GERARD HENDERSON’S MEDIA WATCH DOG

ISSUE – NO. 668

9 February 2024

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EDITORIAL

  • KENNY SAYS BIAS, HENDO SAYS INTELLECTUAL FASHION – WHILE SARAH FERGUSON HELPS OUT WITH A SOFT INTERVIEW WITH THE PM AND A TOUGH ONE WITH THE OPPOSITION LEADER

Media Watch Dog is reluctant to use the word “bias” with respect to the ABC – preferring to refer to its lack of political balance.  It’s much the same thing.  It’s just that MWD favours the word usage associated with intellectual fashion rather than the blunter word bias.

Chris Kenny, who once worked for the taxpayer funded public broadcaster, does not present as being as well brought up as Gerard Henderson – and is willing to call bias, well, bias.  On The Kenny Report on 8 February, Kenny nailed what he termed the bias evident when comparing the interviews by ABC TV 7.30 presenter Sarah Ferguson with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese (6 February) and Opposition leader Peter Dutton (7 February).  An audio of Chris Kenny’s comments can be located on the Sky News Australia’s YouTube channel.

MWD did its own analysis of the two interviews.  Ferguson addressed soft questions to Anthony Albanese and aimed critical assertions at Peter Dutton. Both men handled their interviews well.

The Albanese interview went for 18 minutes and contained 8 interruptions – most of them of the polite kind.  The Dutton interview went for 16 minutes and contained 22 interruptions – most of them abrupt or critical.

MWD just loved Comrade Ferguson’s first question on 6 February to the Prime Minister:

Sarah Ferguson:  Now the Opposition is going to vote your tax cuts through.  Does that tell you that you got the politics right on this issue?

Guess what? The PM seemed comfortable answering the question. And this is how Comrade Ferguson’s first question on 7 February to the Opposition leader went:

Sarah Ferguson:  Was it humiliating to you to have to stand up and support Labor’s changes to the tax cuts?

Enough said.

And so, the interviews continued. Ferguson asked the Prime Minister whether he accepted that what he had done with respect to Stage 3 tax cuts “is also a politically astute move”. Easy, eh? Then the 7.30 presenter asked whether “it is true that people will be either the same or better off” under the Albanese government’s plan.  The answer was in the affirmative, needless to say.  Towards the end, there was this: “Do you now feel that…you have got your mojo back?” You get the picture.

The following evening, Ferguson literally offered Dutton the opportunity to praise Anthony Albanese referring, inter alia, to the PM’s “courage”.  The offer was rejected.  When Dutton accused Ferguson of praising the Prime Minister, she denied it. The presenter defended the Albanese government’s economic policy with respect to inflation and denied Dutton’s suggestion that she was an apologist for Labor.

Ferguson even saw fit to raise Malcolm Turnbull’s criticism of Dutton with Dutton – as if the former prime minister is a reliable source in assessing the character of a person whom he loathes.  She suggested – without evidence – that there was opposition to Dutton’s position on tax within the shadow cabinet. There wasn’t.

For its part, MWD just loved it when, throwing the switch to self-righteousness, Ferguson declared with respect to the ABC: “We acknowledge truth as it appears”.

Turn it up. This is the same Ms Ferguson who, in an expensive three part Four Corners special, alleged that Russia was responsible for Donald J Trump’s victory in the 2016 United States Presidential Election. And this is the same Ms Ferguson who did the Revelation documentary on ABC TV concerning the late Cardinal George Pell, which was littered with assertions unsupported by any forensic or documentary evidence.

All of the above has been documented in past issues of this blog. And now, Sarah Ferguson reckons that her good self, plus such ABC colleagues as Louise Milligan, always “acknowledge truth as it appears”. Another ABC presenter in denial.


  • THE SMH GIVES FLATTERY A BAD NAME WITH ITS OVER-THE-TOP FAWN OF “THE SYDNEY MORNING GITTINS” ECONOMICS

The 19th Century politician Benjamin Disraeli once said: “Everyone likes flattery; and when you come to Royalty you should lay it on with a trowel.”

As avid Media Watch Dog readers know, in the previous issue reference was made to the fact that the Sydney Morning Herald intended to devote its 7 February edition to honouring the 50th anniversary of economics editor Ross Gittins writing for the newspaper.  In other words, from the Sydney Morning Herald to “The Sydney Morning Gittins”.  For a day at least.

Talk about trowels. The SMH laid it on with a heavy loader.  Page 1 featured an illustration titled “Celebrating 50 years of Ross Gittins brilliance. The Herald marks a major milestone for the GOAT [a well-known cliché meaning Greatest Of All Time] of Australian journalism.  Special coverage Pages 8-13.”

Yes, Pages 8 to 13 – all six pages.  But there was more. All the letters on the two Opinion Pages (pp 22-23) were devoted to Ross the GOATalong with half of Page 24 which carried his weekly column – which is invariably on the most boring economic topic of the day.

It reminded Ellie’s (male) co-owner of the coverage in The Catholic Weekly when Mary McKillop was canonised.  Except Saint Mother Mary of the Cross was not praised to the same extent – since Christians believe in The Fall, Original Sin, the imperfection of men and women and so on.  Your man Gittins, on the other hand, believes in HIMSELF and appears to regard himself as being without stain as an economic commentator.

All up, there were 15 photos of the SMH’s GOAT including a pic of your man Ross standing in awe while in front of a picture of Ross the Younger.  Oh yes, there were also 8 drawings of Gittins the Great.

MWD was most moved by the published endorsement of the NSW dux of HSC economics in 2018 who said this about Saint Ross: “His articles were like scripture.”  So, there you have it. You’ve heard about Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – to which can now be added Ross – who, as MWD seems to recall, once banged a drum in a Salvation Army street band – which is a sure way to get to Heaven, depending on the (economic) traffic.

All kinds of blokes and sheilas stepped forward through the Sydney Morning Herald print edition to make a commitment to Ross – much like those who responded to the American evangelist Billy Graham, who urged those attending his 1959 rallies in Australia, to “come on down” from the audience to make a commitment to Jesus Christ.  Who, by the way, despite being called the Son of God (SOG) never accepted the term GOAT.  Obviously, the founder of Christianity was somewhat more modest than your man Gittins.

And what about Nine’s The Age in Melbourne – which carries the Gittins weekly column?  Well, it ran the column. But that was all.  The other ten pages or so it filled with real Gittins-free news and commentary.

What was interesting in the SMH’s Fawn Again Moment, is that neither of the two most important politicians in overseeing economic reform in Australia in recent decades – Labor’s Paul Keating and the Coalition’s John Howard – were quoted as praising Ross Gittins.  Those who praised your man Gittins were not responsible for introducing economic reform in the 1980s and 1990s.

Could this be because Gittins – unlike such journalists as the late Paddy McGuinness or the very contemporary Paul Kelly and Jennifer Hewett – was not in the vanguard pressing the need for economic reform at any time during the last half a century?

Yet, the Sydney Morning Herald on 7 February virtually ignored such news as the death sentence upon the Australian academic Yang Hengjun by a Communist Party of China court in order to tip praise all over Ross Gittins who has written much the same boring column every week for half a century. Can You Bear It?

  • NINE’s DAVID CROWE FEELS THE NEED TO TELL HIS READERS THAT NINE’S EDITORS SUPPORT HIM

While on the topic of Sydney Morning Herald (aka “The Sydney Morning Gittins”) columnists, consider the case of David Crowe – Nine newspapers’ chief political correspondent. To borrow a cliché, your man Crowe seems to fail upwards. His career at Nine newspapers, as an ABC TV Insiders  panellist and as a director of the National Press Club is thriving.  Despite his predictions about the outcome of the 2019 election and the 2023 Voice referendum being hopelessly wrong.  See MWD passim ad nauseam.

As MWD readers will recall, in the previous issue coverage was given to Peter Dutton’s comment, following the appointment of The Guardian Australia’s Katharine (“Malcolm calls me Murpharoo”) Murphy to Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s media office, that it was an “outrage” that David Crowe missed out on such a position. A good joke, in MWD’s view.  But not appreciated by the oh-so-serious Nine political correspondent.

On Friday 2 February, in a column titled “PM on target, Dutton distracted”, your man Crowe devoted half his words to defending himself from Dutton’s post.  In doing so, he decided to give the Opposition leader a lecture while backing his bestie Murpharoo’s appointment.  In short, Crowe didn’t get the joke.

Here’s an excerpt of the oh-so-serious Crowe defending himself in The Age and the SMH on 2 February – enlisting, in the process, the help of – wait for it – an anonymous former Liberal Party staffer.

Dutton could have kept his attention on tax. Instead, he responded with a post on X that tried to make a joke at Murphy’s expense by suggesting she had been too close to Labor. He took a similar swipe at me. It looked cheap and fell flat. It ignored a golden rule for an opposition leader: if you seek to become prime minister, act like one…. Advisers should not be targets, says one who worked for the Liberals for years….

Dutton did not need to be distracted. Yes, it was only a social media post, but even that can trigger talk about judgment. As for the opposition leader’s remark about me, the most important thing for readers and subscribers to know is that it will not change my coverage of federal politics. My editors back me….

That’s great news for Ellie’s (male) co-owner. Comrade Crowe has the support of his editors and he will not be changing his coverage of federal politics. MWD looks forward to more false prophecy from Nine’s political correspondent who, in his self-defence, did not acknowledge one error in his time as Nine’s political correspondent – while lecturing the Opposition leader about his (alleged) errors of judgment. Can You Bear It?

[I note that in Comrade Crowe’s regular Wednesday slot on ABC Radio National Breakfast program on 31 January, presenter Patricia Karvelas told Comrade Crowe that he is a “great reporter” and promised to talk to him about Peter Dutton’s post “next time”.  Next time was 7 February. The matter was not discussed.  Another broken promise – this time by a journalist. By the way, here’s a “Golden Rule” for political correspondents. It’s foolish to make political predictions – especially about the future. – MWD Editor.]

  • LIZ STORER GIVES FALSE ADVICE TO THE PM ON TAX

While on the topic of journalists/commentators giving advice to politicians, did anyone catch Liz Storer on Sky News’ The Late Debate on 6 February 2024?  Unlike the taxpayer funded broadcaster, Sky News’ opinion programs can contain some real disagreement and, consequently, debate.  This was evident with the inaugural edition of The Jury – presented by Danica De Giorgio on Sunday 4 February – where the various two-person panels disagreed with each other. Unlike ABC panels where everyone tends to agree with each other in a left-of-centre kind of way.

Debate also takes place on The Late Debate –  starring James Macpherson, Caleb Bond and Ms Storer.  For example, Comrade Storer believes that NATO is somehow responsible for Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine.  She is Australia’s very own Tucker Carlson, to be sure.  Messrs Macpherson and Bond do not fit into Vladimir Putin’s camp Down Under.

But MWD digresses, not for the first time.  On 6 February, Liz Storer elected to give Prime Minister Anthony Albanese a lesson as to how he could at least make some gestures to resolve the cost of living crisis affecting so many Australians.  Let’s go to the transcript where Ms  Storer looked down the camera lens and gave this advice to the PM:

Liz Storer: There’s so many simple, practical measures. Something as small as – just knock the GST off bread and milk. Eggs. Little things that you [Prime Minister] could do to be, like: “You know what, Australian public, I’m not saying it’s gonna be billions of dollars a week back in your pocket but we’re doing little measures to make life just a bit more affordable for you”. As opposed to yeah: “I robbed, I rob the rich to give to the poor –  call me Robin Hood”. Meanwhile, all your taxes are going up so much that 15 bucks [maximum tax-cut under the amended Stage 3 tax cut legislation] is already spent.

Well-intentioned advice, to be sure.  Except that, er, there is no Goods & Services Tax on such fresh food as bread or eggs or milk and has not been so since the GST came into effect on 1 July 2000. Can You Bear It?

[Eh no, not really – now that you ask.  I note that Mr Bond immediately changed the topic with this remark – which suggests that he was not listening to Ms Storer’s free advice to the PM.  This is what he said: “By the way, James, the reason I drink so much is because I have to work with you.” Well that’s his excuse.  The reason why Ellie’s (male) co-owner allegedly drinks is that, as I understand it, he suffers from a medical condition called thirst. Especially at Gin & Tonic Time. – MWD Editor.]

  • ADAM HARVEY REMEMBERS LOWITJA O’DONOGHUE: BUT ONLY AFTER FANGING THE LATE JOHN KERR

This is how on 6 February, the ABC 7.30 commenced its coverage of that fine Australian Lowitja O’Donoghue, who died recently, with footage of her receiving an Order of Australia award in 1976:

Adam Harvey, reporter:  Into the pomposity of Sir John Kerr’s Government House.

Announcer: The Order of Australia.

Adam Harvey:  Enters a real trailblazer, Lowitja O’Donoghue.

Sir John Kerr, Governor-General:  Congratulations. It is a very high honour.

Lowitja O’Donoghue:  I feel proud not on my own behalf, but I think for the sake of Aboriginal people.

So ABC TV’s 7.30 saw fit to score a point against the late Sir John Kerr while remembering the late Lowitja O’Donoghue.  However, the footage suggests that Kerr treated O’Donoghue respectfully and without pomposity.

Moreover, the Office of the Governor-General during Kerr’s time was no more – or less – pompous than was the case during the time of his predecessor (Sir Paul Hasluck) or successor (Sir Zelman Cowen).

It’s just that Comrade Harvey seems to be a member of the left-wing “Kerr’s-a-Bastard” Club of recent memory. So much so that he thought it appropriate to bag Kerr first up, before covering Dr O’Donoghue’s brilliant career. Can You Bear It?


  • ABC’S DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION REPORT DOESN’T INCLUDE ANY DIVERSITY AMONG ABC’s STAR PRESENTERS

Every year, the ABC releases an annual Diversity and Inclusion report, detailing what the ABC is doing to reach its various diversity targets. When the ABC says diversity, it means anything but political diversity. Perhaps the ABC feels the need to share the steps it has taken towards more diversity in a report, because you won’t see much evidence of it in the ABC’s prominent television and radio presenters.

With Stan Grant’s exit, the ABC is looking as white as ever. As MWD has pointed out ad nauseam, the faces of the prominent ABC presenters could make up a sight screen at a red ball cricket match.

Not much appears set to change at the ABC this year. Once someone has hung around the ABC for long enough, they rarely leave – not even to increase the diversity the ABC is apparently committed to – they just move around the ABC.

Fran (“I’m an activist”) Kelly, who left Radio National Breakfast, then hosted a short-lived television talk show, is hosting Saturday Extra. Former Saturday Extra host Geraldine Doogue is hosting a new radio program with Hamish Macdonald, who used to host Q+A, called Global Roaming. After leaving ABC Radio Melbourne Breakfast, Virginia Trioli is hosting an arts program on ABC TV. And don’t forget the Chaser Boys (average age 48 ½) who are embedded all over the structure of the ABC like a persistent termite infestation.

In the comedy department, Shaun Micallef returns with an “unnamed project” after leaving last year to make room for new talent. Unfortunately for people who enjoy comedians that are funny, Charlie Pickering returns with more of the dreadful The Weekly. Spicks and Specks, the music quiz/comedy show that first aired in 2005 and refuses to die, returns in 2024 with much of the original cast. And of course, more Gruen, with more of the same.

Boring. Oh so boring.

Speaking of boring ABC comedy, The Weekly, hosted by Charlie Pickering, returned this week. The Weekly recently featured heavily in the comedy blog Australian Tumbleweeds Awards 2024 – the only awards more prestigious than MWD’s Five Paws Award – taking away first place in Worst Topical or Satirical Show, and Worst Sketch or Short Form Comedy. Well done, Comrade Pickering.

This week’s The Weekly opened with a very self-aware segment from Margaret Pomeranz, former At the Movies presenter, where she mocked the style of the show, called satire “a word aptly used for humour that isn’t funny” and identified herself as the best part of the program. The rest of the show featured comedian Rhys Nicholson trying to get an ADHD diagnosis and Eric Bana giving Charlie Pickering acting lessons.

If you were hoping for something different from the ABC this year, don’t hold your breath.


  • COMRADE JOSH TAYLOR FROM THE GUARDIAN PLUGS THE GUARDIAN ON ABC TV NEWS BREAKFAST

Wasn’t it great to see The Guardian/ABC Axis in operation again? – this time in the Newspapers segment on ABC TV’s News Breakfast on Friday 9 February.  Here’s how the exchange commenced:

Emma Rebellato: So, for a look at what’s making news in print and online this morning, we’re joined by reporter for The Guardian Australia, Josh Taylor. Josh, good morning.

Josh Taylor: Good morning.

Emma Rebellato: Let’s start with an article from The Guardian. This is about the seat of Dunkley. What’s going on there?

Josh Taylor: Yeah, so, obviously, the by-election coming up following the death of Peta Murphy. We’ve got some polling that shows that two-thirds of voters in the seat actually were quite in favour of the [Albanese Government’s changes to the] Stage 3 tax cuts. That seems to be replicated in, sort of, the polling that we’ve seen nationally. So, it seems to be overwhelming support for it. Labor’s just ahead according to the polling, in terms of this seat. But that is within the 3 per cent margin of error, so it’s still a very, sort of, tight race.

How’s that for The Guardian/ABC Axis at work?  ABC co-presenter threw the first question to The Guardian’s Comrade Taylor which focused on The Guardian.  Quelle Surprise!

Your man Taylor went on to say that “it’s hard to see Labor losing” Dunkley.  Which could be correct.  The point here is that The Guardian appears to have ready access to News Breakfast as befits a leading program on the taxpayer funded public broadcaster. Which is a conservative free zone.

Come to think of it, regular guests on the Newspapers segment include a soviet of leftists.  There’s Josh Taylor from The Guardian plus Ebony Bennett, Polly Hemming and Richard Denniss from the leftist Australia Institute plus such miscellaneous leftists as Imogen Crump, Emma Shortis and Gael Jennings.

MWD  cannot name one political conservative who appears regularly on News Breakfast.  Also, such right-of-centre institutes as the Robert Menzies Research Centre (in Sydney), the Institute of Public Affairs and the Robert Menzies Institute (in Melbourne) seem to have been de-platformed by the program.  Indeed, MWD cannot recall even one political conservative who appears regularly on News Breakfast. It’s very much a program that sees The Guardian/ABC Axis and The Australia Institute entente in action.


YOUR TAXES AT WORK

  • JENNY HOCKING’S THE SEARCH FOR THE PALACE LETTERS – A FLAWED ONE-SIDED TAXPAYER FUNDED WORK

As avid Media Watch Dog readers know, the ABC is a conservative free zone without one conservative presenter, executive director or editor for any of its television, radio or online outlets.  So, it came as no surprise when the taxpayer funded public broadcaster ran the documentary titled The Search for the Palace Letters concerning the 11 November 1975 Dismissal of the Whitlam Labor government by Governor-General Sir John Kerr. The Search for the Palace Letters starred Emeritus Professor Jenny Hocking – commencing at 8 pm on Monday 8 January – during what some commentators call the “Silly Season” since no ratings are recorded.  The Gough Whitlam admirer Jenny Hocking is a Kerr antagonist. No surprise then that The Search for the Palace Letters was a very comradely affair. This is how the emeritus professor at Melbourne’s Monash University describes herself on X:

Prof Jenny Hocking @palaceletters

Award winning author The Palace Letters, biographer Gough Whitlam, Lionel Murphy, Frank Hardy.

“Official historian of the Australian left” – Gerard Henderson!

And this is what Opening Credits of the documentary say:

Emeritus Professor Jenny Hocking AM FASSA has spent much of her career studying Gough Whitlam and the dismissal.  Her partner, Director Daryl Dellora, has documented her journey to release the Palace Letters for this film.

And here are the Final Production credits:

Financed with the assistance of DOCUMENTARY AUSTRALIA

Developed and produced with the assistance of VICSCREEN [Victoria]

Developed with the assistance of SCREENWEST [Western Australia]. The producer acknowledges the support of Screen Australia through the Producer Equity Program [Commonwealth]. The film makers gratefully acknowledge the support of more than 100 individual donors in the making of this film.

What the credits didn’t say was that tax deductible donations to the project could be made to Documentary Australia. In short, The Search for the Palace Letters made by Film Art (i.e. the leftist film-maker Daryl Dellora) and starring his leftist partner Jenny Hocking – was essentially funded by taxpayers before being shown on the taxpayer funded ABC TV and into the future by the ABC’s iview.

In spite of being essentially funded by taxpayers, The Search for the Palace Letters is a leftist tract designed to advance the conspiracy theory that Buckingham Palace in general, and Queen Elizabeth II in particular, conspired with Governor-General Sir John Kerr to dismiss Gough Whitlam’s Labor government on 11 November 1975.  The film did not advance any motive or evidence for such an (alleged) action by the Queen and her advisers.

Jenny Hocking has written two books on this issue – namely The Dismissal Dossier: everything you were never meant to know about November 1975 – the Palace connection (MUP 2015; second edition 2017) and The Palace Letters: The Queen, the governor-general and the plot to dismiss Gough Whitlam (Scribe, 2020). And now there’s the documentary The Search for the Palace Letters.

Comrade Hocking has also written about the Dismissal in Gough Whitlam: his time (MUP, 2012; revised edition 2017).  Along with her two-volume Whitlam biography, she has also written biographies of such left-wing heroes as Lionel Murphy and Frank Hardy.  All of this work appears to have been paid for by various taxpayer funded salaries, grants, tax concessions and the like.

In view of this, it would be reasonable to expect that the ABC would insist on some balance in The Search for the Palace Letters before running the documentary. But no.  The documentary only hears from Jenny Hocking (at length) and her lawyers Tom Brennan SC and Antony Whitlam KC, along with former Liberal Party prime minister Malcolm Turnbull.  Turnbull, who wrote the introduction to The Palace Letters, is a critic of Kerr’s decision to dismiss Whitlam and complained in the film about Kerr’s “stomach churning….sycophantic grovelling”. Enough said.

In this sense, The Search for the Palace Letters  is not a documentary but rather a case for the prosecution against the former Australian governor-general and the late Queen.

Gerard Henderson wrote a critique of The Search for the Palace Letters in his Weekend Australian column on 13 January 2024 see here.  Here is some additional criticism of the flaws in Hocking’s taxpayer funded work in film and in print.

  • Jenny Hocking is an antagonist of Sir John Kerr, whom she regards as having brought down her hero Gough Whitlam. Early in the documentary, Hocking claims that Kerr’s “letters and speeches often written in his own indecipherable hand…got even more indecipherable after lunch”. Hocking cites no evidence for this smear. Moreover, if Kerr’s writing was indecipherable before lunch – then it is difficult to see how it could have become more so after lunch. But there you go.
  • In the documentary, Hocking claimed that Kerr “always claimed he acted alone”. Not so. In his autobiography Matters for Judgment (1978), Kerr acknowledged that he sought advice from (then) Chief Justice of the High Court Garfield Barwick and one other person whom he did not name. It was High Court Justice Sir Anthony Mason. See below.
  • In The Search for the Palace Letters (2024) and in her various books on this topic, Hocking claims that she broke the story that Anthony Mason was the other person to whom Kerr spoke. This is simply false.

John Kerr told Gerard Henderson about Mason’s role in the Dismissal in the late 1980s.  Barwick confirmed this discussion in an interview with Henderson on 17 May 1990.  Kerr had asked Henderson not to reveal the information about Mason while Mason was still on the High Court.  Henderson concurred.

However, in an interview on the ABC TV documentary series A Life in January 1994, Garfield Barwick told Bruce Donald that John Kerr had requested that he ask “Tony Mason, who had been Solicitor General, what he thought” about how to handle the blocking of supply. Barwick added that Mason said that what Kerr “was doing was right”. Donald did not follow up with further questions. Later in the week in the Sydney Morning Herald and Sunday Age, Henderson revealed that, some years previously, Kerr had told him that he sought Mason’s advice prior to the dismissal and that Barwick had advised that, at Kerr’s request, he had checked his opinion with Mason. In his book A Radical Tory (1995), Garfield Barwick confirmed that Mason had agreed with the substance of his written advice to Kerr.

Hocking’s The Palace Letters was published in 2020 – over two decades after Mason’s role in the Dismissal had been revealed by Barwick and Henderson.  There is no reference in the text to Henderson’s revelation.

Some commentators agree that Kerr was correct in dismissing Whitlam – because Opposition leader Malcolm Fraser had blocked supply and Prime Minister Gough Whitlam wanted to govern without supply.  Others disagree – many of whom believe that Kerr should have consulted Whitlam before dismissing him – despite the fact that Whitlam had let it be known that he (Whitlam) would dismiss Kerr before Kerr dismissed him if such an eventuality occurred.

However, few commentators deny that the governor-general has the constitutional power to dismiss a prime minister in a situation where supply is blocked.  Except for Hocking – who told viewers of The Search for the Palace Letters:     

Jenny Hocking: Kerr was actually Whitlam’s fifth choice as governor general. But even so, he would never have questioned the suitability to that role, and Whitlam believed it was a largely ceremonial position. Only the most ardent monarchists in 1974 entertained the view that a governors-general had any real power. And that’s why 1975, it was just such a great shock. This was the first time a governor-general had ever dismissed an elected government. And the first time the reserve powers of the crown had been used to dismiss a government since 1783.

This is superficial.  Sure, no governor-general in Australia has used the reserve powers to dismiss a government.  But in 1932 the governor of NSW, Sir Philip Game, used the reserve powers to dismiss the Lang Labor government. In 1975, Whitlam, Kerr and more besides were aware of this 1932 precedent.

  • Hocking is of the view that, on 11 November 1975, Kerr should have accepted Whitlam’s advice to call an election for half of the Senate – since it was possible that a strong Labor performance in such an election might have left Labor with a majority in the Senate, sufficient to pass the supply bills. This overlooks the fact that the overwhelming majority of senators elected in a half-Senate election in mid-December 1975 would not have taken their places in the Senate until 1 July 1976. But money to fund the Commonwealth Government was already running out in December 1975.

In her 2020 book The Palace Letters, Hocking claimed that when the Coalition threatened to block supply in early 1974, the (then) governor-general Sir Paul Hasluck granted Whitlam a half-Senate election (see Page 216). This is hopelessly wrong.  Hasluck gave Whitlam a double-dissolution election in 1974 (not a half-Senate election) – as Kerr gave Fraser (who had replaced Whitlam) a double dissolution election in 1975.

There is nothing new in The Search for the Palace Letters, an expensive taxpayer funded documentary which was filmed over four years.  In their book The Truth of the Palace Letters (MUP, 2020), Paul Kelly and Troy Bramston document that Kerr made his decision to dismiss Whitlam on his own behalf – since only he had the power to dismiss a Commonwealth government. For the record, the authors are highly critical for Kerr, but for different reasons. In the event, the Coalition attained big election victories in mid-December 1975 and again in December 1977.

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As Jenny Hocking acknowledges, Kerr always wanted his correspondence with the Palace to be released.  The Palace was concerned that if this material was released, it would set a precedent with respect to the Monarch’s other realms.  Professor Anne Twomey also attempted to attain access to the Palace Letters. But Hocking had both the time and financial support to prevail – after a victory in the High Court.

The problem was that having attained legal success, Jenny Hocking used the material to advance her conspiracy theory that the Queen was involved in Kerr’s decision to dismiss Whitlam.  Not so.  Indeed, as the Palace Letters reveal, Kerr was intent on not involving the Palace in the dismissal.

A documentary on The Dismissal, following the release of the Palace Letters – that was fair and balanced – would have made an important contribution to an understanding of Australian history. However, this is not what The Search for the Palace Letters delivered.  It was the taxpayer funded work of a Kerr-antagonist and a Whitlam fan which ran a left-wing line.

To the late left-wing activist John Pilger, the Dismissal was a CIA conspiracy. To  Jenny Hocking, it was a conspiracy involving Buckingham Palace.  To Media Watch Dog, it was a choice between two stubborn politicians which was resolved – to the agreement of some and the disagreement of others – by Sir John Kerr. After that, Australian politics continued as before.

In March 1983, the Hawke Labor government was elected, intent on not governing like its Labor predecessor Gough Whitlam. Malcolm Fraser did not return to politics. In time, like Malcolm Turnbull, he became a critic of the Liberal Party – and also of the late John Kerr

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Until Next Time

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