ABC gives up papers – and duty of journalism

Gutless ABC abandons the first duty of journalism

The ABC began the week with a brilliant “scoop” of getting its hands on a truckload of secret documents chucked out by the Prime Minister’s and Cabinet Department in Canberra.

The ABC gave its audience just ONE story – that the Abbott Government and former immigration minister Scott Morrison conspired with ASIO to deliberately delay granting temporary visas to refugees – before giving all the documents back to the Turnbull Government.

It was one of the greatest dingo acts that I have seen in 50 years in journalism. Having got hold of documents wantonly thrown out by the Department of PM&C, the cringing toadies at the ABC returned them. The very least they could have done is copy them and keep publishing or put all of them online for the general public to read on the internet.

In spite of this, the ABC had the cheek to pat itself on the back and claim that its “integrity” and “independence” was safe as ever. Really?

“National security” was never an issue. The only thing at stake was preventing the public from reading the scale of the scandalous misbehaviour of various Cabinet ministers and senior bureaucrats.

The self-congratulatory message from ABC management is further complicated by its roaring celebration of the Hollywood movie The Post in which the “courage” of Washington Post owner Kate Graham and editor Ben Bradlee is acclaimed for publishing Daniel Ellsberg’s Pentagon Papers in defiance of the courts and the Nixon White House.

The movie would not have been made if Mrs Graham and Mr Bradlee gave the “top secret” document back to the Nixon administration and declined to publish it. Instead of becoming one of the moments of courageous journalism it would have gone down in history as one of journalism’s most infamous and craven episodes.

Multi-award-winning journalist Brian Toohey agrees. In an opinion piece for the Australian Financial Review, Toohey wrote: “What sort of journalism is that? The ABC’s treatment of what it calls one of the ‘biggest national security breaches in history’ is a disgrace. After it obtained confidential Cabinet papers it put the identity of its source at risk, but reported very little from the documents, preferring to talk at length about how it got them before handing them over to the government.”

His column was headlined: “The ABC’s filing cabinet kowtow to ASIO and the government was gutless.” (AFR, 6 February 2018).

Media’s fake fears

With utter predictability, the Turnbull Government is going to amend the new National Security Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference) Bill 2017 to exempt journalists.

PM Turnbull with Attorney General Christian Porter

It is a calculated move to win over the mainstream media as Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull prepares the way to call a Federal Election. Like lambs to the slaughter, top media executives now feel that they owe Turnbull a favour!

In the feverish coverage before Attorney-General Christian Porter announced his exemption for the media, I read one front-page article in Rupert Murdoch’s Australian by Ean Higgins that the laws would make it immensely more difficult for reporters to carry out their “legitimate work”.

Since the vast majority of them are not carrying out that “legitimate work”, and have never done so, it was difficult to know what he was muttering about.

Another headline to catch my eye read, “News leaders unite to resist spy laws that could criminalise journalism”, by Dana McCauley who was the first journalist in Australia to name a (now dead) journalist as an alleged sex predator.

The media’s case was made laughable when it was revealed (see above) that the ABC had returned all the documents thrown onto a garbage tip by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

The ABC has no compunction about publicising unproven allegations of sexual misconduct against actors Geoffrey Rush and Craig McLachlan, or searching the sheets on Barnaby Joyce’s bed, but it declines to publish Cabinet documents that constitute genuine public interest journalism.

Bill Shorten not home yet

Everyone who thought that the next Federal Election would be a shoo-in for Bill Shorten’s Labor Party had better start thinking again.

The election presents itself as a winnable proposition for Labor because Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is such an unlikeable, arrogant and self-regarding oaf.

Shorten, Albanese and Plibersek

But there’s something missing in this calculation. Despite the fact that Labor has defeated the Coalition in the past 26 consecutive Newspolls, Turnbull remains preferred prime minister, beating Shorten by a country mile (45% to 31%).

Even worse for Shorten is the news that he is not the most popular leader in his own party. Voters prefer Tanya Plibersek (25%) and Anthony Albanese (24%) over Shorten who comes third (22%).

Over the past 12 months Turnbull has emerged as a grand larcenist: he’s fleeced Labor of many of its vote-winning policies and left Shorten looking flat-footed. Here are some examples:

  • Same sex marriage. This ALP vote-winner was stolen by Turnbull, turned into a voluntary postal survey and resulted in a triumphalist moment for Turnbull.
  • Banking royal commission. Another ALP vote-winner which Turnbull ruled out but has now ruled in.
  • Closure of Labor’s offshore detention centres on Manus Island and Naura. US President Trump has committed his administration to keeping open the CIA’s gulag at Guantanomo on the partially US-occupied island of Cuba. Australia’s offshore prisoners will be offered flights home or cells and orange suits on Guantanamo “while they are processed”.
  • A new-fangled education plan called Gonski2 which renews full funding of private and “faith” schools.
  • No Federal funding for the Adani rail line from central Queensland to the coast near Bowen and the Great Barrier Reef. This is a Melbourne by-election “commitment” by Turnbull to match Labor and the Greens as votes are delivered in Batman.
  • A pledge by Turnbull to consider the establishment of a federal anti-corruption commission. The Greens started the ball rolling, then Shorten belatedly joined in and now Turnbull has adopted the policy. To dissociate himself from the effective 30-year history of the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) Turnbull wants another name for his oversight body with politicians and senior public servants protected from public hearings and naming and shaming.
  • When a scandal broke over funding for clients and carers belonging to the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) and Shorten committed a future Labor government to full proper funding, Turnbull quickly equalled it. Once again, a policy difference went out the window.
  • Turnbull will now give a parliamentary apology to the victims of institutional child sex crimes. It is an utterly cynical move by Turnbull to claim ownership of the royal commission into sex crimes at religious schools and institutions as well as sports bodies and state custodial agencies, when the record shows that it was Labor initiative introduced by Labor PM Julia Gillard. In the media, however, Shorten will be sidelined again.

There are other examples of the hapless Shorten having his policy war chest burgled by Turnbull. The overall effect has been to leave him looking slightly threadbare.

What policies will he stand on? What manifesto will propel voters into the polling booths to vote Shorten into The Lodge? Do they believe him any more than Turnbull? Will they both say anything to get elected? Seems like it.

Most voters are begging for tax rorts for the rich such as negative gearing to be axed, but Shorten is terrified of the “class warfare” label being posted on him by Turnbull and the Murdoch media.

For jittery Labor backbenchers the question is whether voters will be any more motivated by Ms Plibersek or “Albo”, leadership contenders from the “hard left”. But they don’t want negative gearing touched either.

Federal Treasurer Scott Morrison’s next budget is on May 9. It promises Trump-style corporate tax cuts and tax exemptions for the rich. Turnbull will sell it as a recipe for “jobs and growth”. When translated this means “jobs” for the boys (and selective girls) and “growth” in their income.

How Shorten responds to this Goldman Sachs manifesto will decide his political fate … and Turnbull’s.

The Lowy family unplugged

Australia’s richest family, Sir Frank and all the little Lowys, Peter, Steven and David, like to own things and control them.

Frank Lowy with sons Peter, left and Steven, right

Take the game of soccer in Australia, for example. It is virtually a subsidiary of Lowy Inc. When Frank stepped down as chairman of the Football Federation of Australia Limited, his son Steven stepped into the role. There was no election; he simply took over the family business.

Frank Lowy’s knighthood was granted in 2017 by British Tory Prime Minister Theresa May and he was personally awarded by QEII at Buckingham Palace allegedly for “his contribution to the UK economy and philanthropy”.

It was a dream come true for the former Zionist terrorist from Israel’s Haganah group whose business life has been marred by run-ins with auditors from the Australian Taxation Office.

In 2010 he was given $46 million in taxpayers’ money to persuade FIFA to award Australia the 2022 Football World Cup. He spent all the money … and gathered just one vote (his own?).

David Downs, CEO of the US bid, told writer Ms Bonita Mersiades, author of Whatever It Takes, that the Australian bid had “no consistency of message”.

Downs said: “They’ve managed their relationships so poorly. It’s hard to find someone who likes the Australian bid team. We hear reports all the time about how they’ve put people off everywhere. None of us can understand how you can have that much public money and do so poorly.”

Every attempt to find out what happened to the large fund of taxpayers’ dollars has come to nothing. The matter appears officially closed.

(Qatar won the 2022 bid in a highly controversial decision, now being contested.)

Late last year when FIFA (under new management) and the Aussie clubs wanted greater democracy in the administration of the Australian game, the Lowy family objected and told FIFA to butt out.

There is an ongoing struggle, but because the Lowy family controls so many purse strings it is difficult to see any dramatic changes in the near future.

Ange Postecoglou

Meanwhile, the Socceroos have lost their much-respected coach Ange Postecoglou. It is an open secret that he didn’t get on with the Lowys. Apparently, the Lowys wanted a “star” international coach and not someone, like Ange, from the suburbs of Melbourne.

It is said that Postecoglou would stand up to the Lowys; he insisted on picking his own team and playing his own tactics.

Maybe some time in the future when soccer is in a post-Lowy space, Postecoglou (or some other Australian) will become the national coach.

Lowy looms large at AGNSW

The over-arching Lowy influence is also felt at the Art Gallery of NSW, a publicly-owned cultural institution since the 1890s.

Hungarian-born Frank Lowy (he maintains he is a Czech) was president of the gallery’s Board of Trustees, followed by David Gonski, the former deputy chairman of the Lowy-owned Westfield Holdings, followed by Frank’s son Steven (now boss of Football Federation of Australia) and now followed (again) by David Gonski.

In other words, the Lowy/Westfield crowd have run the AGNSW, one of the State’s most important arts bodies, for almost 30 years.

As head of trustees, a Who’s Who of Sydney billionaires, the Lowys are pushing for the $344 million vanity project called Sydney Modern. (Wags at the gallery say that if it is ever built it should be called Westfield Gallery in honour of the Lowys.)

The Betoota Advocate artist’s impression of the AGNSW

The family wealth is so vast that it could easily pay for the pharaonic extension over the top of the Royal Botanic Gardens but the family’s contribution so far is estimated at $10 million. Meanwhile, 14 staff have been employed in the money-raising department. Fourteen! The money could be better spent on exhibitions, curators, educators, additional parking, library needs, a covered walkway etc etc.

In case you hadn’t noticed, the Lowy family is unloading its global Westfield shopping centres to French-based shopping chain, Unibail-Rodamco.

The new owner is visiting Sydney, New York and London as part of due diligence. After all, the French company has made a staggering $33 billion offer and the investors have wisely decided to see that they have not over-bid.

All should be revealed at the Lowys’ final Westfield annual general meeting in Sydney on April 11. Their extensive public relations machine is already preparing a “narrative”.

Canberra “rednecks” at large        

NSW Liberal MP Craig Kelly and Nationals Senator John “Wacka” Williams have called a special meeting of the Parliamentary Coalition to block all future support to the electric car industry.

They want to censure Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg after he predicted the number of electric vehicles would grow from 4,000 to 230,000 within seven years, and to one million by 2030. The Coalition’s rednecks were horrified. Now they are gunning for Frydenberg and want to silence his forecasts.

Chinese electric cars in production

Meanwhile, Beijing is the world’s biggest manufacturer of electric cars with over one million to be produced in the next 18 months. China’s auto industry is predicting one of out every five cars will be run on electricity by 2025. China’s push is forcing manufacturers from Detroit to Yokohama, and from Seoul to Stuttgart to pick up the pace of their conversions or risk being left out of the world’s largest car market.

Moral of the story? Boneheads in Canberra are blocking the advance of Australian manufacturing, technology, innovation, health care and environmental protection. Much of Australia’s rising talent is being pushed overseas just as the smug torpor of the Menzies era sent talent offshore in the 1950s and 1960s.

This simply can’t be allowed to go on.


  1. I remember as editor of Bega District News at age 27 (I’m now 71) writing an editorial “Late for Dinner Indeed”, referring to the then National Minister and local MP, Jack Beale, not visiting his good constituents in Bega (South Coast). Beale wanted to sue the National Party friendly newspaper. I had done my homework; he might have driven through Bega twice in a year and had a beer at a local pub, but no representative duties. Not surprising , he and his wife (pearls) were recipients of opulent gifts from a Japanese company running the Eden chip mill. The lesson for journalists is patience and attention to detail: Check out every conceivable acceptance and appearance at invitations (don’t ask the Minister’s office or they will appear overnight!)

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