GERARD HENDERSON’S MEDIA WATCH DOG

ISSUE – NO. 664

8 December 2023

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  • LAURA TINGLE’S DOUBLE STANDARD ON MINISTERS BEHAVING BADLY

As Media Watch Dog knows, the hoi polloi have holidays. Whereas journalists take a well-earned break or WEB.  It appears that regular ABC 7.30 presenter Sarah Ferguson is currently on a WEB.  For whatever reason, 7.30’s chief political correspondent Laura Tingle has stepped in as presenter.  This is how Ms Tingle introduced 7.30’s main political segment on Thursday 7 December.

Laura Tingle:  Beyond the usual end-of-year noise though, the [Albanese Labor] government is finishing the year knowing it has to lift its political management game.  Peter Dutton has too often of late seemed to be setting the terms and tone of the debate.  With a faint whiff of blood in the water, the Press Gallery pack is writing about the government’s messaging woes, rather than its policies….

Hang on a minute. What is La Tingle saying about the “Canberra Press Gallery pack”?  As 7.30 political correspondent, she is part of the pack.  She is also president of the National Press Club.

So what has Laura Tingle been up to in her role as a leader of the (Press Gallery) pack?  Well, on Wednesday she interviewed Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus KC. Now MWD has a degree of sympathy for Mr Dreyfus. Sure, he lost it somewhat at a media conference in Parliament House on Wednesday and yelled at Sky News journalist Olivia Caisley with pointed finger and all that.

It’s just that MWD understands the reality of The Fall.  We all make mistakes and some of us mere mortals are prone to bouts of spontaneous anger.  In any event, the Attorney-General apologised to the journalist.

However, it is relevant to note how Laura Tingle introduced Mark Dreyfus when he appeared on 7.30 on Wednesday 6 December.  Let’s go to the transcript:

Laura Tingle: Attorney-General, the politics of the issue have obviously been played very hard in recent weeks, as reflected in that exchange this morning [between the AG and the journalist]. But can we just ignore Peter Dutton for a moment and walk through the legalities with viewers? We now have the reasons for the High Court’s decision and the Government is rushing legislation through for a detention regime….

There followed a remarkably soft interview with a cabinet minister in a government that the interviewer believes has “messaging woes”. But there is another point.  Would La Tingle have ignored such anger directed at a female journalist – had the politician been the Liberal Party’s Scott Morrison (whom Tingle once accused of “ideological bastardry” in a late-night tweet)?  Or Tony Abbott?  Or, indeed, Peter Dutton?  Not on your nelly.

It would seem that the 7.30 political correspondent along with many of her colleagues in the Press Gallery, er, pack, have one standard for Labor ministers and another for Coalition ones.


  • NIKI SAVVA ON PETER DUTTON & PRESIDENT BIDEN

It was great to see MWD fave Niki Savva back on the Opinion Page of The Age and Sydney Morning Herald  on 7 December.  Ms Savva is one of those Canberra-based journalists who reckon that it’s okay for the Coalition to be in government – provided that someone like Malcolm Turnbull is prime minister and not someone like Tony Abbott or Scott Morrison.

Here’s how the Savva column commenced:

The year began with Albanese government ministers describing Peter Dutton as their best asset. It is ending with the threat he could turn into their worst nightmare. A rejuvenated Dutton has – with considerable help from the government – succeeded in catastrophising every issue, creating a sense of chaos around Anthony Albanese. Brimming with confidence, Dutton now scoffs at suggestions he is running a two-term strategy to unseat Albanese, predicting he will reduce him to a one-termer.

Dutton is starring in the Terminator sequel, fittingly subtitled Judgment Day, tutored by the original, Tony Abbott, living proof there is no such thing as an unelectable opposition leader. If Albanese doesn’t change, he will go down.

Well, how about that?  MWD seems to recall that Ms Savva once supported the view of Liberal Party MP Ken Wyatt that Mr Dutton could never become prime minister. But there you go.

By the way, MWD was interested in the Savva comment about the fact that Prime Minister Anthony Albanese attended the recent APEC in San Francisco “at President Joe Biden’s urging”.  She continued:

Given Albanese’s absence from parliament during a critical time, the least Biden could do now is to free Julian Assange so he can have Christmas with his family.

What a load of absolute tosh.  President Joe Biden does not control the United States’ Justice Department.  Moreover, in view of Hunter Biden’s current problems with the law, it is all but inconceivable that President Biden would seek a favour from the Justice Department with respect to a citizen of another country. Does Nine’s fave columnist have no understanding of how the United States operates? More seriously, Can You Bear It?

  • NICK BRYANT’S ABC RADIO NATIONAL’S BETWEEN THE LINES WHERE COMRADES MARK KENNY AND JUDITH BRETT AGREE ON ALMOST EVERYTHING

As avid Media Watch Dog readers will recall, two weeks ago Ellie’s (male) co-owner commented on Tom Switzer’s decision not to continue as the presenter of ABC Radio National’s Between the Lines program.

MWD pointed out at the time that Nick Bryant, the one-time BBC journalist, now resident in Sydney, has taken over presenting Between the Lines, for a while at least.

It so happened that when walking the said Ellie at around Gin & Tonic Time on Saturday 2 December, Hendo tuned into Between the Lines and heard a discussion on Australian politics.  Here’s how it was described:

A look back at the political year in Australia. It’s been an angry, bitter end to the parliamentary year. We cast an eye over Australian politics in 2023. Professor Mark Kenny, Australian National University. Judith Brett, Emeritus Professor of politics, La Trobe University.

Comrade Bryant is a highly-skilled broadcast journalist.  But he’s left-of-centre in an alienated kind of way. And this is Mark (“Please call me professor”) Kenny who made it to the top of academe with a background as a staffer to a left-wing South Australian backbench Labor politician, via the ABC, followed by Fairfax Media (now Nine Entertainment) to an ANU professorship – achieved without a notable publication. Well done Prof.

And then there is Judith (“I used to be the co-editor of the leftist Arena Magazine with Comrade Guy Rundle, but I don’t talk about it much”) Brett. Professor Brett’s book Robert Menzies’ Forgotten People was highly critical of the Liberal Party founder and she has been a constant critic of Liberal Party leaders John Howard, Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison.

How’s that for political balance?  A left-wing presenter talking to two left-wing commentators about the politics of 2023.

After an introduction where Comrade Bryant described Comrades Brett and Kenny as two “of the sharpest observers of Australian politics”, Comrade Brett attacked Scott Morrison – and Comrade Kenny concurred.  The learned professor went on to discuss Peter Dutton and referred to “the so-called cost of living crisis”.

Comrade Bryant then introduced the topic of The Voice and the defeat of the “Yes” case at the constitutional referendum on 14 October.  He suggested that “Yes” was “doomed to failure the moment that Peter Dutton signalled he wouldn’t offer bipartisan support”. The learned professor concurred.  Comrade Kenny said that the “Yes” case was “probably doomed the moment Anthony Albanese announced it at his very first remarks on election night in 2022” – he added that an additional factor was the announcement by the Nationals leader of their opposition to The Voice.

Comrade Brett then declared that she had “heard” that Kevin Rudd suggested to Prime Minister Albanese that he should make a big announcement on the night of Labor’s election victory on 21 May 2022 – but added: “I don’t know whether this is true.”  She then agreed with Kenny. Subsequently, Kenny agreed with Brett adding that “it’s fascinating to think that Rudd may have been behind the advice to launch it [the Voice campaign] in the way it was launched”.  But he, like Brett, had no evidence to support this theory.  Groan.  Mark went on to agree with Judith about something or other. Yawn.

Professor Brett then opposed the proposed Stage 3 income tax cuts and attacked Peter Dutton. Then the learned emeritus professor said how she liked minority governments and advocated that the Albanese government should compromise with the Greens.

Talk about boring radio.  Nick threw up soft questions and Mark essentially agreed with Judith and Judith, in turn, essentially agreed with Mark who agreed with Judith and Zzzzzzzz.  There was no disagreement on any matter of substance and Comrade Bryant did not challenge the views of either commentator.

The episode was so sleep-worthy that perhaps Bryant’s program could be renamed “Between the Sheets”. Can You Bear It?

[No, not really – now that you ask.  I note that your somewhat garrulous man Kenny gave two answers that ran for 2.5 minutes and one that went for 2 minutes.  All up, Professor Kenny did most of the talking – close to twice Professor Brett’s contribution. – MWD Editor.]

  • QUELLE SURPRISE! – ABC MANAGEMENT DISCOVERS THAT THE DRUM’S PANELS LACK POLITICAL DIVERSITY

It’s a tough competition. But in 2023, ABC TV’s The Drum remained the most boring current affairs program on the taxpayer funded public broadcaster.  As avid Media Watch Dog readers will recall, some years ago – under the “new management” of presenters Dr Julia Baird (for a doctor she is) and Ellen Fanning – The Drum consciously decided to become a gentler/kinder program. In which panellists would be encouraged to be nice to each other and, where possible, convert on live television to the opinion of someone with whom they previously disagreed.  Really.

Indeed, Ms Fanning told Nine’s Sunday newspapers on 27 January 2019, “The best shows we have are when someone leans around me and says to another guest – say that again, that’s interesting”.  Really. How boring can a program get?

Moreover, The Drum soon became the embodiment of the ABC as a conservative free zone.  Not only were most prominent political conservatives cancelled – The Drum did not even want to hear from some social democrats if they were argumentative types. As MWD documented on 5 February 2021, The Australian Financial Review’s Aaron Patrick and The Australian’s  Adam Creighton were banished from The Drum for being controversial.  Messrs Patrick and Creighton are anything but boring – unlike The Drum.

But MWD digresses, sort of.  ABC management has just released its 2023 Voice of Parliament Referendum: Report to the Chair. It was written by Mark Maley who holds the (impressive) title of Editorial Policies Manager.

Mr Maley wrote to Ita Buttrose, who likes to flash her AC OBE post-nominals, and reported that “The Drum made a major contribution to the referendum coverage” concerning The Voice.   Well done, The Drum. But wait. There was a problem.  Let’s hear from your man Maley:

In terms of balance of voices, the program found early that a large number of regular non-Indigenous panellists were more readily prepared to identify as “Yes” than “No” and several constants of the program told producers they would not be available for the period because they didn’t want to identify as “No” publicly.

Quelle Surprise! Who would have thought that a large number of non-Indigenous Drum panellists were more readily prepared to identify as “Yes” than “No” voters?  Mr Maley can only have regarded this as reportable “news” if he never watches the program – which is dominated by left and left-of-centre panellists and which has never had a conservative presenter.

And then there are Drum panellists who lack the courage to state their views on the ABC since they do not want to upset The Drum’s audiences – if audiences there are. As Mark Maley explained, there were several regular Drum panellists who told producers that they would not be available to appear during the campaign on the referendum because they didn’t want to identify as “No” supporters.  No doubt they didn’t want to be attacked by other Drum panellists and mocked by the ABC’s left-wing viewers for opposing the proposal that an Indigenous voice be placed in the Constitution.

So, there you have it.  Mr Maley told Ms Buttrose AC OBE that “The Drum made a major contribution to the ABC referendum coverage”.   Except that, er, virtually all its regular non-Indigenous panellists were in the “Yes” camp and the few who were “No” types were too scared to say so. Otherwise, according to Mark Maley, The Drum did a you-beaut job covering the debate – and, wait for it, “breaking down disinformation”.   Can You Bear It?

  • THE ABC/AUSTRALIA INSTITUTE PACT AT WORK – COMRADE BENNETT TURNS A CRITICISM OF DANIEL ANDREWS INTO A CRITICISM OF SCOTT MORRISON

One of the great disappointments of Ellie’s (male) co-owner in 2023 turned on the apparent scaling back of The Guardian/ABC Axis. As MWD readers will recall, at times around 80 per cent of talent on ABC TV’s Insiders program (executive producer Samuel Clark) were from the leftist Guardian Australia or the ABC.  And then there was the ABC Radio National Breakfast program which invariably ran a Guardian comrade on its Thursday commentary slot.  Namely, such MWD faves as Katharine Murphy, Amy Remeikis and the like.

Alas, The Guardian/ABC Axis is not what it used to be. Here’s hoping for a revival in 2024.  The good news (for Ellie’s male co-owner) is that there has been an emergence of an ABC/Australia Institute Pact which is already providing great copy for MWD.

Note The Australia Institute – based in Canberra, naturally – is an avowedly leftist outfit.  Stacked, as it is, with former staffers of the Greens political party – who when they criticise the Labor government, invariably do so from a left-wing perspective.

On 23 November, this is how ABC and News Breakfast’s  Lisa Millar introduced the Newspapers segment:

Lisa Millar:  Let’s have a look at what’s making news in print and online this morning. And we’re joined by Deputy Director of The Australia Institute, Ebony Bennett.  Good morning, Ebony.

Ebony Bennett:  G’day, thanks for having me.

Yeah. Lotsa thanks. And thanks also for not mentioning that The Australia Institute is a leftist organisation. Especially since News Breakfast seems to have banned individuals from such political conservative organisations as the Centre for Independent Studies and the Institute of Public Affairs – plus the Melbourne-based Robert Menzies Institute and the Sydney-based Robert Menzies Centre from participating in its “Newspapers” segment.

On 23 November, when discussing the Israel/Gaza war, Comrade Bennett criticised Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu (but not the Hamas leadership), threw the switch to catastrophism about climate change and mocked the Liberal Party’s Australian Capital Territory branch.  She appeared again in the slot on 7 December and had this to say about the Victorian Ombudsman’s report titled “Alleged politicisation of the public sector” which was released on 6 December.

In her report, Ombudsman Deborah Glass found that Daniel Andrews – the former socialist-left premier of Victoria – had a private office which had as many staff as that of the Prime Minister and NSW Premier combined.  She also referred to a “culture of fear” within the Victorian Public Service.  Here’s what the head of the leftist Australia Institute had to say about the socialist left Labor government of Victoria:

Lisa Millar: Ebony, big story in Victoria broke yesterday –  the Ombudsman’s report into the state government and the public service bureaucrats. What do you reckon about it?

Ebony Bennett: Yeah, this is really interesting and big news in Victoria. So, the Ombudsman, after a kind of a two year investigation, really criticising a culture of fear and secrecy in the Victorian Public Service. The report has been pretty much rejected by the Victorian Government and the premier. And I thought [it is] interesting that the Ombudsman didn’t find a kind of a culture of political appointments like we saw at the federal level with, you know, up to 40 per cent of appointments to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal under the Morrison government being political appointments….

How about that?  Comrade Bennett was quick to fudge over the Ombudsman’s report on the Victorian socialist left Labor government and move to criticise the Coalition government of Scott Morrison – which was not mentioned in the Victorian Ombudsman’s report.

So, there you have it.  The leftist Australia Institute running cover for the socialist left’s  Daniel Andrews – brought to you by the taxpayer funded public broadcaster. Which raises the question: Can You Bear It?


  • IT’S OUT WITH TOM SWITZER AND IN WITH FRAN (“I’M AN ACTIVIST”) KELLY AS THE ABC RADIO NATIONAL SOVIET MOVES FURTHER TO THE LEFT

It’s time to junk the word “prominent” – most beloved by Hendo – with respect to the ABC at least.

Media Watch Dog has long claimed that the ABC is a Conservative Free Zone without a conservative presenter, producer or editor for any of its prominent television, radio or online outlets.  But now it’s not necessary to continue with the word “prominent”.

ABC management and some ABC journalists were wont to claim that the taxpayer funded public broadcaster did have conservative presenters. Namely, Tom Switzer of Between the Lines (which aired at 5 pm on Radio National on Saturdays) and Amanda Vanstone’s Counterpoint (which aired at 3 pm on Mondays).

In an article he co-wrote with Janet Albrechtsen in The Australian on 24 May 2023, Switzer acknowledged that Between the Lines is not a prominent program.  In any event, Switzer has announced that he will not be renewing his contract and exiting the ABC.  Moreover, the ABC announced on 6 December that it had dumped both Between the Lines and Counterpoint (along with Amanda Vanstone) for next year.

Ms Vanstone, a former Liberal Party minister in the Howard Government, would not call herself a conservative – preferring the term “liberal”, with a small “l”, to describe her political position.  Mr Switzer possesses some political conservative views – but he is in no sense a right-winger.  Neither is wanted by the ABC. But Tom Switzer had the sense to quit before his program was junked. Between the Lines was a valuable program.

The exit of Tom Switzer and Amanda Vanstone from the ABC means that, currently, there is not a single conservative presenter for any ABC program – prominent or otherwise. This – combined with the fact that some political conservatives have been cancelled by the ABC while others will not appear on its programs – leads to a situation in which the taxpayer funded public broadcaster has the left talking to the left. Meanwhile, ratings continue to decline as so many onetime traditional conservative ABC viewers/listeners desert the public broadcaster without being replaced by a younger, leftist cohort.

Amanda Vanstone has not spoken about the decision of the ABC not to renew her contract.  However, it appears that “sources close to” Tom Switzer have.

In The Australian on 24 November, Jenna Clarke quoted “an ABC source” as saying:

Tom’s editorial decisions for the show were beginning to upset the sensibilities of some staff and even friends of the ABC. It wasn’t what his guests would say – he always challenges them – but just the mere gesture of giving some people a platform got people off-side. There is always a different side to the story, sometimes even three sides, that’s what the organisation needs to understand. Apart from Vanstone what other conservative voices do they have in there? It is moving dangerously into group think territory.

That was written on 24 November. And now Amanda Vanstone has gone. Counterpoint was established originally to indicate that at least one ABC program would discuss issues counter to the left wing prevailing orthodoxy at the ABC.

Meanwhile on 4 December, ABC Communications announced Radio National’s program for 2024. Guess what?  Fran (“I’m an activist”) Kelly returns to RN and will host Saturday Extra at the earlier time slot of 7 am. Just what the ABC needs, don’t you think?  Yet another leftist luvvie presenting a prominent program.

This has led ABC management to move Geraldine Doogue out of Saturday Extra – despite the fact that her program was one of the best on the network and she is an excellent interviewer.  Ms Doogue will host a new program which ABC Communications advises will be called – Global Roaming with Geraldine Doogue and Hamish MacDonald [sic].  By the way, it is Hamish Macdonald.

Otherwise, it’s more of the RN same.  Phillip (“Have I told you I was once a teenage communist?”) Adams is back along with Norman Swan and Jonathan Green and Patricia (“Please call me PK”) Karvelas and Andy Park and – you get the picture. Not a conservative among this lot.

Now let’s hear from Cath Dwyer, ABC’s RN manager, who is not only “thrilled” but also “excited” about 2024. Here is Cath (“Give clichés a chance”) Dwyer:

I’m thrilled to welcome Fran Kelly back to RN to take the reins of Saturday Extra and continue this highly respected program that Geraldine Doogue has built over many years. I’m also excited at the prospect of hearing Geraldine and Hamish each week exploring big issues and important stories and talking with big thinkers from around the globe. I think listeners are in for a real treat.

For the record, MWD is also THRILLED and EXCITED about the self-confessed activist journalist Comrade Kelly returning to Radio National – since she is sure to provide great copy for MWD.  In other words, Hendo is in for a REAL TREAT.


YOUR TAXES AT WORK

  • THE GRATTAN INSTITUTE TOPS FOR POMPOSITY – TELLS THE PM WHAT HE SHOULD READ OVER CHRISTMAS

Is there anything more predictable than Christmas? Well there is – unfortunately.  It’s the oh-so-pompous occasion each year when the comrades at the Grattan Institute tell the Prime Minister of the day what he or she should read over the Christmas break.

The Grattan team describes themselves as “Australia’s leading public policy think tank”. The Grattanites don’t mention that without a $30 million discretionary grant (aka handout) of taxpayers money from Labor governments in Melbourne and Canberra in 2008 they wouldn’t exist. But there you go.  And so it came to pass that the Grattan Institute was born – and soon commenced handing out books at Christmas.

What the likes of Anthony Albanese and Scott Morrison need at the Christmas/New Year break is a chance to relax with family and friends, perhaps with a book or two they really want to read.

But each year the taxpayer subsidised Grattan Institute rocks up at The Lodge – or is it Kirribilli House? – with a pile of (worthy) books that the Prime Minister “should read this summer”.  They are currently chosen by a certain Natasha Bradshaw who presents as head of the Grattan Institute’s staff book club.  Impressed?

Here are this year’s half dozen books that Anthony Albanese SHOULD read this summer.  Or as Ms Bradshaw puts it: “We think they deserve a spot in the Prime Minister’s beach bag.”

  • The Careless State: Reforming Australia’s Social Services by Melbourne University Professor Mark Considine. According to Team Grattan, this tome – covering the National Insurance Disability Scheme (NDIS), maternal health and worker health and safety is “essential reading”. Ignoring the fact that the PM would have been looking at these issues all year. Professor Considine is an academic.
  • Ravenous: How to get ourselves and our planet into shape by Henry Dimbleby and Jemima Lewis. It’s a (worthy) critique of modern-day food systems. According to Team Grattan, “we should devour it”. Groan.  How such devouring would improve Australia’s obesity problem is not clear.  Also, the PM would have received briefs from the Department of Health all year round.
  • Wifedom: Mrs Orwell’s invisible life by Anna Funder. This is an account of Eileen O’Shaughnessy, the first wife of George Orwell, who died at a relatively young age. Team Grattan reckons that “acclaimed author Anna Funder masterfully manages to hold Orwell to account for his actions without falling into the temptation of seeking to cancel him” for patriarchy. Well, thanks for that. It’s not clear whether Team Grattan knows that Mr Albanese is currently wifeless. But at least Wifedom is a biography of sorts which probably would not have been discussed in cabinet this year.
  • Lifeboat: Disability, humanity, and the NDIS by Micheline Lee. According to Team Grattan, the author gives moving glimpses into her life as an Australian with disability – she has motor neurone disease. An important book, no doubt. But does the PM need yet another brief on policy with respect to disability?
  • Personal Score by Ellen Van Neerven. Another worthy work that Team Grattan describes as “an essential read”. It’s all about “what it means to play sport on First Nations Land”. But it manages to get “changing climate” and “trans kids” along with “the complexity of gender” onto the playing field.  For a PM focused on Indigenous issues for over a year, it’s not something he needs in his Christmas stocking – still less his beach bag (if he has one).
  • Recoding America: What Government is failing in the digital age and how we can do better by Jennifer Pahlka. According to Team Grattan, this is “a compelling call to arms for better design and delivery of government services” and that: “After reading it, you’ll never look at a web form in quite the same way again”. Oh yes, this book requires “shifts in the mindset of politicians and public servants”. Frightfully interesting, in a worthy kind of way.  But nothing here that the PM would not have been briefed about over the year since last Christmas.

There is no evidence that any Australian prime minister has read any of the “essential reading” that Team Grattan has dumped on their doorstep over the years.  It’s possible that the inner-city Sandalistas in Melbourne’s Carlton (where the Institute is based) and Sydney Ultimo pretend to read such worthy tomes.  But MWD doubts that most of the works in question are discussed outside The Grattan Institute’s book club.

Here’s some gratuitous advice about what Team Grattan should do in the lead up to Christmas.  Desist from telling politicians what they should read and spend the time saved by cleaning up their rooms (in accordance with the Teachings of the Prophet Jordan Peterson) and removing used gin bottles in inner-city Carlton (which is just a hammer & sickle throw away from Melbourne University).  And, in future, the Grattanites might focus on biographies – since the politicians who read books are often attracted to them.

[How frightfully interesting. This reminds me of the joke of the late anti-communist trade union leader Laurie Short. He told a story that when a departing trade union official was asked if he would like a book as an acknowledgment of his contribution to the union’s cause over the years, he replied – “Not really, I already have a book.” – MWD Editor.]


DOCUMENTATION

  • DR NORMAN SWAN POPS UP ON THE PROJECT AND 7:30 WITH A CHRISTMAS PROPHECY

It has been some time since Dr Norman Swan has appeared in Media Watch Dog. Your Man Swan, who identifies as “Australia’s Most Trusted Doctor”, was a mainstay of ABC COVID coverage throughout the pandemic. In 2023 he has mostly returned to his pre-COVID role as a health reporter for ABC TV’s 7:30 and ABC Radio National. This is a shame because Dr Swan’s COVID pronouncements made for good copy in Media Watch Dog – re which see MWD passim ad nauseam.

However, in recent days Swan, the former doctor-in-residence on the Network Ten reality weight-loss program The Biggest Loser, has popped up on TV twice to warn of an incoming Christmas COVID surge. First came his brief appearance on Ten’s The Project on 28 November, and then a longer piece for 7:30 on 5 December.

The good doctor, who hasn’t practised medicine in decades, offered up the usual COVID-avoidance advice during his appearance on The Project – wear masks, hold events outdoors, avoid crowds, get vaccinated, etc, etc. It’s unclear who in The Project’s (ever-dwindling) audience, or indeed the English-speaking world, is supposed to be hearing this advice for the first time.

Here is what Dr Swan had to say about the severity of COVID as we approach Christmas 2023:

Norman Swan: If you look at emergency department presentations, 35 per cent of people who come in with COVID are admitted. This is not a mild virus. And death rates are going up again.

It’s not clear from where Dr Swan is getting the claim that “death rates are going up again”. The various state health departments no longer release the daily updates on COVID death numbers that were a staple of the pandemic. However, the National Notifiable Disease Surveillance System death data shows COVID deaths have been stable, at around 5 to 8 per day, since August 2023. The latest COVID-19 mortality release from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) similarly shows COVID deaths declining since the most recent peak in May 2023.

As for Swan’s other claim that 35 per cent of people who present to emergency rooms with COVID end up being admitted, well this seems to be taken from the NSW respiratory surveillance report and is fairly accurate although (Dr Swan appears to have helpfully rounded up to the nearest 5 per cent).

However, it’s not clear why The Project viewers, or anybody else, should be alarmed by this figure, which has remained steady over the last year. What are viewers meant to take away from the fact that if they get COVID, and if they go to hospital, they have around a 1 in 3 chance of being admitted to hospital?

Surely the more important figure is how many people are being admitted to hospital with COVID? The NSW respiratory surveillance report shows this is currently around 200 per week, in a state with over 8 million people. This figure has been steady over the last month, it is up from a low in August of this year but still below the previous peak in May.

Dr Swan was so taken with his 35 per cent (if you round up a bit) statistic that he repeated it a week later on 7:30. He then added the following:

Norman Swan: COVID related deaths haven’t stopped either. In 2022 COVID was the third most common cause of death in Australians.

It’s not clear who Dr Swan thinks is claiming that COVID deaths have stopped, however they have declined significantly this year. Which might be why, during a discussion of the COVID threat in December 2023, Dr Swan chose a fact about COVID deaths from 2022. Your man Swan got this from the ABS, which did indeed report that COVID was the third highest cause of death in 2022. However, here is what the ABS had to say about COVID deaths in its latest provisional report about causes of death in 2023:

There have been 3,282 deaths due to COVID-19 certified by a doctor between January and August 2023. This is 58.0% lower than the 7,808 deaths recorded in the same period in 2022.

In 2022, according to the ABS, COVID deaths outnumbered deaths by cerebrovascular diseases, the fourth highest cause of death that year. They also report that from January to August 2023 deaths from cerebrovascular diseases outnumber those from COVID by almost 2 to 1. Clearly, COVID has not been the third most common cause of death amongst Australians for some time now. And yet instead of reporting up-to-date numbers, Dr Swan chose to reach back to 2022 for a more alarming, but less accurate, picture of COVID deaths in Australia during December 2023.

Christmas 2023 is not the only festive season Dr Swan decided to stretch the truth about. Here is how he began his 7:30 segment:

Norman Swan: You can almost set your watch by it. This pandemic got its start in the 2019 winter in China. And in Australia, the pandemic surges have included a COVID Christmas wave every year since.

It is certainly the case that Australia saw significant surges in COVID around Christmas 2021 (when Australia was first opening its international borders and ending lockdowns) and Christmas 2022. However, it’s a little strange to see Christmas 2020 getting thrown in with the others.

For those who do not recall the COVID situation in December 2020, a small number of COVID cases had been detected in the Northern Beaches area of Sydney, resulting in a localised lockdown being imposed on 19 December 2020. On 21 December 2020 Dr Swan said it was “breathtaking” that a mask mandate hadn’t been imposed and claimed that “You’ve just got to lock down greater metropolitan Sydney” and that “Christmas, let me tell you, will be a super-spreading event in Sydney if we don’t get this under control”.

The Berejiklian Coalition government in NSW ignored Swan’s dire warnings and the Northern Beaches lockdown was lifted on 9 January 2021. The number of cases detected during the outbreak totalled around 150. Perhaps Dr Swan believes this small number of geographically isolated cases counts as a “COVID Christmas wave”, or perhaps he is trying to rewrite history to prove his wayward prophecy correct.

 

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Until next time.

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