Media Watch Dog: Journalists and George Pell; Malcolm Turnbull Rings the Bell on Mark Scott

By Gerard Henderson
The Australian
May 22, 2015


The abysmal ignorance of some Australian journalists has seldom been more evident than in the coverage of the hearings of the Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse which are currently underway in Ballarat. Especially in Fairfax Media, the ABC, The Guardian Australia and Sky News’ Paul Murray Live. Here are some “highlights”.

Last night on Paul Murray Live, presenter Paul Murray seemed unaware that Cardinal George Pell had already appeared twice before the Royal Commission as a witness and that the Royal Commission has been advised that he is willing to co-operate with it as required. Cardinal Pell appeared as a witness on one occasion in Sydney and via video-link from the Vatican on another occasion. Yet Paul Murray, in his ignorance, called on Cardinal Pell to front up before the Royal Commission.

Then the following exchange took place:


Paul Murray: … I just believe that all of the people involved in these organisations — and there are some phenomenally important organisations, like the Salvos, who had to own up to terrible things in their past that have nothing to do with how they currently deal with things. But they had to front, they had to explain how they’ve learned, how they’ve changed. He [George Pell] has to do this as the most visible leader of the Australian Catholic Church.

Dee Madigan: Not only the most visible leader but someone who, according to the testimony this week, was quite complicit in it. Frankly, I think he should be back and facing charges. And I say that as a Catholic. Probably not a very good one [laughs].


This is hopelessly wrong. There was no new testimony before the Royal Commission this week concerning George Pell. The allegations made against him by victims David Ridsdale and Tim Green — concerning George Pell’s (alleged) responses to their complaints — are old. The David Ridsdale matter is referred to in Tess Livingstone’s George Pell (2002) and the David Ridsdale and Tim Green matters are referred in David Marr’s The Prince (2014).

Contrary to Ms Madigan’s assertion, there is no evidence that George Pell was, or is, “complicit” in any way with respect to child sexual abuse in Ballarat or elsewhere. And it is not at all clear as to what (alleged) “charges” Ms Madigan believes should be laid against George Pell. Her comment on Paul Murray Live amounted to an unprofessional and ill-informed character assassination.

Meanwhile on Radio National Breakfast this morning, stand-in presenter James Carleton said that George Pell had been “Bishop of Ballarat” when clerical sexual abuse took place in this Catholic diocese. James Carleton was corrected by Archbishop Anthony Fisher. However, Carleton’s comment demonstrates the abysmal ignorance of the Radio National Breakfast team concerning the current controversy involving the Catholic Church.



While on the topic of George Pell and all that, did anyone see David Marr on 7.30 last night bagging Cardinal Pell — again. Needless to say, 7.30 was willing to run Pell’s opponents (like David Marr) but not his supporters (like Greg Craven). How very ABC.

In his hatchet job The Prince: Faith, Abuse & George Pell, David Marr made reference to the fact that Fr Pell (as he then was) “noticed nothing” when in 1973 he “moved his things” into St Alipius Presbytery where (then) Fr Gerald Ridsdale also lived. The implication in The Prince is that Pell should have noticed that he was sharing accommodation with a child sex abuser.

But would Marr make the same point about others in a similar predicament? During his regular Thursday chat with Fran Kelly on Radio National Breakfast yesterday, the left-of-centre journalist Paul Bongiorno opened up for the first time in public about his time as a student and, subsequently, a priest in the Catholic Diocese of Ballarat. Let’s go to the transcript:


Fran Kelly: You grew up in Ballarat, you were a Catholic in Ballarat. So all of this is really making the nation, I think, sit up and take notice. If there was ever any political disagreement about this, it certainly vindicates then-Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s decision to call this Royal Commission.

Paul Bongiorno: It certainly does and just listening to Frank Sheehan, someone who I know. And, of course, I’d like to make this point Fran. I grew up in Ballarat. I went to Ballarat Catholic schools — St Patrick’s College and Drummond Street, run by the Christian Brothers. And I was inspired by what I heard and by the lives of men — both priests and brothers — by the ideals and the values that they had in terms of social justice and human welfare and well-being and belief in God, to go off and become a Catholic priest.

What I want to say is that the shame of what we’re hearing is something that we all have to come to terms with. It taints men, good men, faithful men, brothers and priests, who have not betrayed the beliefs that the Church taught me and them. And I think that’s something that we have to hold on to. The other thing is that there is no doubt that Julia Gillard’s Royal Commission has shown the appalling failure of the Church as an institution to put into practice the beliefs it taught me.

Fran Kelly: And Frank Sheehan’s saying there he still thinks the Church is slow to do that. I mean Paul, are you saying that — given the upbringing you had — that you feel the shame of this still as it unfolds?

Paul Bongiorno: Absolutely. I mean, I know Gerald Ridsdale. I lived in a presbytery with him in Warrnambool. I’ve had the victims approach me to appear for them in court cases. Let me tell you this Fran. I had no idea what he was up to. And when people look at me quizzically, I say: “Well look, let me tell you this. There are married men and women now who sleep with their husbands and wives who don’t know that their husband or wife is having an affair.”

Let me tell you that Ridsdale never came into the presbytery in Warrnambool and said: “Guess how many boys I’ve raped today?” They hide it. It was certainly hidden from me. And when it came out, after I’d left the priesthood, I was shocked and I was ashamed.


Talk about double standards. George Pell (born 1941) has been implicitly criticised by David Marr for having “noticed nothing” when he shared accommodation with Gerald Ridsdale in a presbytery in Ballarat. But, so far at least, Marr has not criticised (the then Father) Bongiorno (born 1944) for not having noticed that Ridsdale was a child sex abuser when he shared accommodation with Ridsdale in a presbytery in Warrnambool.

However, Paul Bongiorno is correct. Criminals — including sex offenders — rarely boast of their crimes. And paedophiles tend to be very cunning in hiding their criminality. What’s surprising about Paul Bongiorno’s comment is that he waited so long before stating that, once upon a time he shared a presbytery with Ridsdale. Moreover, Bongiorno has criticised the Cardinal — tweeting on 24 August 2014: “How does George Pell sleep at night?”



Due to unprecedented demand, the Maurice Newman Segment gets another run this week. As MWD readers will know, this (hugely popular) segment is devoted to former ABC chairman Maurice Newman’s suggestion that a certain “group think” might be prevalent at the ABC — and to ABC 1 former Media Watch presenter Jonathan Holmes’ certainty that no such phenomenon is extant within the public broadcaster. See MWD passim.

What a wonderful performance on ABC1’s News Breakfast this morning when ABC’s Virginia Trioli and the ABC’s Greg Jennett interviewed the ABC’s Barrie Cassidy about a number of matters — including, wait for it — the ABC’s Emma Alberici and the ABC’s Leigh Sales. Let’s go to the transcript — as La Trioli agrees with Mr Cassidy who agrees with Mr Jennett who agrees with La Trioli who supports Ms Alberici and Ms Sales. Or something like this.


Greg Jennett: Well in a week where it’s all been polish and sell — who do we look to for a wooden spoon this week, Barrie?

Barrie Cassidy: Well I think in a week when Kyle Sandilands openly abused a Federal Minister and then hung up on him. And then Malcolm Turnbull chose to focus on Leigh Sales and Emma Alberici for what he said were aggressive interviews. I think that deserves a wooden spoon. Look, I know that the ABC is held to a higher standard but I think that was a bit rich.

Virginia Trioli: I’m just going to slot in there as well Barrie — with the observation that I read somewhere about, gee I wonder how Australian politicians would handle the standard British interview, and the HARDtalk-type interview, which is a hell of a lot more aggressive than you can ever expect on Australian TV.

Barrie Cassidy: Well Joe Hockey says he enjoys those interviews.

Virginia Trioli: Okay, all good.

Greg Jennett: The new metric is interruptions, you know. If you interrupt — then you are apparently, by this standard, biased. Well, ah, someone hasn’t been listening to Alan Jones interviews lately on radio. That’s an art.

Virginia Trioli: Count the interruptions there. And I think bias is now — there’s a number of metrics for bias, including the colour that your wear. Uh oh. Barrie, always nice to see you, thanks so much for that.


So here you have it. According to Greg Jennett and Virginia Trioli, interruptions on the ABC against Coalition ministers are quite okay. Provided the likes of Ms Alberici and Ms Sales do not interrupt as much as Alan Jones in full ranting mode. By the way — in HARDtalk, the interviewers ask challenging questions but rarely interrupt since they are interested in the answers provided. Moreover, HARDtalk interviewers rarely, if ever, ask “gotcha” questions. And now for a score:

Maurice Newman: 6

Jonathan Holmes: Zip



What a stunning piece by taxpayer subsidised academic Christopher Kremmer in the taxpayer subsidised The Conversation on 12 May 2015.

Headed “Julian Assange, true descendant of America’s crusading journalists”, the piece banged on — and on — about your man Assange’s (alleged) persecution on account of his key “role in the fight for the public’s right to know”.

Christopher Kremmer wrote about Mr Assange’s self-imposed exile in the Ecuador Embassy in London and described him as an “idealist” battling against evil forces who “would apprehend and silence him once and for all”. But Kremmer neglected to remind his readers that Assange slipped bail and refused to return to Sweden for questioning by police concerning the allegation that he sexually assaulted two leftist female operatives.

So Mr Kremmer accuses Assange’s opponents of trying to silence him. Yet Mr Kremmer is himself silent about the allegations of sexual impropriety made against Assange. Can you bear it?


So there was Christopher Kremmer banging on in The Conversation, about the public’s right to know. And just over a week later, The Guardian leftist Neil Davies bobbed up on ABC 1’s The Weekly [Do you mean “The Weakly”? – MWD Ed] for an interview by Charlie Pickering.

The Brit Davies did his usual rant against Rupert Murdoch and all his works and all his pomps. And then, lo and behold, your man Davies called for more government regulation of the media. Fair dinkum. This is what he had to say:


Nick Davies: The journalist’s fantasy that gets you out of bed in the morning is that if you write about a bad thing then the bad thing will stop. That isn’t what happens, you write about the bad thing, the people who are responsible get furious and run around shouting at you and threatening to sue you and then they carry on as ever. So although we caused a lot of trouble, actually almost nothing has changed. So I think the crime levels in British newspapers have fallen to zero for a while. Beyond that, they’re still unregulated, they still invade people’s privacy, they still use falsehood and distortion in a horrific way. And the structures of power? Rupert Murdoch still bullies governments, he ain’t gonna stop.


Also during Charlie Pickering’s fawning interview — which seemed boosted by artificial laughter — The Guardian’s star journalist had this to say about himself:


Nick Davies: The difference between me and the tabloid reporters isn’t that we’re — I’m morally better than them. It’s [that] I work for The Guardian which belongs to a trust, it’s not a profit hungry corporation. And it’s kind of soft around there. So if I get sent out to get some information and I can’t get it, I come back and say “I couldn’t get some information”, and they say “Oh okay, never mind, do something else.” Whereas if you come back to a tabloid newsroom and say “Oh I failed”, they will kick your arse. They will be brutally bullying towards you. So that means their reporters go out in a state of fear because they’re constantly being bullied and therefore they’re compelled to do horrible things.


So, how about that? According to Neil Davies, The Guardian is not “profit hungry”. Which is not all that surprising since the newspaper loses over 2 million Australian dollars a week. Can you bear it?


Nancy’s (male) co-owner is an equal opportunity critic of unprofessional ABC presenters who are rude and do lotsa interruptions. In the past Hendo has criticised the likes of Kerry O’Brien, Tony Jones and Jon Faine. And in his column in The Weekend Australian last Saturday, Gerard Henderson criticised the post-budget interviews conducted by Leigh Sales with Joe Hockey and Emma Alberici with Mathias Cormann.

Hendo was not alone. Critics included Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Then, last Monday, Ms Alberici threw the switch to misogyny — telling Fairfax Media:

“People are far quicker to attack a woman in public than they would a man.

When I do a tough interview I will be called an “aggressive bitch” but when Tony Jones does a similar interview he is just tough. No one would call him a bitch. That’s something we grapple with [as female interviewers] because people don’t want us to be tough.”

What a load of tosh. For starters, no one in a responsible position ever called Ms Alberici a “bitch”. She just made this up. Moreover, the fact is that talented female journalists like Sales and Alberici either present or co-present the two key ABC TV current affairs programs. If anyone heeds Alberici’s warning, it would be impossible to criticise such programs as 7.30 or Lateline. Can you bear it?

[Er, no. I note that ABC 702’s Linda Mottram made a similar misogyny call this week. Perhaps you might cover this in your hugely popular “A Linda Mottram Moment” segment next time. — MWD Ed]



Mark Scott has the official titles of ABC managing director and ABC editor-in-chief. However, he invariably goes to ground when there is controversy about the ABC’s editorial content and passes such matters off to his subordinates or to the ABC’s complaints bureaucracy.

Nice Mr Scott is about to complete his second five year term at the ABC. But his friends at the taxpayer funded public broadcaster’s court appear to have put around the message that he would like a one-year extension.

On The Bolt Report last Sunday, Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull appeared to suggest that extending Mark Scott’s tenure at the ABC would be a mistake. Let’s go to the transcript:


Andrew Bolt: We now hear that ABC managing director Mark Scott, who has overseen this bias, is reportedly in discussions about extending his term by a year. Given his record, please tell us that he will not get that one-year extension.

Malcolm Turnbull: Well, firstly, it’s not up to him to extend his term. The ABC is currently engaged in a search for his successor. So, the board is — you know, Mark Scott’s tenure as MD of the ABC is coming to an end. And they’re looking for a successor.


Good point. The ABC board has had five years to prepare to replace Mark Scott as managing director. It does not need six years. It’s appropriate that Malcolm Turnbull has decided to let the ABC Board know of his views.

Malcolm Turnbull: Five Paws



As avid readers of MWD will know well, this blog has been attempting for eons to get David Day to produce any evidence to support his theory that there was a move in Britain in 1941 to replace Winston Churchill as prime minister with Australia’s very own Robert Menzies — and that Mr Menzies believed that he could attain such a position.

So far Dr Day (for a doctor he is) has not been able to produce evidence that (i) any biographer of Churchill or (ii) any qualified historian of the 20th Century Britain supports the Day thesis.

Readers of last week’s MWD will be aware that HarperCollins agreed to pulp unsold copies of David Day’s Paul Keating: The Biography. You see, the author had no evidence to support his claim that Keating suffers from dyslexia and that this affected his performance as treasurer and prime minister. David Day said that his opinion about Mr Keating resulted from a deduction. Oh yes — a DEDUCTION.

It seems that David Day is very much a deduction kind of guy. This is what he said at The Sydney Institute on 21 March 2000, following the release of his book, John Curtin: A Life (1999). The comment occurred during the question/discussion period. Let’s go to the transcript:


David Day: He [John Curtin] left the [Catholic] church in his teens and I believe — although I can’t prove it and, as a result, didn’t put it in my book — that he had probably problems with a priest. In Charlton as a boy, when he was an altar boy, at the church in Charlton. Although he was an altar boy in the Church, he went to the local state school. And when the priest, who was famous for horse-whipping an editor in the street, when he set up a local Catholic school, then it was incumbent of course upon Curtin to attend. He didn’t attend but he stayed at the state school. And he seemed to have quite physical problems on the few occasions in the rest of his life when he actually entered the church.

Question: You’re talking about sexual abuse are you — or physical abuse?

David Day: Sexual abuse


Now there is absolutely no evidence that, when an altar boy, John Curtin was sexually abused by a Catholic priest in Charlton. None whatsoever. John Curtin never claimed this. Nor did any of his family/friends/associates. Nor did any of Curtin’s biographers.

Quite a few young Catholics born in the late 19th Century gave up their religion. A number ended up on the left of politics — some even joined the Communist Party of Australia. Moreover, the decision as to whether young John Curtin would attend a government or private school in Charlton would have been made by his parents.

As with Robert Menzies and Paul Keating, David Day’s theory about young John Curtin is, oh yes, a DEDUCTION. [Does this mean your man Day just made this up? — MWD Ed]. And now, here is a “Waiting for David” scoreboard update.



Due to popular demand, this new feature will examine Guy Rundle’s comment that left-wing hero Tom Uren — along with “many people” on the left — said “silly things” about the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s. Just “silly”. Nancy’s (male) co-owner’s favourite Marxist comedian has also asserted that the left only said “positive things” about Pol Pot’s murderous regime “when reports of the Khmer Rouge rule were few and frequently disbelieved”. This is absolute tosh since — as MWD has documented — evidence of Pol Pot’s crimes was available as early as July 1975, i.e. only a few months after the Khmer Rouge came to power in April 1975.

Among what Mr Rundle would call the “silly things” the left said about the Khmer was this speech (see here) by Gough Whitlam — which was delivered in September 1978. It was published under the title “Vietnam — Refugees, Border War, Rehabilitation” in Malcolm Salmon’s edited collection The Vietnam-Kampuchea-China Conflicts: Motivations, Background, Significance (Research School of Pacific Studies, Australian National University, March 1979).

Here is an example of what Mr Whitlam said:

I make bold to doubt all the stories that appear in the newspapers about the treatment of people in Cambodia. I am sufficiently hardened to believe that the last refuge of the patriot in Australia is to blast the regimes in post-war Indochina.

This demonstrates that in September 1978, when the Cambodian killing fields were littered with corpses, Gough Whitlam refused to believe any of the accounts of Khmer Rouge atrocities in Cambodia. Mr Whitlam also said:

Over a million people have been sent from Ho Chi Minh City to the countryside, and more are to be sent. Why people out of that city and Phnom Penh have been sent is because the population of such cities, inflated by war, can only be fed by imports.

This demonstrates that in September 1978 Gough Whitlam still did not believe that the April 1975 depopulation of Phnom Penh — ordered by Pol Pot — reflected anything other than a food shortage due to the population increase in Cambodia’s capital city. How naive can you get? As we know now — and those who wanted to know knew then — the Khmer Rouge’s depopulation of Phnom Penh was a deliberate act aimed at terrifying the Khmer Rouge’s ideological enemies.


Under its current hopeless editor Andrew Holden, The Age continues to pour scorn on the very people who once used to buy the print edition and/or advertise in the newspaper. You know — (i) believers, (ii) people who send their children to private schools, (iii) big, medium and small business operators — particularly the mining industry. And so on.

Your (New Zealand) man Holden has continued the tradition set years ago by his hopeless predecessor — the British-born Andrew (“All I want from the taxpayer is a lousy $1 million a year”) Jaspan. As avid MWD readers will be aware, your man Jaspan is upset that the Commonwealth government has decided to stop subsidising his The Conversation online publication to the tune of $1 million a year. [This sounds like an attack by the Abbott Clerical Fascist dictatorship on Mr Jaspan’s human rights to receive taxpayer funded hand-outs. — MWD Ed]

The Age.

Among the specific targets of The Age’s left-wing infantilism is the Catholic Church in general — and one-time Archbishop of Melbourne George Pell in particular.

Here’s The Age’s front-page of last Tuesday — which reported the previous day’s hearings in Ballarat of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

So there you have it. The Age’s Page One heading contained the word “may”. And the article by Jane Lee contained the word “may” twice in its first paragraph:


Cardinal George Pell may have known about disgraced priest Gerald Ridsdale’s crimes against children years before he [the word “he” was subsequently changed in The Age’s Online edition to read “Ridsdale” — no doubt for legal reasons in view of the ambiguity in the original article] faced charges and may have been involved in decisions to move him between parishes, a royal commission has heard.

Counsel Assisting the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, Gail Furness, SC, described on Tuesday how the College of Consultors — a group of priests who advised the Ballarat Bishop Ronald Mulkearns — decided to move Ridsdale between parishes.

Cardinal Pell, who supported Ridsdale at his first court appearance on child sex offences in 1993, was previously a member of the college ...


If The Age were not so subsumed with anti-Catholic sectarianism, both the headline and the article could have contained the word “NOT”. In which case The Age’s headline would have read: “Pell may not have known of abuse by Ridsdale”. And the first paragraph of Ms Lane’s story would have stated that Cardinal Pell “may not” have known about Ridsdale’s crimes and “may not” have been involved in decisions to move him from parish to parish.

Talk about a beat-up. The Sydney Morning Herald did not even bother to run the story in its print edition and the Canberra Times give it a minor run on Page 4 under this headline:

The existence of single quotes around the words “may have known” was an acknowledgment by the Canberra Times that there is no evidence that George Pell was involved in moving Ridsdale between parishes in the Ballarat diocese.

It seems clear that Bishop Mulkearns (born 1930) may have known that Ridsdale was a paedophile. But the then Bishop of Ballarat was known for his authoritarian style and there is no evidence that he consulted his College of Consultors, including the then Fr. Pell, about child sex abuse.

Jane Lee’s claim that Cardinal Pell “supported Ridsdale at his first court appearance on child sex offences in 1993” is also misleading. As documented in Tess Livingstone’s George Pell (2002), Pell refused a request by Ridsdale’s defence team to give character evidence for Ridsdale at his first trial but, reluctantly, agreed to walk with him to the court. It was a mistake — as Pell has acknowledged. Yet it was also part of the Catholic Church’s tradition to stand with sinners.


Someone or other thinks it would be a you-beaut idea to write to Nancy’s (male) co-owner about something or other. And Hendo, being a courteous and well-brought up kind of guy, replies. Then, hey presto, the correspondence is published in MWD — much to the delight of its hundreds of thousands of readers.

There are occasions, however, when Nancy’s (male) co-owner decides to write a polite note to someone or other — who, in turn, believes that a reply is in order. Publication in MWD invariably follows. There are, alas, some occasions where Hendo sends a polite missive but does not receive the courtesy of a reply. Nevertheless, publication of this one-sided correspondence still takes place. For the record and in the public interest, of course.

As hundreds of thousands of avid readers are aware, The Guardian Australia’s deputy editor Katharine Murphy put out the following tweet on 6 June 2014 at 4.33pm — when that issue of MWD was “hot off the press”. Here is Ms Murphy’s tweet: “Without in any way wanting to breach anyone’s human rights or free speech — why do people write emails to Gerard Henderson?” It’s a very good question. Thankfully, not everyone follows Katharine Murphy’s wise counsel.


In the taxpayer funded public broadcaster’s post-budget rush-to-be-rude to Coalition ministers, AM’s Michael Brissenden scored a mere bronze medal. Your man Brissenden was rude to Prime Minister Tony Abbott (13 May 2015) and Treasurer Joe Hockey (14 May 2015). But not rude enough to exceed Leigh Sales’ interview with Joe Hockey (12 May 2015) and Emma Alberici’s interview with Finance Minister Mathias Cormann (12 May 2015). The former scored gold, the latter silver.

A certain Jeremy Smith — of no known abode — wrote to Hendo stating that Mr Brissenden had not committed a “howler” for (falsely) stating that the Abbott government had published a White Paper on taxation. Here we go:

Jeremy Smith to Gerard Henderson — 15 May 2015

In the latest Media Watch Dog (May 15 2015) you devote a section to exposing Michael Brissenden’s “howler” on the tax-free status of super. Here is what you wrote:


“Michael Brissenden: But isn’t it true that even your own White Paper warned that the tax-free status of super withdrawals was unsustainable?

Joe Hockey: Ur, well, we haven’t delivered a White Paper. Which White Paper are you referring to?

Michael Brissenden: Well, I mean, is it the case that the tax-free status of these is unsustainable?

Well, I mean. Why would a journalist correct his/her howler on live radio? Better to pretend that the error was never made in the first place by asking another question.”

I thought I’d check since you suggested a journalist would correct his/her howler in live radio. Taking into account that, being on live radio, Brissenden wouldn’t have had the luxury of checking whether it was in fact a “howler”. You on the other hand have had the time to confirm if he was, in fact, completely wrong. Guess what? Here is an article from the Fin Review 31/3/15 with the headline: “Super tax-free status difficult to keep, says white paper”

There was a Treasury tax discussion paper released at the end of March saying exactly what Brissenden had claimed. Whilst you might argue that it was not technically a White Paper, clearly Brissenden’s question was not the “howler” that you claimed.



Gerard Henderson to Jeremy Smith — 20 May 2015

Dear Dr Smith (for a doctor I presume you are)

I refer to your email of last Friday. In response, I make the following comments:

? Michael Brissenden is wont to correct the errors — real and imagined — of politicians and others. Why should not someone correct Mr Brissenden’s howlers? Pray tell me.

? As you may (or may not) know, the term “White Paper” has a technical meaning. There are papers prepared by departments and the like — which are usually referred to as “discussion” papers. There is a Green Paper — which canvasses government views and positions but is tentative by nature. And there is a White Paper — which is a statement of government policy — e.g. the Defence White Paper.

? You seem to be of the view that because an Australian Financial Review headline writer terms a discussion paper a “White Paper” — then it must be a White Paper.

What a load of tosh. Phillip Coorey wrote the AFR article which was headed “Super tax-free status difficult to keep, says white paper”. However, Mr Coorey did not use the term “White Paper” in his piece. He referred to the Federal government’s “Tax Discussion Paper”. A discussion paper does not have anything like the official status of a White Paper or even a Green Paper. This is made clear in Re-think: Tax Discussion Paper (March 2015) which states that the document was prepared by the Department of Treasury.

? You ended your email as follows:

There was a Treasury tax discussion paper released at the end of March saying exactly what Brissenden had claimed. Whilst you might argue that it was not technically a White Paper, clearly Brissenden’s question was not the “howler” that you claimed.

This is not a matter of technicalities. If there had been a tax White Paper it would have been taken to the Cabinet by Treasurer Joe Hockey. There was no such document. Consequently, Mr Brissenden’s statement was a howler. As I understand it, this error remains uncorrected on the AM’s transcript.


It is worth remembering that Michael Brissenden — like so many journalists — is reluctant to correct his own howlers.

In August 2007, Michael Brissenden revealed on the 7.30 Report details of an off-the-record discussion he (and two other journalists) had with Peter Costello in 2005. Mr Brissenden not only acted unprofessionally in breaching the confidentiality of the discussion. He also got his (alleged) facts hopelessly wrong.

For example, Michael Brissenden declared that the dinner had taken place on a March Canberra evening (i.e. hot). In fact, it took place on a June Canberra evening (i.e. cold). Obviously, Mr Brissenden is not possessed of a good memory.

Michael Brissenden has consistently declined to state how he got the date of the Peter Costello dinner so wrong. Nor has he accepted invitations to state what he said at the dinner. See “Dining Out with the ABC — A Warning”, The Sydney Institute Quarterly, December 2008.

It seems that Michael Brissenden has one rule for politicians — and another one for journalists like himself. Fancy that.

Best wishes

Gerard Henderson

PS: It’s so pleasing to note that you appear to be one of the hundreds of thousands of avid Media Watch Dog readers. Good show — and all that.

Jeremy Smith to Gerard Henderson — 20 May 2015

Excuse me Gerard? Your own email begins with its very own howler by suggesting that I’ve claimed to be a doctor. Show me where have I have ever used the title doctor. I am not. That you would inexplicably fabricate my title is surely a reflection on your level of professionalism, not mine. Why have you done this?

But on to your classification of Brissenden’s error as a howler. Given that, quite clearly, the point of Brissenden’s question was whether the tax-free status of super withdrawals was sustainable, a point which has been raised on many occasion, I hardly think that, given the time constraints of the radio interview, a mea culpa on Brissenden’s part is in crucial. It should be noted that Brissenden immediately qualified his question with:

Michael Brissenden: Well, I mean, is it the case that the tax-free status of these is unsustainable?

You said in your email:

This is not a matter of technicalities. If there had been a tax White Paper it would have been taken to the Cabinet by Treasurer Joe Hockey. There was no such document. Consequently, Mr Brissenden’s statement was a howler.

Are you implying that Hockey doesn’t read the discussion papers prepared for him by Department of Treasury? Or that his staff don’t read them and then report to Treasurer? Or are you suggesting that Hockey has no idea of the contents of a Department of Treasury discussion paper until he presents to cabinet?

As I pointed out before there, has been plenty of public discussion and speculation over the tax-free status of super withdrawals. That Brissenden should be keelhauled for what is, in the context of the interview, such an inconsequential error, is just pedantic.


Jeremy Smith

Gerard Henderson to Jeremy Smith — 22 May 2015

Dear Mr Smith

How wonderful to hear from you again. And how wonderful to learn that you are not a doctor of philosophy. By the way, I never said that you have ever “claimed to be a doctor”. I simple assumed that you might possess such a title — like the esteemed Dr Scott (“Ed Miliband is sure to become UK prime minister”) Burchill of Deakin University. Apologies for the erroneous assumption.

Your defence of Michael Brissenden is remarkable. Remarkably naive, that is. There has been no tax White Paper during the time of the Abbott government. That’s a fact.

All your inferences simply are a vain attempt to rationalise Mr Brissenden’s howler. Contrary to the implication in your email, I have never suggested that (i) Joe Hockey did not read the Tax Discussion Paper or that (ii) that Mr Hockey’s staff did not read the Tax Discussion Paper or that (iii) the Treasurer had no idea of the content of the Tax Discussion Paper. You just made all this up.

All I said was that there is an enormous difference between a White Paper (which is endorsed by Cabinet) and a departmental discussion (which does not go to Cabinet).

This is not a pedantic point. Just reality. As you — and Michael Brissenden — should know.

Keep morale high.

Gerard Henderson


Avid MWD reader Bryan Nugent is one of a number of ideological fashionistas who has been advising Hendo about what to wear if he accepts an invitation to appear at the 2015 Melbourne Writers’ Festival in Sandalista Land. Mr Nugent has come up with one final piece of apparel. Here we go:

Bryan Nugent to Gerard Henderson — 21 May 2015

Dear Gerard,

I am pleased to respond to your request for a second opinion as regards your clobber in preparation for this event.

Yes, I heartily approve the beret which will provide a somewhat avant-garde, Parisian Left Bank air to your ensemble. As you are sometimes accused of carrying a rather dour visage (and with the company you keep on “Insiders” probably for good reason) the addition of the beret aboard your pate may add a welcome degree of whimsy.

Seeing your proposed full kit now for the first time and, in particular the jacket, has filled me with hope that you have now embraced a more colourful sartorial vision. I’m sure we can agree to disagree as regards the shirt but as it may not be viewed as readily below the jacket, given unpredictable temperature variations in Melbourne, I for one now feel you are very close to being appropriately equipped.

As a final flourish can I recommend some accessory items. Perhaps an Ankh on a chain to adorn the neck. Nimbin may have many such attractive objects on offer. How about a pair of John Lennon glasses as favoured by some in the academic set? Rose coloured lenses would be preferable. But as a piece de resistance, a shoulder bag. As you know, it’s a handy repository for basket weaving tools if a sudden urge to be crafty were to seize upon you ... and, for dull periods in the Festival, to store the odd tome and while away those moments with the thoughts of the Chairman or Lenin.

As you prepare to sally forth into the land of the opinionated & the prognosticators may the force and Che be with you.

Best regards,

Bryan Nugent


Gerard Henderson to Bryan Nugent — 22 May 2015


Good thinking. Brilliant idea. Here’s hoping it all comes together and the Sandalistas at the Melbourne Writers’ Festival will suffer outfit-envy. I have set out the final attire below.

Keep morale high.









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