GERARD HENDERSON’S MEDIA WATCH DOG

ISSUE – NO. 633

5 May 2023

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MEDIA WATCH DOG  EXCLUSIVE

  • ABC TV NEWS BREAKFAST AND THE DEFAMATION OF THE DEAD (WITHOUT ANY FACT-CHECKING)

On 4 May, Michael Rowland interviewed Chrissie Foster on ABC TV’s News Breakfast  about her book – written with ABC journalist Paul Kennedy – titled Still Standing: A Mother’s Fight to Bring the Catholic Church to Justice (Viking, 2023).  Two of Ms Foster’s children were abused by a Catholic priest in Melbourne in the 1990s.

During the interview, Rowland had this to say:

Michael Rowland: Peter McClellan who of course chaired the Royal Commission [Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse], has written a lovely foreword to the book. And he says, he writes in particular about George Pell and other senior Catholics, giving evidence to the fact that they saw the rape of a child as a moral failing, not a crime. And Peter McClellan writes how he still can’t get his head around that and lots of people still can’t….

Michael Rowland is one of those journalists who give the impression of believing what they want to believe.  It is true that The Hon Peter McClellan AM KC had this to say in the Foreword to Still Standing.

Cardinal George Pell, the most senior Catholic of his generation…and other senior clerics gave evidence to the Royal Commission to the effect that the Church did not understand that the rape of a child was a crime, seeing it as a “moral failing”. I remain unable to comprehend how any person, much less one with qualifications in theology, could consider the rape of a child to be a mere moral failure and not a crime.

There were no direct quotes to support this claim by Peter McClellan.  Nor is there any source provided in Still Standing to support this most serious allegation concerning the late Cardinal Pell.

In fact, Mr McClellan’s claim is simply wrong – as is evident by a quick check of the Royal Commission’s records.

On 24 February 2014, Cardinal Pell presented a 173 paragraph statement to the Royal Commission.  In Paragraph 13, Cardinal Pell referred to the “these terrible crimes” of pedophile Catholic priests.  In the following paragraph, he wrote “the crimes that were committed…by priests and others in the community should never have occurred”. Later, under cross-examination by Gail Furness SC on 24 March 2014, Cardinal Pell again referred on a number of occasions to the “crimes” of priests.

The (unsourced) statement in the Foreword by Peter McClellan concerning Cardinal Pell should not have been printed – and should have been fact-checked by Penguin before publishing Still Standing.  It remains to be seen whether Michael Rowland will correct the error on ABC TV News Breakfast.


Can You Bear It?

  • HOW LISA MILLAR AND HER NON-LOCKED DOWN COMRADES “SURVIVED THE PANDEMIC IN DAN ANDREWS’ VICTORIA WITH SILLY-HATS AND FANCY FOOTWEAR FRIDAY – FOLLOWED BY TEARS OF RELIEF

Just when Media Watch Dog readers concurred that pandemic life was very tough for, say, single mothers living in small apartments with young children during the COVID-19 lockdowns – especially in Premier Daniel (“Never let a lockdown chance go by”) Andrews’ Victoria – along comes a book from Monash University Publishing titled Pandemedia: How COVID Changed Journalism.  It is edited by Tracey Kirkland and Gavin Fang.

The collection, appropriately, was released on May Day.  Monash University Publishing’s advertising blurb includes the following comment:

This arresting collection of essays from some of Australia’s top media minds examines how the pandemic altered the news.

The only “top media minds” mentioned in this “arresting” collection are Stan Grant (ABC), Michelle Grattan (The Conversation and who comments each week on ABC Radio National’s Breakfast program), David Speers (ABC), Lisa Millar (ABC) and wait for it – Dr Norman Swan (ABC).  As MWD readers know only too well, our man Swan identifies as “Australia’s most trusted doctor” – in spite of the fact that he has not practised medicine for around four decades. But there you go.

And what about the editors? – MWD hears avid readers cry. Well it’s another ABC cast. Comrade Kirkland is the continuous News editor for the (Continuous) ABC News Channel.  And Comrade Fang is deputy director of ABC News. How “arresting” can a book be?

Jackie’s (male) co-owner can barely wait to purchase a copy of Pandemedia – which, come to think of it, sounds like a study of journalism with respect to pandas – if only to see whether Norman Swan ‘fesses up to the numerous errors he made when he was the ABC’s doctor-in-the-house during COVID-19.

In the meantime, Hendo has had to be satisfied with Lisa Millar’s essay in the book – from which an extract was published in Nine’s Sunday Life magazine on 23 April under the title “Behind the News”.  Ms Millar co-presents ABC TV’s News Breakfast program with Michael Rowland.  As MWD recalls, both presenters were in the “I stand with Dan” soviet during the pandemic – in that they gave the impression of supporting the Victorian lockdowns and their various extremes including not only the closure of playgrounds but also the removal of playground equipment.

Lisa Millar’s account about how COVID was handled within the taxpayer funded public broadcaster’s Melbourne headquarters in inner-city Southbank reflects the ABC’s coverage of the pandemic. For example, early on she was advised “to stop getting a taxi to work at 3.30 am and drive myself to avoid being exposed to the virus during the short trip”.  Then Millar was asked to wear disposable gloves as she made her way “from the bowels of the ABC car park…to the first-floor makeup room…”. Somewhat of an overreaction, don’t you think?

And so it went on.  The News Breakfast production and presenting team were split – to the extent that “each team was desperate never to cross paths”.  What’s more, business reporter “Mads” – aka Madeleine Morris – was asked to do her own hair.  Shocking, eh? Meanwhile, Comrades Millar and Rowland had their “masks tightly fitted”.

So how to relax at the ABC at a time of pandemic-induced separation?  Well, Lisa “cut up socks to make face-masks”.  Also, Michael and Lisa “did an Instagram Live, him baking bread in the kitchen” while she was mixing a martini.  Then (unnamed) young producers organised not only “fancy footwear Fridays” but also “silly-hat days”. What fun.

And then, in time, the COVID emergency ended.  On Friday 22 October 2021, following a live (thank God) performance of Lover, Don’t Keep Me Waiting by Vika and Linda Bull – Tony Armstrong and Nate Byrne along with Michael and Lisa clapped and then rushed to high-five the singers.  Here’s how Comrade Millar concluded her account of the happy occasion:

Michael waves to the robotic camera and calls out over our chatter, “That is beautiful. Back Monday folks!” And as the shot fades to black we shed tears from the sheer relief of it all.

Sure, Comrade Millar did concede that some outside of the ABC’s Southbank studio were doing it tougher than ABC journalists. Sort of.  Here’s what she had to say:

…viewers settled into a routine with us.  There was a similarity to the message they sent – their worlds had been turned upside down, and switching on to see the familiar faces of the News Breakfast team each morning was all that was getting them through the crisis.

It’s not at all clear how Victorian single mothers in apartments with young children during the world’s longest lockdown managed to get through COVID – if they didn’t watch ABC News Breakfast.  Nor does Lisa Millar address what would have happened in Daniel Andrews’ Victoria if service workers, health professionals, train/tram/bus drivers, plus butchers and bakers and candlestick makers and the like had adopted the ABC’s excessively cautious procedures during COVID. This provides further evidence that ABC inner-city types are an insular lot.  Which raises the question: Can You Bear It?

  • IN WHICH PATRICIA KARVELAS TELLS NINE’S SUN-HERALD THAT SHE IS TOPS FOR IMPARTIALITY

As Media Watch Dog readers are only too well aware, five minutes with Nine journalist – the bombastic Peter FitzSimons – can seem like an eternity.  In any event, ABC Radio National Breakfast presenter – and MWD fave – Patricia (“Please call me PK”) Karvelas was the subject of Comrade FitzSimons’s “5 minutes with Fitz” column in the Sun-Herald on 30 April.  The piece was headed “From high school editor to national radio, host goes ‘hard’”.

During the interview, your man Fitz asked Comrade Karvelas a number of personal questions of no relevance to her journalism – which will not be reported here.  However, comment is warranted on this exchange about the Howard government’s intervention in the Northern Territory in 2007 in an attempt to stamp out the abuse of children in Indigenous communities – and the proposed Indigenous Voice to Parliament and the executive.

Fitz put it to PK that, when reporting for The Australian at the time, she was too supportive of the intervention.  Let’s go to the Sun-Herald  excerpt:

PK : Yeah, I’ve seen that criticism that’s come from some parts of the left. I think if you actually look at the body of my work, I was balanced. But it was frustrating. I would get scoops, and they would take that for endorsement of the policy but I was just getting the yarn, which was my job.

Fitz: And yet, while you’re now one of the most prominent supporters of the Voice, back then you were also a supporter of the most radically different policy to the Voice, which was intervention.

PK: I’ve since been quite critical of the journalism that we did at the time, that I did at the time. More analysis needed to be done, about the way that intervention played out. I don’t think we really understood what it meant for people. As to you saying I’m a strong supporter of the Voice, no. Impartiality is actually quite key to my job. I think this Voice debate now is very partisan, and so I am being a stickler for not taking a position.

Turn it up.  Comrade Karvelas expects us mere mortals to believe that she has been a stickler for not taking a position on the Voice and is heavily into impartiality.  However, PK has been criticised by Senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price – a leading advocate of the “No” case – for allowing a “Yes” RN Breakfast guest to traduce her reputation.

Moreover, ABC managing director and editor-in-chief David Anderson told Senate Estimates recently that PK had been counselled by ABC management for posting a Twitter selfie she took on the night of the May 2022 election with Linda Burney, the Minister for Indigenous Australians in the Albanese government.  PK described Minister Burney at the time as a “legend”.   She has not exhibited similar praise for the likes of such Coalition politicians as Senator Price.

But now PK wants “5 minutes with Fitz” readers – if readers there are – to know that she’s “a stickler for not taking a position” on any issue.  Really.  To which MWD can only respond: Can You Bear It?

  • MALCOLM TURNBULL – FROM THE LEFT-WING THE MONTHLY STRAIGHT INTO ABC NEWS BREAKFAST

While on the topic of Patricia Karvelas and her ABC Radio National Breakfast program, it’s a well-known fact that former Liberal Party prime minister – and current Liberal Party critic – Malcolm Turnbull has what appears to be an open invitation to appear on Breakfast.  As Media Watch Dog has documented, on such occasions he invariably receives soft and interruption-free interviews from PK in which he bags the likes of former prime minister Scott Morrison and current Opposition leader Peter Dutton – and more besides.

So it came as some surprise when, on May Day, your man Turnbull took his critique of the Liberal Party not to Comrade Karvelas in the first instance but to ABC TV’s News Breakfast where he was interviewed by co-presenter Michael Rowland.  The former prime minister was in New York and he appeared on News Breakfast  to plug his article in the May 2023 issue of that inner-city, Collingwood-based, left-wing publication The Monthly (editor-in-chief Erik Jensen).

It was a very soft interview. In fact, there was nothing new in The Monthly article that warranted an interview in the first place.  Malcolm Turnbull repeated his ongoing criticism of the Liberal Party and he asserted – without evidence – that the party’s policy is determined by “the Murdoch empire”. He bagged Peter Dutton and Scott Morrison – Quelle Surprise! – and praised former Liberal Party NSW treasurer Matt Kean, the leading figure on the left of the party.

Mr Turnbull described his replacement by Scott Morrison in August 2018 as “a coup”.  Unlike what occurred when in September 2015 he replaced the incumbent prime minister Tony Abbott (who had won office in a landslide in 2013) – which, apparently, was anything but a coup. Convenient, eh?  Oh yes, and Mr Turnbull re-stated his claim that the Liberal Party’s right-of-centre members adopt a “terrorist approach”.  Somewhat hyperbolic – don’t you think?

In any event, Comrade Rowland did not challenge a word Malcolm Turnbull had written in The Monthly and gave the former prime minister a free kick to say what he wanted to say, interruption free, on ABC TV. Here’s a sample:

Malcolm Turnbull: …the reality is the Liberal Party has got to get back to the centre. Now the Liberal politicians who have operated at the centre, I mean, you could include me in that category in the historic sense. But look at Matt Kean today, a New South Wales politician, deputy leader of the Liberal Party before the last election. He’s very progressive on climate and energy, constantly getting slammed by the Murdoch media as though he was the enemy. And yet it was only because the New South Wales Liberal government had a more centrist disposition, that it didn’t get wiped out in the way Morrison’s was last year. So this is, this is the fundamental problem, Michael….

These are a few (fair) questions Comrade Rowland could have asked – but didn’t:

  • Mr Turnbull, to what extent is the current plight of the Liberal Party due, in part at least, to the fact that the Turnbull-led Liberal Party lost 14 seats in the 2016 election and barely survived defeat by the Bill Shorten-led Labor Party?
  • If Matt Kean is so popular with the electorate, how come he suffered a swing against him of 11.6 per cent on first preferences in the recent NSW State election in the seat of Hornsby – compared with a state-wide swing against the Liberal Party of 5.2 per cent?
  • Have you overlooked the fact that the Teals – funded in part by Simon Holmes à Court’s Climate 200 organisation – played a small role in the NSW election on account of the fact that NSW electoral laws severely restrict funds that can be provided to a candidate? This was not the case in the 2022 federal election.
  • You keep referring to your replacement as prime minister by Scott Morrison in August 2018, following a party room ballot as “a coup”. Why is it a coup when Scott Morrison replaced you – but not a coup when you replaced Tony Abbott in a party room ballot in September 2015?
  • By the way, as prime minister you led the drive to construct the Snowy 2.0 project designed to assist Australia’s transition to renewable energy and praised the project in your 2020 memoir A Bigger Picture. You have not said much about this in recent times. Are you concerned that Snowy 2.0 is dramatically over budget and behind schedule? Does the poor performance of Snowy 2.0 so far have anything to do with the Murdoch empire?
  • You revealed in your 2020 memoir A Bigger Picture that in June 2012 – when Tony Abbott was Liberal Party leader – you suggested to Alan Rusbridger, editor of the UK’s Guardian, that he should establish an Australian edition. As you know, The Guardian is an avowedly left-wing newspaper. You also wrote that you encouraged Graeme Wood – whom you described as someone on the “political left” and a Greens supporter – to bankroll an Australian editor of The Guardian. And that you suggested that The Guardian Australia might recruit “two seasoned Canberra political writers – Lenore Taylor and Katharine Murphy (aka murpharoo)”.

Why was this last matter kept secret until 2020 – after you had stepped down as the Member for Wentworth?  How does this square with your support for full disclosure and all that?

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Alas, don’t expect any such questions any time soon. Michael Rowland is one of those journalists at the taxpayer funded public broadcaster who will tolerate the Liberal Party in office – provided it is led by someone like Malcolm Turnbull. That’s why Australia’s 29th prime minister gets such a soft run by the likes of Michael Rowland in what passes for impartial journalism at the ABC. Can You Bear It?


  • WHEN ACMA’S FINDINGS AGAINST SKY NEWS SHOULD BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY – ACCORDING TO PAUL BARRY

As Media Watch Dog has commented for eons, the ABC TV Media Watch program has only had leftist or left-of-centre presenters since it commenced in 1989.  As befits the taxpayer funded public broadcaster as a Conservative Free zone without one conservative presenter, producer or editor for any of its prominent television, radio or online outlets.

Presenting Media Watch on May Day, Paul Barry – once again – bagged Sky News.  He took particular delight in the fact that the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) found that the Sky News Outsiders program had breached its responsibilities to present news accurately and fairly and to distinguish between factual material and commentary on four separate occasions between October and December 2021.  It turned out that the complaints to ACMA were directed at Sky News’ Outsiders program and involved presenter Rowan Dean.  Apparently, they were made by staff at the taxpayer funded office of former Labor prime minister Kevin Rudd.  There were 80 complaints in all, concerning which ACMA found four breaches of the industry codes.

Comrade Barry supported the fact that ACMA had investigated Outsiders and boasted that he had “suggested someone should complain” to ACMA about the Outsiders program. Viewers of Media Watch on 1 May would have got the impression that Paul Barry believes that Sky News should take ACMA’s findings seriously.

And what do Paul Barry and members of the Media Watch team do if ACMA finds against a member of the ABC soviet?  You be the judge.

  • WHEN ACMA’S FINDINGS AGAINST THE ABC ARE NONSENSICAL – ACCORDING TO PAUL BARRY

On 21 December 2022, ACMA found that the two-part ABC Four Corners report “Fox and the Big Lie” had breached the ABC Code of Practice.  The program was presented by Sarah Ferguson. ACMA found that, on three occasions, Ferguson had breached the ABC’s code with respect to both accuracy and fair and honest dealing. ACMA went so far as to find that Four Corners had come close to breaching “the high bar set by the impartiality standards to the ABC Code” concerning Fox News.

So, what happened?  Well, Sarah Ferguson simply dismissed the ACMA report as “nonsensical”. And what about your man Barry?  Well, Media Watch  was in the midst of a (very long) well-earned break in late 2022  But Comrade Barry found time to put out this tweet on Christmas Eve 2022:

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So there you have it.  When ACMA finds against Rowan Dean and Sky News, Paul Barry supports the ACMA finding and declares “Good on ’em” (1 May 2023).  But when ACMA finds against the ABC and Sarah Ferguson, Paul Barry agrees 100 per cent with Comrade Ferguson that ACMA’s findings were “nonsensical” (24 December 2022).

Verily, A Great Media U-Turn of our Time.


Media Fool Of The Week

  • PETER FITZSIMONS SUPPORTS AN AUSTRALIAN REPUBLIC BUT EXHIBITS IGNORANCE ABOUT THE 1998 CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION

Lotsa thanks to the Melbourne reader who drew Media Watch Dog’s attention to this twitter exchange between Nine journalist Peter FitzSimons (aka the Red Bandannaed One) and a certain WhoPhD which took place on May Day.  As avid readers know, your man Fitz was president of the Australian Republic Movement until recently and is a long time campaigner for an Australian head of state.

The reference was to an article in The Chronicle titled “Support for the Republic” which was accompanied by a photo of George Pell – then the Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne – sometime in 1998.  And here’s what Comrade FitzSimons – who wore a red rag on his head for a decade or so until he finally sent it to the laundry where it was lost – had to say:

How ignorant can a red rag-wearing comrade be?  Your man Fitz who is perhaps Australia’s best-known republican campaigner, stated in 2023 that he did not know the late George Pell was a republican in 1998.  And now for something strange to your man Fitz – namely, facts.

The referendum about Australia becoming a republic took place on 6 November 1999.  In the lead-up to the vote, the Howard Coalition government provided for a  Constitutional Convention.  It took place between 2 and 13 February 1998 at what was then called Old Parliament House, Canberra.  There were elected and appointed delegates.  Archbishop (as he then was) Pell was an appointed delegate.

At the time, Pell was a high-profile republican. This should not have surprised Fitz.  After all, Pell was a Catholic of predominantly Irish stock and an admirer of the Irish-born Daniel Mannix, who was Archbishop of Melbourne between 1917 and 1963.  In short, George Pell was not a member of what MWD calls the Land of Hope and Glory Set.

What’s more – it was George Pell who moved the motion on 13 February 1998 that the Constitutional Convention “supports the adoption of a republican system of government”. The motion was seconded by Wendy Machin from the Australian Republican Movement and carried.

Now the Red Bandannaed One is saying that George Pell’s personal support for the republican cause would have been welcomed if only he had known that the prominent Catholic was on ARM’s side.  Clearly Fitz has no knowledge of the 1998 Constitutional Convention. This in spite of the fact that the ARM had some 27 elected delegates at the convention – including such high-profile republicans as Malcolm Turnbull, Neville Wran, Jennie George, Hazel Hawke, Eddie McGuire, Sallyanne Atkinson and Janet Holmes à Court.

MWD suspects that Comrade Fitz had a memory fade. He sneers at Christians in general and Catholics in particular and may want to forget that a prominent Catholic leader was a republican in the lead-up to the 1999 constitutional referendum.  Moreover, Peter FitzSimons was a leading member of the Pell pile-on which prevailed for over a decade until he was cleared of historical child sexual abuse by a unanimous verdict of the High Court of Australia in April 2020.

There are a lot of ignorant types in our midst.  But not many high-profile types who parade their ignorance on Twitter.

Peter FitzSimons: Media Fool of the Week.


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 then 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.

  • GABRIELLA ROGERS + DAVID POLSON ACKNOWLEDGE THE ROLE PLAYED BY THE CATHOLIC SISTERS OF CHARITY CONGREGATION AT ST VINCENT’S HOSPITAL IN THE TREATMENT OF HIV/AIDS SUFFERERS

On 22 April, Nine News covered the fortieth anniversary of the outbreak of what initially was termed AIDS in Australia.  Let’s go to the transcript:

Mark Burrows: It’s been 40 years since the first case of HIV/AIDS was detected in Australia. At the time the little-known virus created a lot of fear and stigma. But there was also compassion, which has never been forgotten.

Gabriella Rogers: (Voiceover) This deserted corridor was once the epicentre of the AIDS epidemic. (To David Polson) And how many times would you have come to this ward?

David Polson (former patient): Countless. I lost count.

Gabriella Rogers: David Polson is going back to a dark time in history.

David Polson: It was terrible, terrible, terrible suffering, really awful suffering.

Gabriella Rogers: This is Ward 17 South, the country’s first unit dedicated to patients with HIV/AIDS, at Sydney’s St. Vincent’s Hospital.

David Polson: And there were six beds – three over there and three there.

Gabriella Rogers: David was one of many patients who lay in the ward, fearing the worst.

David Polson: Four or five people died in one day, I mean, that really had an effect on the whole ward.

St Vincent’s Hospital, in the inner-city suburb of Darlinghurst, was run by the Sisters of Charity – a Catholic order of nuns, now commonly termed sisters.  David Polson described the behaviour of the Charity sisters at the time:

Gabriella Rogers: The spread created a lot of stigma. Those who ended up in Ward 17 were often alienated.

David Polson: There would be lots of boys whose parents had disinherited them, didn’t want to know them because a) they were gay and b) they had AIDS. So they were alone. They were dying and they were alone.

Gabriella Rogers: As cases climbed, the hospital’s Sisters of Charity converted the orthopaedics ward to a dedicated HIV/AIDS unit. And they gave comfort to those who were alone.

David Polson: The nuns, the sisters, sat by their bed, holding their hands.

Gabriella Rogers: David says he and other patients kept their diagnosis a secret for fear of being bashed or losing their job. But the ward became a refuge.

David Polson: It was a place of great love, great compassion….

It is a matter of record that a small section of the marchers in the Annual Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras procession over the years have publicly mocked and sneered at Catholic sisters.  For example, some gay men have dressed up in nuns’ habits and presented themselves as the “Sisters of the Order of Perpetual Indulgence”. This organisation was formed in the early 1980s.

It’s high time that the contribution of the Catholic Church towards the welfare of the HIV/AIDS sufferers – especially by religious sisters – is acknowledged.

David Polson & Gabriella Rogers – Five Paws.


HISTORY CORNER

  • THE LEARNED DOCTORS CAROLYN HOLBROOK AND JAMES WALTER RUN FAKE HISTORICAL NEWS IN CRIKEY ABOUT JOE LYONS AND BOB MENZIES

Due to enormous demand from Media Watch Dog’s avid readers, History Corner returns in this issue – after a well-earned (historical) break.

Sir Robert Menzies is Australia’s longest-serving prime minister, having occupied Australia’s most important political office between 26 April 1939 to 29 August 1941 and 19 December 1949 to 26 January 1966.  So it would be expected that the likes of Deakin University’s Carolyn Holbrook and Monash University’s James Walter would be aware of Menzies’s political life in its various phases.  But, alas, this does not appear to be the case.

On 22 April, Dr Holbrook (for a doctor she is) and Dr Walter (for a doctor he also is) contributed an article to the leftist Crikey newsletter titled “Is the Liberal Party really that divided?”  It was originally published in the taxpayer funded The Conversation.  Early on, the Holbrook/Walter article contained the following paragraph:

The original Liberal Party was created from a fusion of the Protectionist and Free Trade parties in 1910. It was officially named the Liberal Party, with Alfred Deakin as its leader, in 1913. It was reformed twice before the second world war, first in 1916 as the National Party (led by Labor renegade Billy Hughes), and then in 1931 as the United Australia Party (UAP), led by another Labor deserter, Joseph Lyons. In 1941, the UAP, now led by Robert Menzies, was defeated on the floor of parliament.

This is just (historical) fake news. Sure, the political changes at the time are difficult to follow – but academics should be able to do better than this.  Try this.

The original Liberal government – initially led by Alfred Deakin and then by Joseph Cook – lost the September 1914 election to the Labor Party led by Andrew Fisher, who resigned in October 1915 to become Australia’s High Commissioner in London.  Fisher was succeeded by William Morris (Billy) Hughes.  Hughes split with Labor over conscription in November 1916 but continued as prime minister with the support of the Liberals. Hughes became prime minister of what was called the National Labor Party – not “National Party” as the learned doctors asserted.

In February 1917, the Liberals agreed to merge with the recently formed National Labor Party – and the Nationalist Party was formed. Hughes was prime minister of the Nationalist government – his deputy was Joseph Cook (the former Liberal prime minister).  The Nationalists remained in office until October 1929 under the leadership of Hughes and then Stanley Melbourne Bruce.  In May 1931, the Nationalist Party merged with a group  of politicians headed by Joseph Lyons, who had quit the Labor Party, and the United Australia Party was formed.  Lyons led the UAP to a big victory at the December 1931 election and died in office in April 1939. He was succeeded by Robert Menzies who won the September 1940 election but he was forced into minority government.

Robert Menzies was not “defeated on the floor of parliament” as the Holbrook/Walter duo maintain. Rather, Menzies lost the support of his colleagues and, consequently, stepped down as prime minister on 29 August 1941.  He was succeeded by Arthur Fadden, who led a Country Party-UAP Coalition government.  On 3 October 1941, the Fadden government lost a no-confidence motion in the House of Representatives when two Independents who had supported it crossed the floor. Fadden resigned – and advised the Governor-General to commission the Labor Party leader John Curtin to form a government.  Curtin was commissioned as prime minister on 7 October 1941 – and led Labor to a big victory at the August 1943 election.

The learned doctors Holbrook and Walter invariably run fashionable left-wing academic lines.  According to this duo, Billy Hughes is “a Labor renegade” – overlooking the fact that he split with Labor over a matter of national security, namely conscription for overseas service at a time of war.  They also depict Lyons as a “Labor deserter” – despite the fact that he also split with Labor over a matter of policy, namely the proper economic response to the economic downturn that was the Great Depression.

The Holbrook/Walter duo also run the familiar line, promulgated by the likes of such left-wing historians as Manning Clark and one-time Communist Party member Stuart Macintyre, when they comment:

Yet there was policy laziness within the UAP as war threatened. Lyons “knew how to win elections” said former National Party prime minister, Stanley Bruce, but was bereft of policy initiative and struggled to maintain party discipline.

Sure, some politicians did not like Lyons much – including some former colleagues in the Labor Party and some of his fellow UAP parliamentarians.  But Lyons  won three elections – 1931, 1934 and 1937 and was Australia’s second longest-serving prime minister (narrowly after Billy Hughes) when he died in office in 1939. Stanley Melbourne Bruce, on the other hand,  won just two elections. Moreover, as Anne Henderson documents in her book Joseph Lyons: The People’s Prime Minister (NewSouth, 2011), Australia’s economic recovery after the Great Depression was as good as that of Britain and better than that of the United States during the presidency of F.D. Roosevelt.  This hardly suggests that the Lyons’ government was bereft of policy.  Also, the UAP held together while Joseph Lyons was its leader – so he maintained party discipline to an extent.  The UAP collapsed some years after Lyons died.

As to Lyons’ alleged policy laziness as war threatened, even John Edwards – a Curtin fan boy if ever there was one – acknowledges that, in the late 1930s and early 1940s, the Curtin Labor opposition opposed every move by the Lyons and later Menzies governments to increase defence spending.  It would seem that Doctors Holbrook and Walter are unaware of this fact – along with Crikey’s somewhat lazy editor.

MWD’s answer to Crikey’s question: “Is the Liberal Party really that divided?” is to ask: “Are Crikey’s contributors really that ignorant and one-sided?”

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JACKIE (DIP WELLNESS, THE GUNNEDAH INSTITUTE) COMMENTS FOR MWD:

Thanks for inviting me to mark the homework of Dr Holbrook and Dr Walter.  I’m inclined to give them a 51/2/10 mark.  Provided they re-submit the article with the howlers and left-wing put-downs removed. So help me.

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Until next time.

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