ISSUE – NO. 486

28 February 2020

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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 – Gaven Morris’ fake fake news; Mike Carlton on the rape of democracy & blood in the streets

  • Can You Bear It? Laurie Oakes comes clean on Evans/Kernot affair; Janine Perrett’s 2020 election fantasies; The mysterious Tom Burton identified; Channel Ten’s left-wing Project

  • Top Media Interrupter of the Week – Fran Kelly interjects

  • New Segment: Jackie’s Take on Insiders –Laboured analogies, hyperbole & elephants in the room starring Mark Kenny & Patricia Karvelas

  • Au Revoir Insiders

  • Five Paws Award – Step Forward Jen Kelly

  • History Corner – John Ruddick looks back in error on The Nationals

  • Correspondence – Paul Barry & Timothy Latham; David Speers & Virginia Trioli


Some might have thought that Gaven Morris, the ABC’s Head of News and Current Affairs, might have had something better to do with his time yesterday afternoon than to go on Twitter.  But no. Here is the exchange that occurred:

The reference was to a piece on by Frank Chung which was headed “One third say ABC is out of touch with ‘ordinary’ Aussies”.  The poll, commissioned by the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) and conducted by Dynata, found that 30 per cent agreed with the proposition that the ABC did not represent the views of ordinary Australians, 32 per cent did not agree – and the rest had no opinion on the matter.  It also found that support for the ABC was lowest in the 65-plus age cohort but also low in the 18 to 24 cohort.

The tweet went out at 3.40 pm. In response Gaven Morris hit the send button at 4.04 pm.

It is unusual that so senior an ABC executive would describe a professional poll, conducted by Dynata, as “dubious”- simply because it was commissioned by the IPA.  Likewise, it’s entering into the political debate to describe the IPA as an “anti-ABC lobby group”.  Surely, it’s more than that. Also, ABC journalists rarely, if ever, describe polls commissioned by the left-wing Australia Institute as “dubious” or refer to it as a “pro-ABC lobby group”. By the way, the ABC from time to time runs Australia Institute polls as news – especially on a news light Sunday or Monday morning.

In any event, it appears that Mr Morris was into fake news after lunch yesterday.  It is not accurate to say 70 per cent of respondents did not agree with the proposition that the ABC is out of touch.  However, some 32 per cent held this view.  But nearly half of respondents had no view on the matter – possibly because they do not watch the taxpayer funded public broadcaster.  In short, the result of the poll was roughly a 30-30 outcome.  Not a 70-30 one as Mr Morris would have his Twitter followers believe.


Thanks to the avid reader who forwarded a couple of tweets sent out by Mike (“I’ll pour the gin”) Carlton last night concerning a bizarre social media petition (commenced by a certain Anthony Whitehead) calling on Governor-General David Hurley to sack Scott Morrison and the Coalition government.

It so happened that the petition, which commenced its life some time ago and now has some 200,000 signatures, aroused the Sage of Avalon Beach – who had this to say:

Your man Carlton was correct – but he was not “off”. Well, not off in the “go to bed” meaning of the term. [Perhaps he was off for a Gin & Tonic – MWD Editor] Rather, he made a further contribution to the (pointless) debate. Here it is:

Yeah. Good night Mike. What a load of absolute tosh. Sure, there were some Labor types in November 1975 who thought that Governor-General Sir John Kerr might resolve the supply crisis by dismissing the Labor government if Gough Whitlam insisted on governing without supply.  They included Labor ministers Bill Hayden and Jim McClelland, Labor staffer Elizabeth Reid and artist Clifton Pugh.

But not Prime Minister Whitlam – who thought that he had Kerr’s measure and was totally surprised when he was dismissed by the Governor-General.  This despite the fact that, some years earlier, Mr Whitlam himself said the Coalition government should be dismissed by the governor-general if it could not ensure supply.

It’s true that, in 2002, Paul Keating – who was a junior minister in the final year of the Whitlam government – said that he would have arrested Kerr if he had been prime minister in November 1975.  This overlooked the fact that even the prime minister does not control the Australian Federal Police.  Moreover, it’s impossible to imagine that the Australian Army’s top brass would have arrested a governor-general. It would have amounted to a military coup d’etat. Consider that. Good afternoon.

Editor’s Note re Jenny Hocking v Australian Archives

There has been considerable reader interest in MWD’s coverage of the High Court’s hearing of Professor Jenny Hocking’s appeal against the decision of the Full Federal Court in the Kerr Papers case. This case turns on the issue as to whether Sir John Kerr’s papers, which were lodged by Kerr at the National Archives of Australia (NAA), should be treated as material which was owned personally by the former Governor-General.  Or whether they are Commonwealth records within the meaning of the Archives Act 1983 and are owned by the Commonwealth government.

If they are the former, National Archives is required to abide by Kerr’s instructions made when lodging what he regarded as his private papers.  If they are the latter, then what have been termed “The Palace Letters” can be released by the NAA. A majority of the Federal Court (Allsop CJ and Robertson J) found that they were personal papers – Flick J. dissented.

It is not clear when the High Court will deliver its finding.  For its part, MWD hopes that Sir John’s correspondence to Buckingham Palace, in the lead-up to the Dismissal of 11 November 1975, will be released.  MWD could be wrong.  But the release of Kerr’s papers is not likely to reveal that either the Queen or The Palace was involved in some kind of conspiracy to bring down the Whitlam government. We will see – or perhaps not – depending on the High Court’s decision.

Can You Bear It


Helen Pitt’s “PS” column in Saturday’s Sydney Morning Herald appears to MWD as a combination between fact and fiction.  But it’s invariably lively if not always informative.  However, last week, Ms Pitt had this incisive piece of news about the recently retired Laurie Oakes – one of Australia’s most famous journalists and the one-time “doyen” of the Canberra Press Gallery.

Laurie’s Long Luncheon Laments

A gaggle of journalists and media junkies gathered on Wednesday to watch 2GB radio host Ben Fordham interview former political journalist Laurie Oakes … for the inaugural Sydney Media Club luncheon. Hosted by the Kennedy Awards at Bar M, the Italian eatery at Rushcutters Bay, the 76-year-old Canberra Press Gallery veteran didn’t hold back on his criticism of Prime Minister Scott Morrison, whom he declared not a “natural” or “instinctive” politician. “ScoMo’s never been good at getting the tone right,” he said of the timing of the PM’s holiday to Hawaii amid the recent bushfires.

Former Liberal staffer and member of the PM’s inner circle, David Gazard, was in the lunching crowd but didn’t choke on his over-sized spatchcock (or was it the gnocchi?) when he heard the criticism of his close mate. When questioned about the story that led to the former Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce’s removal from the deputy prime ministership, Oakes said, “bonking is not news, and shouldn’t be news”. He then went on to share his regrets about the story he broke in 2002 about former Foreign Minister Gareth Evans’ relationship with former Australian Democrats and ALP politician Cheryl Kernot. “I wish I had never got onto it,” Oakes said in retrospect.

No wonder a guest or two almost choked on their gnocchi (or was it the oversized spatchcock?) on hearing your man Oakes’ view that “Scomo’s never been good at getting the tone right”. After all, Prime Minister Scott Morrison seemed to go okay at the May 2019 election – contrary to the expectations of virtually all of Mr Oakes’ erstwhile colleagues in the Canberra Press Gallery.  But there you go. And then there was the retired doyen’s comment to his interlocutor Ben Fordham, with reference to Barnaby Joyce, that “bonking is not news and shouldn’t be news”.

Which brings us to Laurie Oakes “Big Story”, titled “Secrets and Lies”, published in The Bulletin on 3 July 2002, which contained details of the affair between Labor politicians Gareth Evans and Cheryl Kernot (who moved to Labor from the Democrats).  For the record, Jackie’s (male) co-owner opposed this revelation during an appearance on the ABC TV Lateline program.  At the time, the Oakes’ “scoop” seemed to be more personally damaging to Ms Kernot than to Mr Evans.  But that was 2002 – and times have changed since then.

Almost two decades after the event, Laurie Oakes told his fan club at Bar M in exclusive Rushcutters Bay that he wished he had never got into the Evans/Kernot affair in the first place.  What a mea culpa – after a mere 18 years. Can You Bear It?


While on the topic of the Saturday Sydney Morning Herald, isn’t it great to see that former Sky News presenter and MWD fave Janine Perrett has picked up a column in the Nine Newspaper? Last week, her piece had the surprising heading: “Two Democrats can beat Trump – both are women and black”.

Now MWD is not into predictions – although, at times, it does point out that some politician or other has a path to victory.  At this stage it is not clear who will be the Democratic Party candidate to run against Republican President Donald J. Trump.  And it would be unwise to predict, at this stage at least, whether President Trump or his rival will prevail in November 2020.

But MWD digresses. Ms Perrett doesn’t think that “old leftie” Bernie Sanders will make it – if the Democrats want an old leftie, she would prefer “Hanoi” Jane Fonda. And the SMH columnist does not think that “bland” Pete Buttigieg or Mike Bloomberg or “hot air” Joe Biden or Elizabeth Warren or Amy Klobuchar can take on the person she calls (channelling Richard Ackland) the “Pussy-Grabber-in-Chief”.

So, who are the two black women who Janine Perrett believes can defeat President Trump?  Well, you’ve guessed it – Oprah Winfrey (who has declared that she has no intention of running) or Michelle Obama (ditto). As the saying goes – Can You Bear It?


Lotsa thanks to the (overseas) avid reader who drew MWD’s attention to the article published in the Australian Financial Review by Tom Burton on 4 February 2020 titled “Gaetjens review: the fish rots from its head”.

Your man Burton launched an all-out attack on Phil Gaetjens, Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.  This is how the comment piece commenced:

If a fish rots from the head, then the finding by the Secretary of Prime Minister and Cabinet that there was no basis for suggesting political considerations were the primary determining factor for allocating $100 million in sports grants makes a mockery of the Australian Public Service commitment to the highest ethical standards among its leaders.

As head of the public service, Phil Gaetjens is the one who sets the standard for others to follow. By finding political considerations were not the primary reason for the awarding of the grants, he has directly conflicted the Australian National Audit Office finding that 61 per cent of successful applicants would have failed if the minister and her office had not intervened with their focus on marginal seats.

By the way, the “fish rots from the head” saying is one of the oldest clichés on earth [Do you mean in the sea? – MWD Editor.] In any event, Burton piled on Gaetjens and thoroughly bagged a report which had not been released and, consequently, had not been read by Burton.

The comment concluded:

As head of the service, and custodian of APS integrity, Gaetjens has let pass ministerial behaviour, which frankly fails both the “pub test” and the ethical test. If any of his other secretarial colleagues or senior executives had so acted, it would have seen them out the door in minutes. As we have seen in the US, if the public sector gives its executive masters a free rein to prosecute political advantage, dressed up as OK public purpose, then we green-light a whole set of behaviours that ultimately corrupt the very democracy our governments are meant to serve.

Pretty hyperbolic, don’t you think?  This suggests that Comrade Burton believes that the head of Prime Minister and Cabinet always has to agree with the Australian National Audit Office – even when it produces an ambiguous report, as is the case with its findings on the sports grants controversy.

It seems that Tom Burton is all for full disclosure and all that. However, the comment piece did not say who he is. For the record, Tom Burton is a former editor of the Sydney Morning Herald, a former president of the Media Alliance trade union and a one-time ministerial adviser to Communications Minister Michael Duffy in the Hawke Labor government.  And Tom Burton is banging on about the need for the highest ethical standards, full disclosure and all that. Can You Bear It?

[Er, no.  Not really.  I note that on 6 February the AFR published a news report that Michael Keating, a secretary of PM&C during the Keating Labor government,  had also criticised Phil Gaetjens as did “several other former secretaries” and “several members of the senior executive branch”. All the former and current public servants interviewed for the article had the courage to describe themselves as “anonymous”. – MWD Editor.]

  • TEN’s (LEFT-WING) THE PROJECT: AN INFANTILE DISORDER (with apologies to Vladimir Lenin)

Interesting piece by Stephen Brook in Nine Newspapers last Monday titled “Ten’s drift to the left makes no business sense”. This is how your man Brook commenced his comment on Ten’s The Project – starring Waleed Aly, Peter Hellier, Carrie Blackmore, Lisa Wilkinson, Peter van Onselen and more besides:

It is an odd state of affairs when Network 10, home of Neighbours, Dancing With The Stars, Young Talent Time and It’s a Knockout, positions itself as more left-wing than The Guardian. But media in 2020 is nothing if not a whole bunch of weird. Such political positioning makes sense for a membership-funded newspaper founded after the 1819 Peterloo massacre, but little sense for a free-to-air network reliant on attracting a mass audience more concerned whether the new Bachelor will be as cute as astrophysicist Matt. Ten has long had a progressive vibe, seemingly a good fit for the youth network. But lately it seems amplified by The Project and a tendency for Ten presenters to wander off the reservation on social media.

In other words, The Project is a leftist (visual) rant.  Your man Brook comments on how Dr Aly (for a doctor he is) upset viewers with his aggressive interview with Scott Morrison of recent memory. And how PVO was presented by Ten as a conservative but is wont to conduct vendettas against the Coalition. [Surely, not if the Coalition leader is a Liberal named Malcolm Turnbull. – MWD Editor]. And how footage of the Prime Minister on the bushfire front-line was selectively edited by The Project to his disadvantage. And so on.  All good stuff by Mr Brook.  Except the Nine Newspapers “Comment” page today contains a left-wing rant against the Coalition government by – you’ve guessed it – Dr Aly himself. Can You Bear It?


On Thursday 20 February, Fran (“I’m an activist”) Kelly interviewed Atlassian boss Mike Cannon-Brookes.  He of what Paul Keating once called “The-Hyphenated-Name-Set” in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs.  C-B is an eco-catastrophist who happens to live in Australia’s most expensive house.  Oh yes, he has also put lotsa money into renewables and, consequently, benefited from the taxpayer funded subsidies the industry has received over the years.

Needless to say, the Kelly/C-B interview on ABC Radio National Breakfast contained no interjections from Comrade Kelly.

Then, last Friday, it was Energy Minister Angus Taylor who was interviewed by RNB’s activist journalist.  And there were oh-so-many interruptions.  Ms Kelly led off quoting the Energy Security Board which she claimed blamed the Morrison government for the problems with the power grid. Mr Taylor did not agree. Let’s go to that part of the transcript:

Angus Taylor: Well I disagree, I mean that that that–

Fran Kelly: [interjecting] Well that’s what they say.

Angus Taylor: Well I’m telling you what the facts are. The facts are–

Fran Kelly: [interjecting] Well didn’t they look at the facts–

Angus Taylor: Well hang–

Fran Kelly: [interjecting] aren’t they the experts?

Angus Taylor: Hang on. Let’s look at the facts. 9 billion dollars of investment in the last 12 months in our electricity grid. So, there’s no shortage of investment, that’s–

Fran Kelly: [interjecting] Well there is a shortage of investment–

Angus Taylor: That’s–

Fran Kelly: [interjecting] Well there is a shortage of investment. It’s whether it’s the right investment.

Angus Taylor: – 9 billion dollars, 6300 megawatts in a market of just over 50 thousand. So that’s phenomenal growth and phenomenal investment.

There were other interruptions in the interview.  On one occasion Ms Kelly even interrupted Minister Taylor in order to quote the words what her fave Mike Cannon-Brookes had said on the program the previous day.

Fran Kelly: Media Interrupter of the Week.


Due to overwhelming demand, this year MWD will occasionally focus on the highlights of what some of Australia’s leading political commentators have to say on the issue of the day (and, perhaps, the night) on Insiders. Let’s commence with last Sunday’s program. David Speers was in the presenter’s chair and the panel comprised Patricia Karvelas (ABC), Mark Kenny (Australian National University) and newcomer Lanai Scarr (The West Australian).

Here are today’s highlights, as chosen by Jackie (Dip. Wellness The Gunnadah Institute).  Let’s go to the transcript:

۰ Mark Kenny’s COP [What?] Talk

David Speers: Mathias Cormann’s clear that they [The Coalition] will have an emissions target. Angus Taylor there – saying they’ll have a strategy but not an un-costed target, is it what they’re working on at the moment?

Mark Kenny: It’s massive underperformance all the way around, isn’t it? You [David Speers] and I were at COP15 and we’re talking about COP26 now, that’s eleven commitment of the party conferences later [sic] and we just haven’t really got anywhere. And to the extent that we have it’s largely been driven by individuals and the private sector, rather than government policy.

Jackie Comments:  The term “COP” stands for Conference of Parties which is part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).  So, this is what your man Kenny was on about – in case someone watching the program at Hang-Over Time did not know.

 ۰Patricia Karvelas’ (Laboured) Google Maps Analogy

The discussion continued:

Patricia Karvelas: Well they [i.e. the Coalition] do have a – we know where they’re going with this technology target or this technology roadmap. The issue though is a roadmap has to have some ambition for where it goes. Like if you’re on a road and I get into Google Maps, I want to know what my address is at the end right? I’m not just driving – sometimes I do.  And I get lost and when I get lost it costs me more in petrol because I’ve been driving for longer. Do you like how I laboured that analogy? I’m trying to make my point; you need to know where you’re going. The government knows it, but they are divided on this.

Jackie Comments:  Good grief.  How laboured an analogy can there be? And does anyone care about Comrade Karvelas’ relationship with Google Maps?  What an insight that “you need to know where you’re going”.  PK reckons that the Morrison government knows where it is going but is “divided” on the destination.  What?

۰ Mark Kenny on Bushfires and Tory Britain

And now let’s hear from Mark Kenny about Australia and Britain:

Lanai Scarr: We’ve got to remember though that 73 other countries around the world have committed to net zero emissions including the UK, Canada –

Mark Kenny: [Interjecting] Tory Britain, Germany.

Lanai Scarr: Yeah – France.

David Speers: Arguably its easier for some than others. We still rely heavily on coal exports and 60 per cent of our energy mix is still coal fired power here. So that’s not the same scenario as –

Mark Kenny [Interjecting over David Speers]: They weren’t on fire during their recent summer. We were.

David Speers: We were.

Jackie Comments:  Brilliant, eh?  Comrade Kenny seems to believe that what he calls “Tory Britain” and Germany have economies that are comparable with Australia’s.  Australia is a large exporter of mineral and agricultural products.  This is not the case with Britain or Germany. Look at it this way. Close to 60 per cent of Australian exports come from the energy and agricultural sectors. Minerals and fuels make up around 46 per cent. And animals and vegetables make up around 10 per cent.

The comparable figures for Britain are 10 per cent and 2 per cent respectively. For Germany, it’s 2 per cent and 3 per cent respectively.

MWD is not sure what ANU students are taught about comparative economics. However, the fact is that no informed commentator should compare the emissions problems faced by Australia with those faced by Britain (Tory or otherwise) or Germany.

Moreover, your man Kenny seems to have forgotten that leftists like him railed against Margaret Thatcher when she presided over the closure of Britain’s low-quality and high emissions coal mines in the early 1980s.  For the record, Britain may not have “been on fire during their recent summer” but the UK’s wildfire season (which occurs in the Northern Spring) in 2019 was the worst on record. And it’s mere hyperbole to state that Australia was “on fire” in summer. There were very bad bushfires but the major cities of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane were rarely touched by fire.

۰The Cliché In the Room: An Elephant’s Perspective

Finally, after a discussion about coal and Queensland and all that stuff:

Patricia Karvelas: And that goes back to the elephant in the room – Queensland, and the election result, and the fact that Anthony Albanese had been pivoting already on this. And then the bushfires recalibrated all of that.

Jackie Comments: The cliché “elephant in the room” amounts to a claim that an important issue has been avoided.  It makes no sense to use the cliché with respect to an issue which is dominating a discussion such as the politics of coal in Queensland.   Moreover, it’s difficult to envisage Mr Albanese “pivoting” on an elephant in some secret room.


While on the topic of Insiders, some readers have expressed interest in Gerard Henderson’s letter published in The Australian on Tuesday titled “Au Revoir Insiders”. This was a clarification of Chris Mitchell’s “Media” column in The Australian the previous day which said “Gerard Henderson says he is yet to hear if he will receive a call-up this year” for Insiders.  In fact, in an email dated Tuesday 11 February, Gerard Henderson advised Insiders that, in view of the fact that Insiders would not guarantee him any appearances throughout the whole of 2020, he had no option but to assume that he had been dropped from the Insiders panel roster.  So, he sent an “au revoir” email to Insiders on Tuesday 11 February rather than spend nine months waiting for a phone call.

No reason was given by Insiders executive producer Sam Clark for the decision to drop Gerard Henderson from Insiders where he commenced 17 years ago in 2002 and made over a hundred appearances (averaging to around 6-7 appearances a year). But executive producers are entitled to decide who will be on ABC panels and Gerard Henderson, who had lots of fun on the program in the past – especially when sitting next to David Marr on the couch – accepts the decision.  So, he is grateful to the ABC for the opportunity and especially to the original Insiders executive producer Kate Torney.

The only reason given for the decision was reported by Amanda Meade in her article in The Guardian on 25 February 2020. She quoted ABC “sources” as saying, “Henderson did not sufficiently engage with the issues during the journalists’ discussions; the decision had nothing to do with his conservative views”.

Well, fancy that. No one ever told him this in 17 years – including after any of his six appearances in 2019.  This would suggest that Hendo committed the sin of disagreeing on occasions with fellow panellists on the issues of the day – including, presumably, his view that Donald J. Trump in 2016 and Scott Morrison in 2019 had paths to victory which he documented.

The good news is that it seems that all the Insiders expert panellists who were so hopelessly wrong about the 2019 election are back “on the couch” this year and should provide first class copy for MWD through the year.  Stay tuned.

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 Academy Awards.


Growing up in Melbourne all those decades ago, Jackie’s (male) co-owner always read the “In Black & White” column in Melbourne’s (then) evening newspaper The Herald. For a long time this was put together by E.W. (“Bill”) Tipping, until his untimely death in 1970 at age 54.

In recent times “In Black & White” has appeared in the Herald-Sun and is currently edited by Jen Kelly.  This was her main piece on Friday 21 February, titled “Dark day in the city”:

Day turned to night in an instant when a huge dust storm descended over Melbourne on February 8, 1983. A city digital clock shining through the darkness at 2.56pm told an eerie story and was published on the front page of The Sun News-Pictorial the next day. A weather bureau spokesman said the huge wall of dust was 500ms wide and 100km deep and carried an estimated 50,000 tonnes of Mallee topsoil across the drought-stricken state and into Melbourne at 2.55pm. At Mildura, it was 2800m high.  By the time it reached Melbourne, it was still 320m high.

The city was sweltering in 43.2 heat – the hottest February day on record at that time – when the eerie gloom descended. As The Sun reported, terrified people ran for cover. Almost 150,000 customers lost power, telephone exchanges were jammed, Melbourne’s airports were closed, and the rail network was thrown into chaos. Officially, visibility was down to 100m, but it was hard to see more than 20m in most city streets. It was one of Victoria’s strangest weather events, and only eight days later it was followed by the tragic Ash Wednesday bushfires. Do you remember the dust storm?  Let us know.

Yep, Hendo remembers.  But not those, apparently, who believe that dust storms or smoke coverage over such major cities as Melbourne and Sydney are a novelty.

Jen Kelly:  Five Paws



NSW political activist John Ruddick is intent on bringing about the democratic reform of the Liberal Party in the state in which he resides. So far, he has achieved some success in this regard with the support of Senator Jim Molan and the occasional approval of John Howard.

During an appearance on Sky News’ Outsiders program last Sunday, John Ruddick announced a proposal that the National Party close down and join with the Liberal Party in a united conservative party.

It’s not a good idea since there has always been a concern on the non-Labor side of politics that, if such an eventuality occurred, all that would happen is that the seats currently held by the Nationals would be acquired by another rural based party.  Already in NSW the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party has taken two seats from the Nationals in by-elections.  In past years, One Nation did much the same in Queensland – for a time at least.

This is how Mr Ruddick pitched his cunning plan on Outsiders last Sunday:

…One big united conservative party is going to give us a much more conservative membership and it will just give us a more vibrant party, a stronger party. Look, in the United States or the UK or Canada or New Zealand – do we have a metropolitan conservative party and a rural party? No, we do not. We have one party. And rural interests have a more powerful stake in a big united party. The National Party is this anomaly that happened, I won’t bore you with the details, in 1919. And look, you know, they used to be called the Country Party. They changed it with the Joh for PM thing as the National Party. Their plan in the 80s was actually to take over the Liberal Party. That’s why they called it Nationals.

Er, no.  That’s not what happened at all.  Rural organisations were emerging during the lead-up to the commencement of World War I in 1914.  The outbreak of hostilities led to a situation where the Labor government sought to obtain greater control over farming.  The Labor split over conscription in 1916 led to the creation of the National Labor Party under the leadership of one-time Labor prime minister Billy Hughes. It later changed its name to Nationalist.

In the Federal election of 1919, in which Hughes was returned, various rural parties attained over 9 per cent of the vote, winning eleven seats in total. In January 1920, those parliamentarians came together to form the Australian Country Party. This entity at the Federal level – under the leadership of the likes of Earle Page, Arthur Fadden, Jack McEwen and Doug Anthony – changed its name to the National Country Party of Australia in 1974. In 1982, there was a further name change – the word “country” was dropped in favour of the National Party of Australia.  There was a further name change in October 2003 to The Nationals.

In early 1987, Joh Bjelke-Petersen – the National Party premier of Queensland – commenced the “Joh for PM” campaign.  This was an ill-fated attempt by Bjelke-Petersen to enter Federal politics and lead a united non-Labor party against Labor prime minister Bob Hawke at the election scheduled for no later than December 1987.  The Joh for PM madness flamed-out within months. Initially it had led to a split in the Liberal Party/Nationals Coalition. But under the leadership of John Howard, the Coalition soon re-united in the lead up to the 1987 election – which Prime Minister Hawke brought forward to July 1987.  Needless to say, the residue of the Joh for PM movement – which was supported, believe it or not, by some considered conservatives – harmed John Howard’s chances of winning office in 1987.

That’s it.  The gradual change of name from “country” to “national” reflected the changing nature of the original Country Party base – as small farms closed and some city dwellers moved to the coast and the bush outside of the capital cities.  It had nothing to do with the erratic Joh Bjelke-Petersen – since it happened over a decade before his ill-fated attempt to take over the non-Labor side of Australian national politics.

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).


Last Monday’s ABC TV Media Watch program led with a report on The Bolt Report which aired on Sky News on Tuesday 18 February. The segment turned on a discussion on The Bolt Report of Louise Milligan’s Four Corners report on St Kevin’s response to a sexual assault on a student by a former athletics coach.  The issue was whether the headmaster should have given a character reference to the court after the man was convicted.

There was much that was unprofessional in the Media Watch segment including selective editing and presenter Paul Barry’s failure to declare that he had been a player in what he termed the social media “backlash” after The Bolt Report.  This followed a tweet by Barry’s ABC colleague Louise Milligan who commenced the backlash even though she boasted of not having seen the Andrew Bolt/Gerard Henderson interview.  In other words, the “backlash” was fired off by hearsay, which resulted in an act of verballing.

Paul Barry did not advise his audience of this. Nor did he tell viewers that Gerard Henderson had not been contacted for comment before the program went to air.  In addition:

۰ Paul Barry failed to mention that (when discussing the Four Corners’ program on The Bolt Report on 18 February) Gerard Henderson had said “of course we are sympathetic to the victim in this case”.

۰ Paul Barry also asserted that, subsequent to the program, Gerard Henderson had issued “an apology of sorts”. In fact, Henderson issued a statement in which he said he was “very sorry” for having upset the victim whom he described as “obviously a fine young man”.

Gerard Henderson wrote to Paul Barry and his executive producer Timothy Latham. Neither had the courage to defend the segment.


Gerard Henderson to Paul Barry and Timothy Latham – 25 February 2020


That was a remarkably dishonest report on Media Watch last night.

The reference is to your selective editing of what I said on The Bolt Report on 18 February. You did not refer to this comment – which was my only reference to the victim Paris Street.

Gerard Henderson: “Well, of course, we are sympathetic to the victim in this case.  And I understand the victim’s annoyance after the event” [i.e. after the victim learnt of the reference given by the St Kevin’s headmaster to the court].

A professional report of the program would have advised viewers of what I said with reference to the victim.  However, perhaps, that’s too much to expect from ABC Media Watch.

Also, it is totally disingenuous to describe my statement (given to The Guardian at around 8.40 am last Friday before what I had been told was a 9 am publication time) as containing what you described as “a sorry of sorts”.

This was my statement which was published in full on The Sydney Institute’s website and in my Media Watch Dog blog on 21 February 2020:

I refer to the statement of Paris Street dated 20 February 2020.

Initially I should state that I had no intention of upsetting a victim of child sexual assault – of whom I know several.  I am very sorry for upsetting Paris Street – obviously a fine young man – with respect to my comments on The Bolt Report on Tuesday.

That’s not “a sorry of sorts”.  That’s a sorry – a “very sorry” in fact.

Gerard Henderson

cc:      Ita Buttrose AC OBE, Chair, ABC

David Anderson, Managing Director, ABC

Gaven Morris, Director News, Analysis & Investigations

PS: I note in passing that the ABC has never said “sorry” to the victim of Jon Stephens. Nor has Media Watch even mentioned the case.  As you know, Jon Stephens pleaded guilty to the sexual assault of a 12-year old boy while on official ABC duties in 1982.



In his interview with Virginia Trioli on ABC Radio’s Mornings with Virginia Trioli on 23 February, David Speers made some comments about Gerard Henderson which were inadequate or incorrect.  Henderson wrote to Mr Speers; no response was received.


Gerard Henderson to David Speers – 25 February 2020


I refer to your interview on Mornings with Virginia Trioli (ABC Radio 702) on Friday 21 February in which the following exchange took place:

Virginia Trioli: Who’s your guest on Sunday, David?

David Speers: Anthony Albanese, the Labor leader. We’ll be talking about this net zero by 2050 target and a bunch of other things as well.

Virginia Trioli: Has Gerard Henderson blotted his copy book with Insiders following the comments he was making with Andrew Bolt after the Four Corners revelations and Paris Street?

David Speers: I’ll just say they were unfortunate comments.

Virginia Trioli: They certainly were.

David Speers: They were. And I did note Andrew Bolt’s apology that he gave as well. Yeah, they clearly were way off the mark.

Virginia Trioli: Way off the mark. We’ll see if he makes it back to the couch anytime soon. Always good to see you David, thanks very much.

In response, I make three points.

  • Neither of you said that you had watched The Bolt Report on 18 February. If you had watched the program, you would have known that I said the following in response to a question:

Gerard Henderson: “Well, of course, we are sympathetic to the victim in this case.  And I understand the victim’s annoyance after the event” [i.e. after the victim learnt of the reference given by the St Kevin’s headmaster to the court].

  • As you would have been aware, I sent an “au revoir” to Insiders on Thursday 13 February 2020 – my email to Insiders executive producer Sam Clark of that date refers. In other words, there was never any chance of me “making it back to the [Insiders] couch” in 2020 and beyond. But you did not advise Virginia or listeners of this.
  • If you, or Virginia or Mornings’ executive producer had bothered to text/phone/email me before the interview – I would have advised that I had made a statement that I was “very sorry” for upsetting the victim in this case. Your comments in 702 implied that only Andrew Bolt had issued an apology – but that I had not. This was misleading to listeners.

Best wishes for success as Insiders presenter in the future.

Gerard Henderson

cc: Virginia Trioli

[Note Correction: The reference above to Thursday 13 February should read Tuesday 11 February. – MWD Editor.]

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Until next time.

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