Canberra Press Gallery stuff-up

This week’s “exclusives”: 1) Canberra Press Gallery stuffs up; 2) Trials and tribulations of Mr Assange; 3) Whatever happened to Ellen Fanning? 4) The Marise Payne & Stuart Ayers Show; 5)  Frank Lowy: billionaire ex-terrorist; 6) Shock-horror: Irish MP blasphemes; 7) Albanese Quote of the Week

Press Gallery in major stuff-up

The 1,000-odd accredited members of the Canberra Press Gallery were presented with a live gold-plated “scoop” this week but they didn’t know what to do with it.

Early on the morning of Monday 14 October, the Morrison Government’s “talking points” advisory was inadvertently sent to the Press Gallery. These are the political instructions compiled by Morrison and his leadership team – Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, Attorney-General and Minister for Industrial Relations (union-bashing) Christian Porter and Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, the current Nationals leader – with other senior ministers attending if specific “talking points” need rehearsal.

An unnamed eager beaver in the Press Gallery saw the Morrison Government’s “talking points” on his computer and phoned the Prime Minister’s Office to inform a junior official of the bungle.

I’ve been told a second message was sent to the Press Gallery withdrawing the pages of “talking points” and adding that the email was the property of the Government and should not be disseminated.

Amazingly, the gallery fell into line. Morning talk show hosts made hilarious references to the bungled email but none of them – so far as I know – reported the contents. In their view, it wasn’t a story at all; it was an amusing mistake.

Some Press Gallery wits composed their own “talking points” and despatched their jokes to followers.

How things have changed. When I worked in the Canberra Press Gallery there was no internet or email. But if a Menzies Government official had dropped ministerial “talking points” into our pigeonholes it would have been the story of the day.

We would have picked the most controversial items from the “priorities” list and sent them through to our head offices all over Australia.

Laurie Oakes: doyen of a very different Press Gallery

In not reporting the Morrison Government’s “talking points” the Gallery has made itself look ludicrous and tame as a tabby cat. The Gallery’s website proudly proclaims that its members have “watched and recorded the activities of the nation’s elected represented” since Federal Parliament first sat in 1901.

It goes on: “We are still doing the same job today. The Press Gallery plays a vital role in the life of the Parliament. The media is an essential part of democracy and something we should not take for granted. An informed electorate is essential for democracy.”

This week these noble aims were trashed. Instead of being “the eyes and ears of the people” they collectively decided not to embarrass the Morrison Government. Can anyone imagine Laurie Oakes, Max Walsh, Mike Willesee, Eric Walsh, Trevor Kennedy, Rob Chalmers, Brian Johns, Max Newton, Peter Luck, Richard Carleton or Michelle Grattan taking the same view?

The case of Julian Assange

Julian Assange

The establishment of a worldwide committee to campaign for the restoration of Julian Assange’s passport to allow him to return home is one item of special interest in the Morrison Government’s “talking points”.

The document says: “ASSANGE. The Australian Government cannot interfere in the United Kingdom’s legal processes, just as another country cannot interfere in ours. We appreciate that some members of the public feel very strongly about Mr Assange’s situation but it is important to remember that Australia cannot intervene in the legal processes of another country. Mr Assange will be entitled to due process, including legal representation, in those processes.”

In other words, a load of official flannel hiding the fact that the Morrison Coalition Government is prepared to let Mr Assange, an acclaimed Australian journalist, rot in jail in either the UK or the US.

Barnaby Joyce: call to defend Assange

To my knowledge, Barnaby Joyce, the former Deputy Prime Minister and Nationals leader, and some Greens MPs are the only public figures to take a stand and support Mr Assange’s return home.

At the end of August the state delegate conference of the NSW Greens passed a motion condemning successive Federal Governments for “failing to defend” Mr Assange and calling for him to be “brought home and given the support and services he needs”.

The Labor Party has dropped the Assange case under pressure from the pro-American right wing and the political cowardice of the so-called “hard left”. If the ALP can’t defend the legal and professional rights of an Australian journalist, why would anyone expect it to defend the rights of working people, single mothers, aged care residents and their carers?

Assange’s support team grows

Some eminent Labor Party figures, frustrated by the line of the ALP, have acted individually by adding their names to a campaign to stop Mr Assange being put on trial in the US for treason.

Ex-CIA officer John Kiriakou

John Kiriakou, a former CIA agent, writer and whistleblower, has declared Mr Assange a “Prisoner of Conscience”. In June this year he wrote: “I believe unreservedly that Julian Assange is a journalist, a publisher, a whistleblower and a Prisoner of Conscience. His revelations of US war crimes were examples of exactly what a journalist and publisher should be doing. His actions meet the legal definition of whistleblowing: Bringing to light any evidence of waste, fraud, abuse, illegality, or threat to public health or public safety. And he is clearly a Prisoner of Conscience, incarcerated for his belief in transparency and that all governments should be accountable for their actions.”

In a letter to the Julian Assange Defence Committee dated 17 May 2019, Amnesty International rejected any assistance for Mr Assange saying: “Julian Assange’s case is a case we are monitoring closely but not actively working on. Amnesty International does not consider Julian Assange a Prisoner of Conscience.” Amnesty International denied any help for Chelsea Manning declaring she was “not a Prisoner of Conscience” either.

Kiriakou received the same treatment when he fell foul of the CIA for whistleblowing. He took he case to Amnesty’s London headquarters where a senior executive told him: “Sorry. They just don’t believe that you’re a whistleblower or a Prisoner of Conscience.”

Philip Ruddock: supports Amnesty, not Assange

Lawyers around the world were appalled and many resigned from Amnesty in disgust. But not former Howard Government Attorney-General Philip Ruddock. He continues to wear his AI badge ostentatiously and defends Howard’s illegal and amoral refugee policy.

A US blogger Rodion Raskolnikov claimed earlier this year Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have been subverted by the appointment of new board members selected by billionaire financier George Soros. Raskolnikov wrote: “The whole ‘civil society’ movement has been corrupted by money from people like George Soros or Israeli-linked foundations. They use these as propaganda fronts. This is very sad.”

US charges escalate

Originally charged with 17 counts of espionage by a Grand Jury driven by the Pentagon and CIA, the WikiLeaks co-founder was ordered to face another 17 new charges in May by the Trump administration.

The new charges accuse him of receiving and unlawfully publishing the names of classified sources under the pre-World War One Espionage Act. It said Mr Assange had “repeatedly encouraged sources with access to classified information to steal or provide it to WikiLeaks to disclose”.

“We are all Julian Assange!”

For the record, the WikiLeaks file was vetted by a team from the US Government and the names of all US officials were redacted. Leading newspapers from around the world published the WikiLeaks file – but no editor, proprietor or journalist has ever been charged.

A WikiLeaks statement rejected the US legal assault saying: “This is madness. It is the end of national security journalism and the First Amendment of the US Constitution.”

The First Amendment, adopted on 15 December 1791, guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of the press and became one of the 10 amendments that constitute the US Bill of Rights.

As US charges against Mr Assange have doubled, so has support for his plight. The global campaign is gathering strength because Mr Assange’s case has become widely recognised as a fight for basic rights.

At a march in support of Julian Assange earlier this year, a protester carried a placard which read:

“They came for Julian Assange and I said nothing, because I’m not a journalist.”

What happened to Ellen Fanning?

In the 1980s, the Australian media was shaken by the arrival of a new voice. It resonated with audiences across Australia for three reasons: it was a woman’s voice, it came from Queensland and it was on the ABC, aka the boys’ club.

Ellen Fanning: a muted voice

Ellen Fanning was destined for a stellar career. Opportunities fell at her feet. In the early 1990s she was despatched to Washington and New York to cover US politics. It added the title of “foreign correspondent” to her CV. And she earned it.

Then the wheels fell off. Lured by a giant salary and a free ticket to anywhere in the world, she joined Channel Nine’s current affairs stable. The ABC’s cheque book wasn’t big enough to compete with Nine’s and so she left the public broadcaster.

Nine and then Seven commercialised and commodified her. She joined a line of TV princesses who read stories from an autocue and spent hours in the make-up room and choosing costumes to wear.

There is no evidence she enjoyed the experience. She probably hated it.

Now Ms Fanning is back at the ABC as co-host of The Drum, but her talent has been eviscerated. She toes the line. She tip-toes through stories with a gentility of a ballet dancer.

She doesn’t rock the boat. Indeed, The Drum has become a media training ground for right-wing Liberals who desperately want a public profile followed by a seat in Federal Parliament, either in the House of Reps or the Senate.

I can’t count the number of fumbling idiots from the Liberal Party or the Young Liberals who have appeared on ABC programmes and then progressed to safe seats or cushy jobs in Canberra.

She didn’t start a media career with this in mind. Few do. Most of the good ones, male and female, began with the intention of “changing the world”. In fact, the world changed them.

A golden couple

Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne and NSW minister Stuart Ayres

Senator Marise Payne, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and her partner Stuart Ayres, NSW Minister for Jobs, Investment and West Sydney, trouser half a million dollars-a-year plus expenses. When they retire, their joint parliamentary pensions – as former Cabinet ministers – will be colossal.

Marise Payne is Foreign Affairs Minister because Julie Bishop was Foreign Affairs Minister and Prime Minister Scott Morrison needed a female politician to take Ms Bishop’s place or all hell would break out on social media.

Pastor Morrison decided to appoint a female politician to replace Ms Bishop to avoid incendiary commentary about his party’s “woman problem”.

Julie Bishop with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi: insulted

Ms Bishop managed to insult China, Russia, Iran, the UN and the Palestinians and become known as the worst Australian Foreign Minister since Alexander Downer, aka Lord Downer of Baghdad.

In his former role as NSW Sports Minister, Stuart Ayres almost singlehandedly brought down Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s Coalition by building football stadiums at huge public expense and tearing down others for no good reason.

The public’s rage was incendiary. The then Labor Party leader Luke Foley unfurled the election-winning slogan that an ALP government would build schools and hospitals instead of football stadiums. When Foley crashed out of the Labor leadership, the anti-stadiums policy went with him.

The Payne & Ayres show

Ms Payne, 55, and Mr Ayres, 38, i.e. 16 years younger, operate as a tag team. They described themselves as long-term “domestic partners”. When the word “cougar” was once mentioned within earshot of Senator Payne she rolled her eyes and said: “It’s just us. It’s not an issue. It’s who we are.” Quite right too. Their relationship is nobody’s business but theirs.

On Tuesday, October 8, Ayres announced that Sydney would host the international maritime Expo, Pacific 2019, at Darling Harbour Convention Centre in early October.

The NSW Government, i.e. the long-suffering taxpayers, will be “principal sponsor” of the Expo which will “showcase” the arms industry.

Slipping into his admiral’s uniform, Ayres said: “NSW has been home to the Royal Australian Navy for over a century and the NSW Government is working to support an expanded naval presence into the future.”

It’s a deal: Marise Payne with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Washington

Consider this: just back from Washington and New York, Senator Payne held private talks with President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The subject? Getting Australia to shoulder greater defence responsibilities in the Pacific and Far East.

The Pacific Expo at Darling Harbour fits perfectly into the Payne-Ayers partnership and the Morrison Government’s anti-China “pivot”.

The sickest joke of all is that we are footing the bill.

Billionaire philanthropists

Will someone please pass a sick bag? Watching Australia’s billionaires elbowing each other out of the way as they rush to advertise their philanthropy is vomit-inducing.

On hearing that one billionaire was splashing a fraction of his/her wealth at some social ill, the others swung into action. They wanted to do some “do-gooding” too.

So we have the unpleasant sight of Mrs Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest handing out cash for the family’s favourite Aboriginal charity, Gina Rinehart throwing spare change at a great Northern Australian project, and “Uncle” Frank Lowy giving Australian governments, Federal and State, a lecture on increasing infrastructure spending.

Frank Lowy: telling government how to spend our money

Under the front-page headline, “Frankly, a nation needs building”, the SMH reported on October 15 that Lowy was worried about the country’s “sluggish economy” and he wished to urge Canberra “to lift its infrastructure spend”.

He argued that the Treasury should lift capital expenditure (that’s taxpayers’ money, by the way) “to keep the country at the top end of the ladder”.

When decoded, Lowy means that more public money should be allocated to private developers so that they can all become wealthier than they are already.

He has just paid cash at 24 hours’ notice for a historic building at 31 Bligh Street in Sydney’s CBD to house his imperialist thought tank, the Lowy Institute. In the Herald interview he re-invented the story of the launching of the institute. Previously, allies of former Prime Minister Paul Keating pushed the plan; now it was one of his sons, Peter, who was responsible.

Nowhere in the interview did Lowy address his tax stouches with the Australian Taxation Office (ATO), nor was he questioned about his previous career in Israel as a member of a secretive Zionist terrorist group responsible for killing Palestinians defending their homeland and British soldiers trying to keep the peace.

After building ugly warehouses in Australia and across the world and calling them Westfield department stores, Lowy has the cheek to lecture Australians about “nation-building” and infrastructure spending. Will someone tell the diminutive billionaire in the shiny suit to shut it? His views on economics, politics and history aren’t worth two bob.

An outspoken MP

Joan Collins, an Independents 4 Change MP, upset the religious snobs in the Irish Parliament, the Dail, when she attacked the Budget presented by the pro-business Fine Gael party and its junior partner Fianna Fail.

Irish MP Joan Collins: “How dare you?”

It isn’t the first time in her chequered political career that the Dublin-born politician has raised controversy. A former Post Office clerk, she has previously belonged to the United Left (2013-15), People Before Profit (2007-13), United Left Alliance and Socialist Party (1996 – 2004) and Irish Labour Party (until 1898). Elected to Dublin City Council in 2004, she made headlines in 2011 when she confronted Prime Minister Bertie Ahern on the day he retired with a $200,000 a year pension just as workers’ wages were being cut and taxes increased. TV cameras captured the moment she told Ahern he had “no shame” and added, “How dare you?” These are the very same words used at the United Nations in New York by 16-year-old Greta Thunberg, Sweden’s climate activist.

Joan Collins first entered the Dail in 2011 on the ticket of United Left Alliance but now represents Independents 4 Change, a party she co-founded with a fellow Dublin City councillor.

In her latest headline-grabbing controversy she told fellow TDs: “Two weeks ago I raised what I believe is a crisis of poverty in this country, to go alongside the crises in health, housing and homelessness. Dealing with those three critical areas in an urgent and effective manner should be the litmus test of any government.”

Looking around the largely empty chamber, she added: “This budget says loudly, ‘Crisis? What crisis?’ I notice there are very few here from Fianna Fail or Fine Gael. You’re not here, you’re not listening, you don’t care and to put it bluntly for the amount of phone calls I’ve had from constituents over the last 24 hours, you just really don’t give a fuck.”

Will someone rush smelling salts to Senator Michaelia Cash, the softly spoken Federal Employment Minister from WA?

Quote of the Week

“The party’s internal culture needs to change … there is a recognition across the party from senior levels down to rank-and-file members that the culture has to change. The culture, whereby the general secretary makes a directive and people fall into line, needs to change.”

  • Federal Labor Leader Anthony Albanese, a Sussex Street machine politician who loyally worked alongside eight deplorable general secretaries – Graham Richardson, Steve Loosley, John Della Bosca, Eric Roozendaal, Mark Arbib, Karl Bitar, Matt Thistlethwaite, Sam Dastyari, Jamie Clements and Kaila Murnain.







  1. Brilliant stuff Alex. Pity you are not in the Canberra Press Gallery, but perhaps some will learn from your latest analysis, even a journal like the self important Peter Greste, whose name I mention because he’d squirm at your gutsy advocacy for Julian Assange. On this crucial human rights case, the COWARDICE of Morrison & Co let alone the GUTLESSNESS of the ‘what is a human right ALP?’ can only be used in case studies of human rights abuses. When the next Come the Revolution is crafted, would you also encourage the odd journalist to break their silence on the betrayal of the Kurds.

  2. I just loved this post Alex. We must stay united in our struggle for Assange. The world has always been a better place with Whistle-blowers bravely walking the walk and talking the talk. Democracy depends upon such folks. Also may I say this post has fed my creative social anger…I will employ the phrase “How dare you!” with great gusto when I feel my Irish rising.

    All I can say Alex is keep socking it to ‘them’ …you give ‘us’ the courage to chant “how dare you” to the war-mongers, the breed of homo-economic marketeers, the Planet destroyers, the child abusers, the money launderers, the greedy and global leaders who are paving the way towards Global Fascism.

  3. Rob would have pounced on that “slip up” of “talking points” like a cat on a mouse.
    Gloria Chalmers

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