Please note – Issue 532 has been delayed until Monday 8 March (around Gin & Tonic Time)


ISSUE – NO. 531

26 February 2021

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On the occasion of the launch of his book Reset: Restoring Australia After the Pandemic Recession, economist Ross Garnaut appeared on ABC Radio National Breakfast on Monday.  Before focusing on today and tomorrow, Professor Garnaut looked back on three instances where Australia’s leaders devised a “good solution” to put the nation on “a path to increasing prosperity”. He cited the recovery from the Great Depression, the post-war reconstruction following the end of the  Second World War and the economic reform from the early 1980s to the late 1990s.

In relation to the Great Depression, Dr Garnaut had this to say: “How we dealt with the Great Depression – that wasn’t perfect.  We could have done better. But we did better than the UK or the US.” Quite so. In other words, Australia did better than US President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930s.

Now, Australia’s prime minister from early January 1932 until he died in office in April 1939 was Joseph Lyons – the leader of the United Australia Party (the predecessor of the modern Liberal Party).

Last night 7.30’s chief political correspondent Laura Tingle also reported on Reset.  Let’s go to the transcript where Ross Garnaut looked back in relative happiness on parts of Australian history:

Laura Tingle: This is, of course, not the first major economic crisis to hit the Australian economy. There have been recessions and depressions, world wars and reconstruction. Professor Ross Garnaut has contemplated some of these and what change in economic thinking they demanded. He lists Australia’s response to the Great Depression and the task of reconstruction after the Second World War as two success stories.

Ross Garnaut: The reforms of ’83 onwards until the rest of the century gave us the longest period of economic expansion any countries ever had.

Laura Tingle: So what were the keys to the success in those periods when things did change for the better?

Ross Garnaut: In all cases, you had to have political leaders who were able to articulate the extent of the challenge….

 When illustrating the Great Depression part of the story, 7.30 projected two still photographs on screen. The first, shown below was meant to illustrate Australia’s political leaders during the recovery from the Great Depression.  And the second was a pic of “Nugget” Coombs, the senior public servant who played a big part in post-war reconstruction in the 1940s and early 1950s.

All fine – sort of .  Except for the fact that 7.30 executive producer Justin Stevens and his production team showed a photo of “Red” Ted Theodore (left) who was treasurer for most of the time of the Scullin Labor government which was in office from October 1929 to January 1932.  On the right of the photo is Jim Scullin, prime minister of Australia from 22 October 1929 to 6 January 1932.  In December 1931, Scullin led the Labor Party to one of the most devastating defeats in Australian political history.

In short, neither Scullin nor Theodore were the political leaders who presided over Australia’s recovery from the Great Depression. It was Joseph Lyons who led Australia throughout most of the 1930s supported by his UAP and Country Party colleagues and won three elections before dying in office.

Maybe Justin Stevens does not know Mr Lyons from Mr Scullin. Or more likely that the 7.30  team knows nothing about Australian history before the Second World War – since the photo used on 7.30 last night can be found on the internet with the very clear description that it is the photograph of Ted Theodore and Jim Scullin taken in Sydney in December 1929.


Here is the pic of those who 7.30 claims were Australia’s Political Leaders of the 1930s

Here is the pic of Australia’s Real Political Leader in the 1930s – as shown on the front cover of a book by Jackie’s (Female) Co-Owner

Can You Bear It?


Is there a journalist in the land who does not look forward to Newspoll on Monday?  The publication of Newspoll in The Australian on Monday, every fortnight or so, gives members of the Canberra Press Gallery a chance to further pontificate about politics – irrespective of whether the opinion poll means much or anything at all.

And so it came to pass on Monday that Radio National Breakfast presenter Fran (“I’m an activist”) Kelly interviewed Michelle Grattan – who, these days writes for the taxpayer funded The Conversation – in the Australian national politics slot last Monday.  Newspoll that very morning had the Coalition ahead of Labor by 42 per cent to 37 per cent on the primary vote – with the two-party preferred vote (the estimated total vote  after the distribution of preferences) at 50 per cent each.  Exactly where it had been in the previous poll.

Boring?  Apparently not. Comrade Kelly looked into the Newspoll tea-leaves and came up with this (you beaut) analysis:

Fran Kelly: The government and the opposition, according to the latest Newspoll, still deadlocked 50/50 two-party preferred. That’s been for a little while now. Are you surprised at that? That the government’s handling of the sexual assault allegations has not seem to have damaged it with voters – and its handling of the vaccine rollout and the virus so far has not put it further ahead?

Michelle Grattan: I think that the government would have been bracing for a poor Newspoll. And it will be relieved that the numbers are as they are….

Well, fancy that.  The first Newspoll of the year had the Coalition and Labor at 50 per cent each on the two-party preferred vote. Since then, according to Fran Kelly, the Coalition would have benefited from its management of the COVID-19 vaccine roll-out – that’s one for Prime Minister Scott Morrison. But the Coalition would have lost some support over its handling of the Parliament House rape allegation – that’s one for the Opposition leader Anthony Albanese.

In other words, according to the RN Breakfast presenter, the Coalition would have won and lost support in the community. Yet she expressed surprise that there has been no movement in the second Newspoll of the year. Can You Bear It?


While on the topic of the alleged rape in 2019 of a young woman in the office of Linda Reynolds – the then Minister for Defence Industry – lotsa thanks to the avid Melbourne reader who drew MWD’s  attention to this tweet from one-time Sydney Morning Herald scribbler Mike (“I’ll pour the Gin”) Carlton. This is what the Sage of Avalon had to say at Hangover Time at 11.09 am, Saturday 20 February:

In his ignorance, your man Carlton was unaware that’s Samantha Maiden had broken the story about the alleged rape five days earlier – on the morning of Monday 15 February.  Moreover, when Comrade Carlton was in his slippers sending tweets on Saturday morning, the lead story in The Weekend Australian – by Michael McKenna and Rosie Lewis – was headed: “Strife Deepens For Coalition  With New Allegation That…Adviser Raped Second Woman.”

So how could Mike Carlton have made such a howler?  Well, it was not too long ago that he boasted that he had junked his Australian subscription – a move which, in hyperbolic mode, he compared to “Paris, August 1944”- meaning that cancelling The Australian  subscription was akin to the Allies driving Nazi Germany out of the occupied French capital. Really. (See MWD Issue 454).

So it has come to this.  Mike Carlton alleged that News Corp had “absolutely missed”  and was “comprehensively scooped” on the Parliament House incident – when it actually broke the story.  And Mike still bangs away in anger – Donald Trump like – on Twitter every morning, every night and frequently during the day.  Can You Bear It?


There has been enormous interest in MWD’s recent coverage of Sami Shah – who describes himself as “a multi award-winning comedian, writer and journalist”.  Well, he would know, don’t you think?

As avid readers are aware, your man Shah has taken over the “Diary” column in The Saturday Paper (editor-in-chief Erik Jensen)  which is written by a certain “Gadfly”.  Until last year, Gadfly was  the product of a certain Richard Ackland AM – who, apparently,  was gonged for restoring 1970s undergraduate nick-names to the modern world per courtesy of The Saturday Paper.  Comrade Shah seems somewhat more mature in these matters – which is not good for MWD since Jackie’s (male) co-owner needs all the copy he can get and Comrade Ackland helped out in this regard.

However, it would seem that Mr Shah suffers from a condition known to afflict comedians – they like laughing at others but get oh-so-upset when someone laughs at them.  It would seem that after only two (or is it three?) mentions in Can You Bear It?, Comrade Shah can’t take it anymore.  This is what he wrote at the end of the (boring) Gadfly column in The [Boring] Saturday Paper last weekend:

Who dogs the watchdog?

It was flattering for this author to discover his mental diarrhoea is being read by Gerard Henderson, who writes a weekly column on the media for The Australian. If you haven’t read Gerard’s columns before, you’ve missed out on his laser focus and valuable insight, such as how many times Tom Ballard used the “F-word” in his now-cancelled ABC show.  Or that one time someone dared criticise the alpha to Gerard’s beta, Donald Trump.

Every column reads like the manifesto of a serial killer who lacks the conviction to actually carry out the killing he so desperately wants to commit.  Which is entirely different from this column, which reads like the manifesto of a serial killer who only hunts other serial killers. Either way, being mentioned in Gerard’s column means your humble Gadfly has finally made it in Australian media and can now expect a pay rise from The Saturday Paper.

How funny is that?  Comrade Shah reckons that Jackie’s (male) co-owner is a serial killer. What a hoot – and so on.  And he wants a rise from his multi-million dollar publisher Morry Schwartz for writing such sludge.  Good luck. By the way, Hendo was invited to be interviewed by the young Tom Ballard on Tonightly – he declined the kind invitation since the recording time clashed with Gin & Tonic Time.

But hang on a minute. A Newcastle avid reader has drawn MWD’s attention to the suggestion that S.S.’s “joke”(for want of a better word) is not even original. You be the judge.

Not long after Hangover Time on Saturday, Mark (“On 7.30 my comedy sketch is introduced as satire – so everybody knows”) Humphries, who also presents as a comedian, put out this tweet:

The twitterstream continued:

Now that is FUNNY.  Comedian Mark Humphries and his co-writer Evan Williams thought it was a “joke” to suggest in 2016 that Hendo’s column reads like  a serial killer’s  diary. And Comedian Sami Shah in 2021 wrote that Hendo’s columns read like the manifesto of a serial killer who lacks the conviction to carry out the killing. And then there’s your man Ewok Hunter who reckons that Hendo is a Buffalo Bill type serial killer – an angry transvestite who murders female victims and uses their skin to make clothes. It so happens that Buffalo Bill was silenced by the gun of Clarice Starling – aka Jodie Foster. It all happened in The Silence of the Lambs.

By the way, Comrade Humphries reckons that he is not alleging that brand new Gadfly is into plagiarism.  How could anyone get that idea?  Can You Bear It?

[MWD approached Gerard Henderson for comment on this issue. He replied: “I’m flattered by the interest.  For the record, I regard myself as more a non-vegan cannibal Hannibal kind of guy rather than a Buffalo Bill type”.  Moreover Hannibal types don’t get shot by Jodie Foster.” – MWD Editor.]


Wasn’t it great that ABC Radio Melbourne 774 presenter Raf Epstein gave us all a lecture last weekend on Insiders?  It was, after all, Sunday – and Saturdays and Sundays are the most appropriate times for a sermon or two.

Last Sunday, Epstein’s (verbal) Epistle to Insiders’ viewers was on privilege.  His reference was to the current issue about alleged sexual harassment and assault in Parliament House. However, his sermon had wider relevance. You be the judge.

Raf Epstein: …I think what a lot of people in that [Morrison] government doesn’t understand is privilege. And this isn’t, you know – they criticise this sort of socialist engineering or some sort of Marxist thought. Privilege is about when you don’t understand how much power you have.

That’s all very well.  But a person does not have to be a parliamentarian to be privileged.  Take Sunday’s Insiders panel for example – ABC Radio’s Raf Epstein,’s Samantha Maiden and The Saturday Paper’s  Karen Middleton – plus presenter David Speers.  All are white and well-educated and well-off with influential positions in journalism which is accompanied by a certain clout.  Can anyone say that any member of this quartet is not privileged? The same goes for Insiders executive producer Sam Clark – a white, well-educated, well-off and influential bloke.

And yet Comrade Epstein banged on about the privilege of others – while failing to declare his own privilege and that of his mates. Can You Bear It?


Jackie’s (male) co-owner just loves listening to Phillip Adams talking to Laura Tingle each Monday on ABC Radio National’s After Dark program titled Late Night Live.

As MWD readers are aware, ABC managing director and editor-in-chief David Anderson has called on such high profile taxpayer funded public broadcaster talent such as Laura Tingle and Sally Neighbour to cease and desist from putting out tweets that bring the ABC into disrepute.  Fair enough.

But did La Tingle get the email?  On Monday she told the ABC’s Man-in-Black that the Prime Minister is “known universally as Scotty from Marketing”. Is this the standard of critique that the ABC regards as professional?  After all, it’s really a kind of verbal tweet – which, you would think, might come under the new “cease and desist” guidelines.

More seriously, does Laura Tingle really believe that Scott Morrison is known “universally” as Scotty from Marketing? – a tag which originated in the Betoota Advocate. Perhaps this is a universal truth with respect to the ABC.  But not much more than that.  After all, it’s only a sneer endorsed by one of the ABC’s most senior journalists. Can You Bear It?


As readers know, MWD  likes to hunt down members of the left intelligentsia who like to sneer at those they regard as beneath them.  You know – social conservatives, believers (especially Christian ones), those who live in the suburbs and regional areas far away from the buzz of inner-city Sandalista life and don’t read The Guardian   – and so on.

Due to enormous public demand, MWD from this day forth will run this occasional segment on, er, occasions.  Here we go for starters:


Last Friday, around the time that MWD went out, Crikey Daily (editor-in-chief Peter Fray) published a piece by David Hardaker, formerly of Four Corners, titled “When trouble strikes, call Jen; but what does she stand for?”. The piece was illustrated by a pic, taken from Facebook, of a young Scott Morrison and a young Jenny Morrison. It commenced as follows:

If the prime minister’s wife is going to play a role in the nation’s affairs — including advising Scott Morrison on how to understand the impact of sexual assault on a young woman by imagining it was one of his girls — then it seems only fair to know what Jenny Morrison brings to the job. If Jen Morrison is to be a de facto member of the cabinet, what are her qualifications?

Then Comrade Hardaker hit the sneering accelerator. This is Hardaker’s case for the prosecution in Crikey v Mrs Morrison:

Theirs is the most traditional of marriages. Jen’s role is clear from the times Scott has invoked her expertise. It boils down to how to look after the family (Jen was said to be out buying jigsaw puzzles last year to help get the family through COVID lockdown) and providing the skills on how to understand the emotional impact of events….

How bad is that?  Jennifer Morrison looks after her family and even buys jigsaw puzzles to help the children get through the school closures caused by the COVID-19 restrictions.

But there is more. According to your man Hardaker:

Morrison has no compunction about dragging out Jen (and the girls) to build his “member for Bunnings”, footy fan, family man brand. He was at it again last Sunday, posting a photo on Facebook of the two of them as teenagers as a Valentine’s Day tribute — which apparently had to be shared with the rest of the world. Photos of the family are plastered over the PM’s official website.

So the Prime Minister likes shopping at Bunnings, and football.  How bad is that?  Your man Hardaker wondered why the Morrisons had to share a photo of them as teenagers “with the rest of the world” by putting it on Facebook.  Which raises the question – why did Peter Fray decided to share the very same pic with Crikey readers who, surely, are part of the rest of the world and already had access to this. Hardaker continued:

She was briefly in the spotlight last year when she made a video appeal for women to look after their health during COVID. She has only given one extended television interview, with Channel Nine, soon after moving into Kirribilli House. A portrait emerged of a woman happy to play the role of wife and mother while Scott built his career.

Worth a (Crikey) sneer, to be sure. Mrs Morrison reminded women to look after their health at a time of pandemic – and she was “a woman happy to play the role of wife and mother while Scott built his career”. How bad is that?

But there was more.  You see, Mrs Morrison is a committed Christian.  As Comrade Hardaker put it, when commenting on an interview the Prime Minister’s wife did with A Current Affair in late 2018:

Faith was central: “When things are really hard and you feel like you’re dragging along a heavy weight, you don’t have to. There’s someone you can talk to about it. That’s how I see faith. It’s a relationship.” Did she feel that she had a purpose to fulfil now that she was the prime minister’s wife? Long pause: “My purpose in life is very simple. It is basically to be kind to everyone you can. ‘Cause life is really about a series of connections with people.”

How bad is that? Mrs Morrison believes in Jesus Christ and wants to be kind to people.  This is how Sneering David Hardaker concluded his piece:

Connections. Relationships. Looking after the family. It is the definition of a traditional marriage, one perhaps more traditional even than the 1950s white picket fence union of John and Janette Howard.

John and Janette Howard got married in a Church in 1971.  There never was a “white picket union” – whatever that might mean.  Many Australians of differing political views, admire the Howards.  But, to Hardaker, the concept of traditional marriage is to be mocked and sneered at.

The ABC TV program Media Watch commenced in May 1989 – a month after the publication of Gerard Henderson’s Media Watch (which became, in time, Gerard Henderson’s Media Watch Dog Blog). All Media Watch presenters have been left-of-centre types.  No conservative has had this gig in three decades – confirming the taxpayer funded public broadcaster’s reality as a Conservative Free Zone. Since Stuart Littlemore fronted the inaugural program in May 1989, Media Watch has had the format where the presenter lays down the law.  There is no debate and discussion and no one has a right-of-reply on air.

This contrasts with MediaBuzz on Fox News (proprietor Rupert Murdoch). Currently presented by one-time Washington Post columnist and CNN presenter Howard Kurtz, Media Buzz encourages debate and discussion on the program – where different political and social views are heard. Due to popular demand, MWD continues to record your man Barry’s Occasional (political and social) Sermon on the Mount.


Every Monday when ABC TV Media Watch presenter Paul Barry enters the ABC’s inner-city studio in Sydney’s Ultimo and catches up with his staff of around ten (for a weekly 13 minutes program, no less) he essentially meets people like himself. You know, left-of-centre to green/left types. We’re talking here about Comrade Barry’s journalistic and management colleagues – and not the cleaners/security staff and other mere mortals, who might even have voted for John Howard, Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison.

So it came as no surprise that Comrade Barry had this to say last Monday in (yet another) attack on Sky News in general and Sky News’ presenter Andrew Bolt in particular:

…even if you share [Andrew] Bolt and [Rowan] Dean’s views on [Bruce] Pascoe – which most do not – the ABC did not actually produce this program.

Paul Barry was making the point that, during The Bolt Report on 17 February 2021, Andrew Bolt had incorrectly stated that The Pacific: In the Wake of Captain Cook was an ABC production. In fact, it was first shown on Foxtel’s History Channel and is currently being shown on ABC TV.

This was an error, sure.  But not a major one.  The ABC has chosen to show the documentary on Captain Cook on its main channel.  But it has not chosen to show BBC Two’s documentary on Carl Beech (aka “Nick”) who made false accusations of historical child sexual abuse against the late Sir Edward Heath and prominent British citizens – some living, others dead –  on any channel. See MWD Issues 513, 525,

In other words, the ABC decides what documentaries it will show. Clearly, ABC management believes that ABC TV viewers will benefit by viewing The Pacific: In the Wake of Captain Cook – which is presented by Sam Neill. But not, apparently by viewing The Unbelievable Story of Carl Beech (BBC Two).

Which brings us back to Bruce Pascoe – who identifies as Indigenous but has refrained from naming even one Indigenous ancestor.  In his book Dark Emu, Pascoe claims to have refuted the established history that Indigenous Australians were hunter-gatherers and maintains that they lived in towns, engaged in agriculture and so on.

Paul Barry has produced no evidence to support Bruce Pascoe’s revisionist history. But that’s a topic for another day. Today MWD is interested in Paul Barry’s assertion that “most” Australians do not agree with the views of Andrew Bolt and Rowan Dean on Bruce Pascoe.

How would Comrade Barry know this? Or did he just make this up?  Here’s a test. Sure, in the ABC’s Ultimo headquarters “most” journalists and managers on any Monday, would almost certainly not share the Bolt/Dean view on Pascoe. Or any other day of the week.

It’s just that Comrade Barry would get a clearer view of Australia if he moved out of inner-city Sydney and took, say, a two hour drive to Nowra, the home of many Indigenous Australians.

The Media Watch  team should go to Stockland Mall in Nowra on a Saturday morning and ask the locals if “most” of them agree with Bruce Pascoe and disagree with Andrew Bolt and Rowan Dean – about Dark Emu and all that.

The “most” likely outcome is that “most” Nowra residents would never have heard of Bruce Pascoe – and possibly no one might know anything about him.

Which demonstrates, once again, how inner-city types like Barry have scant understanding of “most” Australians.



Did anyone watch last Wednesday’s edition of the kinder/gentler The Drum on ABC TV  on Tuesday?  Julia Baird was in the presenter’s chair – and the panel comprised Kate Mills, Amy Remeikis and Ann Sudmalis.  Thanks to the avid MWD reader who drew MWD’s attention to this.

When discussion turned on to the blokey culture of Parliament House in general – and the alleged rape which allegedly occurred in the Defence Minister’s office two years ago in particular – Amy Remeikis had this to say:

Amy Remeikis: …Lenore [Taylor] was talking about when she first arrived in the Press Gallery which was 25 years ago. And Karen Middleton, another great senior female journalist, has also written previously on that exact same issue. It carried on for so long because like, as Fiona [Simpson] just said, the Parliament culture is behind. It is behind the corporate world. What happens here, it wouldn’t happen in any other workplace. And part of that is, as pointed out, is the ego and just, you know, the nature of how Parliament works and how ministers have their own little fiefdoms – and then the staffers look after the ministers. And part of it is because women aren’t equal here.

I mean, Labor obviously has problems. Every political party does because every aspect of society does. But Labor has worked to, like, get equality within female representation. We’ve done that through quotas in the Labor Party. Well not “we” – they’ve done that through quotas in the Labor Party. And we’ve seen that play out in the representation in both houses, in the Senate and the chamber of the House of Representatives. [Emphasis added].

As viewers of last Wednesday’s The Drum may recall, Ms Remeikis quickly recognised her error, smiled, and then proceeded to correct the “we” in the Labor Party to “they” in the Labor Party.  But no one said anything – not even the presenter Dr Baird (for a doctor she is). It was as if the blunder went down the memory hole immediately.

Sure, Comrade Remeikis is not the first  Canberra Press Gallery commentator to refer to the Labor Party as “we”.  As MWD seems to recall, (Red) Kerry O’Brien did likewise some time ago.

But it’s 2021 – and Canberra Press Gallery types are expected to be more careful, in view of allegations about bias and the like. Yet, here is a case of The Guardian’s political reporter and ABC TV Insiders panellist Amy Remeikis speaking about “we” in the Labor Party. Oops!


Thanks to the avid Port Augusta reader who provided information about the ABC’s “balanced” coverage of the Walk for Life and the Abortion Action rallies held on alternate days in Adelaide this month.

  • On Saturday 6 February 2021, ABC Evening News in South Australia showed footage of the Walk for Life Rally juxtaposed against two short grabs from interviews with pro-choice advocates – one from the South Australian Abortion Action Coalition and another from the president of the South Australian branch of the Australian Medical Association. Both spoke in favour of the abortion law reform.

The ABC reported that “hundreds” had attended the Walk for Life Rally. The ABC was on its own.  Channel 9, in its evening news bulletin on 6 February, reported that “over four thousand” South Australians had participated in the Walk for Life Rally.  The Advertiser, in a story published online three hours after the rally, reported that “four thousand protestors braved the rain to support the rally”.

  • On Saturday 13 February 2021, ABC Evening News in South Australia reported about the Abortion Action Coalition Rally:

Hundreds of people have gathered on the steps of parliament house to show their support for the decriminalisation of abortion in South Australia. The rally was held ahead of a Bill being introduced into the Lower House this week which would bring the procedure under healthcare legislation. Advocates say they want to see the Bill passed without amendments.

Vox Pop 1: “I think it’s perfect as it is and I agree with that.” Vox Pop 2:  “I’m here so that people can have a chance to have autonomy over their bodies.”  Vox Pop 3: “Just seeing the community that’s actually supportive of women and women’s choices and all that we stand for, is so powerful in itself.”

The government says the changes would bring SA into line with other states and late-term terminations would only be available at the recommendation of medical professionals.

When the ABC reported the Walk for Life Rally on 6 February, it included comments from two opponents of the protest.  However, when the ABC reported the SA Abortion Action Coalition Rally a week later, no grabs of individuals who opposed this protest were included in the report.

So the ABC  included two pro-choice vox-pops in its report of the Walk for Life Rally – and three pro-choice vox-pops in its report of the SA Abortion Action Coalition Rally – but no critical vox-pops were included in the report of the Abortion Action Coalition Rally.  How’s that for balance?

As to the numbers. As previously pointed out, Channel 9 and The Advertiser  said that at least 4000 supported the Walk for Life Rally – while the ABC put the turn-out in its hundreds.  The disparity between over 4000 and hundreds is, well, huge.

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 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.


The Melbourne-based Gavin Silbert QC is one of Australia’s leading lawyers.  He obtained degrees in Law and Classics from the University of Western Australia before undertaking post-graduate degrees at the University of London and Oxford University.  Between 1985 and 1990, Mr Silbert was a prosecutor for the Queen before returning to the Bar in Australia – where he practised in criminal law doing both prosecution and defence work as well as administrative and commercial law. Mr Silbert was appointed Victorian Chief Crown Prosecutor in 2008 from which he retired in 2018.  Since then, he has practised law – concentrating on pro-bono briefs.

Gerard Henderson emailed Gavin Silbert QC about an article he wrote in the Summer 2020/21 issue of Victorian Bar News concerning the Pell Case. The correspondence is printed below.

Gerard Henderson to Gavin Silbert QC – 23 February 2021

Dear Mr Silbert

I read with interest your article “Pell v The Queen” in the Victorian Bar News Issue 168.

I assume that someone has drawn your attention to the typo in the second paragraph. It states that “A had not made his first complaint [against Cardinal George Pell] until 2005…”. This should read 2015.

On another matter.  I was surprised by your claim that the media coverage of the Pell Case was “entirely uninformed”.  This comment apparently relates only to those journalists who believed that Pell should not have been convicted. And not to those who, like Louise Milligan, believed that he was guilty as charged. Moreover, you make no reference to whether the substantial hostility to Pell in the media brought about a situation where he could not receive a fair trial.

Two of the main critics of the Cardinal George Pell’s prosecution from the beginning to end were Fr Frank Brennan SJ and Professor Greg Craven.  Their arguments were consistent with the subsequent dissent of Justice Mark Weinberg in the Victorian Court of Appeal and with all seven judges in the High Court of Australia.

Fr Brennan and Professor Craven have legal qualifications and neither has referred to “A”(or “J” as he was referred to in the County Court) as “a liar”.  Consequently they cannot be said to have engaged in the “gutter journalism” to which you refer in your article – without naming names.

I was also interested in this comment in that part of your article where you defend the actions of Victoria Police and the Victorian Director of Public Prosecutions in the charging and prosecution of Pell:

An examination of the critiques serves little purpose at this time…. The Director of Public Prosecutions was accused of failing to exercise proper prosecutorial discretion prior to indicting; the verdicts confirm that the reasonable prospects of conviction test was satisfied.

As you will be aware, Cardinal Pell was originally charged with 26 offences with respect to nine complainants. All were withdrawn before the Magistrates’ Court, or struck out by the Magistrate, or effectively ruled out by the County Court (when it disallowed the tendency evidence) before being dropped by the DPP or quashed by the High Court.

This would suggest that the Victorian DPP’s case against Pell warrants some form of critique since few prosecutions have such a failure rate – but you seem to hold a different view.

I assume that you are the same Gavin Silbert QC who was interviewed by Louise Milligan for her book Witness (Hachette Australia, 2020) where the following comment appears:

Gavin Silbert SC, then [i.e. in 2017] the Senior Crown Prosecutor, sent the Pell brief back to the police, to tell them they could charge if they wished.

“The allegations of the complainant, if accepted by a jury, were sufficient,” Silbert much later told me in an interview for this book. “I didn’t have to form a judgement on whether it would be accepted by a jury – just, taking it at its highest, and assuming they were accepted, they were sufficient.”

Silbert also believes that “Witness, J”, the choirboy complainant against Pell, was a very compelling witness. “I thought so,” he said, “I mean, the jury accepted him at the end of the day.”

I note here that in explaining the decision to advise Victoria Police that they could charge Cardinal Pell if it wished – reference is made only to the five charges concerning the complainant “J” which include four charges concerning the deceased “R”.

They amounted to 5 out of 26 charges laid by Victoria Police.  Do you still hold the view that, the Senior Crown Prosecutor acted correctly in advising Victoria Police that it could lay charges with respect to all 26 charges? Or just the five that made it to the mistrial and the trial?

For example, as you will be aware, Magistrate Belinda Wallington ruled out Charges 7 to 14 as “not of sufficient weight for a jury to convict”. The same was the case with Charge 15.  Magistrate Wallington set a high bar indeed for not putting charges to a jury – namely that “the credibility of a witness is effectively destroyed”. Clearly the Magistrate was not impressed by the evidence of the complaints with respect to these charges.  This matter is not referred to in the Victorian Bar News article.

On another matter, Ms Milligan reports Gavin Silbert as believing “that ‘Witness J’, the choirboy complainant against Pell, was a very compelling witness”.  Somewhere between two and ten jurors in the first trial did not hold this view. Likewise Justice Weinberg in the Victoria Court of Appeal – who, like the jurors in both trials, saw J’s evidence via video link. Likewise all seven judges of the High Court of Australia.

As you will be aware, in Pell v The Queen  the High Court warned against putting weight on the demeanour of a witness – as had the High Court in the civil case of Fox v Percy in 1983 – the majority comprised Gleeson C.J, Kirby J. and Gummow J.

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I am planning to write about the Pell Case in the future.  The purpose of this note is to offer you the opportunity to respond to my comments, if you so wish.

Yours sincerely

Gerard Henderson

PS: I have a humble LL.B and I have never described J as a “liar”. I believe that some individuals have clear “recollections” of events that never happened and I am well aware of the fallibility of memory.  You don’t have to regard a complainant as a conscious liar to cast doubt on his or her recollections of events. No doubt, you are aware of this.  My view on demeanour is consistent with the view of the High Court of Australia.


Gavin Silbert QC to Gerard Henderson – 23 February 2021

Dear Mr Henderson,

Thank you for your email and I am more than happy to speak with you; regrettably I am rather pressed for time at the moment so am not able to give you more than a very brief response.

First, I am aware of the typo in the first paragraph; A’s complaint was first made in 2015, an error that was drawn to my attention by Mark Weinberg.

Much of the media coverage was uninformed and I do not restrict that comment to those who believe he should have been convicted. Both Father Brennan and Greg Craven wrote informed pieces but some of the other commentary was lacking in intellectual rigour on ” both  sides”. I thought there was some appalling commentary in Quadrant. That said, I have just finished reading The Persecution of George Pell by Keith Windschuttle which is as good an analysis  as one could hope to find. We lawyers are used to defending clients and interpret their acquittals as a failure of the prosecution to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt. I must say, that after reading this I was persuaded that not only was the standard of proof not met, but that Pell was an innocent man.

My comment on the committal was premised on the fact that the first jury convicted and that the matter was not taken away  from either jury by the judge; that suggests that the legal test was satisfied.

I am certain that I am the same person interviewed by Louis Milligan for her book Witness  but I have not read the book and am reluctant to comment. All I would say is that Victoria Police have the sole function of charging in Victoria and their recent practice of attempting to obtain the imprimatur of the DPP and/or Crown Prosecutors is without any legal justification; they have sought to do this of late to protect themselves from criticism particularly in matters of political sensitivity or high public interest. My invariable practice was to tell Victoria Police that it was a matter for them and to refuse to offer any advice.

The fundamental premise of an unsafe and unsatisfactory appeal is that the appeal court should proceed on the basis that if a jury has accepted a witness’ evidence then it should not arrogate to itself the right to disbelieve that evidence but should weigh the totality of evidence to ascertain whether the jury, accepting the complainant’s evidence as credible and reliable, should nonetheless have had a reasonable doubt. The High Court proceeded on this entirely conventional basis.

I am very happy to speak with you and regret that I could not give you a more detailed response.

With best wishes,

Gavin Silbert QC


Gerard Henderson to Gavin Silbert QC – 23 February 2021

 Dear Mr Silbert

Thanks for your prompt reply to my email of earlier today.

I understand how busy you are and I do not propose to engage you further on this issue.  You have covered the matters which I raised – and I am very grateful for this.

Best wishes

Gerard Henderson


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Until next time.

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