millett 

  • Can You Bear It? Barmy Badham Barks Back; Judith Brett returns to The Monthly for more doom and gloom 

  • MWD Exclusive: Paul Barry’s Five Paws Award Withdrawn 

  • A Friday 13th Special – Andrew Bolt interviews Clive (or Jacob?) Hamilton 

  • Your Taxes At Work – Myf Warhurst & David Finnigan on “CLIMARTE” 

  • An ABC Update – Sky News’ Paul Whittaker vs ABC’s David Anderson & Paul Barry vs Tony Jones 

  • New Series: Questions that Journalists Will Not Answer – Paul Kennedy; Amanda Meade; Quentin Dempster 

  • Great Media U-Turns of Our Time: Caroline Wilson on Richmond AFL Coach Damien Hardwick 

  • A Bush Lawyer Examined – Step Forward Tim Soutphommasane 

  • Correspondence – Gerard Henderson & reader S.J. re Carl Beech (aka “Nick”)

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This is how ABC TV chief political correspondent Laura Tingle commenced her 7.30 report last night on Gladys Liu, the Liberal Party member for Chisholm:

Laura Tingle : When Gladys Liu won the seat of Chisholm in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs in May, it wasn’t just a significant moment because she was the first Chinese woman MP… The seat had been held by Julia Banks, who quit the Liberal Party after claiming her pre-selection had been threatened in the tumultuous days of the coup against Malcolm Turnbull.

And now for some facts. Malcolm Turnbull stepped down as prime minister after losing a spill motion in the Liberal Party room on Friday 24 August 2018.  He was replaced by Scott Morrison, who defeated Peter Dutton and Julie Bishop for the vacant position.

Following the leadership change, Julia Banks announced that she would not contest Chisholm at the next election.   She was critical of the decision to replace Mr Turnbull and added that there was a culture of bullying in the party – but did not provide any evidence as to who had been bullied by whom.

It was not until 27 November 2018 that Ms Banks declared that she had resigned from the Liberal Party, effective immediately, and joined the cross-bench as an Independent.

In short, Julia Banks quit the Liberal Party some three months after the leadership change. In her speech to the House of Representatives on 27 November 2018, Julia Banks did not claim that her Liberal Party pre-selection for Chisholm had been threatened by anyone. Nor was it.

Gladys Liu, who had assisted Julia Banks’ campaign in 2016, won Liberal Party pre-selection for Chisholm after Ms Banks quit the party. Julia Banks unsuccessfully contested the seat of Flinders – finishing third behind the Liberal Party’s Greg Hunt and Labor’s Josh Sinclair.


There is nothing that MWD enjoys so much as when journalists interview journalists about journalism – particularly if the individuals involved are from the taxpayer funded public broadcaster.  That’s why Jackie’s (male) co-owner will turn on iView to watch One Plus One as soon as MWD goes out this afternoon. That is, around Gin & Tonic Time.

It should be a treat.  Hamish Macdonald (currently with the ABC) will interview Jane Hutcheon (soon to depart the ABC) on ABC TV.  Jane Hutcheon explained her predicament on ABC TV News Breakfast this morning – where she was interviewed by the ABC’s Michael Rowland and the ABC’s Lisa Millar about her time at the ABC.

First up, News Breakfast showed a clip of Hamish interviewing Jane:

Jane Hutcheon [clip]: I’ll never stop asking questions and I’ll never stop looking for the perfect question. I don’t want to disappoint anybody. But all I have felt since I made the announcement that, you know, 25 years at the ABC was probably long enough – all I’ve felt is, is love. It’s been overwhelming and, you know, that makes me think I’ve got permission to go forward and try different things.

It’s great to know that from Love comes Permission.  Towards the end of the discussion on News Breakfast, Ms Hutcheon made the following revealing comment:

Jane Hutcheon: My older brother Stephen is also a journalist and works here at the ABC – as my husband does. So it’s kind of all in the family.

Yep. That’s correct.  Jane’s brother and husband work at the ABC. As does her brother’s sister.  As does her husband’s wife and brother-in-law.  Feel the Love inside the Conservative Free Zone in an all-in-the-family kind of way.  You have MWD’s Permission.


Gerard Henderson and The Sydney Institute team deeply regret the untimely death of Michael Millett after an illness. Michael was a fine journalist at the Sydney Morning Herald who made a highly successful transition into a managerial role at the ABC.  He was always highly efficient, professional and helpful.

Michael’s role at both John Fairfax Limited and the ABC was challenging.  But he handled the task with balance and a sense of humour – since he always approached issues with an open mind intent on a mutually acceptable solution.

What’s more, Michael Millett was a great supporter of the Essendon Football Club – a task requiring considerable moral fortitude and faith in recent years.

Michael Millett  Requiescat in Pace.

Can You Bear It


There was absolutely huge interest  in the report in last week’s MWD  that journalist activist Van Badham had welcomed the news that Margaret Atwood’s new tome The Testaments  was about to be  published – with the announcement that she had read her A Handmaid’s Tale in the bath. Comrade Badham said this on The World Today twice – on 5 September 2019. This is the reference in full:

Van Badham: I remember I read it [The Handmaid’s Tale] in the bath, and I read it in one sitting. And only when I put down the book did I realise that the bath had gone completely cold…. Margaret Atwood is one of the greatest living writers worldwide, in the English language, anywhere. And if she has made the literary decision to create the sequel, that in itself is an important and powerful decision and it certainly encourages me to read the book. Since that fateful day in the cold bath, my mother has bought me all her books so I’m really looking forward to it.

Jackie’s [male] co-owner, with the help of his feminist adviser, estimated that to read A Handmaid’s Tale – in or out of the bath on any “fateful day” – would take at least four hours.  So it was good to hear that Ms Badham did not notice that the water had gone cold.  Fancy that.

Now, Comrade Badham has been known to vehemently criticise others. Yet she seems to be a sensitive soul when it comes to others laughing at her good self.  This is what was tweeted at 4.10 am last Saturday:

Van Badham‏ @vanbadham

It’s disappointing that Gerard Henderson is not on @InsidersABC tomorrow – only because he’s using his free weekend to have a feeble mindspank in his column about me in the bath. Oh, and comparing me to a dog. Again. The Australian in *2019*. Extraordinary.

In fact, MWD goes out late in the afternoon on Fridays after lunch – around Gin & Tonic time. On the four occasions that Hendo has appeared on Insiders this year – he has departed for Melbourne around Pre-Dinner Drinks Time on Saturday night.  So MWD goes out well before any “free weekend” used to mindspank anyone. But MWD digresses.

For the record, MWD did not compare Comrade Badham with a dog in any unfavourable sense. Canines are top of the pile in so far as MWD is concerned.   It’s just that MWD recorded that Jackie had read James Joyce’s Ulysses in the shower – without noticing the water. That’s all.  In other words, a competition as to who is top dog, so to speak, when it comes to reading while performing ablutions.

And for “a feeble mindspank” – or two – Richard Ferguson and Alice Workman reported in The Australian on 27 April 2019 that Comrade Badham tweeted this about John Howard in 2013: “I curse the earth beneath the c_ _t that spawned John Howard”.  In the same year, she described Bill Shorten as a self-promoter who parrots neoliberal values “that ultimately f-ck workers over” – but declared that she liked the (then) Labor leader all the same.

Comrade Badham told The Australian that she would no longer tweet such vulgar things concerning the likes of Messrs Howard and Shorten.  Good show.  But she is so sensitive as to send out an early morning tweet about reports on her self-declared bath-time reading habits. Can You Bear It?


As avid readers will be aware, MWD has always had special regard for La Trobe University Emeritus Professor Judith Brett’s insights into the Liberal Party of Australia.   Who else could have formed the theory that Liberal Party founder Robert Menzies’ “anti-communism rhetoric” can be traced to the “anal erotic imagery of the attack from behind”? This gem is contained in Judith Brett’s tome Robert Menzies’ Forgotten People (1992).

Dr Brett (for a doctor she is) is regarded as sympathetic to the Liberal Party.  But she is a former editor of Arena Magazine – which presented as a left-wing journal of opinion.  So it makes sense that Judith Brett is the go-to person when the leftist The Monthly wants someone to write about the Liberal Party – from a leftist (inner-city) point of view. After all The Monthly’s editor Nick Feik is based in the Melbourne inner-city suburb of Collingwood.

The September issue of The Monthly contains this front page lead: “John Howard’s heir: Judith Brett on Scott Morrison’s Australia.  Photography by Stephen Dupont”.

There were also unflattering shots of Prime Minister Scott Morrison from the front and behind – see below.  Stephen Dupont’s photography accompanied the article by Judith Brett – the full title of which is “Howard’s Heir: On Scott Morrison and his suburban aspirations”. For inner-city types like The Monthly’s writers and readers – there’s no bigger insult than to accuse others of being suburban. The unflattering pics of the Prime Minister are below:

As avid readers are aware, Dr Brett is something of an “expert” on the Liberal Party of Australia – see, for example, MWD Issue 452.  In July 1993 she declared that “the Liberal Party in the 1990s seemed doomed”. The Liberal Party won the 1996 election plus six since then.

The April 2019 issue of The Monthly contained an article by Judith Brett titled “Self-interest Groups: The Liberal Party has little left but appeals to the hip-pocket”. It concluded as follows:

The party must be hoping that enough of its supporters are as morally bankrupt as it has become, happy to trade the planet’s and their children’s future for a pocketful of silver.

Writing in Nine Newspapers’ on 14 April 2019, Judith Brett declared that “not since 1943 has the non-Labor vote side of our national politics entered the election campaign in such a poor place”.  Dr Brett also said that the Coalition agreement between the Liberal and National parties was under greater strain than at any time since 1943.  Prime Minister Scott Morrison won the May 2019 election increasing the Coalition’s votes and seats – and the Coalition remained intact.

Nevertheless, Judith Brett bounced back in The Monthly’s September 2019 issue. Needless to say, there was no attempt to explain her past howlers with respect to the Liberal Party in particular and the Coalition in general.  It was a somewhat mundane analysis – except when the La Trobe University emeritus professor threw the switch to eco-catastrophism like this:

[Robert] Menzies faced the dangers of the Cold War. Morrison must deal with an international order being destabilised by the rise of China as well as with the greatest danger humanity has ever faced: a climate heading fast for 3 degrees of warming or more. The Coalition government repeatedly promises that it will keep us safe. Terrorists are its favourite threats, justifying the inhumane treatment of asylum seekers as well as the ramping up of government security. Yet it is doing next to nothing about climate change. This is the looming crisis on Morrison’s watch and there is nothing yet to indicate that he realises how deadly serious it is.

The fact is that there is little that the Morrison government can “do” about climate change – since Australia produces less than 2 per cent of total global emissions.  And the claim that climate change is “the greatest danger humanity has ever faced” – has the learned professor studied what turns out to have been a very real risk of nuclear war during the Cold War? Can You Bear It?


Following a meeting of the judges at Gin & Tonic time yesterday, a decision was made to withdraw the Five Paws Award which was extended to ABC TV Media Watch presenter Paul Barry last week.

Mr Barry was awarded this prestigious gong following his statement on Media Bites that fellow ABC comrade Tony Jones was “wrong” in stating on Q&A that Sky News After Dark had “about 5,000 people watching”.  As Paul Barry acknowledged, this was a howler to the factor of about 12.  The real average figure is around 65,000.

As anticipated by MWD’s editor last week, Paul Barry did not make his criticism of Tony Jones in his main Media Watch program on Monday – which runs just before Q&A.  See this week’s An ABC Update segment.

In view of all the facts, the panel withdrew the award. No correspondence will be entered into.

Paul Barry: Five Paws Withdrawn

On the occasion of Friday the 13th it’s time to look at those of us who benefit from other-worldly insights.  On this occasion, Charles Sturt University’s Professor Clive Hamilton.


In recent times, Dr Hamilton (for a doctor he is) has presented as an expert on China’s influence in Australia – following the publication of his tome Silent Invasion: China’s Influence in Australia.  This has even led to your man Hamilton being invited to appear on Sky News’ The Bolt Report.  Most recently this week.

It’s just as well that climate change sceptic Andrew Bolt is a forgiving soul.  Why it’s not so many years ago that Dr Hamilton (who has no medical or science qualifications) declared that those who did not follow his warnings about climate change and all that, were suffering from a mental illness – which he diagnosed as cognitive dissonance. Once upon a time, The Bolta would have been diagnosed by Dr Hamilton as presenting with this disorder.

In any event, it seems that all – or most – is forgotten and/or forgiven.  These days, Andrew Bolt enjoys talking to Clive Hamilton on the telly. Or does he?

For, as MWD has documented in the past – see Issue 145 – there is no such person as Clive Hamilton.  Or not exclusively so.  Your man Hamilton told Caroline Jones on the ABC Radio program The Search for Meaning (27 February 1994) that he is a follower of the philosopher Carl Jung.  So much so that Dr Clive is convinced that he has an “other self”. Enter Mr Jacob.

As Comrade Hamilton described the situation in 1994 – your man Clive is a pretty decent sort of guy devoted to saving the planet and suspending democracy until this is achieved. In short, a hand-holding, sandal-wearing, eco-catastrophist on a mission to save the world. But a nice kind of guy.

But then there’s your man Jacob.  Clive Hamilton told Caroline Jones that Jacob (Hamilton) is a foul-mouthed murderer and verbal abuser of women.  And he confessed that Jacob is part of himself.   Really. But note, only a part.  Phew.

Jackie’s (male) co-owner has purchased a copy of the Silent Invasion. But will not read it until he is told which chapters were written by Clive – and which by Jacob.

[Luckily I’ve discovered a couple of pics which will help illustrate this piece. Here’s hoping you will use them.  Make sure you put them the correct way round.  After all, it is Friday the 13th. – MWD  Editor.]


Did anyone hear the segment “Using art to activate change on climate” which aired on ABC last Monday at 12.30pm? The presenter was Myf Warhurst.

It was one of those ABC debates where everyone agrees with everyone else – in an eco-catastrophist kind of way. The panel comprised Davin Finnigan (playwright and author) and Bronwyn Johnson (Executive Director CLIMARTE).

Here are some selected highlights:

0:00:28:4 Myf Warhurst: What’s the link between art and climate change? I wouldn’t necessarily put the two together, are you talking more in terms of people responding to climate change through art?

0:00:54.7 David Finnigan:..I think in 2019 basically all art is climate art. Some of it just doesn’t realise it yet.

0:01:43.5 Myf Warhurst: ..You said all art is about climate change. I’m thinking, does Nicki Minaj have a climate change angle do you think in her latest rap?

0:01:52.3 David Finnigan: I think you can read pretty much every artwork in the 21st century through the lens of climate. Some of it might be almost deliberately avoiding the topic. You know, you might look back in from 100 years’ time and say, “look these works were really acknowledging what was going on, these works were deliberately escaping from it”.

0:02:21.4 Myf Warhurst: Tell me how your own art then – how does it interact with climate change?

0:02:27.9 David Finnigan: So the work that I’m doing at the moment which is on at the Sydney Opera House this weekend is a work called “You’re Safe Til 2024”.. [Hang on a minute – why should the panel be talking about looking back in 100 years time if the planet is doomed by 2024? – MWD Editor]

0:04:09.9 Myf Warhurst: We touched on it a little bit, the earnest nature of some of the art that’s coming out. How do you as a festival director get around that? Because there’s nothing more boring than someone telling you what you should think through art, I think.

Bronwyn Johnson: I agree. There’s a place for the didactic.  But you know, I work with a lot of visual artists and we work on what we call “socially engaged projects”..[long boring non-answer]..0:05:14.5 I’ve done two poster projects, and these are at the didactic scale because posters remain dynamic forms of communication. And you know, I live in Northcote, and I still get a lot of information off a poster. [I guessed that she lives in inner-city Northcote. But otherwise what is Ms Johnson on about – or on? – MWD Editor]

0:16:53.0 David Finnigan: I spent years trying to make work that did cross the political divide. The way that I tried to do that was these participatory works..and took them into corporate spaces. Mining companies, oil and fossil fuel companies, to try and engage those people in debate..But then about three or four years ago I wrote a play called ‘Kill Climate Deniers”. So I really wrote myself off from being able to speak to anyone across the political divide. So, I’m no longer in a position to connect with anyone outside the bubble.

Myf Warhurst: Right. Oh dear.

David Finnigan: But you know, I’m not sorry about that.

Quite so. Your Taxes At Work. Oh dear.


As avid readers are aware, on Monday 26 August 2019 Q&A presenter Tony Jones declared that what is termed Sky News After Dark (i.e. 6 pm to 10 pm) has an audience of about 5000 viewers.  This was hopelessly wrong – the correct figure is around 65,000. In short, Mr Jones is out by a factor of around a dozen.

Sky News chief executive officer Paul Whittaker wrote to ABC managing director and editor-in-chief David Anderson on 4 September 2019 pointing to Tony Jones’ original error on Q&A (26 August) and Jones’ subsequent failure to adequately correct his mistake the following week (2 September).

Obviously the ABC’s managing director cannot handle all correspondence, including complaints.  However, it would be expected that the head of one major media organisation (the ABC) would respond to important correspondence from the head of another media organisation (Sky News). This did not happen in this instance.

Instead, Mr Anderson flicked the matter to the ABC’s Audience and Consumer Affairs department in Canberra. This was dealt with by Kirstin McLiesh – the head of A and CA.  Ms McLiesh is a bureaucrat in the taxpayer funded public broadcaster.

On Thursday 5 September 2019 – at 5.05 pm – Ms McLiesh wrote to Mr Whittaker, on behalf of both David Anderson and Tony Jones, dismissing his complaint. She maintained that Tony Jones’ comments on Q&A re Sky News “did not amount to a significant material error” [emphasis in original].

So, according to ABC Audience and Consumer Affairs, Tony Jones’ error in stating that Sky News has 5000 viewers “after dark”, when in fact the average figure is close to 65,000, is not “a significant material error”.  Really.

But this is not the opinion of ABC TV Media Watch presenter Paul Barry – who is contracted by the ABC to be its principal media commentator.  On Thursday 5 September 2019 – on his Media Bites web series – Paul Barry declared that Tony Jones’s comment about Sky News on Q&A was “wrong”.

So there you have it.  According to the ABC’s Kirstin McLiesh – on behalf of David Anderson – Tony Jones did not make a “significant material error” re Sky News.  But according to the ABC’s Paul Barry: “The facts are checked – and Tony [Jones] you were wrong.”

And now for some statistics.  Kirstin McLiesh’s Audience and Consumer Affairs’ department rejects around 97 per cent of the complaints it investigates. Moreover, it is unusual for Paul Barry to correct one of his senior colleagues.

So the question remains.   Does Mr Anderson agree with the ABC’s Kirstin McLiesh?  Or does Mr Anderson agree with the ABC’s Paul Barry?  So far, no one is saying.



Barely a day goes past when Jackie’s (male) co-owner is not asked a question along the following lines – did you get a reply to that question you asked Journalist X?  Sadly, the answer invariably is “No”.

As avid readers are aware, journalists spend a large part of their professional lives asking questions of others – to which they expect replies.  But many a journo goes “under the bed” and refuses to respond to, or even acknowledge, questions.  This series will monitor this phenomenon.

  • “No Comment” Paul Kennedy re George Pell

On Wednesday 21 August 2019, Paul Kennedy told ABC TV viewers that in 1996 (then) Archbishop George Pell established the Melbourne Response (to deal with cases of historical child sexual abuse by Catholic clergy) “around the same time” as the events at St Patrick’s Cathedral concerning which he was convicted in December 2018.  The implication was that the Melbourne Response was established by George Pell as a cover for his offending.

In fact, the Melbourne Response was created – with the support of Victoria Police – in late October 1996.  The events of St Patrick’s took place in late December 1996.  A gap of around six weeks.  In other words, the Melbourne Response could not have been created to deal with any events in St Patrick’s Cathedral in December 1996.

Paul Kennedy went under the bed – neither responding to nor acknowledging the email. His error remains uncorrected by the ABC.

  • “No Comment” Amanda Meade re Journalists & Transparency

Amanda Meade, The Guardian’s media correspondent, is forever banging on about the need for transparency in public life.  But, apparently some public figures (i.e. politicians) need to be more transparent than others (i.e. journalists like Ms Meade and her comrades).

On 7 August 2019, Gerard Henderson asked Amanda Meade this question:

[Should] all journalists declare their associations with politicians when talking about politicians? Including those who leak to them and those with whom they have, or have had, relationships or associations of one kind or another.  What is your view on this in your capacity as The Guardian Australia’s media correspondent?

Amanda Meade went under the bed – neither responding to nor acknowledging the email.

  • “No Comment” Quentin Dempster – re Joh Bjelke-Petersen & Barry O’Farrell

On 28 July 2019, former ABC journalist Quentin Dempster tweeted that Gerard Henderson had supported the “Joh Bjelke-Petersen for Prime Minister” campaign in 1987.  Totally false – as a non-lazy Google search would have demonstrated. Your man Dempster also said that Gerard Henderson was “puce with indignation” when NSW premier Barry O’Farrell resigned over “NSW ICAC evidence about that bottle of Grange”.  This was mere hyperbole. In any event, Barry O’Farrell was cleared by a subsequent ICAC inquiry.

On 1 August 2019, Gerard Henderson wrote to Quentin Dempster pointing to his errors. Mr Dempster went into “No Comment” mode – neither responding to, nor even acknowledging, the email.


  • AFL Writer Caroline Wilson on Why Richmond coach [Damien Hardwick] is a Dud Who Should Be Junked – September 2016

This must be an uncomfortable time for [Richmond coach] Damien Hardwick. The inevitable conclusion emerging from an externally commissioned report [by Ernst and Young] into the Tigers is that few positions in the club’s under-performing football operation can be guaranteed. And yet the only individual who appears certain of a job next season [Hardwick] is the one who must take so much responsibility for a season in which it is difficult to identify a game where the team put together four solid quarters of football.

The senior coach [Hardwick] is watching those around him depart. As assistant coaches are let go, others encouraged to look elsewhere, and key recruiting and other football staffers await the axe, Hardwick seems safe following a rock-solid guarantee from his president and by virtue of the two-year contract he signed at the start of the season. Had his extension been for one year not two, it would have been unlikely that Hardwick remained at the club in 2017. That decision now looks foolish.

– Caroline Wilson, The Age, 1 September 2016

  • AFL Writer Caroline Wilson on why Richmond coach Damien Hardwick is a Genius Who Does Not Receive Enough Praise – September 2019.

Following a discussion on Outsiders about Richmond’s chances of winning the Australia Football League Grand Final on Sunday, 8 September, Caroline Wilson had this to say:

Caroline Wilson: …I just don’t think Damien Hardwick gets the credit [for Richmond’s success], I’m quite serious here, as a coach who flies under the radar. When you think about Alistair Clarkson [Hawthorn], who was of course sitting in the stands last night watching. Even Chris Fagan [Brisbane] who deserves all the credits and accolades he’s received. Nathan Buckley [Collingwood], maybe the Scott brothers [Geelong & North Melbourne]. Maybe because he [Hardwick] doesn’t do as much media. But what he has achieved this year with that talent at his disposal and even brave performances like that big loss to Adelaide when they went in with like 12 of their best players missing. And then the move last night of putting [Richmond’s] Dustin Martin at full-forward, I mean that was a masterstroke.

– Caroline Wilson, ABC TV Outsiders, 8 September 2019.

As avid AFL fans will know, Richmond took no notice of Ms Wilson’s comment that it was “foolish” to re-appoint Damien Hardwick as the coach of the club for 2017.  Richmond won the premiership flag in September 2017.

Caroline Wilson writes on AFL for The Age – with considerable confidence in her opinions about virtually everything.



There was considerable interest in last week’s inaugural MWD segment in this series titled “MWD v Jack Waterford”. MWD examined the article by the former Canberra Times editor and Bush Lawyer titled “High Court should leave Pell alone” (Canberra Times, 24 August 2019).  For the record, Mr Waterford has not responded to MWD’s critique of his article – which contained both factual and legal errors. MWD will publish any response which Jack Waterford makes.

It is notable that all the direct and implied criticisms of Justice Mark Weinberg’s dissenting judgment in George Pell v The Queen have come from journalists (e.g. Jack Waterford) and commentators (e.g. Tim Soutphommasane) – and not from legal academics qualified in the law. Also, it has been journalists and commentators who have called for an end to the discussion on George Pell v The Queen (e.g. Louise Milligan, Derryn Hinch).

Professor John Finnis (Oxford University) – see here, and Professor Jeremy Gans (University of Melbourne) – see here, are qualified legal academics who have offered commentary on the decision of the Victorian Court of Appeal in George Pell v The Queen.  Neither has suggested that Justice Mark Weinberg’s dissent was wrong.  It is primarily journalists and commentators who have criticised, or failed to address, the dissenting judgement in George Pell v The Queen – not legal experts.

MWD awaits the outcome of any application to appeal to the High Court in this case. In the meantime, MWD will continue to look at the comments of journalists and commentators in this matter.  Today the focus is on Dr Tim Soutphommasane – a political theorist and professor at the University of Sydney – and a former senior figure in the Human Rights Commission:

 MWD  v Tim Soutphommasane

On 24 August 2019, the Sydney Morning Herald published an article by Tim Soutphommasane titled “Pell and the twisted inversion of victimhood”.  The article was also published in Nine Newspapers’ The Age. Here’s how the piece commenced:

Justice has been served. Or has it? The saga of George Pell is not yet over. The Victorian Court of Appeal’s decision to uphold the cardinal’s conviction for child sex abuse may yet reach the High Court. We will find out soon enough. Our response to the case has revealed much about us as Australians. For all our national myth-making about egalitarianism, it’s clear that power still goes a long way in this place. The powerful will always have their friends, who will always defend them. No matter what their crime.

Clearly the University of Sydney professor has made up his mind concerning George Pell’s guilt – irrespective of what decision the High Court of Appeal might make if an application for leave to appeal is made and granted. Moreover, if “the powerful” were as powerful as Soutphommasane asserts – then, surely, Pell would never have been convicted in the first instance.

Towards the end of his article, Soutphommasane declared that Australian “society’s functioning depends…on us accepting the rule of law, whether we like the results or not”.  However, he is not prepared to wait for the conclusion of the legal process in this case.  An unpleasant double standard.

The Soutphommasane article was essentially a rant against conservatives.  In the course of this rant, he overlooked some key points which someone presenting as a university professor should be expected to cover.

Soutphommasane also failed to inform his readers that Victoria is the only mainland state to deny an accused the right to triall by judge alone.  Following Pell’s conviction, reports indicate that the Victorian government is considering introducing this legal reform.  Needless to say, it will not affect the Pell case.

▪ Soutphommasane failed to mention that the first jury could not reach a unanimous (12 to zero) or majority (11 to 1) decision. His reference to “the Victorian County Court’s jury’s unanimous finding” applied only to the re-trial.

And Soutphommasane failed to mention that the Victorian Court of Appeal divided two to one in George Pell v The Queen. He made no reference whatsoever to the dissenting judgment of Justice Mark Weinberg – who is regarded as one of the most experienced criminal jurists in Australia. This is a serious omission which distorts what happened in George Pell v The Queen.

▪ Soutphommasane also wrote that “conservatives are supposed to champion the rule of law” and asserted that they were not doing so in this case.  Sure, conservatives support the rule of law.  But this does not mean that a conservative, or anyone else, has to agree with a jury’s verdict in every case.

For example, the Lindy Chamberlain conviction, which Justice Weinberg referred to in his dissenting judgment.  Or Colin Campbell Ross – who was hanged in 1921 in Melbourne for the murder of a young girl in what was called the “Gun Alley Murder” following a unanimous jury verdict.  Campbell Ross – whose appeals to the Victorian Court of Appeal and the High Court of Australia were dismissed – was granted a posthumous pardon in 2008.

▪ Soutphommasane claimed that it is “the culture war that explains why much media coverage of Pell’s case has cast him as a real victim”.  No evidence was provided for this assertion.

Soutphommasane also overlooked the enormous media pile-on against Pell which has gone on for over a decade.  Led by the ABC, Fairfax Media (now Nine Newspapers), 60 Minutes, The Project, The Saturday Paper, The New Daily, The Guardian, at times Sky News (Paul Murray Live, Hinch) and more besides.

No criminal case in recent times – in which there was no forensic or other objective evidence and in which an accused was convicted on the testimony of the complainant alone – has been preceded by such prejudicial media commentary.  Despite his time at Australia’s Human Rights Commission, Professor Soutphommasane ignored the possibility of unconscious bias affecting a jury’s decision in such a case.

It is not clear whether Soutphommasane has read the sentencing of Chief Judge Kidd in R v George Pell on 11 March 2019 who stated: “We have witnessed outside this court and within our community examples of a ‘witch hunt’ or ‘lynch mob’ mentality in relation to Cardinal Pell.”

Likewise it is not clear if Soutphommasane has read Judge Roy Ellis’ judgement in the NSW District Court in R v Philip Edward Wilson (6 December 2018).  Ellis J. referred to “the potential for media pressure to impact judicial independence”.

However, it is clear that Soutphommasane, a one-time human rights advocate, is not interested in George Pell’s legal rights in a case which has yet to reach its conclusion.

▪ Soutphommasane asserted that “in Pell’s case, the surviving victim himself, known as ‘J’, has been rendered invisible and silent within much of the debate”.  In fact, Victorian law prohibits the naming of sexual assault complainants or victims.  The Victorian authorities have also determined that the full transcript of J’s evidence will never be released.  These decisions have nothing to do with Pell.  Moreover, as Soutphommasane eventually conceded, J’s lawyer – Vivian Waller – has spoken on a number of occasions on his behalf.

▪ In his article Soutphommasane maintained that everyone should accept the unanimous decision of the jury in the second trial and the (majority) judgment in the Victorian Court of Appeal and bagged conservatives for not doing so.  The professor overlooked the fact that the most sustained critique of the jury decision and the majority judgment in George Pell v The Queen has been made by Justice Weinberg – to whom Dr Soutphommasane made no reference.

Tim Soutphommasane – A Bush Lawyer Indeed.

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 was published in MWD – much to the delight of its avid readers.

There are occasions, however, when Jackie’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.

On 20 June 2019, ABC TV’s 7.30’s executive producer Justin Stevens wrote to Hendo and stated – with evident irony – “you have a habit of publishing private email correspondence like this”. Quite so – and so it came to pass that his emails were published in Issues 455 and 456.  For his part, Jackie’s (male) co-owner reckons it’s a bit much for journalists who spend a large part of their professional life receiving leaked information – including private correspondence – to lecture others about good manners with respect to the handling of private correspondence.

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, on occasions, Ms Murphy herself (See MWD Issue 297).


As avid readers will recall, last week’s “Documentation” segment carried a report from Private Eye on the chronology of “Nick” (Carl Beech). Nick’s allegation about being abused as a boy – by a number of living and dead high-profile British men – gained international media attention.  Following the revelation that Nick was a liar and a fantasist, who was convicted in July of perverting the course of justice and fraud, MWD thought that a running of the events leading to the conviction of Carl Beech (formerly known as “Nick”) would be of interest to readers.  A certain S.J.  thought otherwise.  Now read on.

S.J. to Gerard Henderson – 8 September 2019


I just wanted to point out to you that somehow an irrelevant piece somehow managed to sneak into your last Media Watch Dog column.  It must have been inserted in error as it was clearly not related to the Australian media and furthermore was not particularly current.  It was a section called “Documentation” about someone named Carl Beech, who is seemingly from Britain.  Apparently “MWD readers are well aware about the case” – well, this particular reader isn’t, nor does he really care.

Oh, if you can’t find the section I mention in your column, it is nicely sandwiched between the criticism of Jack Waterword[sic] re George Pell and the criticism of Paul Kennedy re George Pell.

Keep morale high

Don’t let obsessions get the better of you

Lotsa luck


Gerard Henderson to S.J. – 9 September 2019


I refer to your email of 8 September 2019 concerning the Documentation segment titled “A summary of the crimes of Carl Beech (aka “Nick”) – fantasist & liar re historical child sexual abuse” in last Friday’s Media Watch Dog issue 467.  My responses are as follows:

▪ You claim to be a Media Watch Dog reader – but state that you are not aware of the case of the liar and fantasist Carl Beech – originally termed “Nick”.  If you have read MWD issues 394, 435 and 436, inter alia, you would be aware of the Carl Beech/“Nick” case.  I also discussed this in my column in The Weekend Australian on 2 August 2019.  A simple Google search would have revealed this.

▪ You state that the Carl Beech/“Nick” case is “irrelevant” and “clearly not related to the Australian media”. Another error.  On 19 July 2015, the case was covered by 60 Minutes. Reporter Ross Coulthart introduced the program as follows: “Without question, the biggest political scandal Britain has ever faced will be exposed tonight”. It was the claim that living and dead high-profile men in Britain “are accused of some of the most sadistic child sex abuse imaginable on hundreds of victims, some as young as eight”.

▪ You assert that the Carl Beech/“Nick” case is “not particularly current”.  Wrong again.  On 22 July 2019, Beech was convicted in Newcastle Crown Court of perverting the course of justice and fraud.  The former conviction related to lying about historical child sexual abuse; the latter to obtaining financial compensation under false pretences. July 2019 is fairly current, don’t you think?

▪ If you have read Victorian Court of Appeal Justice Mark Weinberg’s dissenting judgment in George Pell v The Queen, you would be aware that the Carl Beech/“Nick” matter was referred to at paragraphs 933 to 937. Clearly this matter is both relevant and current.

▪ You refer to the references to The Canberra Times’ Jack Waterford and ABC TV’s Paul Kennedy in last Friday’s MWD.  Mr Waterford has not challenged any of my comments re his article – including his factual errors.  And Mr Kennedy has gone into “No Comment” mode and refuses to answer questions about his false claim on ABC TV.

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In conclusion, I would suggest that you do some research before writing to MWD again.

Gerard Henderson

[There was some other correspondence not specifically related to the original email exchange.   It is not published here.]

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Until next time

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