Alex Mitchell’s Notebook

Stay indoors, practice social-isolation and wear a mask when you go outside. But please read independent (non-Murdoch) current affairs and stay informed. It’s FREE. No paywall. This edition’s menu: Scott Morrison rewards his maaates with gongs; ABC ratings go sky high; Noam Chomsky on climate change and Black Lives Matter; List of unwanted words; my cousin Margaret Shannon RIP; Quote of the Week, Headline of the Week, Spike Milligan’s last laugh, and more.

QE2’s Honours List fiasco

PM Scott Morrison’s Honours List for 2010 gave gongs to three of his favourite people – former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, former NSW Premier Mike Baird and former NSW ALP general secretary and senator, Graham Richardson.

What a trio – the “mad monk”, the CBD merchant banker and “Whatever-it-takes” Richo.

Other Morrison favourites are the list were former North Shore MPs and Liberal Cabinet ministers Philip Ruddock and Bronwyn Bishop.

Former Queensland National Party senator Ron Boswell was named Officer in the Order of Australia.

Former Victorian Premier Denis Napthine (2013-2014), a lifelong Liberal, veteran and failed politician, was awarded the Officer in the Order of Australia.

Mike Pezzullo: right-wing bureaucrat

Mike Pezzullo, head of the Department of Home Affairs and one of Canberra’s most right-wing bureaucrats, became an Officer of the Order of Australia.

Pezzullo, one of the architects of the “stop-the-boats” policy and now pushing tougher security laws and anti-China legislation, got his gong for “leadership roles in areas of national security, border control and immigration”.

As a faithful servant of Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison, Pezzullo has earned his gong. But I wonder whether it makes him sleep any better?

Michael James Carlton slipped through the Liberal Party’s net. The brilliant broadcaster, journalist and author Mike Carlton of 2UE won fame in the 1960s and 70s before taking London by storm in the 1980s (at LBC). His award is one of the few occasions when the award-givers got it it right. [I reckon he should have held out for a life peerage or a knighthood: he certainly deserved it.] He accepted his gong with good grace. And don’t worry, folks, he remains a republican.

The ABC wins vast audience

Last year’s bush fires, followed by the choking smoke hazard, disastrous floods, the COVID-19 pandemic and then contradictory messages from politicians have sent Australians to their radios and TV sets to catch news from the ABC.

Whenever the country is involved in war – WW2, Korea, Vietnam, Bougainville, East Timor, Solomon Islands, Afghanistan and Iraq – the same thing happens. The main difference this time is that the catastrophe is located in Australia itself.

Among most Australians there is a firm perception that news reports from the ABC, the nation’s public broadcaster, are safe, reliable and accurate. The reputation is well-earned. Several generations of journalists, technicians, producers and programme-makers have worked long hours on pay levels that are below their commercial rivals to create a tradition of reputable news-gathering.

As BBC presenter Evan Davis said in London recently: “At times of crisis, everyone turns to the wireless.”

However, while audiences across Australia have turned to the ABC as the COVID-19 crisis has raged, politicians have stepped up their attacks on the ABC, its coverage and its journalists. Instead of giving the publicly-owned corporation proper funding to do its job, the ABC is being crippled financially and Rupert Murdoch’s media has been given “leaks” to launch attack after attack. Every day Murdoch’s Australian publishes an article, comment or editorial berating the ABC. It’s demented.

Instead of matching its coverage with its reputation, the ABC is suffering an attack of the jitters. Some of its coverage is merely selling the Morrison Government’s line.

Appalling stories of “scams” are being put to air. Scoundrels and chancers are launching fake charities to raise money from naive and unsuspecting people.

Let’s have a stiff dose of scepticism in the ABC’s news-gathering. People expect it.

Noam Chomsky berates PM Scott Morrison

Noam Chomsky

MIT Professor Noam Chomsky has denounced US President Donald Trump as the “world leader” in fossil fuel production.

“Anyone with open eyes knows that we are now facing a potential human catastrophe that may literally end organised human life in any tolerable form,” the 91-year-old academic, philosopher and social activist said.

“There are three States that are not only refusing to join these efforts but are acting to accelerate the crisis: Trump’s United States, which is in the lead; Bolsonaro’s Brazil, which is destroying the Amazon; and Morrison’s Australia.”

Morrison made world headlines as Treasurer by turning up in Parliament in February 2017 with a lump of coal and shouting at the Opposition: “This is coal. Don’t be afraid. Don’t be scared.”

Scott Morrison and his lump of coal

Turning to the furious wave of street protests against police killing of African-Americans, Chomsky said: “Death rates from the pandemic are far higher among black people. Americans living in counties with above-average black populations are three times as likely to die of coronavirus as those in above-average white counties. It is deeply rooted in a hideous record of 400 years of malevolent racism. The plague has been taking different forms since the establishment of the most vicious system of slavery in human history – a prime foundation of the country’s industry, finance, commerce and general prosperity.

“Black people are deemed permanently unassimilable in a society that is cursed by racism and white supremacy.

“The protests are not just calling for an end to police brutality in black communities, but for much more fundamental restructuring of social and economic institutions.

“Trump has one overriding concern; his own welfare. He has sent in the military to teach the ‘scum’ a lesson they’ll never forget.”

The age of slavery: A Congolese father stares at the severed hand and foot of his five-year-old daughter, punished for not collecting enough rubber for Belgian King Leopold II. Today people complain because a statue of Leopold is torn down in Antwerp.

Political lesson from history

Like the overwhelming majority of people in Western liberal democracies I grew up believing that when things went wrong in society the Prime Minister or the Premier were to blame. If the cost of living soared, taxes went up, unemployment spiked, the value of shares and the Aussie dollar went south, and Australia’s good  name was rubbished at the UN for chronic racism against Australian Aborigines.

I knew exactly who to blame: the Prime Minister.

When it comes to State affairs, I apply the same view. Late and unclean buses – the Premier; overcrowded trains and ferries running randomly – the Premier; traffic jams, detours, road closures and bitumen repairs at peak times – the Premier; privatising public buildings to political mates and spivs – the Premier; stuffing up residential and commercial water supplies and burst mains – the Premier; overcrowding classrooms and sacking teachers – the Premier; handing out huge cash grants and sponsorship rights to the NRL, lavishing money on sport events while crucifying support for actors, singers, musicians and writers – the Premier.

As a teenager learning to vote, I believed there was a simple way to overcome these difficulties: vote out the Prime Minister/Premier responsible for causing untold grief and elect the opposition party which had another leader.

But what if the leaders of the main parties are in agreement? What if after the election the new party continues with the same policies as its predecessor?

For many decades, this has been the situation. Prime Ministers and Premiers have come and gone but the policies have essentially remained the same. Voters though they had got rid of privatisation and out-sourcing, but after the election, the new crowd implemented it with gusto. The rowdy scenes in Parliament are pure theatre: it’s a phoney war to kid the voters and give the Press Gallery something to write about.

The advent of the COVID-19 plague has thrown these questions into sharp relief because leaders in Western liberal democracies – despite bouts of shadow-boxing – are in fierce agreement. Haven’t they all adopted the mantra “We’re all in this together”? Aren’t Opposition parties fully supporting “wartime” measures taken by left-wing and right-wing governments around the world?

Political differences between the two sides have disappeared or become incidental and trivial. At the same time, they have adopted a policy model, neoliberalism, which made them indistinguishable. Their chief purpose of this new governmental ideology was to defend the system of capitalism. Voters didn’t matter.

The so-called “left” doesn’t have a leg to stand on because its function was to provide ample cover for the right-wing as it shifted from reform of the system to propping up the system. They are now “hollowed out” veterans who sit around bars copping free drinks and talking about the “good old days” of Curtin, Chifley and Whitlam.

Today, in the 21st century, I don’t wish to vote for Tweedledum or Tweedledee. I may have to vote Labor in a tactical sense, but I won’t do so with any confidence that “Albo” will change course. Increasingly, however, the NSW Greens under David Shoebridge and Jenny Leong are looking like serious contenders. Federal Greens leader Adam Bandt is emerging too; he desperately needs more MPs in Canberra’s House of Reps. After the virus, I think I’ll go Green, Climate Change, Education, Science and Culture and stuff all the others. (To be continued)

The British going to vote. Same applies almost anywhere.

Words I won’t be using

I have a serious aversion to banning words. In the past, it has been a prelude to banning books, usually followed by paintings and music. And we all know where that leads.

However, language has been so polluted by the importation of ugly words that the best thing to do is never use them.

For example, I refuse to use the word “double-down” although it has found its way into widespread usage on radio, television and the press.

I won’t be using “helicopter money” either. Trendy expressions like “LOL” and “OMG”, used by commentators in their copy to suggest they are “hip”, are also on my don’t-use list.

The other day, I was shocked to hear a radio news reader tell me that a government report had been “furloughed”.

In America, profiteering by companies, large and small, is called “retail arbitrage”. We are supposedly surrounded by “survivors”, “victims” and “first responders” but I don’t fall into any of these categories, and never have.

Similarly, I take exception to the word “elderly” because it conjures up an image of a doddering fool who has lost his/her marbles, wears ill-fitting clothes and wanders around shopping centres talking to themselves.

Some words are just tired clichés which most of us have grown used to: Sydney’s North Shore is always “leafy” and every day there is a new “epicentre” of the Coronavirus. Almost every phone call I receive starts with the question: “How are you feeling today?”

I feel like replying, “Shithouse,” and hanging up. But being too well-mannered, I say, “I’m feeling great. How about you?”

PS: If you want to add to my list of words that you will never use, please email them to me.

How a single death ends an era

My cousin Margaret Shannon with my brothers Jim (right) and Jeff Mitchell

Margaret Shannon, my first cousin, died in Brisbane this week aged 100. After a fall in which she cracked some ribs and other bruising, she moved into a home where she had care seven days a week. She never made it back to her precious home in Zillmere.Margaret was independent-minded, cultured and loved books, art and travel. Her parents were Central Queensland grazier Jack Shannon and Edith Shannon, née Wilesmith. Edith was the elder sister of my late mother, Lucy Mitchell, née Wilesmith.

The Wilesmiths were bush people who worked tin mines around Herberton on the western edge of the Atherton Tableland.

Brisbane historian Tom Freeman has written a fascinating account of the Wilesmiths’ pioneering role in the area in the 19th and early 20th centuries: “GOLD EXPEDITION TO STANNARY HILLS – The epic journey of Christina and Joseph Wilesmith” Tom Freeman 2015.

The Shannon’s eldest son, John, was killed in a bombing raid over Hamburg harbour during World War II, causing grief which suffocated family life for decades after.

Margaret Shannon was devoted to her children and talked about their lives with enormous pride. She shared many of my own mother’s interests and when the two of them got together for a “cuppa” they were like sisters.

Margaret’s death brings an era to an end. It’s difficult to explain; but just imagine Henry Lawson or Banjo Patterson has died.       

Quote of the Week

“It’s a bit like somebody who played rugby union for Australia and is now watching from the grandstands. There are times when you feel you’d like to get the boots, put the boots on, and get back onto the field. Once the selectors have put you in the grandstand, they almost never change their mind.”

  • Former prime minister Tony Abbott speaking after he was named a Companion of the Order of Australia in the Queen’s birthday honours list.

Tombstone of the Century

“I told you I was ill”

  • Spike Milligan’s epitaph on his grave at St Thomas’s Church, Winchelsea, East Sussex. He died in 2002, aged 83.
Tombstone reads in Gaelic “Dúirt mé leat go raibh mé breoite” – I told you I was sick

Headline of the Week

Bottle thrown from flat just misses woman

  • Nottingham Post, England

Image of the Week






  1. Alex, sad to hear that Margaret has passed, she was certainly a refined and pleasant person who I had the pleasure of meeting on a number of occasions.
    A “leaf” has fallen from the Wilesmith tree, but hundreds will replace her.

  2. I quite understand why you choose NOT to be a neologist, Alex. I find, though, that I am one of those people – to a lesser extent for sure – but I think I came UP with a ‘bewdy’ of a new word the other day: ‘COUPLEDOM’ to kinda explain how my bride Jennifer and I, through the midst of this infernal corona virus pandemic and these continuing grim ISO times, are ‘making COMPANIONSHIP in to an Art Form’.

    Separately, Condolences on the passing of your dear cousin, Margaret Shannon. If I knew her she would, of course, get an honourable mention in the Passing Parade section of my UPcoming annual Wattle Day Newsletter [#15].


  3. “Heads up” is my ..personally….most detested saying….particularly so because it seems endemic throughout Anglicare (owners of my retirement village). Every second email &/or newsletter is either boasting of Management giving the “heads up” to someone or other….or else giving we poor residents the same “heads up”…..either out the door or to the local funeral home.
    Enough already! Maybe the Catholics have a better way of expressing things ?

  4. Fascinated and also sorry to hear about your cousin Margaret upon her passing after a remarkable innings. I knew nothing at all about your family Alex until reading this. Now suddenly I KNOW them, a little more enlightened about the fertile soil from which your fierce honesty emerged. What a blessing. It’s like charging into the fray knowing there’s a troupe behind you who love and back you unconditionally.

    So many words in common parlance have come to be irritants. Maybe it is a lazy outcome of electronic texting. One word I nominate, often used by pollies, though I know I maybe being a bit unfair perhaps, is HUBRIS. Such a gorgeous sounding word from the ancient Greek, which almost softens and dignifies its nasty meaning. Why not simply take the glove off and say SELF-INTERESTED CONCEIT, or ARROGANT SMUGNESS, instead of trying to sound like a classical scholar!

  5. Alex, my condolences on the death of your cousin, Margaret, whom I never met. She sounds a very special and cultured person. It was good to see the picture that included your brother, Jeff, who, as you know, was in my class at school.

  6. The odious Tony “lifestyle” Abbott – thanks for that demolition and for referencing the dark lord Pezzullo – the Dutton Svengali! After I returned to Australia from my many years in Japan it was not so much words/phrases themselves which caused my head to twist in a kind of shock at changes which had apparently slipped into frequent or common usage during my absence – but pronunciation changes such as “Terror Tory” (one of Boris’ chums, perhaps) which used to be “Terra Tree” – as in the Northern Terra Tree!

  7. Hi Alex – Thank you for your timely piece highlighting how out- of- touch the q2 awards have become. Until I read your article I was unaware that bronwyn bishop and phil ruddock had also managed to clamber aboard the bandwagon to join a farcical line-up of other undeserving politicians who all just happen to be to the right of the soup spoon. I looked to see who was responsible for this debacle and the mists cleared. The chairman of the council is a former liberal party apparatchick ably advised by the treacherous matthias cormonn. Throw in the heir to the myer fortune and you get a good idea how this discredited fiasco persists. I wondered how Ruddock made the cut, but likely for services to inhumanity for his hard-line on refugees and for blatantly ignoring international law when he denied them the right to seek legal advice. Or it might have been for sheer brazenness before he was caught double dipping, copping a $200,000-plus pension while pocketing the same as a human rights envoy. Don’t get me started on bronwyn who adds to her $250000 pension by vilifying socialists on sky news after dark . Surely the revolution is not far away.

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