GERARD HENDERSON’S MEDIA WATCH DOG

ISSUE – NO. 652

15 September 2023

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  • ABC’S DAVID SPEERS – NOT ALWAYS AN EQUAL OPPORTUNITY INTERRUPTER

Media Watch Dog stands for debate and discussion – in the media and elsewhere.  This can only occur if there is balance in the presentation of views – and fairness with respect to the way journalists handle politicians, activists and the like.  Moreover, presenters not only need to be fair – they also need to be seen to be fair and balanced. This is not always the case.

On Thursday 14 September – on ABC TV’s 7.30 – David Speers interviewed the Indigenous Liberal Party Senator Kerrynne Liddle – the Coalition’s Shadow Minister for Child Protection and the Prevention of Family Violence. Senator Liddle, who supports the “No” case in the forthcoming referendum, did well.  But her task was made difficult by the fact that David Speers interrupted her on 16 occasions in a 10-minute and 40-second period.

On Sunday 10 September – on ABC TV’s Insiders program – David Speers interviewed the Indigenous activist Noel Pearson – a lawyer and founder of the Cape York Partnership.  Mr Pearson, who supports the “Yes” case in the forthcoming referendum, did well.  But his task was made easier due to the fact that David Speers only interrupted him on 4 occasions in a 16-minute and 30-second interview.

Mr Speers – in his ABC mode – is yet to realise that most viewers are interested in the opinions of interviewees, not those of the interviewer.


EDITORIAL

  • MIRIAM MARGOLYES’ HYPERBOLE NEEDS A SCRIPT RE-WRITE

Media Watch Dog appreciates the media and other skills of British-born actor and author Miriam Margolyes.  She is a woman of the left – but a tolerant one.  For example, when Barry Humphries died earlier this year, Margolyes acknowledged his “genius” as a comedian – even though she disagreed with many of his political views.  Some left-wing commentators, on the other hand, were too blinded by ideology to appreciate talent.  In other words, unlike so many contemporary leftists, Ms Margolyes is not into cancel culture – that is, political censorship.

However, at times, the British artiste – who has just written the book Oh Miriam! – errs on the side of exaggeration.  For example, interviewed on ABC Radio National Breakfast on 13 September, she described Australia “as a very racist country” where “people are appallingly racist”.   She also said that, as a Jew, she understood that in Australia “nobody likes Jews”.

Like all nations, Australia has its faults.  However, the relatively high level of what was once termed intermarriage between various ethnic groups and the relatively low level of ethnic-motivated hate crime indicates that Australia is a tolerant and accepting nation. Sure, there is a degree of anti-semitism in Australia – but far less than in some similar societies.  Moreover, the Jewish Australian population – which currently stands at only 100,000 – has been remarkably successful. For example, Josh Frydenberg was treasurer in the previous Coalition government and Mark Dreyfus is attorney-general in the current Labor government.

Which raises the question – if Ms Margolyes believes that Australia is so racist and replete with anti-semitism, why did she choose to take up Australian citizenship on Australia Day 2013 and become a dual British-Australian citizen?

Dai Le, the Independent MP for Fowler in Western Sydney, arrived in Australia in 1979 with her mother and two sisters.  They were refugees from South Vietnam who fled the communist Vietnamese regime following the fall of Saigon in April 1975.  The family fled to the Philippines, then on to Hong Kong and entered Australia with valid visas as refugees some four years later.  Speaking on Sky News’ Paul Murray Live  on 14 September, Ms Le had this to say:

Dai Le: Australia gave my late mother and my sisters a start in life. Sorry, my mother passed away just recently. And so I’m very grateful for the opportunities. You know, there are flaws in any society – but Australia is not a racist country. It’s a country that’s growing and maturing.

Reflected consideration works better than hyperbole – off the stage, at least.


  • WHAT A JOKE –CRIKEY’S CHARLIE LEWIS COULD NOT SEE THE HUMOUR IN FOX NEWS’ GUTFELD! !!!!

Sky News’ Jenna Clarke is very much a Media Watch Dog fave.  Consequently, MWD deeply regrets that she is no longer presenting Sky’s The Front Page, on the first four nights of the business week, with a panel of two.  Such is the ability of Ms Clarke that the powers-that-be at Macquarie Park have seen fit to replace her with three presenters – two blokes and a sheila, in fact.  To wit, the trio that presents The Great Debate at 10 pm. [Are you sure that “great” is the appropriate word here? – I can think of others. – MWD Editor.]

But MWD digresses. And now for some background.  Ellie’s co-owners watch a recording of the Friday night edition of Fox News’ Gutfeld! program on Saturday evenings.  With the assistance of a wine or two.  It airs in Australia on Foxtel Channel 608 on Saturday afternoons. Gutfeld! is an irreverent late-night show that mocks the left, or what Americans would term left-liberals. Sure, some of the jokes are in bad taste and there is far too much lavatory humour. But at least Greg Gutfeld can laugh at himself – as well as at political conservatives when he feels so inclined. And the program is funny.

Ellie’s co-owners particularly like the Friday program since it opens with Greg’s leftovers – which purports to run the jokes that were not run in the previous four days.  For the record, Hendo’s fave Gutfeld! panellist is the libertarian Kat Timpf, while Ms Hendo’s fave is the wrestler Tyrus.

As Jenna Clarke has reported in The Weekend Australian on 2 September, Gutfeld! not only outperforms The Tonight Show but “is a hit with the 25 to 54 year-old demographic and regularly rates in the top spots”.

All of which led Hendo to re-open his file marked “Nancy’s Old Bones” in memory of the late and lamented Queensland Heeler (2004-2017).  In it he found this clipping from Eric Beecher’s newsletter Crikey dated 8 August 2021.

Here’s what Crikey’s  “Tips and Murmurs” column presented by Charlie Lewis had to say about Gutfeld!, soon after it commenced on 5 April 2021:

A gutful of Gutfeld! We here in the Crikey bunker have never been particularly sold on the idea that the only reason there aren’t more right-wing comedians is that “progressives are just funnier” (have you seen Seth Meyers?). And it’s not as though the modern left are free of traits ripe for parody — just check out Why Are You Like This. So what a disappointment it must be for comedy-craving conservatives that they finally have their Fox News equivalent of the Daily Show and it’s terrible.

Humour is subjective, sure, but you probably won’t like Gutfeld! unless joke-free rants in favour of Georgia’s new voting laws are your thing. There’s a cumulative amateurishness to the whole thing: the stilted delivery, the nervous quiet laughter of the audience, the Garfield-like cartoony title card, exclamation point and all. Taken as a whole, the embarrassment of it all may cause your brain to curl at the edges and blow away like a dead leaf.

Turn it up.  What Comrade Lewis called “terrible” just two years ago is now rating extremely well – and was so even before the Hollywood writers’ strike which has seen some of Gutfeld!’s competition go on a well-earned break, or something like that.

Comrade Lewis could learn much about the Teachings of Media Watch Dog.  To wit, it’s unwise to make predictions, especially about the future.  In the meantime, the following question seems apposite: Can You Bear It?

  • NINE’S JENNA PRICE GUSHES OVER, BUT FAILS TO UNDERSTAND, A NIKI SAVVA COLUMN

As avid readers are aware, Media Watch Dog is full of admiration for journalists who see fit to flash their PhDs on their X (formerly Twitter) profiles.  The list includes the Sydney Morning Herald columnist and ABC presenter Dr Julia Baird (for a doctor she is) and Sydney Morning Herald columnist Dr Jenna Price (for a doctor she also is).

Moreover, MWD enjoys occasions when Nine columnists praise each other in public. Like the post by Comrade Price on 14 September gushing over a column by fellow Nine scribbler Niki Savva:

The reference was to Savva’s column in The Age and Sydney Morning Herald on 14 September headed “Albanese’s worst weeks as PM”. It may be that Dr Price and the (male) co-owner of Ellie (a junk professor at the Canberra Bubble Institute) read a different column.  But Hendo failed to notice that the Savva piece had given “everyone a belting”.

Sure, Ms Savva criticised the handling by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese of The Voice referendum (which will be held on 14 October) and the Labor government’s management of Qantas and Qatar’s (so far unsuccessful) attempt to get extra flights into Australia.

However, Niki Savva made no criticism whatsoever of the Greens or the Teal Independents or the Malcolm Turnbull-like Liberals.  In fact, the main part of the Savva rant was, once again, to bag Peter Dutton and the Coalition he leads.

For example, the Nine columnist quoted an anonymous Liberal MP as describing Dutton as a “wrecker”.  Around half of the Savva column was devoted to an account of a “gathering last week of the party’s most senior moderates at a Chinese restaurant to congratulate Maria Kovacic on her first speech in the Senate”. The column continued:

By the end of the night, Dutton was figuratively laid out on the lazy susan, picked over by increasingly frustrated Liberal MPs, former MPs and prospective candidates. The consensus, despite Albanese’s horror weeks, was that Dutton would never become prime minister, that there were slim pickings among the likely alternatives and no one stood out as a potential fixer for a party in decline.

In other words, Niki Savva’s column ran her familiar line that the Liberal Party and its leader are useless.  She seems to hold the view that it is okay for the Liberal Party to be in government – provided it is led by someone like Malcolm Turnbull.

In Savva’s latest column, only Peter Dutton got a real belting.  Yet Jenna Price, currently a visiting fellow at the Australian National University reckons that Comrade Savva “gave everyone a belting”.  Can You Bear It?

[No. Not really – now that you ask.  I note that in her Nine column on 24 August, Dr Price gave lotsa (free) advice to the Prime Minister – whom she referred to on occasions as “Albo”.  There were references to “Shorto”, “Wongo” and “Plibo” – presumably Bill Shorten, Penny Wong and Tanya Plibersek.  Perhaps PM Albanese should give some (free) advice to the doctor in Nine’s House of Columnists. Namely, that people have surnames and that nicknames work best in school journals. – MWD Editor.]

  • NINE’S KERRI SACKVILLE RETURNS TO A FAVOURITE TOPIC – HER EARLY MORNING EXPERIENCES

While on the topic of Nine’s columnists, wasn’t it great to see Kerri Sackville back in The Age and Sydney Morning Herald on Friday 15 September? – after a well-earned break of just a week.  As avid readers will recall, Media Watch Dog last covered The Thought of Ms Sackville a couple of issues ago. Alas, it hasn’t improved.

You be the judge.  Here’s how Ms Sackville’s most recent column commenced under the heading “Do earplugs help you sleep? Definitely not if you eat them”:

I spotted the bottle of sleep-aid gummies in the discount chemist when I was shopping for a new pair of earplugs. “For calm and a restful sleep,” the label declared, and I fervently wanted to believe it. The ingredients – passionflower and ashwagandha, whatever they are – are “traditionally used in Western herbal medicine”. This sounded reassuring, but it would have been even more so without the “Western”. Or the “herbal”. I generally fall asleep without any problem, but I wake up in the wee small hours to, well, wee….

Groan. Once more, Ms Sackville is advising her readers (if readers there are) about her early morning activities.  This time she told of her difficulties in consuming her sleep-aid gummies – containing ashwagandha and more besides – as she sat on the, er, you know what.

And now for a spoiler alert – for those who do not read the header.  It turned out that Sackville could not swallow the gummies for the reason that she was eating – well, let’s hear from the columnist herself:

Oh my god. I hadn’t eaten my Western herbal gummy. I had eaten half of my wax earplug. I lay there in the dark for hours, my stomach churning. How long had I been using that earplug? Would the nausea ever recede? Earplugs definitely don’t help with insomnia, I learned, especially if they’re ingested.

Don’t be mistaken. Ellie’s (male) co-owner has nothing but sympathy for Australians who consume their earplugs early in the morning.  The only good news is that Kerri Sackville got a column out of her experience.  And Nine thought fit to publish this literary sludge.  Can You Bear It?

  • NINE’S CBD THROWS THE SWITCH TO TRIVIA

As Media Watch Dog  readers are well aware, the CBD column in Nine’s Sydney Morning Herald and The Age contains information that is often of no interest to those who frequent the Central Business District of Sydney or Melbourne.

Take for example the segment titled “Powering Down” which appeared in CBD on 11 September. Here’s how it commenced:

Seems like even the most powerful residence in the country is conscious of keeping energy costs down. Electricity bills from Kirribilli House, obtained under freedom of information, show that under Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, energy usage and emissions were lower than during the days of Scott Morrison. Between July and October of 2022, Kirribilli House copped a $4679.22 electricity bill, with usage down 14 per cent from the previous year. Over the next two billing periods, energy usage was down 22 per cent and 28 per cent from the previous year.

Does anyone really give a toss about electricity bills at the Kirribilli House official residence?  And then there is the false comparison.  Due to travel for international conferences and the like, Anthony Albanese has spent considerable time out of Australia since he became prime minister in May 2022.  Scott Morrison, on the other hand, travelled less due to COVID 19 and the forthcoming 2022 election.  Moreover, Mr Morrison was based at Kirribilli House with his wife and two children.  Mr Albanese, on the other hand, is based at The Lodge in Canberra and has an adult son.

In other words, the comparison between the Morrison and Albanese Sydney household with respect to energy usage runs the risk of giving trivia a bad name.  Yet CBD seems to believe that business folk are interested in such non-news news. Can You Bear It?


  • ABC BURIES ITS OWN ABC INVESTIGATIONS STORY ON THE FAILURE OF THE VICTORIAN GOVERNMENT AND THE ROYAL COMMISSION TO INVESTIGATE PEDOPHILE TEACHERS IN THE VICTORIAN DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION

As Media Watch Dog readers know, the ABC has been most reluctant to cover its own instances of historical child sexual abuse and related matters.

This includes its refusal to adequately address the comment in 1975 by ABC chairman Richard Downing that “in general, men will sleep with young boys”.  This statement was made to rationalise the actions of self-confessed pedophile Richard Neville (1941-2016) in hosting an ABC radio program in 1975 where he interviewed three self-confessed pederasts in the ABC’s Sydney studio. The matter was never reported to NSW Police and no duty of care was taken with respect to the child victims of the men.

In more recent times, the ABC refused to properly report the conviction and sentencing of one-time ABC producer Jon Stephens who pleaded guilty in 2017 to the serial abuse of a 14-year old boy in 1981 and served time in prison.  The ABC paid compensation to the male victim but ABC management was evasive in Senate Estimates about the settlement.

At the time Stephens died in December 2019, he was facing two additional charges of abusing young boys when on official ABC duties.

When Gerard Henderson asked then ABC manager Gaven Morris why the ABC had not properly reported Stephens’ conviction, he was told that, on the day in question, “there were significant bushfires in both the Hunter region and across NSW”.  Overlooking the fact that Stephens’ conviction was a national story. William Thompson in Melbourne asked several present and former ABC personalities about the Jon Stephens case – including Louise Milligan, Zoe Daniel and Kerry O’Brien. All said that they had no knowledge of Stephens’ crime.

The ABC has not only downplayed its approach to its own pedophilia. It has also gone soft on pedophilia in government schools – in stark contrast to its covering of historical child sexual abuse in religious, primarily Catholic and Anglican, institutions.

On 27 August 2023, ABC Online carried a 9,000-word article by ABC Investigations reporter Russell Jackson covering previously unreported instances of child sexual abuse in government schools run by the Victorian Department of Education.  Jackson’s article was titled “How the Victorian Education Department’s historical child abuse scandal was hidden for decades”.  As MWD has demonstrated, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse virtually ignored government schools.  Re which see today’s “Correspondence” section containing Gerard Henderson’s most recent email to Peter McClellan, the Royal Commission’s chair.

Russell Jackson’s story of 27 August 2023 deserved wide coverage.  But it was not reported on the ABC’s main television news channel or on such programs as ABC TV News Breakfast, ABC Radio National Breakfast, AM, The World Today, PM and 7.30 – all of which had given substantial coverage to historical child sexual abuse within Catholic and Anglican institutions.

The ABC’s failure in this instance continues. On 11 September, ABC News Online carried a second substantial report by Russell Jackson. It was titled “The case of paedophile William Landman shows why Daniel Andrews’s inquiry ‘won’t go where it needs to go’”.  The reference is to the decision of the Andrews Labor government to set up a board of inquiry into allegations of historical child sexual abuse in Beaumaris Primary School in the 1960s and 1970s by three teachers employed by the Victorian Department of Education. This inquiry, headed by Kathleen Foley SC, has now been extended to cover some 18 schools in which the three teachers worked.  Despite the extensions of the terms of reference – they remain inadequate.  There were many, many more pedophiles in the Victorian Education Department, apart from the Beaumaris Primary three.

Russell Jackson’s report includes the following statement:

The ABC’s investigation revealed that recidivist child abusers often enjoyed 30-year teaching careers, being shuffled from school to school by the Victorian Education Department’s district inspectors — even when whistleblowers begged for the horror to end. Instead, the so-called “boundary riders” of the system knowingly exposed generation after generation of children to life-changing abuse.

Even when paedophiles were removed from classrooms, we found, their employment terminations were often not accounted for in official statistics reported to the Victorian parliament. This means it is almost impossible to know how many sexually abusive teachers were sacked for their crimes. Hundreds of civil law suits suggest the true figure would be alarmingly high.

Since these details were revealed in their full depravity two weeks ago, ABC Investigations has been flooded with disclosures from survivors of government school abuse dating back to the early 1950s. One was dismayed to learn that her abuser had enjoyed a 50-year teaching career. Many more wrote of emotional breakdowns, incurable addictions and lifelong traumas that have accompanied the loss of siblings and friends. Others — the sort of people who never command media headlines — have simply soldiered on in silence. They are our parents, grandparents, siblings, neighbours, and friends.

We also heard from former teachers and Victorian Education Department staff who, when the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse was announced in 2012, had been prepared to lift the lid on what they’d witnessed. Only, they couldn’t. To their dismay, the royal commission didn’t examine a single case specifically related to abuse in the Victorian Education Department system.

These could-be whistleblowers outlined a system in which district inspectors and the department’s regional managers protected their own, routinely dumping paedophile teachers into other regional districts where country children were treated as expendable.

This is a big story – involving the failure of the Victorian government’s Department of Education and the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse headed by Peter McClellan KC.

But the ABC will not cover Russell Jackson’s reporting on its main news and current affairs outlets.  Moreover, The Age in Melbourne has failed to adequately cover this issue.


YOU MUST REMEMBER THIS

“You Must Remember This” is based on the chorus line in the song As Time Goes By which was popularised by the film Casablanca. It is devoted to reminding the usual suspects of what they and/or those they supported once wrote or said or did – or have (sometimes conveniently) forgotten.

  •  IN WHICH NINE COLUMNIST NIKI SAVVA  FORGETS WHAT SHE WROTE RECENTLY ABOUT SENATOR PRICE

The ABC Insiders program is becoming increasingly boring as groups of journalists (usually Canberra-based) discuss what’s going on in Australian national politics (based in Canberra) in responding to questions/comments from David (“Please call me Speersy”) Speers who is based in Canberra. [Perhaps the program should be re-titled “Canberra Insiders”. Just a thought. – MWD Editor.]

Take the referendum discussion on Sunday 10 September as to whether there should be an Indigenous Voice to Parliament and the Executive in the Constitution as a consequence of a “Yes” vote in the 14 October 2023 referendum.

On Sky News’ opinion programs, different views can be heard.  For example, Sky presenters Peta Credlin, Andrew Bolt and Paul Murray are in the “No” camp.  But  Sky presenter Chris Kenny is a strong advocate for “Yes” – as is regular Sky contributor Joe Hildebrand.  However, no prominent ABC presenter or prominent paid contributor publicly supports “No”.

And so it came to pass on Insiders on 10 September.  Speersy was in the presenter’s chair.  And the panel comprised John Kehoe (Australian Financial Review), the ABC’s Fran (“I’m an activist”) Kelly and Nine’s Niki Savva.

When discussion turned to The Voice, Speersy asked Niki Savva and Fran Kelly for their opinion – but not John Kehoe.  Savva and Kelly made it pretty clear that they were in the “Yes” camp.  No problem there.  But it would have made for better television if at least one person on the panel had indicated some sympathy for the “No” case.  It’s called debate and discussion.

When Speers initially attempted to move on, Savva insisted on making another point.  Here is what she had to say:

Niki Savva: [interjecting] Can I just make another point there? Because Noel [Pearson] did refer a number of times to Jacinta Price. And, I do believe whether you agree with her or not – and I don’t – that she has been the most compelling advocate…for the “No” vote. And I think one of the most damaging things has occurred – and historians will probably look at this a lot more closely in the future – is the Black-on-Black disagreement has been what has damaged the “Yes” campaign more than anything else. And gives white people especially, who are confused or reluctant, an excuse to say “No”.

It seems that Niki Savva believes that all Indigenous Australians should agree with one another – and that “white people” need an “excuse” as to how they should vote in this referendum.  Somewhat condescending, don’t you think?

For its part, Media Watch Dog was interested in Ms Savva’s view that Senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price has been the most compelling advocate for the “No” case.

For MWD remembered that this was not always the Nine columnist’s position.   Writing in The Age and Sydney Morning Herald on 27 April, she declared that “there is little Labor can do to save [Peter] Dutton from himself”.  One of her criticisms of the Opposition leader turned on his decision that the parliamentary Liberal Party would oppose The Voice.

Niki Savva went on to describe Mr Dutton’s approach as “shambolic”.  Guess what?  One of the reasons she gave for describing Peter Dutton as “shambolic” was this. Namely, “appointing the Nationals’ articulate and ambitious Jacinta Nampijinpa Price as opposition Indigenous Affairs spokeswoman, granting the supposedly junior partner [i.e. the Nationals] an extra spot at the expense of the Liberals and guaranteeing conflict over the Voice stays front and centre”.

So, there you have it.  On 27 April, Ms Savva bagged Peter Dutton’s decision to make Senator Price the Opposition’s spokesperson for The Voice as an example of his shambolic leadership.  But on 10 September, Ms Savva described Senator Price as the “most compelling advocate for ‘No’”.  Which would suggest that Peter Dutton’s decision was not so shambolic after all.

Niki Savva – You Must Remember This.


This overwhelmingly popular segment of Media Watch Dog usually works like this. Someone or other thinks it would be a you-beaut idea to write to Gerard Henderson AC (Always Courteous) about something or other. And Hendo, being a courteous and well-brought-up kind of guy, replies. Then, hey presto, the correspondence is published in MWD – much to the delight of its avid readers.

There are occasions, however, when (the late) Jackie’s (male) co-owner decides to write a polite note to someone or other – who, in turn, believes that a reply is in order. Publication in MWD invariably follows. There are, alas, some occasions where your man Henderson sends a polite missive – but does not receive the courtesy of a reply. Nevertheless, publication of this one-sided correspondence still takes place. For the record – and in the public interest, of course.

  • RE PETER McCLELLAN KC’S CLAIM THAT THE ROYAL COMMISSION DID INVESTIGATE PEDOPHILIA IN GOVERNMENT SCHOOLS

There was considerable interest in last week’s “Correspondence” segment titled “On the Failure of the Royal Commission, headed by Peter McClellan KC, to Investigate Government Schools”.

The reference was to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, chaired by Peter McClellan KC, which ran from January 2013 to December 2017 – having gained a two year extension of time – at the cost of around $350 million.  The introduction to the Correspondence section in the previous issue contained this comment: “On 12 July 2023, Gerard Henderson contacted Peter McClellan with reference to the failure of the Royal Commission to examine historical child sexual abuse in government schools. There was a follow-up letter sent by Express Post. Henderson advised Mr McClellan that he might write about the issue and invited the former royal commissioner to respond to two questions. There was no reply. The one-way correspondence is printed below. If Mr McClellan wants a right of reply – it will be granted.”

Peter McClellan has still not responded to – or even acknowledged – this correspondence.  However, he wrote an article titled “Commission did investigate abuse in state schools” which was published in The Weekend Australian on 9 September 2023 (see here) in which he criticised two of Henderson’s recent columns.  As MWD pointed out in the last issue, it is happy to give Mr McClellan a right of reply.  He did not take up the offer.  Hence the link to Peter McClellan’s Weekend Australian  article above in which he sets out his case – which serves as a right-of-reply.

Gerard Henderson is of the view that some of the comments in the article were misleading and/or inaccurate.  He wrote to Mr McClellan about this on 13 September.  MWD will keep readers informed if there is a reply.

Gerard Henderson to Peter McClellan KC – 13 September 2023

Dear Mr McClellan

I note that you did not reply to my letter of 12 July 2023  (which was emailed as well as forwarded by Express Post) concerning my criticisms of the Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

I refer to your article in The Weekend Australian on 9 September 2023 titled “Commission did investigate abuse in state schools” – in which you criticised my Weekend Australian columns dated 29 July 2023 and 2 September 2023 concerning the Royal Commission.

In response to your Weekend Australian article, I make the following points:

  • In your article you wrote:

Henderson writes that the royal commission did not hold one “case study” into a government school, which he described as a “grievous error of omission”. He is not correct. The royal commission was aware of the potential for criticism if it did not hold a case study into any state school but it did not receive allegations that would have justified the cost of a public hearing into a state school. However, as the final report records, the royal commission did examine three NSW public schools in a case study.

This comment is misleading.  In my Weekend Australian articles of 29 July and 2 September, I made it clear that I was discussing case studies into adult offenders in government schools (i.e. principals, teachers, managers and the like). I made no reference to sexual assault involving only students.

It is true that, in Case Study 45, the Royal Commission refers to private hearings into “three government primary schools…administered by the New South Wales Department of Education”.  However, all three hearings turned on sexual behaviour between children – and how this was handled by the authorities. That’s all.  By the way, I referred to this in my column of 29 July 2023.

Contrary to the implication in your Weekend Australian article, the Royal Commission did not examine any reported acts of pedophilia by principals/teachers in government schools – as distinct from its inquiries with respect to Catholic, Anglican and other religious educational institutions.  By the way, the Royal Commission’s coverage of three NSW primary schools takes up a mere 6 pages of an entire 120 page case study – the rest of the case study covers two Anglican schools and one Christian college.

  • In defence of the Royal Commission’s decision to investigate government schools, you wrote:

It is important to appreciate that although no cluster of allegations could be identified in any particular state school, to justify a public hearing, consistent with the obligations of the royal commission, I referred 2252 allegations to the police for investigation which, it could be expected, would include allegations of sexual abuse in state schools. We also conducted public hearings into institutions the state managed. [Emphasis added]

The word usage in this instance is meaningless.  Maybe it could be expected that allegations about sexual abuse in state schools would have been made to police for investigation.  But you provide no evidence that this occurred.

  • In defence of the Royal Commission’s failure to investigate government schools with respect to principals/teachers etc, you also write:

It is important when considering the work of the royal commission to appreciate the fundamental object of its terms of reference. Its primary task was not to establish whether individual acts of abuse had occurred but, rather, where it was known or believed to have occurred, to investigate the response of the particular institution.

The royal commission could investigate institutions only where sexual abuse was alleged or reported to have occurred. For that reason, at the beginning of its work and for many months, the royal commission conducted an intensive national campaign to inform survivors of sexual abuse of the work of the commission and the opportunity to tell their story to a commissioner.

I note that you do not quote from the Royal Commission’s Terms of Reference to support your assertion. My reading of the Royal Commission’s Terms of Reference and Letters Patent indicate that no such constraints were imposed on you. Indeed, the Letters Patent “require and authorise you to inquire into institutional responses and incidents of child sexual abuse and related matters” – without any stated restrictions.

In other words, you were empowered to make your own inquiries.  For example, you could have asked the Victorian Department of Education to provide the records of disciplinary proceedings against teachers in the state’s teachers’ disciplinary tribunals.  Moreover, with a budget of $350 million over five years and hundreds of employees at any one time, you could have done a web search of instances of pedophiles operating in Victorian state schools.  Not a difficult task.

Such research would have revealed, for example, that in August 1978 William Stuart Landman (aka Landmann) – a relieving headmaster in the Victorian Educational Department – was convicted on 22 counts of child sexual abuse which took place within a five month period at Chelsea Primary School. He was sentenced to 31/2 years imprisonment. This was covered in the media at the time. This case is the subject of a report by Russell Jackson of ABC Investigations (11 September 2023) titled “The case of paedophile William Landman shows why Daniel Andrews’s inquiry won’t go where it needs to go”.

As you are no doubt aware, the Andrews Labor government in Victoria has set up a Board of Inquiry into Historical Child Sexual Abuse at Beaumaris Primary School in the 1960s and 1970s where there was a nest of male pedophile teachers. There has been a similar inquiry in Tasmania and one is underway in New South Wales with respect to state schools.

  • In your justification for the Royal Commission’s focus on Catholic and Anglican schools in your Weekend Australian article, you wrote this:

The statistics published in the final report of the royal commission disclose that of the survivors who came to tell their story 58.6 per cent reported that they were abused in an institution managed by a religious organisation. Of these, 61.8 per cent, or almost 2500 people, reported that they suffered child sexual abuse in an institution managed by the Catholic Church.  The Anglican Church was the next most significant religious institution for reports of child sexual abuse, with 14.7 per cent of reported abuse in an Anglican institution.

As the Royal Commission found, the majority of such reported offences centred on a period between the late 1960s and the late 1970s.  If the Royal Commission had done its research, it would have found that  in the period between the late 1960s and early 1990s around 80 per cent of children in religious institutions would have been in Catholic institutions – since the Catholic Church had its own school system, orphanages, hospitals and the like along with many employees. This statistic does not justify the Royal Commission’s focus on Catholics and Anglicans.

Moreover, your fellow commissioner Robert Fitzgerald advised me in March 2018 that the Royal Commission had not undertaken any “historical prevalence studies” into this issue but had “recommended such be undertaken in the future”. In other words, the Royal Commission did not know whether there were more cases of historical child sexual abuse in Catholic institutions than in other institutions – on a percentage of the population basis.

  • In my column of 29 July, I quoted Greg Craven as having written in the Weekend Australian in August 2017 that “the obsession of the royal commission with ‘the Catholics’ has all but crowded out the scrutiny of other institutions, with predictable results”. Professor Craven’s point was that “if an inquiry gives the impression it is about one subject, the public will take it at its word” and not raise complaints with respect to other subjects – for example, government schools.

This is what happened.  For example, in July 2017 prominent Nine journalist Peter FitzSimons wrote that the Royal Commission’s achievement was to turn a “much needed spotlight” on the Catholic Church.  It is a fact that numerous complaints about pedophile teachers in government schools commenced after the royal commission, which you headed for five years, wound up in December 2017.

This is what has led to the decision of the governments of Victoria, Tasmania and New South Wales to set up inquiries into child sexual assault  in government schools.

  • Towards the end of your Weekend Australian column, you had this to say with respect to the late Cardinal George Pell who spent close to 40 hours in the witness box at the Royal Commission over three sessions:

With respect to the late Cardinal George Pell, it was inevitable that he would be required to give evidence in three public hearings. Although a young priest, Pell was identified as a talented leader in his early days at Ballarat, where the bishop appointed him as a consultor. Many children were sexually abused in Ballarat diocese at the time Pell was a consultor.

Pell moved from Ballarat to become a bishop and then archbishop of the diocese of Melbourne, where there were also many problems. He was then appointed archbishop of Sydney where, again, he was required to deal with many allegations of abuse. An examination of his approach to these issues in each location revealed the good and the bad of the Catholic Church’s response to sexual abuse.

Quelle surprise.  I do not recall you having used the word “good” with respect to anything George Pell did when he was alive. Feel free to correct me if I am wrong.  By the way, in your article you failed to mention that George Pell set up the Melbourne Response in 1996 to deal with pedophilia in Catholic institutions. The Victorian Department of Education is yet to set up a similar body with respect to pedophilia in state government schools – nearly three decades later.

In your article, you simply ignored my comment in The Weekend Australian of 2 September that “the Royal Commission made a number of hostile findings with respect to Pell – all of which were unsupported by witness or documentary evidence”.

I document this in Chapter 9 of my book Cardinal Pell, the Media Pile-On & Collective Guilt which was published in November 2021 – almost two years ago. I also document several gross inconsistencies in the Royal Commission’s findings with respect to Cardinal Pell – along with one significant error of fact which reflected badly on him.  No one has sought to correct anything I wrote in my book (apart from the occasional typo) – including with respect to the Royal Commission.

I intend to put out a third edition.  If you wish to respond to my critique of the Royal Commission, I will fairly report your views.

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In conclusion, your (undocumented) statement in the introduction of the book Still Standing  (Viking, 2023) that “Cardinal George Pell…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’” is simply untrue.  The Cardinal  specifically referred to pedophilia as a “crime” at the Royal Commission.  I will provide the documentation if you wish.  This is an unprofessional attack on someone who is dead and cannot defend himself.  A KC,  who is a former Supreme Court judge, should be able to do better.

Yours sincerely

Gerard Henderson

 

 

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Until next time.

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