The Weekly Notebook – two coups

Before the fall: ABC chair Justin Milne with Michelle Guthrie and Malcolm Turnbull

Two coups, two victims – what’s going on?

Two major public figures have been executed in recent coups in Australia – Malcolm Turnbull was despatched as prime minister on August 24 and Michelle Guthrie as ABC managing director on September 24.

In subsequent media coverage the executioners could not, or would not, explain why Turnbull or Guthrie had been overthrown, nor what sins they had committed.

Citizens anxious to know the reasons why two major figures had suddenly fallen from grace were dismissed out of hand. In place of an explanation, they were given the so-called “mushroom treatment”: “They were kept in the dark and had shit poured on their heads twice a day.”

There seems little doubt that Guthrie’s sacking at the ABC is linked to Turnbull’s overthrow as PM four weeks ago. The twin events demonstrate that there is a poisonous fall-out following the Liberal Party coup against Turnbull and it is ongoing.

Scores are being settled with utter savagery and Guthrie is the latest victim in this continuing warfare.

Guthrie was appointed for five years to the top ABC job on a salary package of $900,000, twice the salary received by her predecessor Mark Scott.

Her appointment in December 2015 was a “captain’s pick” and the “captain” was none other than Malcolm Turnbull. Only a few weeks earlier, on September 20, he had ousted Tony Abbott.

His choice received enthusiastic support across the media on the grounds that Guthrie was the “first woman” to lead the ABC as if merit and values meant nothing.

A timely warning

In my Weekly Notebook on December 25, 2015, I expressed grave doubts about Guthrie’s ability to lead the ABC:

“Up until now, Ms Guthrie has been nothing more than a backroom corporate lawyer, a legal fixer for the Murdoch empire. She has no experience whatsoever of public broadcasting. Unfortunately for Ms Guthrie nobody can ‘learn’ public broadcasting. It’s something you believe in or you don’t. Believers are passionate about public broadcasting because they recognise its central role in the superstructure of any civilised, democratic country. Public broadcasting embodies the cultural ambitions of a country and it plays a critical role in formal and civic education and therefore in advancing the economy. The ABC sets the highest standards for journalism, drama, music and current affairs: that’s why is scoops the Walkley Awards almost every year and receives exceptional recognition at the Logies and other arts awards ceremonies.

“There are literally dozens of Australian men and women with the experience and vision to become the next CEO of the ABC. So why recruit a corporate lawyer from the Murdoch empire? To sugar this ill-advised appointment, the spin doctors are presenting it as a ‘first-female-head-of-the-ABC’ triumph.”

This week’s ABC staff protest

Guthrie was Turnbull’s pick

Why did Turnbull, a former communications minister in Abbott’s regime, choose Guthrie? Her CV showed that she had spent her whole adult career as a corporate lawyer working on taxation issues for media mogul Rupert Murdoch on London, Singapore, Hong Kong and Sydney, and then for Google (Asia). These were definitely not the credentials for the top job at the ABC, but they appealed to Turnbull and, more importantly, his then big-time supporter, Rupert Murdoch.

The obvious candidate for the ABC job was the front-runner Kim Williams, a passionate supporter of the ABC. He was a former senior executive at Musica Viva, the Australian Film Commission, the Sydney Opera House and CEO of News Ltd where he gathered exceptional experience in TV, print and digital media.

Turnbull brushed aside Williams’ candidacy at the last minute and named Guthrie, a virtually unknown candidate. She just happened to be Murdoch’s preferred candidate as well.

Turnbull and his wife Lucy (Hughes) thought that Guthrie’s appointment would secure favourable treatment on the ABC and News Ltd-owned media.

These transactional arrangements are not new. Murdoch has been using them for decades: you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours. It is President Donald Trump’s preferred method of negotiating as well.

However, transactional deals are fragile and fraught. If one side refuses – or can’t deliver – their side of the arrangement, it collapses in a festering heap.

That is what has happened to the three-way transactional deal between Murdoch, Guthrie and Turnbull: it collapsed in the tumultuous weeks prior to Turnbull’s overthrow.

Guthrie’s ABC and Murdoch’s News Ltd empire turned their big guns on Turnbull; they joined the Roman Catholic Church which was spending hundreds of millions of dollars to stop the implementation of Gonski 2.0 which gave a greater share of funding to State schools and squeezed the Catholic, faith-based and private sectors.

ABC chairman’s knife work

The third eminent figure in Guthrie’s sacking was ABC chairman Justin Milne – another Turnbull favourite who had previously headed Telstra and the NBN.

Milne and Turnbull are very old friends. Their association goes back to the time when Turnbull made a fortune from Ozemail, the email server discovered by Sean Howard (not Turnbull as is often claimed).

Milne has earned his career in public life by serving his masters with total loyalty. He is a liegeman (dictionary meaning: “a vassal who owed feudal service or allegiance to a nobleman”) who strapped his career to Turnbull’s.

Emma Alberici

Emails which surfaced this week show the chain of command: Turnbull emailed Milne calling for the sacking of economics reporter Emma Alberici (as demanded by low-rent hacks on the payroll of Rupert Murdoch) and Milne sent the sack instruction to Guthrie. After taking advice, Guthrie declined to sack Alberici but gave her an official warning and put her to work as a humble finance reporter in the Ultimo newsroom.

Turnbull and Murdoch and Milne were dissatisfied with the outcome: Ms Alberici, an exceptionally talented London correspondent and presenter of Late Line, still had an ABC job and her trio of highly placed enemies were furious.

This week’s email revelations prompted an enraged reaction from staff, particularly in Sydney and Melbourne, where motions were passed demanding Milne’s resignation. By targeting staff on behalf of Canberra politicians, Milne showed he had not the slightest idea about media tradition or culture. A refugee from the “fat cats” boardroom, he resigned under immense pressure on Thursday  protesting that his departure was”not an admission he had failed to protect the ABC’s independence. Absolutely 100 per cent not.”

He became the third casualty of the Turnbull, Guthrie, Murdoch axis of evil and knives are still flashing in the Liberal Party, around  the Wentworth byelection and the ABC.

When Turnbull was ousted by his own party room in late August, Milne’s career went into freefall. But before resigning, Milne had one final favour to deliver. Channelling Donald Trump’s starring role in “The Apprentice”, Milne told Guthrie: “You’re fired.”

When subsequently asked why she was sacked, Milne couldn’t explain. He could hardly say, “Because someone (unnamed) told me to”, so he avoided giving an answer.

It was like the baffling obfuscations given by Scott Morrison after he replaced Turnbull. He could not explain why Turnbull was overthrown either.

Guthrie: a disaster waiting to happen

ABC staff, from the champagne crowd to the lowliest casual, came together this week to celebrate Guthrie’s departure. There was some sympathy for Guthrie for the vicious way she lost her job, but employees were still reeling from the wholesale sackings that she approved during her brief regime.

Staff unrest reached its peak a few weeks ago when Guthrie began her “ABC Recognition” project. She asked staff to go online and honour colleagues for their work effort and for “championing ABC values”. Send them ABC postcards featuring a character called “Larry”, she implored.

It was one of those lame-brained suggestions which float like air bubbles in the offices of overpaid consultants and people wearing black suits and lanyards.

Guthrie trilled in an email to persecuted staff: “Those who are recognised will have the opportunity to attend industry events, go behind-the-scenes at different ABC productions, attend a celebratory event in Sydney, and receive other great products such as Google headphones.”

This hilarious waste of time and money is a poor genuflection to Murdoch’s annual awards to hacks and crawlers who conduct the boss’s political and culture wars in his Oz media. People like Sharri Markson, Paul Kelly, Paul Murray and Miranda Devine.

One of the ABC’s operatives told the media: “Our ABC-wide program [ABC Recognition] gives all our employees an opportunity to acknowledge their peers and enables us to build on existing recognition programs. We continue to look at the best ways to recognise our employees.”

Second hand Google headphones are about to be remaindered all over Sydney as the Guthrie era is consigned to the dustbin of history. Send her a consoling “Larry”.

Michelle Guthrie at Senate Estimates alongside back-stabber Communications Minister Mitch Fifield

Guthrie’s conga-line

One post-sacking report argued that Guthrie failed to build a team of followers. “She was incapable of bringing people along with her,” an unnamed “source” told The Australian (September 25).

This isn’t true. She had a conga-line of followers who spent much of their time praising Guthrie to the heavens and deploring any “negative” comments. They comprised the highly-paid imports, paper shufflers and consultants who became her Praetorian guard against increasingly rebellious staff and an angry public audience fearful of the ABC’s dive into the cultural swamp.

Women’s media groups were notable apologists too as they ridiculed any critic of Guthrie as “sexist” or “misogynist”. Sadly, a few notable male journalists, afraid to stand up for free speech, joined the censorship crowd as well. Today all of them are licking their wounds in the aftermath of the Guthrie debacle and the shabby treatment of Aberici.

Will these six-figure salaried drones now have the decency to hand in their notice? Probably not – who would want to hire them?

From the very beginning Guthrie’s chief apologist was Jim Spigelman, the former ABC chairman, who welcomed Guthrie to the ABC with gushing praise.

When she was sacked this week, Spigelman came out of retirement to heap more praise on his benighted failure, still claiming she was the best thing in the ABC’s long history.

Loyalty is one of Spigelman’s great virtues, but there comes a point when it turns into its opposite. The former NSW Chief Justice should get out more …

Headline correction (this is a joke!)

The Sydney Morning Herald front-page headline on Tuesday, September 25, 2018, read, “Chaos reigns at the ABC”. It should have read, “Chaos reigns at Fairfax”. We apologise to readers for any confusion caused by the error.

Scott Morrison tries legacy-building

Australia’s latest Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, the sixth PM in 11 years or, if you prefer, the fifth in eight years, has followed in the footsteps of his predecessors by calling a royal commission.

Morrison has chosen the scandal-ridden aged care sector because it offers a marvellous opportunity for grandstanding and media publicity. It potentially opens the door to industrial scale tax rorting and financial abuse by “faith” institutions.

In spite of what PMs might claim, royal commissions serve a deeply political purpose as well as a highly personal one. They are NOT about discovering the “truth” about some public scandal, they are principally about building the PM’s legacy.

He or she is doing something for the history books and grabbing their own place in them. That is why politicians spend so much time with their spin doctors deciding on the precise wording of the royal commission’s Letters Patent, the written document from the Governor-General setting out the terms of reference of the inquiry.

The old adage is true: don’t call a royal commission unless you are satisfied in advance what the answer will be.

Scott Morrison on the aged care beat

In the case of Scott Morrison’s proposed royal commission into aged care I think we can sketch the course of the commission and its findings: (Another joke!)

Chair Jedediah Ezekiel Von Ausgang III, pastor of the Holy Federation of Angelical Saints, Deputy Chair Cardinal Fintan Sean O’Geezer, sometimes known as “Father Tim Tan”, and a panel including Jacinta Zizi, best-selling author of “Helping Yourself to the Top”, prison survivors Andrea Follbigg and “Ned” Kelly Lane, and Drusilla Mauztrapp, former chair of the Panama-based Caring for Mature Aged Aussies, a US subsidiary of Caring America, a Texas tax shelter owned and operated by “Slick” Willy Baccarat III.

The commission’s findings in brief are:

  • Appoint a special Minister for Older Development and Lifestyle;
  • Furnish the new department with a $10 billion budget;
  • Welcome the private sector to establish homes and villages for retirees, particularly catering for retirees from the armed forces, homeland security and the police;
  • Accredit all old aged home and villages with licences with a price, say $50,000, that every church can afford;
  • Win trade union and Labor support by allowing carers to join a union of their choice, but permit visits by union officials by appointment only;
  • Phase out public sector engagement in the ageing welfare industry. Bring in the private sector, particularly the faith-based industries, to administer the new system which the royal commission proposes to call “Keeping Faith with all Australians”.
  • All survivors from the previous socialist system should receive an ex gratia payment of $50,000 to be distributed by the church of their choice.

Headline of the Week

Catholic schools get 10 times what they need – SMH, Page 10, September 24, 2018

Story of the Week

“School chaplains are being encouraged to promote a Christian theology course to students, despite being strictly forbidden from proselytising in schools. Under the $243.8 million school chaplaincy program, introduced by the Howard government and continued by successive Liberal and Labor governments, schools can apply for up to $20,000 per year to engage a school chaplain to provide pastoral care.” – SMH, Page 10, September 24, 2018

Recalling Whitlam’s grandeur

In July 1971 Opposition leader Gough Whitlam travelled to Beijing for talks with Chairman Mao and Premier Chou En-lai, committing the next Labor government to full diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Back in Sydney, then Prime Minister Billy McMahon, a snivelling Liberal, went berserk accusing Whitlam of “treason” by talking to the “communist enemies” of Australia.

A few days later, US Secretary of State Dr Henry Kissinger arrived in Beijing to prepare the way for President Richard Nixon to visit Mao and open diplomatic relations with the “red regime”.

McMahon fell into a heap, ridiculed by all and sundry. Not only did McMahon look an idiot, he was one as well.

What are the chances of today’s Opposition leader Bill Shorten “doing a Whitlam” before the next Federal Election?

If he had any ticker at all, Shorten would break from Washington’s belligerent “encirclement/containment” policy towards China; and visit Beijing and propose to recognise China’s sovereignty over the island of Taiwan followed by the peaceful reunification of mainland China and Taiwan based on a vote in both countries.

While foreign policy spokeswoman Senator Penny Wong may be attracted to the idea, the rest of the Caucus won’t. Whitlam faced the same opposition from his own party almost 50 years ago … but he still went ahead and did it.

Speech of the Year

“We believe that when nations respect the rights of their neighbours, and defend the interests of their people, they can better work together to secure the blessings of safety, prosperity and peace. That is why America will always choose independence and cooperation over global governance, control and domination.”

  • US president Donald Trump addressing the UN General Assembly on September 25

PS: I hope the people of Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Grenada, Chile, Venezuela, Panama, Colombia, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Palestine, Yemen, Somalia and Libya were listening. LOL.

Book Review

The birth and rebirth of One Nation and its political madness

Hoodwinked: How Pauline Hanson fooled a nation

 By Kerry-Anne Walsh, Allen & Unwin, Sydney 2018

In her 2014 best seller, The Stalking of Julia Gillard, Canberra political journalist Kerry-Anne Walsh broke an ironclad National Press Gallery convention when she named (and shamed) the journalists who helped tear down Australia’s first female prime minister.

When she was accused of “ratting” on her former colleagues, Walsh retorted: “I quoted what they had written in newspapers and said on air. I was doing my job by faithfully reporting what they had said publicly.

“They didn’t like being made accountable for their reporting but I have always argued that journalists, as well as politicians and senior public servants, should be made accountable. When did making pollies and journos accountable become ‘ratting’? Are they kidding?”

Author Kerry-Anne Walsh

In her new book unmasking Pauline Hanson and her weird One Nation crowd, Walsh has named names … again. She has called out the worst of the scribblers and radio ranters who have given the fish ‘n’ chippy from Ipswich a vast profile in public consciousness here and abroad. In so doing, she’s done an immense public service.

One of Hanson’s infuriating characteristics is her durability. She’s been around for 25 years but her rabid supporters stick to her like chocolate to a blanket regardless of the repeated scandals that have clouded her name. Walsh reckons that “her diehard Queensland supporters would forgive her anything. They don’t care what she does, no matter how out of sync her actions are with her image or her professed ethos. They cling to the misguided notion that Pauline Hanson listens, she cares and she’s unlike the major party leaders.”

Hanson has repeatedly made the most outrageous claims about her election-winning capabilities, only to fall into an excuse-making heap. There was a time when her over-excitable followers seriously claimed that her rightful place was in The Lodge; or Premier of Queensland and then NSW; and then Hanson herself publicly promised to take a swag of seats at the last Queensland election but ended up with only one.

“She’s the queen of divide and conquer,” writes Walsh. “Party officials, for want of a better term, are more often than not at each other’s throats because of her. Loyalists and volunteers are forever doomed to help the party hum along and to consider Pauline one of the family before they inevitably find themselves brutally discarded without explanation or apology, left distressed and bewildered at the reason.”

Pauline Hanson with candidate Steve Dickson during the 2017 Queensland election campaign

Having spent many years tracking the woeful career of Hanson, I agree wholeheartedly with Walsh’s conclusion: “One Nation continues to operate as a fringe rabble rather than a political force it has, despite itself, become. It suffers monotonously regular bouts of maladministration, investigations by electoral commissions for its dubious practices, and accusations of profiteering and gouging. The party lurches from crisis to crisis, chewing up devotees and parliamentarians, who enter the bunker full of fervour and loyalty and emerge on the other side, disillusioned and deeply angry.”

I most enjoyed her carefully legalled description of various male lieutenants in Hanson’s entourage over the years including John Pasquarelli, aka “Kojak” for his striking resemblance of actor Telly Savalas; Labor’s Graeme Campbell from WA; Liberal Party president and bigtime tycoon John Elliott who went public with a statement saying he was a Hanson supporter; and the two Davids, Oldfield and Ettridge, who helped found the One Nation outfit.

Walsh’s meticulous research covers the birth of One Nation in 1998 and its rebirth in the 2010s. Its cast of charmless characters provide copious evidence of its ultimate dysfunctionality. Her verdict on Hanson is damning: “She is the party’s guiding star, its hot centre and the rot at its core.”

Her book is a timely antidote to the shamens, cranks and snake oil salesmen who have emerged on the political scene to give simplistic and crazed solutions to complex human problems: think Donald Trump in the US, Brexit fundamentalists in the UK, Marine Le Pen in France, Left and Right wing coalitionists in Italy and PM Viktor Orban in Hungary.

This is a “must read” for all political journalists, politicians, academics and people who weren’t born when Hanson started her mercurial career and who swallow the social media (MeTo era) line that she is a “courageous woman”. No she’s not; she is a duplicitous vamp.

One comment

  1. What breed of Pentacostalist is Scomo”. I ask because most of that crew is Creationist, meaning they believe the bible is literally true.

    What I want to see and hear, is Scottie answering the question, “Do you believe in evolution?”. His answer could explain a lot.

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