ISSUE – NO. 547

25 June 2021

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It would seem that regular Q&A presenter Hamish Macdonald has scant self-awareness. Last night’s program was, once again, an opportunity for critics of the Morrison government to attack the government. The majority of the panel were hostile to the Morrison government as were most of the small (due to COVID-19) audience.

Let’s go to the transcript where Nicole Rogerson (CEO of Autism Awareness) was bagging the Morrison government:

Nicole Rogerson: But Hollie [Liberal senator Hollie Hughes], Linda [Reynolds] is not here. Linda is not here tonight. I’m sorry but – the Australian government, the Australian population, if you don’t have disability in your life, you probably don’t spend a lot of time talking about it, right? We live with it. It’s really important to us. The fact that Q+A want to have a conversation tonight where we get to come on and talk about the thing we care about most, the NDIS, we’re really grateful for it. I would have liked to have seen the minister in charge of it sitting next to me having this discussion.

Hamish Macdonald: To be fair, we did invite Linda Reynolds on, we also –

Nicole Rogerson: You’re here, good on you Holl, bloody Holls turned up.

Hamish Macdonald: We also invited Anne Ruston who’s the social services minister.

Nicole Rogerson: Why aren’t they here having this conversation?

Hamish Macdonald: You’d need to ask them for an explanation.

The question which Hamish Macdonald and Q & A executive producer Erin Vincent decline to address is this. Why should a senior minister of a government give up valuable time to appear on Q & A knowing that, invariably, both the panel and the audience is stacked against the Coalition – and the presenter invariably encourages Coalition critics?

Before the last election, (then) Q & A presenter Tony Jones suggested that if the Coalition wanted to find out what the electorate was thinking then the Prime Minister should appear on the program. Scott Morrison appears to have decided that he could better spend his time in marginal seats – a wise decision in view of the results.

The fact is that Q & A  is essentially a left wing program which essentially appeals to a left wing audience. There is rarely any upside if a senior Coalition minister appears on Q & A – only downside. ABC management has yet to work this out.



ABC presenters adopt a tough line on real and perceived conflicts of interest. Indeed this is an excuse for the ABC’s de-platforming individuals of a politically conservative disposition. However, the staff collective which runs the taxpayer funded public broadcaster tends to overlook perceived conflicts of interests on the home front.

As Media Watch Dog  has demonstrated, Samuel (“call me Sam”) Clark, who is the executive producer of Insiders, has never required The Guardian’s Lenore Taylor and Katharine Murphy to declare any professional relationship with Malcolm Turnbull. It was Mr Turnbull himself who revealed in his memoir A Bigger Picture (Hardie Grant 2020) that it was his initiative to set up The Guardian in Australia – and that he suggested Ms Taylor and Ms Murphy as talent to be recruited. Neither has declared this association while on the Insiders panel.

And then there is the case of Annabel Crabb – a critic of Morrison government minister Christian Porter who recently settled a defamation case with the ABC.

This is how Insiders commenced on Sunday 7 March 2021:

David Speers: We’re joined this week by Katharine Murphy, Annabel Crabb and Peter van Onselen. Welcome to you all. I think it’s important to start this conversation with a quick disclosure. Annabel, you knew the woman at the centre of this allegation against Christian Porter.

Annabel Crabb: Yeah, I knew her [Kate], well, probably nearly 30 years ago. And I haven’t spoken to her I would say in 20 years but I    certainly, as an Adelaide former school’s debater, yeah, I knew her. At that time.

David Speers: And Peter –

Annabel Crabb: And I must say, I’ve not had any relevant confidences or disclosures made to me –

David Speers: – You weren’t aware of the allegations. Yeah okay. And Peter, you’ve been friends with Christian Porter for a long time.

Peter van Onselen: Yeah. Since before he entered politics at state or  federal level. And good friends.

David Speers: Yeah. Okay. Just to get that on the table. So that – and Katharine?

Katharine Murphy: I have no declarations.

On Thursday in The Australian, James Madden and Sophie Elsworth revealed recently released Federal Court documents which document that on 7 July 2020, Annabel Crabb had sent a message to Porter critic Jo Dyer in which Crabb described Porter as a “strange dude”. The documents, which are available on the Federal Court website, also indicate that Annabel Crabb gave permission for ABC Four Corners reporter Louise Milligan to interview Ms Dyer in her (Crabb’s) Sydney home. At the time, Ms Crabb praised Jo Dyer’s attempts to “get some justice” for the alleged victim – the late Kate – of Porter’s alleged sexual attack when she was 16 and he was 17.

Which suggests that Annabel Crabb’s disclosure on Insiders was somewhat less than it might have been – since she was involved with both Jo Dyer and Louise Milligan in what became Four Corners’ case against Porter.

It remains to be seen whether Sam Clark will ensure that a clarification is made on Insiders this Sunday.

Can You Bear It?


Lotsa thanks to the avid Canberra reader who drew Media Watch Dog’s attention to the article on ABC Online by ABC personality Virginia Trioli dated 18 June 2021. This is its (long) title: “He was a Xavier boy, and he’s lodged in my memory of my first experience of Australia’s great class divide”.

This is how La Trioli commenced her take on “Australia’s great class divide”.

He was a Xavier boy. His cheeks fairly shone with promise and purpose.  I had been to his school once. As a school debater I remember being driven up the sweeping driveway to the domed mansion of the main hall and thinking it looked just like the manor in Brideshead Revisited. He even looked a little like Anthony Andrews who played the doomed Sebastian Flyte. From time to time, as a little joke, my Xavier boy would even carry around a teddy bear.

This, it seems, is a tale of the early 1980s. Hendo went to Xavier College in the early 1960s – and he does not remember any fellow students whose “cheeks fairly shone with promise and purpose”. Which raises the question – what would such a bloke look like? Who knows? – perhaps the  Sebastian Flyte types only rocked up at Barkers Road, Kew two decades later.

As to Xavier College itself – it was constructed by the Jesuits in the 1880s as a day and boarding school.  The main hall was a place to go when it was raining and where exams were held. It was nothing like the manor in Brideshead Revisited. And the building was never a “mansion” – domed or otherwise. The chapel however, however, did have a dome.

La Trioli (who, according to Wikipedia graduated from La Trobe University) recalls that she and XB (aka Xavier Boy) walked across “the moonlit campus of the University of Melbourne” up to “the porticos of the old law building” during her first year at university – and here’s what happened next:

He slipped his arm around me and murmured in my ear, “You’ve really done well for yourself, haven’t you?” I could feel his jumper beneath my chin: it had a sheen and a softness I didn’t understand.

So XB – he of the jumper with sheen and softness – told La Trioli that she really had done well to get into Melbourne University. It’s not clear whether XB, at the time, was armed with his teddy bear or not.

What does this tale tell us about “Australia’s great class divide?” – MWD  hears readers cry.  Well it is this – whatever this might mean:

Apparently, one of the most Melbourne questions you can ever be asked is not where you get your coffee, but where you went to school. But I’ve never been asked that question. I guess when you haven’t been to one of the “right” schools the answer simply doesn’t matter. Can they tell just by looking at you?

Hang on a minute. It should be a good thing that Ms Trioli – who was educated at Donvale High School in Melbourne’s leafy outer eastern suburbs – was not asked by XB or anyone else where she went to school – right?. Er, no – apparently.  According to La Trioli circa 2021, ex-Xavier College blokes in the 1980s could tell whether a sheila went to a “right” private school or not by just looking at her. Really.

As interpreted by La Trioli, XB’s message that night at Melbourne University was that she had lifted herself up to his level –  and that, at this rate, she “might even belong”.  La Trioli did not say to what.

Yeah, it’s possible.  But it’s possible, just possible that XB had other things on his mind during that moonlit night beneath the portico of the Law Building that had nothing to do with maintaining Australia’s class divide. Don’t you reckon?

It turns out that the LT/XB attraction didn’t last long.  But La Trioli went to XB’s 21st Birthday Party and notes that “he wore a tux”.  In those days, they usually were called dinner suits and could be rented out for the night – to be returned by Gin &  Tonic Time the following day.  They were a long way south of being a statement of class like, say, a top hat or spats. The outcome was: “He [XB] ended up running a high-profile business; we caught up once or twice; he remained a genuinely nice guy.”

So what’s the problem?  XB was – and remained – a genuinely nice guy, albeit of the cashmere and tux kind.  Which would suggest that La Trioli was not afflicted by any great class divide in the 1980s emanating out of Xavier College Old Boys – as they were called, however young.

But wait. There was a problem. When at Donvale High, Young Trioli used to debate in an inter-school State debating competition.  The annual prize awards night was to be held at Xavier College and La Trioli was to receive the best speaker gong. However, when La Trioli and Donvale High staff members arrived at Xavier College, no one was at home – they “had been given a wrong date” – alas.  This is how the column ended:

It made no sense to me then that someone might deliberately try to exclude a high school student from such a tony affair. My teachers, struggling on in an underfunded and underappreciated state system, could never be persuaded otherwise. This weekend, Australia Talks takes a look at how classism and its creeping assumptions express themselves in modern Australia….. [Emphasis added]

[By the way, the reference to a “tony affair” refers to an occasion involving stylish wealthy people. It’s a North American word usage that has nothing to do with Jesuit educated guys like Tony Abbott – MWD Editor.]

It all sounds like a stuff up. But for Virginia Trioli, someone or other (probably the powers-that-be at Xavier College even though they did not run the State debating competition) deliberately excluded a government school student from receiving a debating gong.  There’s no evidence to support this theory about something that happened, or didn’t happen, four decades ago.  But don’t worry – according to the ABC’s “Australia Talks” it tells you all we need to know about “Australia’s great class divide”. Can You Bear It?


Thanks to the avid Media Watch Dog reader in Launceston who drew attention to the interview by Fran (“I’m an activist”) Kelly with Sydney business figure Geoff Cousins on 16 June.

Now this is a club-related matter. And Jackie’s (male) co-owner is not a clubbable type.  However, on occasions, Hendo has visited a male-members-only or a female-members-only club. As a guest, of course. So he knows a little bit about clubs, of the male and female genre.

So it was interesting to listen to the Kelly/Cousins interview – which took place against the background that your man Cousins was on Radio National Breakfast on account of the fact that he had just resigned from The Australian Club in Sydney due to its most recent decision to bar women from becoming members. Let’s go to the transcript which commenced as follows:

Fran Kelly: You’re a long-time member of The Australian Club, I think, how long were you a member, and why did you quit?

Geoff Cousins:  Can’t really remember, a couple of decades, anyway.  I quit because I was stunned by what happened in the meeting yesterday. I had assumed there were a small number of people who held the view that women shouldn’t be members.   But I discovered yesterday that there were a large number of them….

There you have it.  Your man Cousins became a member of the all male The Australian Club circa 2000 and remained one until around the end of the 2020-21 financial year.  If he ever went to the club for lunch, he would almost certainly have found himself in an all-male environment.  The interview continued:

Fran Kelly: So why, what’s the point of a place like The Australian Club. What do men do in them?

Geoff Cousins: Oh, I mean, I tell you, a lot of activities of course, they’re having dinner with women.  Women are allowed to go to the club.

Fran Kelly:  As a guest?

Geoff Cousins: Or at least certain parts of it, yes, as guests. But for some weird reason they can’t be members. And there are parts of the club where men only can have lunch and this kind of thing. I mean, you can’t imagine anything more boring in my view than sitting down with a group of men every day of your life….

Okay. But, surely, it did not take Geoff Cousins two decades to wake up to the fact that having lunch in a gentlemen-only environment was boring beyond belief.  At this stage, Comrade Kelly might well have asked your man Cousins why he did not resign from the all-chaps club in, say, 2002 – and thus avoid 20 years of boring lunches.  But this critical question was not asked – apparently since your man Geoff Cousins was into feminist mode.  Can You Bear It?


While on the topic of male membership only clubs, did anyone read the “Fitz on Sunday” column in last weekend’s The Sun-Herald? Peter (“For a decade I wore a red rag on my head until I had to wash both”) FitzSimons had this to say about the men-only business which he believes takes place somewhere near Macquarie Street Sydney:

The Australian Club, make no mistake, is the cockpit of the state and, in many cases, the nation. The networking site to beat them all, the place where deals are done, lobbying conducted, appointments to key positions organised.

This, as avid readers might expect, is a significant exaggeration.  For starters, members of The Australian Club are not supposed to discuss business on the premises. Sure, in an earlier time, such institutions comprised many gentlemen of contemporary influence.  But clubbable types sitting down for a lunch is not the way most business is done these days.

The day after Fitz’s “The Australian-Club runs the nation” declaration the Australian Financial Review’s “Rear Window” column reported that The West Australian had revealed the names of the male-members only Weld Club in Perth. Sure there were a few influential West Australians on the list.  But such key Perth identities as Michael Chaney, Andrew Forrest, Richard Goyder, Christian Porter and Perth mayor Basil Zempilas were not there. Nor was Peter Quinlan, the Chief Justice of Western Australia.  Which suggests that The Weld Club is no longer the cockpit of the state – if it ever was.  Ditto The Australian Club.

Come to think of it, Comrade Fitz has an odd attitude to what he regards as the class system in Australia.  This is how the one-time Red Bandannaed One concluded his column last Sunday where – once again – he bragged about his Tesla car which an Aussie can afford provided they have at least a lazy $80,000 or so:

Circa 40 years ago, at Sydney uni’s Wesley College, while others would simply grab their keys to start their cars, I would call the NRMA on 632 0500 and ask them to please send Bluey or Jacko over with some jumper leads and WD-40 so I could get my old mini-moke going. This week, after being with NRMA all that time, and being saved by their roadside assistance on countless occasions, I discontinued. Why? Electric cars simply never break down, bar flat tyres.

So there you have it. When he resided at the private Wesley College on the campus of Sydney University, Fitz managed to keep his Mini-Moke on the road per courtesy of NRMA.  The NRMA was funded by a universal membership fee. Which means that members whose new or close to new cars rarely broke down subsidised less well off members like Fitz – who drove what were called old bombs.

Now that Fitz is a millionaire who drives a Tesla, is the Sage of Neutral Bay willing to kick-in to the NRMA to help a young bloke or sheila who is struggling to keep a cheap car on the road?  Not only your Nelly. Instead Fitz boasts that his Tesla never breaks down and he will no longer support the NRMA. How lousy can you get?  More importantly – Can You Bear It?


Peter Fray, the editor-in-chief of the leftist Crikey, presents as a mild-mannered type who exhibits concern for both the living and the dead. For example, last Tuesday, your man Fray editorialised that his newsletter is “currently investigating the funeral industry and we’re interested in gathering a wide range of views and experiences”.

A noble cause, to be sure. But will this be necessary if Crikey contributor Guy Rundle – Media Watch Dog’s favourite Marxist comedian – has his way?

For example, on 22 June – the same day that Comrade Fray was editorialising about funerals – Comrade Rundle had this to say in a piece in Crikey headed: “A Billion Uses [sic] Why I Want Jeff Bezos to Explode in Space”:

On July 20, Jeff Bezos, the centibillionaire founder of Amazon, will be shot into space with five other people, including his brother, in a rocket launched by his space exploration company, Blue Horizon. The journey is nothing more than a parabolic shot — up and then down — and is timed to take 11 minutes. Hopefully it will take less time than that, because if all goes well Jeff Bezos will explode in space.

From then on there was a degree of confusion.  Comrade Rundle wanted your man Bezos to be blown up in space, then he didn’t, and then he did.  But Rundle did recognise that this world would be “sad for the five other people on board but they’ll never know what happened” but he still wishes your man Bezos to be a contemporary manifestation of the Big Bang.

Pretty reassuring, eh?  Oh yes, Comrade Rundle reckons he will probably get a visit from the Australian Federal Police over this.  More like a couple of persons in white coats, MWD believes.  By the way – Can You Bear It?

As avid readers are aware, the late Nancy (2004-2017) did not die. She merely “passed” on to the Other Side. Hence MWD has been able to keep in touch and seek her advice about behaviour, courtesy and all that – with the help of the American psychic John Edward of Crossing Over fame. Your man Edward has demonstrated a first class ability to communicate with the dead,  albeit not so much with the living. And so, Nancy’s “Courtesy Classes” continue – albeit from the “Other Side” in a post-mortem kind of way.


What on earth could have happened to the seemingly well brought up Ita Buttrose AO OBE since she was appointed ABC chair?  Jackie’s (male) co-owner fondly remembers Ms Buttrose addressing The Sydney Institute on courtesy. Her precise topic was “Australians Behaving Badly”. But now the chair of the taxpayer funded public broadcaster seems to be channelling the mythical gangland character Don Vito Corleone in the movie The Godfather or some such.

In “The Diary” segment of last Monday’s Australian, James Madden and Sophie Elsworth reported that, at a business lunch in Western Sydney last week, Ms Buttrose had this to say:

We do sometimes upset politicians, including both sides of the parliament. I think the campaign currently being waged against the ABC is far more concerted than I can ever recollect. But I think that must be (because) we’re doing a ­really good job. We live with the criticisms.

I got in my elevator this morning and there was a bloke there and he said, “Oh, good morning, are they still giving (the ABC) a hard time? Let us know who they are and I’ll get a group of people from this apartment block and we’ll go and sort them out for you.” And I said, “Well, thank you very much.” He said, “We love the ABC. Don’t give up on it”.

Media Watch Dog does not know the names of those with whom Ita Buttrose shares her apartment’s lift.  But they seem like a frightening lot – capable of, er, sorting out critics of the ABC.  Assuming, presumably, the likes of Janet Albrechtsen and Warren Mundine. Also Ita’s lift-associates seem capable of placing a pig’s head in Jackie’s kennel. A pretty shocking scenario, don’t you think?

Just imagine what the Friends of the ABC would have said if, say, Andrew Bolt had told a business lunch in Dandenong that if the ABC did not cease to be a Conservative Free Zone he would send around a couple of karate instructors to the ABC headquarters so as to sort out the problem.  All hell would have broken loose – even if your man Bolt had been trying to be funny.

Now, Comrade Buttrose is a bit of a MWD fave.  We don’t want her to get into trouble following another manners fail.  So MWD recommends a four-week lockdown in Nancy’s Courtesy Classes.  They are on the ground floor of Nancy’s post-mortem virtual kennel – so Ita Buttrose AO OBE will not have to mingle with unsavoury types in the lift.

[Good stuff. Here’s hoping Ita’s manners are restored as soon as possible. By the way, I notice that the ABC chair has picked up the ABC’s Talking Points hand-out which includes the line that the ABC is criticised by politicians on both sides of politics so it must be doing a good job.  This ignores the fact that ABC journalists tend to criticise both the Coalition and Labor from the left. ABC types rarely, if ever, criticise the Green/Left in general – or the Greens in particular.]



As MWD has pointed out ad nauseam, the idea of a writers’ festival is that a soviet of leftists and left-of-centre types come together, get a bucketload of taxpayers’ funds and invite their comrades to an ideological gig where essentially everyone agrees with essentially everyone else on essentially everything – in a leftist kind of way.

Moreover, like the ABC, each writers’ festival is invariably a Conservative Free Zone – if a conservative ends up at a writers’ festival it’s invariably because they got lost on the way to a conference of the Samuel Griffith Society or some such.

Last weekend, The [Boring] Saturday Paper carried an advertisement for the Byron Writers’ Festival 2021 to be held – God willing – on 6-8 August and which presents as “A festival of ideas, conversation and story-telling”. What’s more, it will feature “Over 140 Writers & Thinkers”.  It is not clear whether all the writers are thinkers or whether all the thinkers are writers.  But a hint – it’s not called the Byron Thinkers Festival.

Here’s a list of some writers and thinkers who will present at Sandalista Central Byron Bay in early August – Julia Baird, Caroline Baum, Bryan Brown, Jennifer Byrne, Barrie Cassidy, Gabrielle Chan, Eva Cox, Zoe Daniel, Andrew Denton, Robert Dessaix, Kate Ellis, Mehreen Faruqi, Osman Faruqi, Richard Flanagan, Peter Greste, Peter Hartcher, Linda Jaivin, Erik Jensen, Marcia Langton, Antony Loewenstein, Scott Ludlam, Jacqueline Maley, Mark McKenna, Rick Morton, Kerry O’Brien, Julianne Schultz, Margaret Simons, Norman Swan, Marian Wilkinson and Hendo’s university comrade Arnold Zable.

Not everyone is a leftist or left-of-centre (i.e. social democrat) type.  But most are.  In any event, MWD cannot find a conservative among this lot.  If anyone listed above reckons that they are conservative – then MWD is only too willing to publish a correction next issue.  But don’t hold your breath – as the saying goes (or went).

The core funders of the 2021 Byron Writers’ Festival are (i) the NSW Government, (ii) Australian Government RISE Fund, (iii) the Australian Government Council for the Arts and (iv) Regional Arts NSW (the core funding for which comes from the NSW Government’s Arts NSW).

In other words, Commonwealth and NSW taxpayers are paying for the 2021 BWF program which – with respect to political/social/economic issues – resembles the Conservative Free Zone that prevails within the ABC, The Guardian and The Saturday Paper and so on.

For example, the only current or former politicians on the program are Kate Ellis (Labor Party), Scott Ludlam (Greens) and Mehreen Faruqi (Greens). There’s not a Liberal Party or Nationals politician in sight.

In short, the taxpayer funded 2021 Byron Writers’ Festival is essentially a leftist stack – paid for by taxpayers.

Your Taxes At Work.

As avid readers are aware, MWD is the enemy of hyperbole. So, it has decided to single out exaggerations on a regular basis. Here are the latest examples – as chosen by Jackie.


Writing in the leftist Crikey newsletter on Tuesday, Adam Schwab did well in the Exaggeration Stakes. He declared that Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s recent consultation paper on proxy advisers “could have easily been drafted in the corridors of Beijing or Pyongyang”.

Now, the last time Media Watch Dog was in Beijing, it did not notice that the city had outside corridors. In any event, it’s not evident that the communist rulers of China or North Korea bother much about consultation papers – or worry whether legislation might be defeated in an upper house like the Australian Senate.

Comrade Schwab’s contribution was a good try.  But the hyperbole of the week gong goes to Tony Wright, the Sketch writer for The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald – who had this to say about the week’s change of leadership in the Nationals Party – formerly the Country Party – from Michael McCormack to Barnaby Joyce:

Back in the party’s distant – very distant – glory days, leadership was settled by tough blokes, always blokes, over a barbecue of mutton chops and Hereford steaks and sealed with long-neck beers at a country bowls club.  In this way Artie Fadden, Black Jack McEwen and Doug Anthony clocked up a total of more than 48 years as successive Country Party leaders.

What a load of absolute tosh. The likes of Artie Fadden, Jack McEwen and Doug Anthony attained their leadership positions due to their support in the Nationals (nee Country Party) party room – not at country bowls clubs.

As avid readers are aware, this increasingly popular segment of MWD is inspired by the Anglo Irish satirist Dr Jonathan Swift’s proposal to relieve the plight of the Irish under British control, by certain suggestions which he proffered in his writings. In particular, his 1729 tome A Modest Proposal – For preventing the children of poor people in Ireland, from being a burden on their parents or country, and for making them beneficial to the publick.  As a consequence of such irreverence, your clergyman Swift (1667-1745) never attained his due rank within the Church of Ireland (i.e. the Anglican Church in Ireland). But that’s another story.


While on the topic of Nine Newspapers – like The Sun-Herald and the Sydney Morning Herald  – here’s a quick look at the headings of that newspaper’s editorials in recent times.  Spoiler Alert – this is a MUST read.

  • 17 June – the SMH editorialised about what the National Rugby League “must” do.
  • 18 June – the SMH editorialised that the Dark Emu debate “must not” obscure Indigenous History – re which see today’s Documentation section.
  • 19 June – the SMH editorialised about what “must” be in the NSW budget.
  • 20 June – the Sun-Herald (i.e. the SMH on Sundays) editorialised about what the NSW government “must” do about education.
  • 23 June – the SMH editorialised about what the NSW “must not” do with reference to the economy.

Here’s MWD Modest Proposal. The Sydney Morning Herald and The Sun Herald MUST employ a headline writer with a less limited vocabulary.



MWD eagerly awaits the imminent release of Dr Norman Swan’s new book So you think you know what’s good for you?. After all, the front cover of the long-awaited tome promises that it is “The Ultimate Health Guide from Australia’s most trusted doctor”. No doubt Dr Swan’s frequent appearances on various ABC and non-ABC media during the COVID-19 pandemic will help sell copies of the book.

The bold claim Dr Swan’s book cover was repeated this morning on Radio National’s Life Matters, with Tamara Oudyn introducing him as “Australia’s most trusted doctor”.

While on the topic of Dr Swan’s never-ending media blitz, did anyone catch him on RN Breakfast on the morning of Wednesday 23 June? Discussing the current COVID outbreak in NSW, your man Swan had this to say about his fellow New South Welshmen and women:

Norman Swan: We’ve been lulled into a false sense of security, New South Wales has not experienced a second wave like Victoria. So we’re not respectful of this virus, or New South Wales people are not respectful of this virus to the same extent that Victorians are.

However, by Thursday night Dr Swan’s tune had changed, after finding the toilet paper aisle mostly bare at his local Woolworths:

Swan went on to label panic-buyers “Dickhead-19”. Perhaps the folks buying all the toilet paper at the good doctor’s local Woolies were just trying to show their respect for the virus?

But no Swan media appearance has caused as much of a stir as his 1 June 2021 spot on ABC Radio Melbourne’s Drive program. Dr Swan sat down with Raf Epstein to discuss the (then) ongoing lockdown in Melbourne. Midway through the interview Dr Swan offered up an extraordinary story concerning Australia’s vaccine procurement:

Norman Swan: I’ve now had three sources telling me the same story, one including [sic] from the United States, of what happened with Pfizer last June. And if these three separate sources are right, what happened last June is that they wanted to make Australia an example to the world on how to roll out, a bit like Israel or other places. And they said how much do you want and when do you want it? And on the 10 July there was a meeting and what I’m told happened at that meeting was that there was an inexperienced person there with procurement. And they said oh – they were pretty rude at the meeting, and they said: “Well you’re going to have to give us all your IP”, which is an amazing thing to have said. And started nickel and diming on the cost and essentially the conversation stopped. And then they came back in November, the Commonwealth, and we got 10 million doses.

In the three weeks since this interview, the story has spread like wildfire on Twitter, helped along by UNSW adjunct professor Bill Bowtell and a few blogs. Indeed, in certain corners of Twitter the story has become an accepted fact and the cause of much outrage towards the Federal government. And yet the scandalous story has seemingly been ignored by Dr Swan’s colleagues at the ABC and other mainstream media outlets.

On Monday 21 June 2021, the allegations surrounding the Pfizer meeting were raised during the Senate Select Committee on COVID-19. Labor’s Katy Gallagher, who was chairing the committee, raised the allegations with Health Department Secretary Dr Brendan Murphy.

Dr Murphy noted that Pfizer have put out a statement denying the accusation and then passed the question to Lisa Schofield, who is first assistant secretary of the federal vaccine taskforce and was present at the meeting. Dr Murphy also noted that he considers Ms Schofield a senior officer at the health department, not a junior officer, presumably in reference to Dr Swan’s claim that the health department sent along an “inexperienced person”.

Ms Schofield stated plainly that both Pfizer and the Department of Health deny the claims being made about the meeting. She went on to say that in the meeting Pfizer presented where they were up to in the development of a vaccine in “high-level terms” and offered a “preliminary view of where they were up to and what they were thinking”. Senator Gallagher continued her questioning:

Katy Gallagher: You can say that Pfizer did not make an offer to the government about supply of vaccine at that meeting?

Lisa Schofield: That’s right, not in any level of detail. Pfizer said, “This is a vaccine that we are developing.” We said that we were interested in talking to them about potentially purchasing that vaccine, but that was it. No numbers or details were put on the table at that discussion on 10 July.

Katy Gallagher: You would have kept notes of that meeting or you would have had a note-taker at that meeting, so you have been able to go back and refresh.

Lisa Schofield: Yes.

Katy Gallagher : There wasn’t any specific offer from Pfizer, so any speculation that the department rejected an offer from Pfizer is not true?

Lisa Schofield: That’s correct.

A short time later the allegations were raised again:

Katy Gallagher: Again, this is based on those media stories, at any point was the government offered anything in terms of a population-based vaccination program from Pfizer that was rejected?

Lisa Schofield: I guess – I’m not sure exactly what the question is.

Katy Gallagher: The allegation that’s running along a number of stories in the media is that Pfizer made an offer to the government essentially to cover the population in terms of vaccine supply and the government said “no”. That is the allegation. I just want to understand: with any of this toing and froing that you’re talking about between 10 July and the actual agreement being reached, is that an accurate record?

Lisa Schofield: Not at all. Pfizer have indicated this, I think, in testimony to this committee before, and certainly subsequent to that, that it was Pfizer that—

Katy Gallagher: I haven’t put that to them, specifically. I have gone back and read the transcripts and read their evidence, but they weren’t specifically asked that question, which is the one I’m asking you now.

Lisa Schofield: I can say that no, that was not put on the table and would reiterate that Pfizer has indicated publicly that it put the 10 million doses on the table as the offer that was available to Australia.

So there you have it. Both Pfizer and the Department of Health have denied Dr Swan’s version of events, so all we are left with is the word of Dr Swan’s three anonymous sources.

It is also worth considering the inherent logic of the claim that Pfizer wanted to make Australia its testing ground for a rollout like Israel. At the time of the 10 July 2020 meeting with Pfizer, Australian COVID cases were on the rise as the Victorian second wave spiralled out of control. Despite this, Australia was still seeing around 15 per cent of the cases being experienced by Israel at the same time, adjusting for population it was more like 5 per cent. By the time the Pfizer rollout began in Israel on 19 December 2020, Australia was seeing around 1 case for every 100 in Israel. Adjusted for population, Australia had around one quarter of one per cent of Israel’s cases.

Would Pfizer have really wanted to have the first widespread deployment of its vaccine take place in a country with almost no cases of COVID-19? Not only would this have done little to demonstrate the effectiveness of the vaccine it would have raised many questions about the prioritisation of doses.

If Pfizer had spent the early months of 2021 diverting tens of millions of doses from the United States and Europe, where thousands were dying each day, to Australia there would have been plenty of criticism of both Pfizer and the Australian government. Would the US and EU have allowed vaccines manufactured in local Pfizer facilities to be exported to Australia? The entire scenario seems very unlikely.

[For any readers looking to consult with Australia’s most trusted doctor, according to the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency Dr Swan is registered as a general practitioner in the suburb of Ultimo, Sydney. Presumably, his rooms are located at or near the ABC Ultimo Centre at 700 Harris Street. – MWD Editor]


As avid readers are aware, in true ABC group think style, when it came to discussing Bruce Pascoe’s book Dark Emu, published in 2014, essentially everyone at the taxpayer funded public broadcaster essentially agreed with everyone else that your man Pascoe had produced a fine work of scholarship in re-writing the history of the last 120,000 years of Indigenous settlement. Others put the time-span at 60,000 years.

There were some sceptics – led by Andrew Bolt, Peter O’Brien, Tony Thomas and Geoffrey Blainey, along with such Indigenous Australians as Josephine Cashman and Warren Mundine. But, for the most part, leftist or left-of-centre commentators accepted that Pascoe – who identifies as Indigenous, despite the fact that he is yet to identify any grandparent as Indigenous – had produced a work of breathtaking scholarship.

This list includes ABC TV’s Media Watch presenter Paul Barry and Radio National Breakfast presenter Fran Kelly – although neither have ‘fessed up to this yet.

On Media Watch last Monday, your man Paul Barry recognised that, following the publication of Farmers or Hunter Gatherers? The Dark Emu Debate by Dr Peter Sutton and Dr Keryn Walshe, Pascoe’s “defenders … have been forced to see his work in a new light”. And on RN Breakfast yesterday, Fran Kelly conducted a professional and thought-provoking interview with the authors of Farmers or Hunter Gatherers? The Dark Emu Debate.

In order to be helpful, MWD publishes a transcript of the Fran Kelly interview with Dr Peter Sutton and Dr Keryn Walshe.

RN Breakfast 24 June 2021

Fran Kelly: Bruce Pascoe, his book Dark Emu, might have shifted the conversation about Australia’s Indigenous history. But a new book throws doubt on most of its claims. Farmers or Hunter Gatherers?, The Dark Emu Debate, is a new book that refutes the central ideas in Dark Emu that Indigenous Australians practised complex agriculture and lived in permanent houses and permanent communities thousands of years ago. The authors also reject Bruce Pascoe’s view that Aboriginal economic life prior to colonisation was more sophisticated than what he calls quote, “a mere hunter gatherer lifestyle”. Instead, it says Indigenous Australians lived in complex economic and spiritual society with a deep understanding of the land that should be respected. The authors are archaeologist Dr Keryn Walshe and social anthropologist Peter Sutton. Keryn Walshe, Peter Sutton, welcome to Breakfast.

Dark Emu. Keryn, let me start with you. Dark Emu has changed the narrative around Australia’s Indigenous history. It’s forced many of us to rethink what we knew or thought we knew about how Indigenous Australians lived before European colonisation. Why do you have such strong reservations and criticisms about the book?

Keryn Walshe: Well, I think as you said in your introduction, Fran, that the book Dark Emu suggests that hunter gatherer life and economy was simple and primitive, a mere way of operating, which Peter [Sutton] and I reject wholeheartedly. It’s simply not the case. Hunter gatherers were very complex, and their economy was extremely sophisticated.

Fran Kelly: The publisher Magabala has responded, it says Dark Emu has succeeded in stimulating an important discussion and debate in Australia, and Bruce Pascoe has presented an understanding of the wisdom and complexity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander societies’ knowledge and achievement. Do you agree with the fact that, the description of that, that Bruce Pascoe has presented an understanding of the wisdom and complexity of Aboriginal societies’ knowledge and achievement?

Keryn Walshe: Well, I think Dark Emu certainly presents a view of Aboriginal society – but that is through the lens of European explorers, missionaries and others, as they very hastily made their way across the landscape. It’s not based on the accounts given directly from the old people to field anthropologists such as Peter Sutton.

Fran Kelly: And Peter, as an anthropologist and someone who has worked with, as you described, “the old people” – the Indigenous Australian’s elders, for many, many decades. Is Dark Emu a misrepresentation of the facts as it is, by Bruce Pascoe’s own description, based quite heavily on the journals of explorers?

Peter Sutton: Yes, some people are saying, “Oh, well, we’re just having a disagreement about the same facts”.

Fran Kelly: Yeah.

Peter Sutton: If you read both books, you’ll find that what are purported to be facts in Dark Emu are frequently found in our forensic testing to be non-facts. In fact, to be either at one, extreme fantasy, [and] at the other extreme, simply mistakes or omissions. But who would privilege the words of Thomas Mitchell, good explorer that he was for the British Empire, the man who was in the vanguard of the takeover and theft of Aboriginal country, whose bills were being paid by a colonial system that was really on the hunt for whatever looked like arable land, agricultural land.

Remember, England was, Britain was, an agrarian society at that time, really. Of course, he was going to make no special note of standing in fields of grass and heaps of grass that had been pulled out in the process of gathering tubers like yams, and so on. But yes, he was a blow-through like all the others; he never learned an Aboriginal language; he didn’t stop long enough to get to know anybody. So I don’t understand why, why any kind of privileged position was given to those records when Aboriginal people themselves have been putting down on the permanent record, in their own words. Frequently in audio, certainly since the 1950s. But going back well into the 19th century and earlier, their own knowledge.

Fran Kelly: Peter, let’s go to as you say, either fantasy, mistakes or omissions. What’s wrong? Let’s go to some of the key premises. What’s wrong with the – Bruce Pascoe’s premise in Dark Emu? That Aboriginals before arrival of white explorers were, you know, basically had a complex farming, agriculture, society going and also lived in permanent, permanent dwellings. These are two of the main elements that he [Bruce Pascoe] offers as proof of a more sophisticated, you know, society. What’s wrong those? Are they wrong?

Peter Sutton: Yes, they’re wrong. And they’re not based on fact. They’re based on an attempt to assimilate the old people to us. You know, to the European dominant culture of this region. You could also, had we been Chinese, you could say it was an attempt to assimilate people to the Chinese agricultural society. Agricultural societies have only emerged in human history in the last 10 seconds – that is from 11,000 years ago. We’ve lived successfully most of our history as, as anatomically modern humans, as complex hunter gatherers. That doesn’t mean we didn’t modify the environment.

Of course, the use of fire has been well known for a long time. In fact, the public statements on that incredible use of fire by Aboriginal people to modify their environments, was made in the late 1950s by Norman Tyndale, and followed up by Rhys Jones and others, especially Sylvia Hallam.

So there is no lack of scholarship, and no lack of record, no lack of archaeology on the fact that people were mobile, but semi-sedentary. That is, they would stop for a period in the desert, maybe for a few days. But in the wet season in the north of Australia, they would stop for maybe two months, maybe three months in the wet season, but then they would become mobile again. Using all of their country, not just using one tiny area of it.

But once you have agriculture, you have to say put, you’ve got to look after your crops, you’ve got to weed them, you’ve got to keep animals out of them. Hence the association between permanent villages in Mesopotamia or New Zealand with Maori people who are gardeners, and were seen clearly to be gardeners on [Joseph] Banks’ first contact with them in 1769. No such reports came out of Australia. Now, if people had been gardening here, anyone with half a brain would have noticed that all over the place.

Fran Kelly: So Keryn, the issue that you seem to have most concern about, is that the privileging Bruce Pascoe gives to the notion of agriculture and permanent settlement as superior. You say throughout Dark Emu, Pascoe puts a high value on technological and economic complexity as a standard of people’s worth, and then sets out examples of these complexities. And that, at the same time, he [Bruce Pascoe] appears to, use [words] like “mere” or “primitive” when he’s describing the hunter gatherer society. So what’s your concern here?

Keryn Walshe: Well, I guess for one thing, and it certainly reflects what Peter has been saying, that hunter gatherer life is debased in terms of an agricultural pursuit. And this is certainly not the case, there is no credible evidence for that whatsoever. Hunter gathering as a way of life is extremely complex and sophisticated. It’s a highly attuned response to local ecologies, and the environment on your country. Also, as Peter was describing, because people were mobile, they understood the whole of their country, each different environmental unit, as we would call it in European terms. And that highly attuned response was also a reciprocal one.

It wasn’t just about ravaging the land and taking what you wanted as you wanted, it was about looking after the land through spiritual propagation. So in order to get the resources that you required. So this is a highly attuned response. And it’s also one that is highly sustainable. It has a very light footprint, because you are mobile, that allows the land to replenish behind you as you move on.

Fran Kelly: And Peter, in the book, I think you used the term, I may not have this exactly right. I’m searching for it as we speak, but “complex hunters and gatherers”. What do you mean by that?

Peter Sutton: There probably have never been any simple hunters and gatherers, since we turned into modern humans. Because it’s hard to tell, because it’s so distant in the past, and it’s back in Africa. But farmers need to know at least about their crop species. Maybe that’s four, three, four, five kinds of millet or wheat or something like that. Or in Asia, I think millet again, and rice, and sorghum perhaps in some places, and so on, taro, in the case of Pacific Islanders, very important basic, food staple, among others. You have to understand those maybe four or five [crop species]. But on top of that, the rest is perhaps not really necessary. If you’re actually living off the land as a hunter gatherer, and I have lived with people who were brought up in that old world, beyond the reach of the British Empire.

Forty or fifty years ago, there were plenty of people around in Western Cape York peninsula, Arnhem Land in Central Australia, who had in fact come into missions as children or as adults, men and women. They had lived off the land, not a single one of them ever mentioned gardens or farming by the way. But they had to understand dozens and dozens and dozens of plants and their uses, their toxicity, their ability to be used medicinally, and what seasons they appeared, and what coincided with them in other parts of the biota, like oysters appearing when a certain wattle flowers is in bloom, for example, or oysters maturing. So that is complex knowledge.

It’s biological knowledge. And together with it, we can’t leave this as a kind of a material domain. Together with it is a totally saturating spiritual view of the whole thing, which is the Dreaming. Now that’s not vague and fuzzy, that’s a specific way of propagating each species by conducting the right rituals and speaking to the right spirits.

Fran Kelly: So you painted a picture of a, you know, complex developed, intellectual and spiritual capacity and geographical capacity. Bruce Pascoe paints a picture of a complex and developed society which is different to yours, which you say he’s got it wrong. It’s a little bit unsourced material, and he’s made mistakes and omissions. But why does that matter if, as the publisher would say, what Bruce Pascoe’s book has done is promoted, stimulated a discussion about the wisdom and complexity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander societies. You tell me why it matters?

Peter Sutton: Well, it is an irony that such a bad book has created such a lot of positive interest and the goodwill that was the basis of its printing success of 260,000 copies, I understand. We hope that goodwill continues and expands and that people’s curiosity is not turned into ideology. We don’t ask you to believe us or not believe Pascoe. What we ask you is to compare the pair, make your own mind up, be independent, keep learning and don’t stop learning.

This is the history of this continent, which is in human terms, around about 55,000 years of history, of which the post British colonial period is a mere flicker of an eyelid.

So if you, if you actually care about your country, and its history, and where it’s come from to here, I think you have to have an interest in these subjects. They’re not easy. They require work, you have to get off your backside and go and do some study, a lot of study. You have to learn to read books, if all of your reading up until now has been tweets and Who magazines. Sorry to be a snob, but I am. It’s very important that people treat Aboriginal history with the respect that it deserves.

Fran Kelly: This book [Dark Emu]has won many prizes. It’s on the school curriculum. There’s a children’s version of the book, Keryn Walshe, should there be? Should it be in our schools?

Keryn Walshe: I think we need the truth in our education systems, no matter what level that is, primary, secondary or tertiary. And also for the curious older people out there. We do need the truth. And for Aboriginal people, it is so important that the truth always comes through about their lived experience, whether that’s the past or the present.

Fran Kelly: Peter Sutton, Keryn Walshe, thank you very much for joining us on Breakfast. Keryn Walshe and Peter Sutton, esteemed academics, both of them, very experienced. Dr. Keryn Walsh is an archaeologist, Peter Sutton is a social anthropologist. They’re the authors of this book, Farmers or Hunter Gatherers? the Dark Emu Debate.

As I mentioned, the publisher of Dark Emu, Magabala, is standing by the book. Its chairperson Tony Lee says the book stimulated an important discussion and debate. And Bruce Pascoe represents the wisdom and complexity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander societies’ knowledge and achievements. And he says Magabala Books is proud to have published Dark Emu. Which, as I said, has won, the book, has won so many over the seven years since it’s been published, so many literary prizes. One of you has written in suggesting I’m questioning why scholarship matters. That’s not what I’m doing at all. I’m just wanting to get to their [Peter Sutton and Keryn Walshe] understanding of why seven years on they thought it was important to publish this book, this critique of Dark Emu. And the answer obviously, is that, in their view, truth always matters. It’s hard to argue with that.