ISSUE – NO. 614

18 November 2022

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It has long been Media Watch Dog’s contention that the ABC has been a critic of both the Coalition and Labor in government – but invariably from the left.  Re which see the ABC Update in this issue.

Take last night’s Q+A, chaired by Stan Grant, for example.  The only current politician on the panel was the Labor Party’s Peter Khalil – the member for Wills.  When discussion turned to the topic of Floods – Cost of Living – Rebuilding, the backbencher was required to respond to a woman who was a victim of the Camden floods in March and was in dispute with her insurance company with respect to the flood coverage.

Mr Khalil handled a difficult task well. However, he was put in a situation in which an understandably troubled audience member – with the support of the presenter – ran the line that the Albanese government should be doing more in response to perhaps the worst floods in NSW since the early 1950s. The Labor member for Wills had to be empathetic but he was not in a position to agree with the audience member’s demand for unspecified amounts of government assistance. When Peter Khalil referred to the Commonwealth government’s one-off $1000 payment to flood victims, he was met with the response that this was not enough.

Politicians on TV panels can readily argue with each other, but a politician is unwise to argue with an audience member, particularly an evidently distressed one. Especially when the audience member is supported by the presenter.

Little wonder that some politicians are no longer willing to go on Q+A – which has poor ratings and offers little upside but plenty of downside if an audience member takes offence.


As Jackie’s (male) co-owner sat down – Gin & Tonic in hand – to watch Q&A last night on the ABC, he witnessed the credits of the earlier program – You Can’t Ask That. The focus was on eight former politicians – whose careers were described briefly – and their answers to questions.

But the program decided to put up a naughty list – it named names under the heading “The Following Declined Or Didn’t Respond To Our Interview Requests”. Heading the list were Malcolm Turnbull, Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard, John Howard and Paul Keating followed by – wait for it – Bob Hawke.

Now the first five were wise not to go on such a program.  However, Bob Hawke died in 2019 and was not in a state to either respond or decline the invitation. It would seem that this was a fill-in repeat.  But the powers-that-be at the taxpayer funded public broadcaster didn’t see fit to tell viewers (if viewers there were) that this was a repeat or to alter the credits.  It would seem that the media’s Silly Season is upon us already.

Can You Bear It?


Don’t let anyone say that they were not warned about Norman Swan – the ABC’s doctor in the (taxpayer funded) house. As avid readers know, Dr Swan – who is described by his publisher as “Australia’s most trusted doctor” and by ABC chair Ita Buttrose as a “treasure” – has not practised medicine for some four decades.

However, this has not stopped your man Swan – who is producer and presenter of the ABC Radio National Health Report – from lecturing at large about COVID-19 – primarily on ABC Radio National Breakfast and ABC TV News Breakfast as well as on his ABC “Coronacast” podcast.

Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in Australia in early 2020, MWD has documented Dr Swan’s numerous false prophecies about the impact of the pandemic in Australia. See MWD passim ad nauseam.

On Tuesday 15 November, having returned from a canine-led workout, Jackie’s (male) co-owner turned on the Swan/News Breakfast show.  It was a “first” – since the (non-practising) doctor proceeded to diagnose the cause of death of patients he had never treated.

As is well known, Swan told viewers that there was “too much of a coincidence”  not to come to the view that the recent deaths of Shane Warne and a person he described as “the Labor senator in Victoria” (the reference was to the late Senator Kimberley Kitching) had died not long after a COVID-19 related infection.  The late Kimberley Kitching had not had COVID-19 and there is no evidence that the late Shane Warne’s death was COVID-19 related.

It turned out that Swan personally apologised to Andrew Landeryou (Kitching’s husband).  An ABC spokesperson was quoted as saying:

Dr Norman Swan has apologised for comments made on ABC News Breakfast suggesting the deaths of Senator Kimberley Kitching and cricketer Shane Warne may have been linked to Covid. Senator Kitching is not known to have ever had Covid. Dr Swan has had discussions with ABC management about the comments. He understands the comments did not meet the ABC’s editorial standards.

In fact, your man Swan did not say the deaths of Shane Warne and Kimberley Kitching “may” have been linked to COVID-19.  He said that it was “too much of a coincidence” to suggest otherwise.  It is known that Swan apologised personally to Kitching’s family. When The Australian’s James Madden asked Swan if he had also personally apologised to the Warne family, he referred Madden to the ABC Communications team. Madden reported that “a spokesman for the ABC also refused to answer”. In other words, the taxpayer funded public broadcaster went into “no comment” mode – presumably to protect Swan.

That’s the essential truth about ABC Communications – it rarely communicates.

So what will be the consequence of this serious medical blunder by someone who presents as Australia’s most trusted doctor?  Who knows?  But MWD expects that Norman Swan will return to his regular ABC slots as usual and all will be forgiven – in spite of the fact that he breached the ABC’s editorial standards.

The essential point is that the ABC is a staff collective run by senior ABC staff. Swan is a leading ABC staffer.  As such he can survive hopelessly wrong predictions along with false diagnoses. Can You Bear It?

The ABC’s non-practising doctor-in-the-house theorises about the cause of death of individuals he never treated


On Monday 14 November, shortly after the leaders of Labor and the Coalition delivered their campaign speeches in the Victorian election campaign, Premier Daniel Andrews was interviewed by Michael Rowland on ABC TV’s News Breakfast.

For eons, much of the Melbourne-based media has given the Victorian Labor government – led by socialist left premier Andrews – a soft run.  This was even evident in recent times when, at his media conference on Thursday 17 November, Andrews was not pressured to comment on the statement made by former Victorian Police Chief Commissioner Kel Glare that he had “never seen a government so corrupt” as the Andrews government. The comment was made to Peta Credlin and aired on her Sky News documentary The Cult of Daniel Andrews on 16 November.

But MWD digresses.  Michael Rowland’s interview with the very experienced Daniel Andrews was tough but fair.  The ABC TV presenter was not aggressive and he did not smirk or interrupt to any excess.  However, Rowland did ask the premier whether he polarised people in Victoria and put the following proposition:

Michael Rowland: Do you accept there are voters, possibly a lot of voters, and possibly a lot of voters in Labor held seats, just waiting with their figurative baseball bats, wanting to punish you for the lockdowns and other Covid measures in Victoria?

As MWD recalls, the suggestion that voters may be waiting to hit unpopular politicians over the head with their (figurative) baseball bats was popularised by former Queensland Labor premier Wayne Goss with respect to Labor prime minister Paul Keating.

The term has become a bit of a cliché – and is not in any sense offensive.  Except to the members of the inner-city leftist “I Stand With Dan” Club who tend to follow ABC news and current affairs.  And so it came to pass that the Melbourne Sandalista Set (headquarters Fitzroy North) got offended on the Premier’s behalf – even to the extent of calling for Rowland to be sacked.

So, what happened?  Well, believe it or not, Michael Rowland could not stand the pressure and apologised to the baying leftist mob. Really. Here is his tweet – the message of which he chose to emphasise with an exclamation mark!!!!! :

Look at it this way.  Comrade Rowland never apologised for falsely describing Covington Catholic High School student Nick Sandmann (who was involved in an exchange with an Indigenous American protester in Washington DC) as a racist who exhibited “pure hate” – despite the fact that Sandmann had done nothing but stand his ground when confronted by the protestor who aggressively banged a drum in his face.  But your man Rowland apologised for mentioning the cliché “just waiting with their figurative baseball bats” when speaking to Daniel Andrews. Can You Bear It?

[I note that young Mr Sandmann received a settlement from CNN and the New York Times for its fake news – but the ABC sent the fake news proclaimed by Rowland down the memory hole. – MWD  Editor.]



As avid MWD readers are only too well aware, the CBD column in Nine’s The Age and Sydney Morning Herald  has little material of interest to the business men and women who frequent such CBD streets as Melbourne’s Collins Street and Sydney’s Pitt Street.

Consider, for example, the CBD column written by Kishor Napier-Raman and Noel Towell of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age on 8 November which reported on a cricket match in Canberra between politicians and journalists during a weekend.  The politicians won. Yawn.  And ABC political editor Andrew Probyn had to bat with a runner after injuring his back. Yawn again. Hardly a point of conversation on Collins or Pitt Streets.

At least Comrades Napier-Raman (he of the Hyphenated-Name-Set) and Towell had something of interest to business to write about on 16 November when they reported on The Sydney Institute’s Annual Dinner/Lecture which was held at The Star Event Centre in Sydney on 14 November.  Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles was the guest speaker. He was introduced by Geraldine Doogue.

In the Sydney Morning Herald,  the CBD lead was titled “Marles plays to the Right’s old guard on night of nights” – whereas The Age’s heading was “Institute still pulling in the powerful”.   Gerard Henderson wrote to the SMH with a clarification and a correction. His letter was published on 17 November.  He sent a similar letter to The Age which was spiked.  The Age likes to pretend that it is “Independent. Always”. A more accurate motto would be “Wrong. Frequently.”

CBD in Sydney and Melbourne focused on the politicians and media-types among the 760 strong turn-out. In short, it missed business types and others.  According to CBD, it was a “conservative crowd”.  In fact, it was a diverse turn out.

The ABC, Sky News and Sydney Morning Herald all purchased tables. Comrade Napier-Raman was on the SMH table. CBD subsequently reported in the SMH:

The public broadcaster is a frequent target of Henderson’s Media Watch Dog columns, so it was not surprising to see…Aunty’s contingent – among them news boss Justin Stevens, diversity lead Gavin Fang and communications lead Sally Jackson – punted to the back.

Now Gerard Henderson AC (aka Always Courteous) is a courteous kind of guy.  No surprise, then, that he visited the ABC table – which, while at the back of the room, was only four tables away from the Main Table which was in the centre.  In short, the ABC was not “punted” anywhere.  The SMH had the good grace to publish Hendo’s letter clarifying the situation.

Not so The Age which refused to correct its CBD version of the function.  Indeed, the CBD column in The Age on 16 November carried the Fake News that the ABC table was “punted to the back corner of the room”.  Someone just made this up.  The ABC table was in the middle of the rows of tables and nowhere near the corner.  No wonder The Age censored Henderson’s letter.

[Perhaps you could have placed this in your hugely popular Can You Bear It? segment.  Just a thought. – MWD Editor.]


On 6 November, Ita Buttrose AC, OBE appeared on the cover of Stellar Magazine – published with News Corp’s Sunday newspapers. Ms Buttrose was in a black dress with dangle earrings.  The words accompanying the picture were as follows: “Ita Buttrose on a lifetime of being a household name, answering the ABC’s critics and if she will get married again at 80.”

Sarrah Le Marquand’s interview with the ABC chair was titled “Portrait Of A Lady”. There were five more pics (by Steven Chee) – of the person commonly called “Ita” who was styled for the occasion by Kelly Hume.

For his part, Jackie’s (male) co-owner – being a bloke of a certain age – was not much focused on Ita Buttrose’s private life – as discussed by Stellar editor Ms Le Marquand.  But Hendo was interested in what the ABC’s chair had to say about the taxpayer funded public broadcaster.  Let’s go to the transcript:

Ita Buttrose : ….it’s not easy for the ABC under any government because we seem to have the knack of upsetting governments quite heavily. Sir Robert Menzies complained about the ABC. I think John Howard complained about it at one stage. Paul Keating did; Bob Hawke did – I mean, you name it … But that’s what living in a democracy is all about. We’re the national broadcaster and you can’t be hampered by any political persuasions on how you might cover a story. You just have to cover it.

It’s true that one-time prime ministers Menzies, Howard, Hawke and Keating criticised the ABC for lack of political balance at certain times – the first two led the Liberal Party and the second two led the Labor Party.

In her Stellar interview, Ms Buttrose ran the familiar ABC defence line that if the public broadcaster is criticised by both the Coalition and Labor it must be politically balanced.  Not so. The fact is that Australia’s major parties are invariably criticised by the ABC from a leftist or green/left perspective. And there’s more:

Ita Buttrose : ….I’m not there as chair to be friendly to any political party. And my role as chair is to run the ABC, to run it to the best of my ability to make sure it’s secure, is heading to the right future, that our employees are committed to public broadcasting – which they are – and to maintain the trust of the Australian public, because, after all, they fund us. That’s my role. I would hope I do it with integrity. I don’t think it’s necessary to badmouth me because I haven’t been friendly to a particular side of politics – I’m not supposed to be friendly to anyone in politics.

I can be respectful. But I’ve always thought journalists need to be apolitical. We’re meant to be unbiased. We’re meant to be able to deliver both sides of the story and let the public decide. We’re meant to deal with facts and not opinions. The moment we started dishing out by-lines as though everyone had an entitlement to an opinion, we opened the floodgates to opinion journalists. And I don’t mean the ABC by that – I mean the profession generally.

The ABC chair seems unaware that what she regards as political balance is what occurs when the Coalition and Labor are attacked by the ABC from the left.  Also, she seems not to appreciate that, irrespective of what may be the case with commercial media, the taxpayer funded public broadcaster has a statutory obligation to separate facts and opinion in its news reports.

ABC journalist Fran Kelly once boasted that she was an “activist”.  Louise Milligan in 2017 openly declared that her book Cardinal on George Pell was written from the complainants’ point of view – in other words it was a work of opinion.  Both are high profile ABC journalists on Buttrose’s watch.

Neither Ms Buttrose nor any senior figure in ABC management can name one political conservative who is a presenter, producer or editor of any prominent ABC television, radio or online outlets.  Yet Ita Buttrose told Stellar that the ABC is balanced.

That was the view of Ita Buttrose AC OBE from ABC headquarters in Sydney’s inner-city Ultimo.  Now hear the view of Mary-Anne Higgins of Rose Park in South Australia – who wrote to The Australian  on 8 November after reading coverage of the ABC’s chair’s Stellar  interview as reported in The Australian’s “Media” section the previous day:

It is unsurprising that the reputation of the ABC has fallen, when the woman at the helm, Ita Buttrose, has no understanding of the ABC’s responsibility to provide Australians with a thorough and unbiased coverage of national and international news.

This is evidenced when she says: “I’m not supposed to be friendly to anyone in politics.” Who wants to be friendly? However, democracy would suggest that you should give the same opportunity of representation to conservatives as you bestow so generously on the left.

It is obvious you do not represent conservatives in your employees or panel discussions. Listeners are turning off because your discussions favour lefties and have become biased and boring. We don’t want to be your friends, Ita, we deserve equal billing, fairness, democracy and decency.

Mary-Anne Higgins, Rose Park, SA

And that’s the point.  ABC TV shows like Q+A, The Drum, News Breakfast, 7.30 and Insiders plus ABC radio programs like RN Breakfast and Late Night Live are mostly boring primarily because they lack political diversity.  This invariably amounts to a situation where everyone essentially agrees with essentially everyone else on essentially everything – from a left-of-centre, leftist or green/left point of view.  In short, the ABC tends to be bereft of debate.

Some political conservatives have been cancelled/censored by the ABC.  Others will not appear on ABC panels believing that there will be a pile-on against them by ABC presenters and/or ABC audiences.  Yet Ita Buttrose believes that the taxpayer funded public broadcaster is without fault when it comes to political diversity.

ABC chair Ita Buttrose along with ABC managing director and editor-in-chief David Anderson and other senior staff are essentially in denial about the lack of political diversity in the ABC.  Senior figures at the BBC are not so reluctant to admit that the British public broadcaster has problems with political diversity (albeit to a lesser extent than its Australian counterpart).

This is also true of the BBC fan club compared with the Friends of the ABC, ABC Alumni and the like.  One example illustrates the point. On 22 October 2022, Jean Seaton who, among other things, is the BBC’s official historian, was interviewed by Patricia Karvelas on ABC Radio National’s Breakfast  program.

During the interview, Professor Seaton acknowledged that the BBC has “never managed to be impartial perfectly”.  At the end of the interview, the BBC’s official historian claimed that the organisation, while not left-wing, does have liberal values –  that, is left-of-centre values in the British word usage.  Let’s go to the transcript:

Jean Seaton: I really don’t think the BBC has a sort of left-wing bias or whatever.  I mean, it’s got liberal values in some ways. But it’s gone on trying to report things accurately.

Patricia Karvelas:  Professor Jean Seaton, thank you so much for joining us.

So the BBC’s official historian publicly acknowledges that the British public broadcaster has left-of-centre values.  But the ABC’s chair maintains that the ABC is unbiased in that it does not espouse political values.

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.


It was not so long ago that Jackie’s (male) co-owner was criticised by Chris Feik – the editor of Morry Schwartz’s Quarterly Essay, in The Age no less (on 5 June 2014) – for having once described the attitude to China of the Australian National University emeritus professor Hugh White in the following terms:  “Your man White, a China expert, is best regarded as a whateverist – meaning that his line on China is that Australia should adapt itself to whatever line is being run by leaders of the Chinese Communist Party at any time”.

Comrade Feik was offended on Comrade White’s behalf.  It is not clear what the learned emeritus professor thought about the classification.  But MWD digresses, yet again.

Writing in The Age and Sydney Morning Herald on 16 November, Nine’s political and international editor Peter Hartcher praised the position taken by prime ministers Scott Morrison and Anthony Albanese for not conceding  “a single one of Beijing’s 14 demands” about what should be Australia’s policy with respect to China. Your man Hartcher concluded his article by stating that “Australian apologists for China, who hysterically warned of economic armageddon unless Canberra surrendered, should be ashamed”.  All well and good – but he did not have the intellectual fortitude to name names.

The good news is that former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull is made of sterner stuff.  Mr Turnbull appears to have an open invitation to appear on Patricia Karvelas’ ABC Radio National Breakfast program where he invariably receives a soft interview – and invariably criticises the Liberal Party leadership.

The former prime minister was into this again on Wednesday 16 November – bagging both Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton for their past (alleged) “belligerent rhetoric” towards China.  However, Mr Turnbull’s analysis contained considerable clout after Comrade Karvelas quoted favourably from former Australian Ambassador to China and Australian Financial Review columnist Geoff Raby – as the transcript demonstrates:

Malcolm Turnbull: I mean Geoff [Raby] is, you know, Geoff tends to – you know Geoff, would not be someone, you know – Geoff was critical of a number of things my government did to defend Australia’s interests.  So you know, there is a, there is a sort of school of thought that in Australia, that which says, we should simply get used to the fact China is going to be the dominant power in the region. And, and, you know, “kiss the ring” effectively.  That is not my view, never has been, and I don’t think it’s the view of many Australians…I mean Hugh White, you know, takes that view and expounds it in books and articles and so forth.

Quite so. Malcolm Turnbull has effectively named Comrades Raby and White – as “whateverists”. Meaning whatever the leaders of China want, should be given to them.

Malcolm Turnbull: Five Paws.

[Good point. Perhaps you should have mentioned that Chris Feik published the work of Hugh (“Whateverist”) White in Black Inc’s Quarterly Essay publication. – MWD Editor.]



On Saturday 12 November 2022 the Majestic Princess, a cruise ship owned by Carnival Cruises, docked in Sydney. After leaving Auckland on 8 November, an increase in COVID cases among passengers had been detected and so all passengers and crew were tested. Of the 4,600 people on board, around 800 would eventually test positive. COVID-positive passengers were allowed to disembark in Sydney, though advised to avoid public transport. All cases were asymptomatic or mild, two passengers were taken to hospital for reasons unrelated to COVID.

The ship’s arrival in Sydney attracted widespread media attention, with many comparing it to the 19 March 2020 arrival of the Ruby Princess in Sydney. Among those making the comparison was Sydney Morning Herald opinion columnist Margot Saville, in a column bearing the headline “Cruise ships shouldn’t be able to flush sick passengers into the community”. It begins:

Have we learnt precisely nothing from the Ruby Princess debacle in 2020, which led to the deaths of 28 people and unleashed a COVID-19 wave that could have overwhelmed the Australian health system?

Sure, almost three years later most of us are vaxxed and boosted and an influx of COVID-19 cases can do less damage – but should a behemoth like the Majestic Princess be free to flush out more than 660 sick passengers into the community with nothing more than a warning to stay off public transport?

It’s not clear exactly what restrictions Ms Saville believes should be placed on the Majestic Princess passengers. Should they be confined to the ship? Put into a quarantine facility? Thousands of Australians are testing positive every day with minimal restrictions being placed upon them. Why should a few hundred from a cruise ship be treated differently?

It does not seem to have occurred to Margot Saville that, as with the Ruby Princess outbreak, most of the passengers disembarking in Sydney are Australians. Should Australians really be denied access to the Australian health system because they made the (in Margot Saville’s opinion) mistake of getting on a cruise ship?

The Sydney Morning Herald columnist goes on to say that Carnival Cruises are “releasing medically compromised passengers into our health system. Again”. Medically compromised is obviously an alarmist description for someone with mild or asymptomatic COVID. The Australian health system is currently coping with thousands of daily detected COVID cases, plus many thousands more undetected. It seems unlikely 800 more will cause significant issues.

The column seems to be motivated by a pre-existing dislike Margot Saville has for the cruise industry. Much of it is taken up by an unrelated tangent about cruise ship fumes causing issues for residents near ship berths. Ms Saville clearly does not hold the cruise industry in high esteem and given her reference to the passengers being flushed out (like waste) into the community, it seems she also holds a low opinion of cruise passengers. Perhaps this explains why she makes sure to note that the cheapest tickets for the ship could be had for as little as $150 per day

Due to overwhelming popular demand, the Flann O’Brien Gong returns again this week. As avid MWD readers will be aware, this occasional segment is inspired by the Irish humourist Brian O’Nolan (1911-1966) – nom de plume Flann O’Brien – and, in particular, his critique of the sometimes incoherent poet Ezra Pound. By the way, your man O’Brien also had the good sense not to take seriously Eamon de Valera (1882-1975), the Fianna Fail politician and dreadful bore who was prime minister and later president of Ireland for far too long.

The Flann O’Brien Gong for Literary or Verbal Sludge is devoted to outing bad writing or incomprehensible prose or incoherent verbal expression or the use of pretentious words.


As avid Media Watch Dog readers are only too well aware, Jackie’s (male) co-owner contested the claim by Sean Scalmer that Gerard Henderson was a “critic and former classmate” of the late Professor Stuart Macintyre. The assertion was made in Professor Scalmer’s chapter titled “Stuart Macintyre on Australian historians” in the edited collection The Work of History: Writing For Stuart Macintyre (MUP, 2022).

In fact, Gerard Henderson found Macintyre’s work somewhat tedious and did not criticise him while he was alive since he did not read much of his (tedious) history.

Also, as MWD readers will be aware, Hendo was not a classmate of Macintyre in any normal usage of the word. In an email to Gerard Henderson dated 31 October 2022, Professor Scalmer indicated that the only evidence he has to support his claim that Henderson was a public critic of the late history professor was a letter Henderson wrote to Macintyre on 15 October 2007 asking him to drop his claim that he was a friend of Jackie’s (male) co-owner. Macintyre, a former member of the Communist Party of Australia and Britain, (falsely) claimed to be Henderson’s friend in order to legitimise his attacks on him. As in: “Although Gerard Henderson and I are friends and former classmates, I disagree with his statement that….”.

So, on the basis of a letter written by Henderson asking Macintyre to discontinue his (false) claim of friendship – the learned professor claims that Hendo was a critic of Macintyre’s history. A somewhat desperate point, don’t you think?

As MWD pointed out on 11 November 2022, The Work of History contains a bizarre chapter (written by its editors Peter Beilharz and Sian Supski) titled “What If?”.  It raises such ridiculous questions as to what would have been the case if Stuart Macintyre had been a Liberal Party supporter rather than a Communist Party member. Fair dinkum.

Where did this idea come from?  The answer is, wait for it, from Comrades Macintyre and Scalmer no less.  In 2006, they co-edited a book titled What If?:  Australian History as it might have been (MUP, 2006) which contains an introduction by Scalmer.  It covered such “What If?” matters as – “What if Tasmania had become French?” and “What if there had been a school of figure painting in colonial Sydney?”

Stuart Macintyre’s contribution was titled “What if Australia’s baptism of fire had occurred at the Cocos Islands?” rather than at Gallipoli in April 1915. While your man Scalmer examined “What if the attempted assassination of Arthur Calwell had been successful?”

Which raises the question: “What if Comrades Scalmer and Macintyre did not write such absolute tosh?”. And now for some backstory.

Arthur Calwell (1896-1973) became leader of the Australian Labor Party in March 1960 following the resignation from politics of Dr Bert Evatt (for a doctor he was). On 21 June 1966 – some months out from the election scheduled for late 1966, Calwell was shot by the 18 year old Peter Kocan as he was leaving a political rally at the Mosman Town Hall in Sydney’s lower north shore.  The then Opposition leader was hit in the face through a car window but recovered and led Labor to the December 1966 election.  This was won by Harold Holt’s Coalition government in a landslide victory.  Calwell had previously led Labor to defeats at the December 1961 and November 1963 elections.  The two-time loser was always unlikely to win at his third attempt against Holt who, at the time, was very popular.

Sean Scalmer was a lecturer at Macquarie University’s department of sociology when he wrote “What If The Attempted Assassination of Arthur Calwell Had Been Successful?”.

In a turgidly written and over-long article, the author quotes an imagined author stating that many believed that the imagined dead politician was on the verge of a remarkable and thrilling victory before he was killed. Or something like that. This is arrant nonsense.  Calwell would not have defeated Prime Minister Holt in December, dead or alive.

Dr Scalmer (for a doctor he is) seems to believe that Calwell wrote his book Labor’s Role in Modern Society (it was, in fact, ghostwritten by Graham Freudenberg). There are references to imaginary articles written on – and speeches delivered about – the imagined dead Calwell.  Scalmer even considers what David Williamson’s play Don’s Party would have been like if Labor was in office when the 1969 election took place, rather than in opposition.

And so the learned professor goes on and on and on. He keeps making the point that the (imagined) assassin was some kind of fascist or extreme right-wing type. This was not the case.  Kocan – who became a successful novelist and poet after his release from prison – appears to have been suffering a mental illness when he shot Calwell.  No one was charged with being an accomplice of Kocan. At one point Scalmer says this:

My counterfactual is concerned with the making of political traditions and myths.  It is based around a selection of imaginary historical documents, written from different perspectives….

Go on. Alas, he did.  Within a page or so, Comrade Scalmer declared that his references to academic literature “are mostly genuine”.  Well, that’s pretty clear, then – eh?  Some of his references are genuine, others not so.  It’s up to the reader – if a reader there was – to guess which are the real references and which are the fake ones. What fun.

Which raises the point.  What if Comrades Macintyre and Scalmer had not edited What If?  The really truthful answer is that it would not have made the slightest difference to understanding Australian history.

As previously mentioned, in his “What if?” chapter in What If?: Australian History as it might have been, Stuart Macintyre wonders what would have happened if the First Australian Imperial Force had engaged initially with Germany at the Cocos Islands in late 1914 rather than with Turkey at Gallipoli in April 1915.  But what if the world had ended in 1913? And what if the Cocos Islands had sunk in 1912?

In his introduction to What If?, Sean Scalmer ponders about what if “all Germans had green hair”.  Really. And what if “Cleopatra had been born with a larger nose”.  It is no wonder that, not long after writing this tosh, your man Scalmer was appointed to the History Department at Stuart Macintyre’s alma mater Melbourne University where he continues to write sludge in praise of his mentor – the recently departed Comrade Macintyre.

Literary Criticism
By Flann O’Brien
of Ezra Pound

My grasp of what he wrote and meant
Was only five or six %
The rest was only words and sound —
My reference is to Ezra £


Inspired by your man O’Brien, this is Jackie’s literary effort for today:

Literary Criticism
By Jackie
of Sean Scalmer

My grasp of what he wrote and meant

Was only four or five per cent

“What if?”, “What if”- what a yawn!

The reference is to Comrade Sean

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Until Next Time.

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