Across the Democratic divide

Paul Murray, the former editor of The West Australian newspaper who hosts a talkback program on Radio 6PR, advises that One Nation and the Dems are walking the same walk.

“Pauline Hanson has been in WA over the weekend for the WA ON agm and she caused absolute havoc. The party here is completely split into the anti- and pro-Pauline groups. I interviewed her today. She said she wanted to take control of the party again, intends to be appointed to national executive as an adviser and will stand for parliament again. ON is in just as much trouble as the Democrats!”


1. Name games by me, Graydon Findlay, Andrew C Taubman, Abbie Worthington, Barrie Stephens and John Clark.

2. The incoming NSW president of the Dems, Cameron Andrews, on positioning

3. Webdiarist Brian Bahnisch considers the options

4. Philippa tries to sort out the Dems’ GST shenanigans

5. Democrats David Harcourt-Norton and Di Pritchard take bitterly-expressed sides.


Name Games

By Margo Kingston

Who you gunna vote off today? It’s compelling viewing, this Demo-split without script, and interaction is the key. Read the latest email war from the lead players on and the latest membership spats on the show’s public/private chatroom. It’s the highest rating reality TV/Radio/Print in town, but will you vote for a new exciting episode?

The directors are spitting Chipps – half the cast is threatening to move to another channel!

Will The Democrats, the 25 year-old soap opera we all love to watch but few will commit to long-term, survive if its threatened replacement gets off the ground?

Some viewers want a replacement now and are already voting for a new name, to be judged by promoter Meg Less, who will donate the red centre photos she took last week while contemplating her departure from the show. The Progressive Party or The Progressive Democrats are early favourites, after The Liberal Democrats was ruled out by the judges because its already taken by another show. It’s never rated though – perhaps a name sale is on the cards?

Other contenders: The Real Democrats, The Original Democrats, The New Democrats, The Democratic Democrats, The Right Democrats, The Social Democrats, Democrats II, The Progressive Liberals, The Democratic Liberals, The Progressive Coalition Party, The Progressive Conservatives, The Democratic New Coalition, The Central Democratic Party, The Pragmatists or Pragmocrats, The Engagement Party, The Social Reform Party, The Australia Reform Party, The Centre Forward Party, The Advancing Australia Party, The Sustainable Option Party, The No Double Disillusions Party, The Leesbians and The Chipp off the Old Block Party.

But hardline fans of the The Democrats are angrily fighting the breakaways with their own suggestions. Contenders include: The NutMegs, The Coward-Lees Party, The OurMeggedon Party, The Lee’s Fleas Party (a bunch of annoying pests that infect larger bodies), The Fleedom Party, The Meg’s Army Party, The Megalomaniacs, The Megolees Maniacs Party, SLees Party, The Lee-st Important Party, The Leest We Forget Party, The Meg Lees and the GSTs. The Meg-a-Lee-Maniacs Party, The Meggots, The MegMassage Party, Meg and the Amazing Technicolour Turncoats Party, The Fleas Flees Party , The Megahertz Party, Shock and Her Absorbers Party, The Natasha-Basha Party, The Crash a Tasha Party and The Stop-Despoja Party,

While many Natasha fans despise her older rival, others hate the new storyline in the current show and want it stopped. They suggest: The Democracks, The Democrass Party, The Democ-Rats Party, The Chippenfails, The Australian Capitulation Party, Howard’s Birthday Party, The Get Into Howard’s Bed Again Party, The Liberal Party, The Leesbral Party, The Leeberals, The Sell Australia Out Party (SAOs), The Spit de Dummy Party, The Dance with the Devil Party, The Selstra Party, The Limelighters Deprivation Party, We Are The Bastards Party, Keep The Bastards Happy Party and The Cream the Dream Team Party.

Then there’s the cynical viewers who couldn’t care either way but really want to win the new name game competition. This category is the most hotly contested, with the critics choice winner likely to be overuled by a people’s choice poll. Candidates include: The Murray’s Darling Party, The Left Right Out Party, The Left-Over Party, The Lees-Way (or Leeway) Party, The Lee Way (or Meg Leaves) Party, The Meg Leaves Party, The Stop-de-Spoiling Party, The Liberal Lite Party, The Part-Lee Party, The Mega Middle Party, The Too Old To Party Party, The Party To Keep The Party To Keep The Bastards Honest Party, The Spot Destroyer Party, The Path of Lees Resistance Party, The Gingerly Meggs Party, The Keep the Lefties Honest Party, The Party’s Over Party, The Fool-Stott Party, The Flankers Party, The That’s What You Get For Voting Democrats Party and Meg’s Middle and Off Party.

But wait. This morning Natasha, shareholders rep, executive producer and worried star of The Democrats, demanded her dwindling support cast turn up in Canberra today to tell her they want her to keep top billing. Say yes, and she’ll expel the support player who’s backing the defector to a more mainstream channel. But Nat, it’s split three three when you include your own vote! It’s all very well to have the shareholders in your pocket, but the show could go broke – while ratings skyrocket no-one’s buying the product!

Stop Press: A late afternoon promo promised a solo episode by the star in Melbourne. Would she resign? Would a dark horse emerge? Would media directors be forced to reopen the name game? Not yet folks. Come back Andrew, Natasha says. I need you.


Late entries from Graydon Findlay (The DODGY Party – Disgruntled Old Democrats Grave Yard), Andrew C Taubman (Meg-a-What-a Suck-on-a Party, Slogan: Lees – The Dregs of the Whine. Or Meg and Cheryl could form the Democrat Leaders’ Party), Abbie Worthington (The Australian Derogates), Barrie Stephens (The AXD Party – (Association of [E]x-Democrats Party)


A new viewer’s faction has emerged. John Clark wants a new name for The Democrats soap opera. He suggests The Bold and the Beautiful.



Division in the Democrats is not new

By Cameron Andrews

Disclosure: I’m the incoming NSW president of the Democrats and a former staffer of Senator Vicki Bourne

Some say it goes back to the party’s beginnings. As a party born from the marriage of the Australia Party and New Liberal Movement there has always been an internal tension between traditional left and small l liberal thinking.

That the Democrats have been so successful – despite these internal contradictions – reflects the strength, skill and resolve of a succession of strong and potent leaders over the party’s 25 year history. The clarity of vision shown by Chipp, Haines and Kernot galvanised the party and give it political direction. They were rewarded with the balance of power in the Senate and the opportunity to play a role in shaping the future of the nation.

Now, at a time of weakness, the welding that held the political fault line together has opened up, with very public and potentially disastrous consequences.

The Democrats are not alone in experiencing an internal clash of ideology. A rapidly changing political landscape is calling into question the relevance of all our traditional party structures.

In the Hawke/Keating years Labor forged a highly successful alliance between its working class roots and a new class of urban, tertiary educated social progressives. The Accord with the unions allowed Labor to embrace the economic reforms that attracted the Chardonnay socialists into the fold.

Labor’s recent defeat is conclusive proof that this alliance is unravelling. Labor’s traditional working class support base is rapidly evolving into what Labor frontbencher Mark Latham describes as the aspirational voter – a new breed that more readily identifies with Howard’s portrayal of mainstream Australia than Labor’s brand of a fair go for all.

The Liberal Party, while seemingly unassailable under the politically ruthless stewardship of Howard, also faces an uncertain future. Backbench revolt over issues like changes to media ownership regulation, anti-terrorism legislation and the International Criminal Court point to an internal rupture between the conservatives and the genuine liberals.

The party’s move to the right may have won back the disaffected Hansonites and given Howard a third term, but has left many liberals questioning why they should continue to belong. The party’s failure to hold government in any state in Australia also points to a decay in its party structure.

Even the Greens, currently enjoying a wave of popular support as the protest party of choice, is showing early signs of a conflict between its environmentalist founders and the recent influx of the socialist left. Bob Brown’s recent outburst on Telstra and his subsequent silencing by his party may be a sign of tensions to come now that NSW red Senator Kerry Nettle has joined Senator Brown in the Senate.

If there is to be a future for the Democrats it doesn’t lie in petty bickering over who should be leader. The current turmoil presents the party with the opportunity to finally resolve the crisis of identity that has loomed over the party since its foundation. Going back to Meg or rallying behind Natasha will both lead to political destruction if the underlying root cause of the division is left undiscussed and untreated.

The Democrats have to make a definitive statement as to which stream they will follow. The political landscape is changing in a way which forces the party, even if unwillingly, to reevaluate its identity. As the Greens now firmly occupy the fundamentalist left and both Liberal and Labor have abandoned any pretence of liberalism, the small l liberal course presents an enormous opportunity to take advantage of an emerging political landscape that is leaving the small l liberal voter with no representation. This has been the option pursued by the Liberal Democrats in England which, coupled with excellent campaigning, has led to their recent spectacular rise.

If the Democrats cannot take that decisive step, the only alternative will be to entertain a formal split. The Senators who most closely align with the small l liberal approach have the opportunity to stand as independents. The media attention that such a move would attract would give this group the opportunity to create a new identity and party structure. They would then be free to focus their efforts on developing the policies and vision needed to contest the next election.

The remaining Senators under Stott Despoja, as discussed by political commentators including you, would then face open competition with the Greens.

Times of crisis present opportunity for rebirth and change. With courage and vision the Democrats can embrace the opportunity that the current crisis brings and, with it, the chance to genuinely change politics in Australia.



The Centre Half Forward Party

By Brian Bahnisch in Brisbane

Disclosure: I have commonly voted for the top Democrat on their Senate ticket since the days of Michael Macklin. Then I usually go for the third Labor candidate and vote up the ticket in the hope that if the Dem fails it might help the third Labor candidate. A minor party senator needs to be one that I am convinced is suitable. I can’t remember whether I voted for John Woodley. If I did it was a mistake.

Ideally I’d like to explore the notion of banning party politics in the senate, together with a New Zealand or German MMP style system in the lower house so that significant minority views (as when One Nation got 10% of the national vote!) can be represented. The ‘house of review’ function of the Senate could then be developed, and we might have a system without so much inertia, one that could better accommodate change.

Meg Lees clearly needs lessons on how to lose. Cheryl Kernot had it right when she told the ABC’s Monica Attard that Meg should have got right out. I would not blame Natasha for not giving her enough positive strokes. How do you stroke a porcupine? Do you think Bill Hayden wanted strokes from Bob Hawke after he’d finished bawling in the dunny and said a drover’s dog could have led Labor to victory?

Big Kimbo has shown them all how to do it. He’s the loser par excellence. On election night he even looked as though he enjoyed it!

Meg should give back her seat to the Dems if she has any principle, and Murray has to go. You can’t keep a bloke who has declared a primary allegiance to some one outside the party!

Don Chipp should button up until he’s got both feet on the same side of the electric fence. Yes, he says, Senators should always follow their conscience and Meg was right to do so. Yes, he says, Party members should determine policy (and elect the leader) and Senators should follow Party policy. Well excuse me, Don, stripped of the personality problems I thought that was what the argument was all about.

Aden Ridgeway is a real worry. He has electric fence problems too and I can’t say I was surprised. Some time ago my son showed me the responses to an email he’d sent to all Democrat Senators, from memory when Meg was still leader. He got a sensible and intelligible reply from Natasha. From Aden he got a reply that was garbled, unintelligible and, well, weird!

I don’t have a new name for you, unless you count ‘Centre Half Forward Party’ as original. The ‘half’ is important, as they (Meg, Greg Barns, or whoever) are hardly going to step bravely forward to seize the day!

More seriously, in these days of uncertainty, loss of hope, of ‘endism’ everywhere, voters would like to restore if not the utopian dream at least a sense of movement, even though the precipice may be just around the next bend. In this sense we have only two parties that offer transformative dynamism.

First we have the Liberals. They are primarily about power, but beyond that are fully signed up to the neoliberal agenda, which is still being prosecuted with vigour by George Dubya as part of his war on something or other and by Robert Zoellick, Pascal Lamy and the World Trade Organisation secretariat on behalf of mainly American and European transnational companies.

The Liberals ameliorate this with a concept of ‘a fair go’. The fruits of a fair go have nevertheless been distributed in greater measure to the worthy, who turn out to be niche constituencies whose votes need to be secured.

The Greens also offer a clear transformative program. If you start with the notion of caring for the biosphere it is not a huge step to make sure you include all the primates, including homo sapiens. This is in spite of the fact that Nature’s big brain experiment has unusual capacities for obnoxious behaviour.

The Nationals? A surprising number are also fully signed up neoliberals, but don’t seem to appreciate that trade is not everything. They are terminally addicted to power on the coat tails of the Liberals, who screw them mercilessly. They are probably headed for extinction.

Then there is Labor. They are seriously infected by the neoliberal virus, their main virtue being that they do place greater emphasis on safety nets and on collective action and solidarity as against individualism and individual responsibility. Under them social capital would gradually improve. They are the true conservatives, at least since Paul Keating left, and under them we would experience steady organic growth. They can’t be a true home to the small ‘l’ liberals while they have a fundamental attachment to the unions. We can’t have the workers running the show!

This does leave some space for a genuine small ‘l’ liberal party, but it would have to enunciate its philosophy first and sign up members accordingly. Meg’s right, I suspect. You can’t give leadership if you’re programmed by the troops. That is if that’s what Meg really believes. The trouble with this imaginary party is that few will die in a ditch over its philosophy and it seems fertile territory for opportunistic dealmakers.

Hence ‘The Centre Half Forward Party’ seems about right.




I have been reading for a while, first time writer. I belong to an apparently invisible voting sector. According to, I am a right wing libertarian. That makes me overlooked by most political parties, and declared non-existent by the vast majority of political commentators. I majored in politics at university, and was considered odd for selecting Australian politics (instead of exotic courses like such as Post Maoist China or Swedish Labour Industrial Reforms) because I felt it important to understand how our own political system works.

I wanted to comment on the ostriches who have been writing in about Meg Lees. This isn’t to provoke a discussion on whether someone is pro- or anti-GST. Rather, the fact that I’m sick of all the alleged Democrats voters who ‘will never vote for them again because Meg gave us the GST’.

They seem oblivious of the fact – as you pointed out yourself – that it was DEMOCRATS POLICY at the time, not something that Lees did off her own bat but something that, with specific exemptions, the party went into the election supporting. So why then, are so many alleged party members and supporters ignorant of this fact? Or is it a case of ‘I never liked that policy myself so I’m going to pretend it never happened and it was all Lees’ fault’?

Those who didn’t vote Democrats in 1998 are entitled to complain, but to those who voted for them – either knowing or ignoring party policy – I’m sick of the whining and the reinventing of Democrats history.

When it came to the Senate vote all members were allowed a vote of conscience. Those who, like Stott Despoja, voted against it were not publicly reprimanded nor summoned before the ‘compliance committee’ to explain their actions. Nor do I recall Lees castigating them in the media. One’s conclusion could very well be that Lees was more generous to her parliamentary colleagues than her successor.

The inherent contradictions of ‘membership-voted policy’ and ‘parliamentary member conscience vote’ were inevitably going to clash, perhaps over the GST, and to a greater extent over any flagged discussion re Telstra. But the current Democrats leader is the only one I am aware of who has felt the need to enforce her leadership with the modern day equivalent of William Pitt’s 1798 Gag Acts.

I will watch with interest what happens with Lees and the remaining Democrats over the next weeks and months. I remember the current leader from her National Union of Students days, and sadly it appears she hasn’t realised that NUS isn’t like the real world.

Ultimately she didn’t learn from Kerry Chikarovski’s fatal mistake in 1999, namely don’t cause a leadership spill immediately prior to an election. Yes, it worked for Hawke in 1983, but that is the exception. How many other times has the incoming leader improved their position? Stott Despoja, like Chikarovski, should have waited until after the election. That way any fallout from the previous leaders’ decisions wouldn’t have hit her. But I suspect her own ego wouldn’t allow her to wait any longer, and I have to agree with Alan Ramsey’s piece on Saturday that her ‘personal ambitions exceed her competence but not her ego’.

I would prefer minority parties negotiate with the government of the day so that their own policies at least make it to the table. I wish that Bob Brown had been allowed to open negotiations on Telstra, because at least the Greens key environmental policies would have got an airing even if he ultimately rejected a sale.

I thought it was *responsible* for Lees to deal with a government that had campaigned and won on introducing a GST – especially considering it was part of her party’s platform – to get concessions on other matters. Continually block voting ‘no’ to every policy put forward is not improving or changing anything. I have always been a believer in incremental gains rather than ‘all or nothing’ because all too often the result of that *is* nothing.

To those who are pretending that everything wrong with the Democrats today is Meg Lees’ fault – please get your heads out of the sand. It must be getting crowded down there. Instead of reinventing history, perhaps you could ascertain what actually happened. It would make debate so much more interesting if you actually have a clue of what you are talking about.



Lees and Murray as hypocrites

By David Harcourt-Norton

I am sick to death of hearing about Andrew Murray’s right to voice his opinion on everything and anything.

Murray, the self-appointed defender of free speech never said a word about star chambers, thought police, intolerance, my right to natural justice or free speech when I was facing the National Compliance Committee after his partner in abuse of members, Lees, used the resources of her public office to attack me with in the party and in the press. Why … because it suited his purposes!

It seems Murray’s idea of Democracy stops when the argument goes against him.

If Murray has no confidence in the National Executive, Compliance Committee, National President, Parliamentary Leader, the policy process, the constitution or the members ability to make decisions for themselves in a party that is based on PARTICIPATORY democracy, then what exactly does he have confidence in other than his own conceited arrogance?

He wants to stay because he knows that morally he has to resign his seat should he resign from the party. I wonder if he has earned his parliamentary pension yet!

In my opinion, Murray is little more than an opportunistic hypocrite and his behaviour to date has been spiteful, deliberately damaging and equates well to the child who changes the rules to suit himself and then takes his bat and ball and goes home when others object. How dare he lay down “TERMS” to a member driven party! Don’t expel him, disendorse him. Deny him our name.

Margo: In The Australian this morning, Glenn Milne wrote that Mr Harcourt-Norton was a member of the national executive during 1999-2000, when he publicly disagreed with the GST deal and helped organise a petition to spill the leadership. Glenn says Lees successfully pressured the executive not to accept the petition, or another one. Harcourt-Norton protested an alleged breach of the constitution, and two people on Lees’ payroll complained to the National Compliance Committee. The NCC banned him from holding any national party positions for a year.


The Walking Dead

By Di Pritchard

Having been a member of the Australian Democrats for almost a decade, a candidate, a staffer and an office bearer it is somewhat saddening to see a once almost great party implode. But the party died a long time ago now.

The party organisation is run by a rag tag group of amateurs and unprofessional wanna-be’s who have lofty ambitions but little if no talent. The entrenched culture of anti-professionalism and rank amateur values has eaten away at the party like a cancer.

In the past twelve months there was a small blip of increased support under the leadership of Natasha. However, as this was primarily based on a cult of personality, it was inevitably short lived. Those who put Natasha on a pedestal soon saw the party for what it was, and either continued as a ‘NSD’ groupie or left the party, bored.

Serious political parties are about substance, policy and compromise, not personalities, media appearances on light entertainment programmes, photo opportunities and obsessive paranoid image making. The leader’s office during and since the 2001 federal election has been run like a playpen for the Gestapo; isolationist, autocratic, and paranoid. A motley crew of loyalist staff members – led by Frank Maguire – constantly give the leader poor advice.

In terms of media, Natasha’s press secretary, Alison Rodgers – who is now widely know for her rudeness and abruptness to almost everyone – is never pro-active. The leader’s staff are constantly fielding media requests, never setting the agenda.

The current leader has twelve months – at most – left. Then NSD will no doubt resign, get married, maybe have kids and then work in the media, or as a political consultant in the US, or making a great deal of money in the private sector, whatever. The Democrats will be left with Aden Ridgeway as leader, which is somewhat tragic, as Aden is a serious under-performer in the Senate and in the media – having been dubbed ‘invisible’ and ‘mute’.

Aden will call for unity and position himself as a consensus leader and as a saviour of the party (just as NSD did). Aden will lead the walking dead party to the next election, but fail to get re-elected in NSW. It will be the worst ever result, with the party being all but wiped out. The Green’s fortunes will continue to soar, becoming the balance of power party.

In March 2003 at the NSW state election the Democrats will field a gaggle of lower house candidates, none of whom will be elected. They run a fractured, divided and bitter upper house ticket of Lantry, Furness, Burridge, Baird, Ferrarah and Zakzewski – all belonging to opposing factions and ideological standpoints. Not a single Democrat will be elected, as the candidates will be viewed as ‘the infighting bastards’, rather than candidates that can ‘keep the bastards honest’ and it will be the final nail in the coffin of an already dead party.

A sad state of affairs maybe. Certainly a pale imitation of the vibrant substance-based party of 1977 founded by Don Chipp.

Ding, dong, the Australian Democrats are dead. Long live democracy. As for me, I’m just another Demo-rat fleeing the Titanic

Of racism and globalisation

Webdiary’s intellectual powerhouse Tim Dunlop becomes the third regular Webdiarist to join the Weblog world. Tim has led Webdiary debate on dairy deregulation and The Third Way, the former while completing his Phd on the role of the intellectual in public debate.

His move is in a good cause: “It’d be nice to get a bit of lefty synergy going, as my impression is that the right has made extraordinarily good use of the blog phenomena to form a matrix of opinion and exchange.” Like Don Arthur and Jack Robertson, Tim intends to occasionally contribute to Webdiary. Webdiarists’ blogspots are:

Tim: theroadtosurfdom

Don: ahailofdeadcats

Jack: truebelieversmustdie

Tim and Rob Schaap, a mate of Tim’s at the University of Canberra and an occasional Webdiarist (his blogspot is blogorrhoea) have written a piece on racism and globalisation which it is my pleasure to publish.

Of racism and globalisation and trying to find the complicated truth in a sea of blame

By Rob Schaap and Tim Dunlop

We have an unprovable and unpopular theory arguing that when John Howard announced in the lead up to the 2001 Federal election that we will decide who comes here and the circumstances in which they come that people responded less out of any actual racist antipathy to ‘dangerous foreigners’ than out of a sense of relief that someone had at last said something that put the country first.

For nearly thirty years the public have been told that due to the ‘forces of globalisation’ we had to privatise government services, sell off public assets, deregulate banking and every other industry, reduce worker entitlements in order to remain ‘competitive’ and integrate ourselves into international institutions like the WTO – which by their nature undermine our own control over economic and social policy. In other words, having lived through a generation of neo-liberal reforms that were constantly presented to people as not only desirable despite the obvious pain they caused but also as ‘inevitable’ and for which they was ‘no alternative’, people were hanging out for someone to say, hey, what happens in our country matters and what’s more, I’m going to act as if it did.

Howard’s famous catch-cry fitted the bill nicely.

Of course, it is unfortunate that it did in fact tap into some of the nastier elements of racism present in Australia (elements present in any country you care to name), but to read it entirely as some sort of racist backlash and a harking back to ‘White Australia’ is a pathetic oversimplification. In fact it is a case of presuming the existence of the very thing you are seeking to explain.

More importantly, it lets the rabid ‘globalisation’ touts off the hook way too lightly, and stops us looking at the underlying causes of discontent. And that’s what we’d like to do here.

We can present only limited evidence for this. though we think that once you start to give it some thought there is some logical force to it.

What made us think of all this again was an e-mail Tim got from his sister-in-law, which should be vaguely encouraging for all those, like Hilary McPhee (‘I do not recognise my country any more’ theage) who are in serious hand-wringing mode about the state of the country. The email included this passing comment:

“I went to Circus Oz last night, at the Town Hall. It was as it always is. The interesting thing is that, at the end, one of the performers invited the audience to put money in a bucket for refugee support groups. A cheer went up and – honestly – the people holding buckets were mobbed. Instead of rushing out the door, the audience headed straight for the collectors – they pushed and shoved to put their money in a bucket. I’ve never seen anything like it. Remarkable.”

The tone of surprise in her voice is really interesting but completely understandable, fed as we are on the belief that ordinary Australians are irredeemably racist and that election 2001 was White Australia regnant. We voted for Howard so we must be racist, right? What this anecdote suggests is that the usual image is more complex than we are led to believe and perhaps offers some support for our little hypothesis.

We can put it into a bit more context by analysing it from an economic point of view.

The economic is, always and everywhere, dependent on the non- or extra-economic sphere. Liberals and conservatives are coming to recognise this, as evinced by their recent idyllic invocations of ‘civil society’ (a host of ‘third wayers’, ‘communitarians’ and ‘social capital’ types come to mind). Since the outrage of September 11 2001, some are even mentioning The State again!

The trouble is, says British sociologist, Bob Jessop (rjessop) the old Market/Civil Society/State trinity is being rather painfully reconfigured just now.

We citizens have watched our state apparatus ‘deregulate’, ‘liberalise’ and privatise us out of our sense of democratic relevance, of national identity, and of our understanding of our place in both present and future (seeManuel Castells’ trilogy for instance).

An ideology focused on supply side economic policy has dominated our media for nearly thirty years, and has driven the state for nearly twenty. It has simply displaced a sense of democracy as ‘of, by and for’ the people. In fact, under Margaret Thatcher’s famous dictate, there was no the people; there was no such thing as society.

In addition, we’re mad at the state because we didn’t so much watch it succumb to some irresistible external force as deliberately and methodically give away what looked like our birthright (Karl Polanyi, EP Thompson and Alex Callinicos argue/d thus). It didn’t matter what we thought about it and it didn’t matter who we put into government. We were told it was inevitable and to hang on.

Thus the huge disillusion throughout the western democracies with the political process, culminating not just in the fall off of actual voters in Britain and America, for example, (who can barely get 50% of those eligible to vote), but also in Australia where, as voting is compulsory, dissatisfaction has been expressed through the rise of alternative parties and independents. It is also reflected in the rise of populist right wing parties who at least purport to take the people seriously.

We have watched the state abandon us as citizens. Bob Jessop talks about:

– The State being denationalised, with state power moving ‘upwards, downwards, and sideways as state managers on different territorial scales try to enhance their respective operational autonomies and strategic capacities’,

– Our political system ‘destatised’ with the shift from ‘government’ to ‘governance’ – from a state apparatus we saw as responsive to ideological contests transformed into a bunch of technocratic managers, and

– The usurping of the citizen as the subject and object of policy by some amorphous and bemusing plethora of transnational entities like the WTO, NATO and even the UN.

These tendencies are as apparent in the policy prescriptions of the third way left as they are in the new right, and both converge on a core of economic liberalism.

We’re not even allowed to take our own reservations seriously, because everything is economics now and most of us don’t have doctorates in that. We saw this sort of attitude expressed recently in Webdiary byAaron Oakley (see Third Way terror, May 27). There is always going be someone out there gunning for anybody who dares to speak on economic matters without what they consider to be the requisite economic training.

The anti-democratic nature of such a position should be obvious, and it all serves to hobble the entire idea of democracy as participatory self-rule. Under such circumstances, expertise becomes not the helpful specialisation of knowledge in the service of the common good, but a weapon used to stifle dissent and popular participation in social debates. Experts, who in fact disagree amongst themselves, present themselves not as important contributors to national debate but as the last word to whom we should all defer.

Given that ultimately what they are dealing with are social outcomes – things we are all meant to have a say in – it is hardly surprising that the lay public gets its nose out of joint and is willing to dismiss all expertise as the self-interested ravings of a plugged-in elite.

It is less predictable, though nonetheless apparent, that this provides a perfect opportunity for the right sort of populist politician to then cast all opposition as the ravings of a selfish elite and to usurp any influence they might have had by a crude appeal to the innate goodness and common sense of ordinary people.

In Australia, the Johnny-on-the-spot in this regard has been our clever Prime Minister who has built up a considerable rhetorical arsenal built on the phoney distinctions between the battlers and the elites or ordinary Australians and the progressives.

This in turn licenses the disenfranchised elites, the progressives, to disown the majority of their fellow citizens as ignorant rednecks, which of course also includes the charge of racism.

So when the events around immigration emerged at the time of the 2001 election, it not only provided an opportunity for a populist like Howard (who was smart enough and desperate enough to seize it) but it provided confirmation of the low opinion the progressives held of ordinary Australians and encouraged them to ignore all the other forces that were crystallised in the call of “We will decide who comes here and the circumstances in which they come”.

So we’re talking about an Australian populace (and the same forces are apparent in the UK, France, Austria, the Netherlands and even the USA) in great need of being assured that their state is still there, that it still matters, that its ruling class (the true elites) recognise its existence and importance, and that it can still wield some clout on behalf of its ordinary citizens.

Oh, and we’re shit-scared for our jobs, shit-scared of world views that further threaten the stability of our sense of self-in-world, and generally shit-scared of a world that suddenly looks like The Great Unknown, with weird foreigners flying planes into tall buildings.

It is this shit-scaredness that is held in contempt by most of those who endlessly endorse the new world order of lifetime education, endless personal mobility, and the phoney freedoms of a wired world of self-employed contractors.

Dare to challenge this mantra and you are likely to vilified as a backward-looking weakling who just can’t cut it in the online world. That this contempt is as likely to come from the left as the right is a matter of some regret and another cause of the irrelevance of voices from the left. (Who outside the world of the middle-class intelligentsia is even remotely inspired, let alone comforted, by the onset on anything called The Third Way? Surely not the aspirationals at whom it is aimed?)

Too much progressive commentary has overlooked the economic angle and highlighted the race angle. This plays right into the conservative’s hands, something the self-righteous left fails to grasp. Yes, Australia’s history does warrant a black armband, but, no, things aren’t as bad as they might seem to the fervent anti-racism types among us.

Robert Manne wrote the other day (smh) that we’re still the same nation Keith Hancock wrote about in the 1930s – that we’re still a huddle of nervous, fiercely xenophobic whites stuck on an island fortress, both physically and psychically (our apologies to indigenous Australians, but that’s the picture as it was drawn).

But doesn’t this ignore the little matter of the transformative half-century that has elapsed since the war? First of all, the influx of white non-English-speaking foreigners by the hundreds of thousands. Then came the South East Asians. In the 1970s, under a conservative liberal prime-minister, Australia resettled more refugees per head of population than any country on earth, as Scott Burchell reminds us.

The Australia that did this thing was a much more culturally homogenous entity than it is now, and logic would suggest we would have been a less tolerant, more scared bunch, too (we’d been warring in SE Asia for nearly a decade). Not only that, but the people coming to our shores were of the very ethnic groups against whom we’d traditionally set ourselves.

Yet, as Scott Burchell says, Australia earned a well deserved reputation during the Fraser years for resettling a very large number of Indo-Chinese refugees.

As the likes of Don Watson and Hilary McPhee wring their hands at Australia’s ‘move to the right’ and the lost ‘moment’ of multicultural tolerance, we should remember that very few from the left ever gave Australians credit for the way they got on with it during the 70s and 80s.

In other words, having never conceded any progress in these matters when we were living through it, they now, in hindsight, seek to claim that recent past as some sort of ‘golden age’ from which we have strayed. Having never acknowledged it at the time, they now back-construct that period in order to use it as a weapon with which to hit Australians over the head and so continue with the usual game of superior disdain for yer ‘average Australian’. Neat trick.

We might add that a newly formed party, dedicated to the emancipation of the refugees, is hardly made up of typical lefties (John Singleton and John Newcombe are two salient members). All those famous old heads are heads of the seventies, the product of a time when many on the mainstream right of Australian politics were as willing to try multiculturalism as anyone on the left.

Why? Because one big difference (and we suspect it to be the decisive difference) is that we were not as globalised then as we are now. We are suggesting that nationalist xenophobia is precisely a function of that which purports to bring us all together.

There has been, quite appropriately in our view, a lot of talk about Australia’s obligations under Article 31 of UN Convention on the Status of Refugees. The trouble with the UN Convention is that it was drafted in 1951, and half a century is a long time in political economy.

Core economies needed labourers in 1951, and while this economic fact may not have written Article 31, it certainly encouraged it. Western polities were competing with the Communist Bloc for the hearts and souls of the non-aligned in 1951, too.

There is no polar distinction in the Convention between economic migrants and political refugees and in Article 31 there is the express understanding that refugees are often obliged to employ technically illegal means and criminal agents if they’re to escape at all.

And it is precisely upon the fulcrum of criminality that the whole argument now turns. The adjective illegal is crammed in everywhere. Trafficking is a big problem in Europe (to be trafficked is to be exploited and without the decisive burden of guilt) but here the problem is deemed overwhelmingly one of smuggling (and the smuggled party IS a guilty party).

We are encouraged by the government to forget the simple truth that refugees can’t escape without transport, without paying people, and without circumventing barriers. Phillip Ruddock loves the term queue-jumpers, for instance. He doesn’t say where an Afghan peasant or Iraqi villager might find this queue, he just besmirches them for doing what a refugee needs to do. Its like he never saw Schindlers List.

We see this messing about with language a lot.

Julian Burnside in Well, it’s the rule (webdiary) speaks of the elision of the distinctions that so obviously pertain between three distinct elements of Australian policy: border control, immigration policy, an treatment of refugees:

“All require quite different thinking, and all require separate solutions, and yet somehow our political masters have managed to run these problems together and use the ugliest bits from each. And, together in all their ugliness, they are reduced to but one notion: border control.

“Australians heard it again and again from their prime-minister during the election campaign: We will determine who comes into our country and in what circumstances.”

But consider: If a State is trying to garner brownie points, it’s a good idea to spend its (well, our) money at home rather than abroad. Again, that smuggling notion comes in handy – if smuggling is the designated problem, then border control is the appropriate strategy, and that means precisely that The State spends the money here, where we get to see it spent.

We DO matter! We ARE a nation and we ARE a State again! For do we not see The State investing in us, The Nation, again?

So the State seems directly to have addressed our fear and indignation it has secured our jobs (for so long have we been lectured by the neo-liberals that the notion of a Keynesian multiplier is all but dead), kept scary world views away, and made us feel like our place in the order of things has been, at least in part, restored.

The government burns $300 million a year on processing and housing refugees, and a few hundred million more on interception and interdiction. And our aid budget to the countries whence these refugees come amounts to all of $14.4 million. The State is doing National stuff in and for the Nation again. And a measure of comfort is temporarily restored.

Howard’s genius at the outset of the latest nonsense was not in obeying the pollsters, but in grasping the moment before the numbers were there to be reported – sensing all of the above and giving it the focus through which it could cathartically express itself to his advantage.

The irony is almost too delicious: The person who has more than any other advocated the very economic policies that created the sense of loss in the first place and who even stood up in the US Congress the other day and waxed hysterical about the primacy of the individual is now the prime beneficiary of this new-found desire to protect the collectivity, the state itself.

Howard had a lot of bad luck in the past (the Joh-for-Canberra saga comes to mind, and that racist nonsense on immigration policy back in ’88 hadn’t worked for him), but he’d never lost his eye for the main chance.

Having contributed to an enduring social malaise (as neo-liberal technocrats must), he saw the salving potential in the near coincidence of 9-11 and Tampa before anyone else did (and let’s give Reith some credit too: he was very quick to connect the dots for us).

In the wake of this we could all feel looked after again, feel a nation again, feel potently relevant again – and Howard gets another three years at the expense of a few thousand nobodies who can’t get near a phone, never mind a polling booth.

Kim Beazley, so intent on making himself and his party a small target, literally missed the boat. So spooked were they that rather than offer a viable alternative, they meekly fell in line with a hideous policy prescription, a decision that continues to haunt them.

Our ‘racism’ wouldn’t last a minute if we were confronted with what we’re doing and the real people to whom we’re doing it, but if our betters spend enough of our dollars on keeping our eyes and ears away from our actions and victims, that’s entirely manageable.

So the Howard Government has an express policy (confirmed in evidence to the unthrown children inquiry) of preventing the humanisation of those locked away in the desert or banished to the client satellite statelets of the Pacific Solution.

The infamous footage from the Curtin Detention Camp of people in obvious despair and in various stages of mental breakdown is part of a gradual but inevitable humanisation. You see, we don’t think the situation is such that a decisive proportion of Australians can’t be turned.

Sure, at the moment ours is the ignorance in which racism grows. And, sure, by the definition of racism held by The International Council on Human Rights Policy (IHCRP), our State apparatus is being racist (for it is most definitely “nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment, or exercise, on equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, or any other field of public life,” on the basis of “national or ethnic origin”).

But we do not think this obscenity need be read as a definitive symptom of an unchanging political culture, nor a particularly reliable indicator of how we might behave in the future.

As intimated before, we do not think Howard won the election on border protection alone. Labor enjoys neither the moral nor logical clout to carry that argument. They did not afford the electorate an alternative on this issue and, of course, no opposition can convincingly match a party in government that is prepared to embark on a budget-busting $23-billion-pork-orgy.

So whatever the suspicions of some, the re-election of a Howard government has little to tell us about any enduringly profound xenophobia.

A change in government might change things. Remember Paul Keating’s parting words at the National Press Club: When the government changes the country changes, and the gradual and inevitable promulgation of more gut-wrenching footage and shock-horror disclosures of what our betters have been getting up to would help.

Whether these alone would be decisive, we daren’t say. Imagine if such developments were accompanied by an expansion (and, yes, complication) of the globalisation discussions to include a democratically entrenched recognition of, and central role for, the citizen – such that subjects feel less like betrayed and impotent objects. An Australia once again secure in its capacity democratically to affect and manage inevitably changing circumstances (for let’s not forget the times have always been achanging, and Australia ever with them) would show an altogether different face.

Like helpless bods clinging to a leaky wreck somewhere between Indonesia and Australia, we were willing to grasp any straw floating past, as drowning people are wont to do.

We deserve condemnation for the form that straw took, but those who jump to hasty conclusions about ingrained racism need to at least recognise that many ordinary Australians did feel they were drowning in a sea of uncertainty set swelling by a neo-liberal juggernaut over which they felt they had no control.

Any account that doesn’t at least factor this into the equation is incomplete.

Exchange of correspondence

You’d think the Maritime Commander of the Royal Australian Navy, Rear Admiral Geoffrey Smith, would have stopped writing letters on SIEV-X.

After all, it was his letter to the Canberra Times repeating his false evidence to the unthrown children inquiry that he’d not heard of SIEV-X until after it sank that alerted Coastwatch chief Rear Admiral Marcus Bonser to Smith’s problem.

But he’s at it again, this time in a letter to the Herald published on Monday. Today, his letter and my reply, and my piece last week on last Thursday’s hearings of the SIEV-X inquiry. Ironically enough, his letter is dated the same day as a defence witness blew away his story at the inquiry.

The SBS Dateline program puts its second SIEV-X report to air tonight. The transcript of reporter Geoff Parish’s first report is in my first SIEV-X Webdiary entry Cover up or stuff up. I’ll put the transcript for tonight’s program up after it’s gone to air.


Navy didn’t turn its back on SIEV-X

I have read with considerable concern articles written by Margo Kingston about the loss of SIEV-X. In “Navy did all it could to find doomed ship: PM” (Herald, July 1) I was accused of giving false evidence to the Senate committee and retracting it to avoid contradicting with evidence from Coastwatch. This is untrue, and I take personal offence at the accusation.

Hansard records my words on April 4: “We had some information that a boat might have been being prepared in the vicinity of Sunda Strait but we had no real fixed information as to when it was going to sail. Indeed, the first time that the navy knew [it] had sailed was when we were advised through the search and rescue organisation in Canberra that [it] may have foundered in the vicinity of Sunda Strait.”

Ms Kingston has given distorting emphasis to the latter part of my statement, portraying it as a denial that the navy had any information about SIEV-X. In my evidence I explained that unconfirmed intelligence had been received, and later added a letter of clarification that she absurdly labelled a “retraction”.

The letter made the essential point that our intelligence reports come from sources of greatly varying reliability. Often these reports conflict, and cannot be solely relied upon to determine air surveillance patterns or the stationing of ships. This was the case with SIEV-X.

Those of us charged with the responsibility of sending Australians into harm’s way are prepared to weather criticism of our decisions. But Ms Kingston’s allegations about ordinary sailors (“Mass drowning case could sink Navy’s reputation once and for all”, Herald, June 4) are unjustified. She accused them of deliberately turning their backs upon people in peril, which is unfair.

The Royal Australian Navy is a highly professional service which places the highest importance on the safety of life at sea and, whenever we are able, we will always respond to those in distress.

G.F. Smith, Rear Admiral, RAN Maritime Commander Australia, Potts Point, July 11.


Dear Rear-Admiral Smith,

Your letter makes two points, both of which I strongly dispute.

1. You did not give false evidence to the inquiry

I am accused of distorting your evidence. I am in good company. When the head of Coastwatch,. Admiral Marcus Bonser, read your letter to The Canberra Times he took immediate action to correct the record. He told your chief of staff your evidence was inconsistent with the facts, particularly on “the first time that notification of SIEV-X occurred, which was not consistent with the flow of information as I knew it.”

When he heard nothing, he advised the head of the Defence force task force set up to assist the inquiry, Vice-Admiral Raydon Gates, at a face-to-face meeting. With the date when he would give evidence fast approaching and still no response by you, Bonser told the navy chief Admiral David Shackleton that “there would be inconsistencies between Admiral Smith’s evidence and mine when I appeared at the Senate committee, and he should be aware of that”.

You might also wish to explain your evidence on April 11 that, “We had no knowledge of that boat having sailed.”

Let’s go through your April 4 evidence as cited in your letter.

A. “We had some information that a boat might have been being prepared…’‘.

In fact, you had known for months through detailed intelligence reports that SIEV-X was being prepared by people smuggler Abu Qussey, a top-priority target of Australian intelligence operations, and had intelligence on October 18 and 19 that it was reported to have sailed. On October 20, your own intelligence group, the Australian Theatre Joint Intelligence Centre received a report from Australian Federal Police intelligence through Coastwatch that SIEV-X had sailed and was overcrowded. The head of ATJIC, Colonel Patrick Gallagher, gave evidence that “We took that report … to be confirmation that departure had occurred,” and immediately issued an urgent intelligence report to that effect as “the way to get people’s attention on a weekend”.

Colonel Gallagher could not explain why you did not accept that SIEV-X had departed for another two days. “Those sort of decisions would have been taken in Canberra,” he said.

B. “We had no real fixed information as to when it was going to sail.”

See above. Not only did you have fixed information that it had sailed, you had information of when it was expected to arrive if nothing went wrong. You knew the boat was overcrowded, yet you took no action to search for SIEV-X.

The day after SIEV-X sank, when survivors were still in the water hoping for rescue, your Northern Command issued an intelligence report to you that it was expected to arrive the next day unless its overcrowding slowed it down. NORCOM assessed “a high probability of the vessel arriving vic Christmas Island from 21 Oct 01, and that due to its overcrowding and need to maintain stability it may be limited to a slow passage, and therefore a later time of arrival could be expected.”

C. “The first time that the navy knew [it] had sailed was when we were advised (on October 23) that [it] may have foundered…”

See above. On October 22 Coastwatch issued an overdue notice on SIEV-X. A defence representative was at the meeting of the PM’s task force where this was discussed, along with the ‘fact’ (proved incorrect) that you were looking for SIEV-X.


Why did you give false evidence? The closest I’ve got to an answer is in a Mike Carlton piece. Mike has defended the navy over SIEV-X in three pieces in the Herald, in which he openly acknowledges that he relies for his information on navy bosses at the highest levels. He is a mate of former navy chief David Shackleton, for instance, and has spoken with you.

Here’s his explanation of your evidence in ‘Navy ‘plot’ doesn’t hold water’ (June 22).

“Undeterred, the theorists then claim a conflict between the director of Coastwatch, Rear Admiral Marc Bonser, and the navy’s maritime commander, Rear Admiral Geoff Smith. Again, not true. Bonser told the Senate committee of some early SIEV-X intelligence reports which Smith had believed were classified secret. He informed Smith he would do so. Smith then clarified that apparent difference in a letter to the committee.

Why did you believe the reports were ‘secret’? Why did you deny knowledge of SIEV-X instead of refusing to answer questions on it?

2. My unjustified allegations about ordinary sailors, accusing them of “deliberately turning their backs upon people in peril, which is unfair”.

This allegation verges on malicious obfuscation. At no time in the piece you mention, or any other, have I accused ordinary sailors or their immediate commanders of doing anything inappropriate in this affair. I have suggested that “the top brass” have lots of questions to answer, as they did over the ‘children overboard” lie.

Can you point to any part of the piece which makes “allegations about ordinary sailors” or that they turned their backs upon people in peril? (See the text of the piece you rely on below). It seems to me you are appealing to our pride in the navy to save yourself. This is a political letter, not one addressing the merits of this matter.

M.L. Kingston, journalist, Sydney Morning Herald


Patsy not so easily deceived

By Margo Kingston

Defence Minister Robert Hill offered up Colonel Patrick Gallagher as a witness on Monday. The colonel first knew he was the patsy next morning when he read about it in The Canberra Times.

He hadn’t been a member of the Australian Theatre Joint Intelligence Centre (ATJIC) when the SIEV-X intelligence reports were analysed and sent to Operation Relex for action.

Now head of the centre, he raced to Canberra, read all the reports on Tuesday and all the SIEV-X evidence on Wednesday.

He couldn’t answer most questions how could he? Hill had substituted him for Admiral Raydon Gates, who he has banned from giving evidence.

Gates heads the defence force task force set up specifically to help the inquiry. He also wrote the defence force SIEV-X submission and reviewed all intelligence on SIEV-X received by defence. He’s got a power-point presentation ready and he wants to give evidence.

Hill won’t oblige because he doesn’t want Gates to give evidence on the alleged witness tampering of Commander Stefan King by Dr Brendon Hammer of the PM’s department.

What doesn’t Hill want Gates to reveal? It’s bound to be something embarrassing to the Government, and, like his predecessor Peter Reith, he doesn’t care what damage is done to defence to achieve that aim.

Yesterday the damage was excruciating. Gallagher was asked when ATJIC first reported that SIEV-X was grossly overcrowded. Task force officers passed him an answer. “The first report that up to 400 people were aboard the vessel and that it was overcrowded” was on October 22, Gallagher read.

His brow creased. “I have to say I’ve some concerns about that, because my recollection is the report on the morning of the 20th of October actually mentioned a large number of people …”

The latest defence force story is crumbling.

Hill has learned that Gallagher is no patsy.


Mass drowning case could sink navy’s reputation

By Margo Kingston, June 4 2002

The new-look Defence Force’s handling of the fallout from the mysterious SIEV-X may well decide whether the navy’s culture, and its reputation, survives, writes Margo Kingston.

The incoming Defence Force chief, Lieutenant-General Peter Cosgrove, and the navy chief, Rear-Admiral Chris Ritchie, do not have the luxury of turning the page on the children overboard scandal which sullied their predecessors, Admiral Chris Barrie and Vice-Admiral David Shackleton, and called into question the political independence of our top brass.

They have to handle a potentially more damaging inquiry into the death by drowning of 353 people – including 150 children – during the federal election campaign.

The new-look Defence Force’s handling of the fallout from the mysterious SIEV-X – which the navy swore it knew nothing of before the drownings, then recanted in sensational circumstances – may well decide whether the navy’s culture, and its reputation, survives.

A former Australian ambassador to Cambodia, Tony Kevin, first suggested the Government knew about SIEV-X before its sinking when he made a private submission to the children overboard inquiry. But senators on both sides were hostile to his evidence and Admiral Geoffrey Smith, the head of the post-Tampa boat people assault code-named Operation Relex, buried the matter with unequivocal evidence.

Why was the nearest navy vessel so far away when the boat sank? Did the daily surveillance plane flyovers spot it? Were there warnings of its likely departure? “At no time under the auspices of Operation Relex were we aware of the sailing of that vessel until we were told that it had in fact foundered,” Smith said.

The only unanswered question: how did SIEV-X slip through what Coastwatch chief, Rear-Admiral Mark Bonser, called “a comprehensive surveillance pattern [in place] doing nothing but looking for these boats”? Senators became interested in the results of the navy’s investigation into what went wrong.

But before they got to that, Bonser threw a bomb into this minor inquiry footnote, revealing in evidence that the navy had extensive prior knowledge about SIEV-X from Australian Federal Police intelligence reports and Coastwatch analysis, including the identity of the people smuggler concerned. In particular, the day before the sinking it was told that SIEV-X had reportedly sailed and was a possible arrival at Christmas Island soon. Smith had agreed in evidence that it was normal practice to move a navy vessel in the direction of a target once a report was made of its departure.

Bonser also revealed that the navy had conducted no investigation into why SIEV-X had not been spotted and monitored as required by the Government’s forward defence interception and return strategy, or even asked any questions about it.

And his bombshells didn’t stop there. Bonser had taken extraordinary measures to warn the navy that his evidence would be inconsistent with that of Smith, yet it did not correct the record for more than a month. On April 16, when Smith was overseas, Bonser informed Smith’s chief of staff that his evidence was inconsistent “with the flow of information as I knew it”.

He heard nothing back, and on April 22 told the head of the Defence Force’s people-smuggling taskforce, Admiral R.W. Gates, about the problem. Gates said he would speak to Smith. Still nothing.

On May 10 Bonser went to the top, advising the then navy chief, David Shackleton, that “there would be inconsistencies between Admiral Smith’s evidence and mine [and] he should be aware of that”.

Six days later Smith rang Bonser to advise he would “clarify” his evidence, then got copies of the intelligence documents Coastwatch had given the navy at the time. Smith finally wrote to the inquiry correcting his evidence after his letter was cleared by the defence taskforce. But just before Bonser took the stand the navy demanded the letter back on the ground that it was confidential.

Bonser’s evidence and Smith’s letter have ignited inquiry interest. The Australian Federal Police and Admiral Gates will give evidence on June 21. Labor’s Senate leader, John Faulkner, told the Herald that SIEV-X was now his top inquiry priority.

What is going on in the navy? Has its core ethos mutated under the political stresses of Operation Relex? Has it got something terrible to hide, or is it so incompetent that it needs a shake-up much bigger than a change of leaders at the top? Stay tuned.

The Democrats: Split on survival

What do you reckon about the Democrats these days? My state of mind on the matter is in a column in today’s Herald and below, followed by initial reaction from Alex Dunnin, John Bignucolo, Max Phillips, David Davis and Jenny Forster. To end, a detailed piece by Susan Brown, a former adviser to Democrats leaders Cheryl Kernot and Meg Lees.

First an apology. I forgot to put under the piece in the paper the disclosure that I own Telstra shares. That’s fixed for the online version.

I bought T1 shares because my father was an engineer in the Post Master General’s Department, which became Telecom – I think when Labor started corporatising it. He died before the partly privatised Telstra was born. My father was very distressed when engineers began losing their power to the accountants. In response he became interested in the ‘union’ – the Professional Officers Association – and sometimes went to Melbourne to argue the engineers’ case before the Arbitration Commission. It was a big step for him, as he was a Joh Bjelke-Petersen supporter.

My Dad was an early proponent of Optic Fibre cable, and fought hard to get it put in around the country. He invented the “Alcorn Capstan” to help lay the cable, and got into big fights with the accountants because he wanted to wrap the cable in a material that would last 100 years and the accountants wanted a cheaper alternative that would last a much shorter time. Cost before excellence, short term elevated above long term. And that was just the corporatisation phase,

There’s a couple of good pieces in the Australian Financial Review today about selling Telstra.

Alan Kohler, the most clear-sighted and thought-provoking finance writer in Australia in my opinion (sorry Alan), argues that the proceeds of sale should go to an independent body to decide – after public submissions – what public infrastructure to spend it on, free of porkbarrelling. He notes that it’s ridiculous to sell Telstra before we are convinced the proceeds will be well spent. We were told Telstra sale proceeds would retire government debt, but now we know that would reduce that debt too much, destroying the bond market. So now Treasury wants to keep the debt, and invest the Telstra proceeds in a share fund.

Crazy! Government is there to spend money on long term projects of benefit to the Australian people, including children and future children. That’s what it’s for, whether it builds national infrastructure or saves the Murray River by itself or in partnership with private enterprise. The market doesn’t do the long-term stuff.

I sometimes wonder why some of our political ‘leaders’ wanted to go into politics if their aim was to hand over responsibility for everything to people who aren’t elected by us.

In a letter to the editor, Philip Henty of Canterbury in Victoria wrote:

“Darryn Abraham of Access Economics … hits the nail on the head when he says that in working out the value for the sale of its remaining 51 percent stake in Telstra, the Federal Government should be thinking about maximising the returns to the country as a whole, over time.

“This approach would, of course, require the government to present some hard data on costs and benefits, together with reinvestment options to support this major capital allocation decision.

“Further, in line with Abraham’s advice, it would mean that the Government would need to present a comprehensive argument reflecting the triple bottom line approach to the sale encompassing social and environmental impacts and including a regulatory package. It’s the sort of basic process companies have to undertake every day of the week.

“Unfortunately we are unlikely to see these arguments presented. Transparency and financial rigour in the Government’s micro-economic management is increasingly in short supply.

“…Taken as a whole, the sheer scale of, and lack of rigour and transparency applied to, recent government spending and asset management decisions indicates a significant deterioration in micro-management. Poor quality decision making inevitably ends up affecting the macro position, as it does with any enterprise.

“The lack of critical argument presented for and against the Telstra sale is truly staggering.”

Indeed, but why should the Libs bother with all that if the Opposition won’t make them? Total opposition to the sale without putting the government to proof and demanding details of what the proceeds will be spent on and how before the Senate vote is an abdication of Labor’s responsibilities. Labor should listen to Meg Lees and learn something. She says we should sell if the government can PROVE it’s in the public interest to do so, and that judgement can only be made when the government reveals what it will do with the proceeds. It should set out the parameters of its answer to that question BEFORE the horsetrading is done in the Senate to buy votes.


Removing Lees is essential to Democrats’ survival

By Margo Kingston

In the beginning there was Pauline Hanson, whose power climaxed last year with Tampa. Now the fallout: the transformation of Australian politics to accommodate the new climate.

Lefties are deserting Labor for the Greens. Their backs are to the wall – on state ownership, unionism and social policy – and they want to dig in and just say no. The Greens know which side their bread is buttered on – their leadership rejected Bob Brown’s push to sell Telstra in exchange for an end to logging of old-growth forests because economic leftism is vital to keep growing the voter base.

Labor doesn’t believe in what it used to and hasn’t worked out what it does believe in that’s any different from the Liberals. The Liberals shed their small “l” credentials in favour of big brother social conservatism, indifference to human rights and a radical dismantling of the state in favour of the market.

And the Democrats?

The public split between their former and current leader is about where the Democrats can profitably position themselves in the new political marketplace. Where is the significant gap the Democrats could credibly fill?

The answer is obvious. There is no party representing free market policies balanced by concern for the human cost, environmental responsibility and progressive social values. Voters of this mind – Liberal- and Labor-leaning – are disenfranchised.

This is the place for the Democrats in the new politics. It is why former Liberal Greg Barns has joined the party. The left won’t forgive the Democrats’ GST deal. The voters they could get – social progressives who, for example, would like to see Telstra sold in return for some big-spending repair and conservation of our natural environment – are frustrated by Natasha Stott Despoja’s hard-left economic stances.

It’s no accident that the issue dividing the Democrats is Telstra. There’s a good argument that we were lucky Telstra stayed in majority government ownership during the tech boom, because it couldn’t spend up too big.

But now, with telecommunications companies around the world in ruins and Telstra well placed to pick up great assets at fire-sale prices, it’s time for the Government to sell out and let Telstra grow. Unless, of course, your constituency sees opposition to the sale as a bottom line.

The Democrats were born of a Liberal split when Malcolm Fraser ruled. They developed a Labor lean during the years of Labor power, and began to lean back under the Liberals when Cheryl Kernot did the deal on industrial relations reform.

The Democrats appeal to voters who want to avoid the excesses of absolute power by either side, who want to see longer-term concerns included in debate, and who want governments to prove their case for change on merit. Voting Democrats is not a radical act, it is a vote for the middle ground.

A period of calm after the leak to of Meg Lees’s incendiary letter to the Democrats “compliance committee” has ruptured, and Lees’s expulsion is again on the cards. In my view, her expulsion would be good for the party and for Australian politics.

In the new Senate, the Government needs the Democrats or four of the other five senators to pass a law. Sack Lees, and the Government needs four of six.

Lees is a great cost-benefit deal-maker. If expelled, she could exploit the Democrats’ rules that senators have a conscience vote on every issue and swing the Telstra vote by attracting supportive Democrats senators once Howard offered her a deal on sale proceeds. Lees could effectively hold the balance of power in the Senate.

In this scenario, Stott Despoja’s leftie wing of the Democrats – which failed so woefully in the head-to-head with the Greens at the last election – withers and becomes absorbed into the Greens. Lees leads the rest into a viable alternative for small “l” Liberals and “Third Way” Labor voters.

Maybe Lees is thinking the same way. Sack her now, Stott Despoja, and the Democrats could mutate and survive as a powerful political force. Keep her on, and the Democrats could die.

Disclosure: The writer owns Telstra shares


Alex Dunnin

Very simple yet profound piece in today’s Herald. I think you’ve nailed the real game that will emerge – indeed I met an apparently influencial labour sympathiser who suggested as much, though obviously from the view that the union links are holding them back and so the whole 50:50 debate is irrelevant.


John Bignucolo

I read your analysis of the dynamics of the Australian Democrats’ impending breakup with interest. One aspect of the analysis that concerned me was your characterisation of the Greens as a refuge for desperate, disenfranchised, and determined left wingers. I wish it wasn’t so, but I think you’re right.

I stopped voting for the Labor Party some elections ago and switched to the Greens, precisely because of their environmental policies. Not because they opposed privatisation and not because they objected to the Howard government’s border protection policies. There is a danger here that the Greens are going to lose focus and forget why they established themselves in the first place.

The notion of the Greens – founded on the notion of “It’s the Environment, stupid” – being hijacked by rebadged Trots and Sparts is a depressing one. However, it’s an observable phenomenon. One can see it in faded billposters for “Green Left Weekly” or in the sandbox of university politics.

Bob Brown’s suggestion that the Greens consider trading the sale of Telstra for the end of logging in old growth forests is exactly what I would want an environmental party to pursue. Whatever the merits or otherwise of the public ownership of Telstra, it has didly to do with the environment. However, the executive of the Greens chose this over the forests. This does not represent a good outcome for the environment.

I’d be really happy if all those grumpy, dismayed leftwingers engaged in a little truth in advertising and went off to form their own party instead of co-opting and debasing the Greens’ founding principles.


Max Phillips

I disagree with you on Meg Lees and the Democrats. Firstly, if, as you argue, Telstra has benefitted by being majority state owned, why should it be sold now? You say they can benefit from a fire sale of international communications assets? Why do we need Telstra to become another megalomaniacal global communications-media corporation?

Why can’t it be simply be a telecommunications company *servicing* Australia? Do the people of Australia really need to endanger their telecommunication services, and sell off a national asset, to let some overpaid boys in suits play takeover and merger games?

Secondly, you advise Lees to split from the Democrats and become independent, and then hypothesise a scenario where “Lees could effectively hold the balance of power in the Senate”. When people vote for the Senate, they vote for a party – around 96% vote above the line.

In my book, a Senator who resigns from their party should vacate their seat for a nominee from their former party. This principle was true in Mal Colston’s case, and should hold true for the Lees scenario – especially as the Democrats pride themselves as a grass roots democracy party.

If Lees wants to be an independent senator, she should run for the Senate as an independent next election. She is welcome to make the sale of Telstra a plank in her policy platform. It would be interesting to see how many votes she would get.


David Davis in Switzerland

Under either of your scenarios, Stott Despoja ends up on some sort of scrap heap (ultimately). This is where she belongs. It’s a war of ideas and she’s lost it. She can’t compete with Labor or Liberal and as you rightly point out, she can’t even compete with the Greens with her kind of policy agenda.

The Democrats would be better off if they went back to where they started, as a kind of honest, realistic policy broker. Constantly throwing tantrums and saying no to everything is not being an honest broker, it’s being a waste of space.

Someone like Meg Lees is the only one who could convince disenfranchised “small l’s” and other variants of “third way” voters to choose the Democrats. Lees has proved in the past that she is very smart in making great gains for her party. She has actually implemented some of their policies and made a Democrats mark on the country. By being prepared to horse trade on the GST, she did more than be involved in a perpetually meaningless talkfest. She actually had substantial impact.

Politicians and parties should be measured by the impact they make. They are lawmakers in the end so you have to judge them by how they impacted legislation. A lot of the other stuff is fluff and bizarre pantomime.

Kernot has long made a lot of noise about the adversarial nature of Australian politics. That’s the system, or is it? Lees proved that you can work the system to achieve quite unexpected outcomes. You don’t see Lees walking around making shrill announcements and talking garbage. You just get the impression that she’s smart and a hard worker who can get things done without a lot of fuss.

Until she is back, I can’t imagine a single small “l” person being attracted to vote for the Democrats*. Why would they be? Instead of trying to be all things to all people it strikes me that the Democrats are trying to be nothing to nobody.

Trying to be sacked is rather Machiavellian. Successful Machiavellians are far more interesting than the ones who botch it up or do it so obviously that they some how lose the Machiavellian nature of it in the process! The dark horse prepares for another run and my money is on her. Meanwhile the show pony returns to the stable.

* Greg Barns excluded I suppose!


Jenny Forster in Sydney

Cathy Bannister makes a good point in Weighing in on ‘The Affair’ (July 8):

“If Meg Lee’s GST deal, which seemed oh so sweet at the time, is a prime example. What has happened to the $400 million to be spent on the Greenhouse Gas Abatement Program? Well, firstly the Australian Greenhouse Office (who administered the program), didn’t approve funding of most proposed projects during the first year, on the (ludicrous) grounds that only projects that are not commercially viable were eligible. (Naturally, those that were not commercially viable tended to be dogs, thereby being also ineligible for funding. Catch 22.)

“And this year, the whole $400 million kitty has been swallowed back up in defence and border protection. So poor Meg’s brilliant deal was for nothing.”

Could the green lobby and the Labor Party please note what Cathy says. It seems that Howard is now hell-bent on selling the rest of Telstra at any old (low) price to appease the “mums and dads”, as share purchasers are referred to in Howard’s picket fence Australia.

They lost on T2 and he will see them right this time. With Telcos in tatters world wide it is the worst time to sell to get a good price. The suggestion is that Telstra can scoop up some of the Telco corpses at bargain rates.

Bob Brown almost accepted the carrot of a payment to the environment but was reeled in by the rest of the party. We can all see the need for a lot of money to halt the spread of salinity , stop logging of old growth forests and seed companies who want to produce wind products and energy as a renewable resource.

What Howard is going to do is weigh Telstra on one side of the scale and the environment on the other then call the Greens and Labor for environmental delinquents in the parliament/press if they object. Anyway, have they stopped beating their mother?

By the time the public wakes up to the fact that the environmental money from Telstra 3 has gone on the army/navy/airforce/border control/war in Iraq Howard could be in retirement travelling the world on his gold card. Did someone say Teflon?


Mr Howard, the number you have called may just be connected

By Susan Brown

Disclosure: Susan Brown is a hack and sometime flack for The Brisbane Institute. She is a North Queenslander who worked around Australia before acquiring a degree in social and environmental policy from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. After working in the Mines Department of Victoria and for CSIRO she became Coordinator of the North Queensland Conservation Council just as the Port Hinchinbrook development hit the headlines. Australian Democrat Leader Cheryl Kernot head-hunted her as an adviser. When Cheryl defected she became a senior adviser to Meg Lees. After six years of heady parliamentary life, including being part of the GST team which got more than one billion dollars in new money on air pollution and transport initiatives, she left to look after two sons.

Talk about a mixed message. Queensland Democrat Senator Andrew Bartlett is busily celebrating the virtues of a party that embraces difference and where Senators vote as their conscience dictates, and his leader is running around calling for a united front and saying “disunity is death”.

Party polls have dived to their lowest levels in recent memory and the party is struggling to overcome obvious differences in approach to some big ticket government agenda items.

On Telstra, varying combinations and permutations of Democrat Senators nationally are either open or closed minded on the issue, depending which newspaper or radio you listen to and what time of day it is. And former leader Meg Lees is facing party disciplinary proceedings that look like an uneasy cross between a firing squad and a counselling session.

It is instructive to recall Don Chipp’s 1980 address emphasising the Democrats having a conscience vote on each issue as the Democrats gained balance of power the first time. “We’ll bring a refreshing change by voting as each of us see the issues as they affect our electors – not obeying a combined Trades Union monolith or a multinational consortium, or even a political party hierarchy, but to you, the Australian people.”

Since then, Democrats mostly vote together but until now it has been acceptable to split on various issues. ABC radio presenter Steve Austin reminded his audience that Democrat Senators had recently split over the republic vote, gaming legislation, euthanasia legislation and even the GST.

The constructive versus obstructive approach is a way of assessing different styles of Democrat leaders. While many journalists paint the difficulties between Lees and Stott Despoja as a cat fight, or the bitterness of a deposed leader versus the inability to be inclusive of the new leader, the problem is deeper than that.

Of course there is something in the shallow interpretations. Lees (and a number of other Senators) are grumpy at being shut out, tightly controlled and given scant resources. But that isn’t the whole story.

There is an ideological difference in Democrat Senator and leadership styles. Crusaders for progressive policy and true reforms in the way we deal with each other, our economy and our environment are passionate folk and they have different approaches.

In parliament and the media, Stott Despoja is mostly in protest and block mode.

This gets to the heart of the matter, declaring or delivering.

In Germany the Greens are described as fundies or realos. The fundies (or fundamentalists) would rather get nothing than settle for less than 100% of their ask. The realos are prepared to settle for a continual process of getting incremental gains in their direction.

This starkly demonstrates the difference in Australian Democrat leadership style, Stott Despoja talking it up publicly but delivering little practical gains for the party in Parliament is a classic fundi. She is competing with Federal Parliament’s other fundi, Senator Bob Brown. In this battle, he has all the advantages.

Indeed, she is following in the footsteps of her mentor and the other notable Democrat fundi leader Senator John Coulter. He led the party to their worst ever election mauling.

Under Stott Despoja, the Democrats are abandoning their claimed ground of reasonableness, fairness and balance to brawl with the Greens. And the grass roots activism based Greens won’t lose this ground.

Lees was a realo type of leader, who accepted the people chose the Government, and worked with the Government and opposition of the day to get tangible outcomes in progressive policy delivery and spending initiatives in the Democrats areas of interest. And like her realo predecessors of Chipp, Haines, and Kernot she delivered – with massive spending programs and hundreds of significant amendments to legislation.

One of the problems for the Democrats is the tension between what Democrat members want and what Democrat voters want. While the party is viewed as being leftist, many of the voters are small ‘l’ liberals. Sixty percent of Democrat Senate voters used to direct their House of Representatives votes or preferences to the Liberals.

The large vote in the upper house from major party voters in the lower house was a form of third party insurance. I want a major party to be in government, but I want some form of check over them was the thinking behind the votes. There was a real resonance in the old slogan “Keep the bastards honest” while new slogan “Change politics” does not seem to be resonating anywhere much.

With a claimed rise in younger membership under Stott Despoja, members are probably more idealistic and fundi while votes are probably more pragmatic about the reason they want the Democrats there. The leader, as with any party leader, has a difficult and delicate path to tread between these competing needs.

Under Lees leadership, when Stott Despoja indicated she would not vote for a GST in any form she was not hassled in the party room. She was not stopped from speaking publicly about it, she was not harassed by the National Executive or referred to the National Compliance Committee. None of the leader’s spin doctors were tramping the press gallery whispering about expulsion.

This illustrates both a maturity in the former Lees leadership and an immaturity and intolerance in Stott Despoja’s. Intolerance is another fundi trait.

Another poke by the National Compliance Committee to Lees earlier this week received another public outburst from her on Telstra and another flurry of media activity focussing on Democrat fights. Stott Despoja moved to quell it, saying the argument was between the party and Lees and had nothing to do with her. This is as accurate as her claim that she and her staff were not running the leadership spill out of her office.

Deputy Leader Aden Ridgeway unhelpfully said that he too could make his own mind up on things, saying the party should keep an open mind. He isn’t the only one to think this according to more media stories listing other Senators also thinking for themselves, so the National Compliance Committee may soon have their hands full.

Queensland Senator John Cherry is very firm about the prospect of a Telstra sale: “All Democrat Senators said they would vote against the Telstra sale in this parliament when we went to the last election. Beyond that we can’t bind the party or ourselves for subsequent terms.” Cherry points to the huge financial, regulatory and service issues and says he can’t see how the Howard Government having the will to sort it out. Reminding us that Howard lost around $5 billion in the first Telstra sale, he estimates current share prices would see a $5-10 billion loss this time.

“I can’t see how the Government could make a Telstra sale acceptable this term,” he says.

The Government senses a split in the air, and is moving quickly to exploit it.

SIEV-X revisited

Webdiarist James Woodcock writes: “There seems to be a third group of Webdiarists who do not give a flying fig either way! Cheryl had her 15 minutes of fame and we all talked about it for another 7 1/2. Now lets get back to unthrown children, anti terrorist laws, the third way, missing boats, economic rationalism and what Senators do on the Senate floor, not in their bedrooms.”

Yes, yes, I agree, but professional introspection on Cheryl takes its toll! First some SIEV-X, then a John Wojdylo piece on the state we’re in.

The SIEV-X inquiry resumes tomorrow with the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, the commanding officer of defence force intelligence, the federal police and the spooks at the immigration department in the dock.

The defence force SIEV-X submission, finally released on Monday, was a big disappointment. Apart from the maps I’ve already put up, we got a scanty ‘declassifed intelligence summary’ which told us less than previous evidence, apart from a couple of defence force intelligence summaries – one right and ignored, one wrong and acted upon (in the sense of doing nothing, as always).

The summary of surveillance is basically the same as Hill’s briefing to The Australian (see Waiting game on SIEV-X).

There’s no discussion of why defence took no special action to find SIEV-X or of its decision-making processes. It’s hard to understand why Defence Minister Robert Hill’s covering letter claims the submission “will be of use to the committee in rejecting the spurious allegations that the Australian Defence Force turned a blind eye to the plight of this vessel.” Eye of the beholder, I guess – to me it proves the opposite. Still, it’s nice to see the increasingly unsubtle Hill telling the inquiry what to think. He’s almost as unsubtle as his chief-of-staff Matt Brown, who last week asked the inquiry secretariat to fix an error in the submission so “the nutters” who didn’t believe the defence force was squeaky clean on SIEV-X wouldn’t get ideas.

Keep it coming guys – sneering arrogance is a suitably stupid weapon to convince people of the merits of your point of view.

We’ve put the defence force SIEV-X submission and Admiral Geoffrey Smith’s famous May 22 retraction letter to the inquiry in the right-hand column of Webdiary.

Here’s my preview piece on the submission which appeared in Saturday’s Herald.

Navy warned that doomed boat was overdue

By Margo Kingston

While survivors of an asylum-seeker vessel were in the water hoping for rescue, the Australian Defence Force was warned by its own intelligence unit that the boat was behind schedule, but failed to actively search for it.

The Defence Force intelligence assessment suggested that the doomed boat would be delayed and not arrive as expected in Christmas Island the next day, a submission to the Senate reveals. The boat sank with the death of 353 people, including 150 children during last year’s federal election campaign.

The Defence Force’s Northern Command (NORCOM) intelligence summary on October 20 said SIEV-X’s progress would be delayed because it was overcrowded and needed to maintain stability, the submission reveals. A slow passage was therefore likely, the intelligence assessment had said.

The Herald has obtained information from the Defence Force’s submission on SIEV-X to the senate children overboard inquiry ahead of its release on Monday.

The revelation contradicts claims by Admiral Geoffrey Smith, the head of the border protection operation, Operation Relex, that intelligence reports at the time merely reported “alleged departures” and were not firm enough to require action.

The submission shows that Admiral Smith also did nothing to search for SIEV-X two days later on October 22, when Coastwatch again confirmed SIEV-X’s departure and issued an “overdue alert”. He appears to have relied instead on a NORCOM intelligence assessment that the vessel had returned to Java because of unfavourable weather and overcrowding.

The Herald has been told there is no explanation for NORCOM”s assessment, which contradicts a personal warning from a concerned Australian Federal Police officer in Indonesia that morning that SIEV-X was overdue and very overcrowded.

Admiral Smith never deviated from his refusal to actively search for SIEV-X on October 18, when AFP intelligence reported its departure and other intelligence reported that it could be in poor condition and need rescue at sea. He is expected to be closely questioned on this decision when recalled to give evidence.

The ADF is believed to have told the Prime Minister’s people smuggling task force – beginning on October 18 – that it was searching for SIEV-X in accordance with its standard practice on the receipt of reliable intelligence reports on departures.

In a covering letter to the children overboard inquiry, the defence minister, Robert Hill, insisted that the submission torpedoed allegations that the ADF had turned a blind eye to the plight of SIEV-X. But the surveillance maps attached to the submission show the navy never altered its routine surveillance to search for SIEV-X.

The Defence submission denies suggestions that because the boat was overcrowded on its departure the ADF was duty-bound to begin a search and rescue mission when Coastwatch assessed it was overdue. Defence’s reasoning was that it believed SIEV (suspected illegal entry vessel) crews had previously displayed a reasonable level of maritime proficiency.

And Senator Hill has still not given permission for the head of the defence force task force set up to assist the inquiry, Admiral Raydon Gates, to give evidence about the submission and his review of all intelligence reports received by Operation Relex before and after SIEV-X sank.


Sentenced to the Psychiatric Hospital

By John Wojdylo

In June last year, a woman I know very well was taken to hospital because she was anaemic. She thought she was only going in for a few days. But the days, and then the weeks, went by, and the doctors would not let her go home, even long after her strength had returned, even though she said she wanted to. She tried to explain that with a bit of help, she was quite capable of taking care of herself. But they didn’t believe her. They kept her there against her will.

She began to believe this was for a sinister reason – that she was effectively being imprisoned. But what was the reason? A list of motives went through her mind. She did not have the social graces to keep these suspicions to herself – after a lifetime of dispossession (she had lost everything three times in her life), she was unable to muster trust of authority anymore. And – as is typical with writers – she had always been a bit eccentric: you’d have to know her well to see how sharp she was, and that she was actually taking the piss out of you. She had very few friends, and lived alone for virtually 30 years, keeping her kind of integrity utterly uncompromised.

She caused embarrassing scenes at the hospital. Eventually the medical staff – at the initiative of an aged care worker – declared that she was not of sound mind, and incapable of making her own decisions. The objective, medical decision was legally binding.

Yet none of the people who judged her had spoken to her. That’s because they don’t know her language. They only reacted to how she was acting, and the three or four words they understood – and these, admittedly, sounded pretty odd. They acted purely upon observation, not once engaging with her, to find out her point of view, to see what sense she could make, to see if there was, after all, logic in her actions.

How ironic that this threat, accompanied by incarceration in a psychiatric hospital, was precisely what sane people faced under decades of communist rule in the Eastern bloc. It was the fate of Varlam Shalamov before his death in 1982, whose writing had inspired Solzhenitsyn’s “Gulag Archipelago”. And how ironic that it would be in free Australia where it finally caught up with some of them.

Her health went downhill very fast after that. She lost the will not to compromise, and gave herself up to the constant presence of others. I hear she sleeps most of the time now, and barely ever says anything to anyone.

If I had to pick out the current of our society that has made the deepest impression on me in these last 12 months or so, it’d be the following.

After offering our help to people, or putting down our guard and opening ourselves up to them – after exposing our vulnerability – if we feel we’ve been tricked by them; or that they have acted dishonestly in any way in getting our attention, irrespective of the circumstances; or if we decide that they somehow deserve their fate because of their past misdeeds; or that they are “pathetic” and therefore bring their fate upon themselves; then these people will cease to exist in our eyes, even if the lives of hundreds of them are put at risk in treacherous seas by circumstances beyond their control.

Instead of addressing their words – what seem to be completely plausible reasons they give for their actions – we ignore those people absolutely, and retreat into our space, into selfish concern for our own peace of mind, or into pursuing our own naked ambition, to profit from misfortune. By ignoring their side of the story, in not making the effort to compare their version to the known facts, we deny the process of exposing a possible lie – empty circumstantial evidence contributes nothing to the truth – and we must thereafter live with half-baked suspicions, sooner or later, depending on how weak we are, succumbing to our prejudices.

We fan the sparks of prejudice and populism into wildfires that cause untold misery to the innocent and enslave us all. We condemn our society to being one great lunatic asylum, where individuals at all levels – especially teenagers and young adults – are absolutely disempowered, feeling they do not and cannot exist in a society that won’t grant them the basic dignity of at least acknowledging their presence.

The assertion that the recent hysteria was just about two politicians and their families (or the “integrity of the political system”) would be laughable if it wasn’t so tragic.

It’s astounding how easily we dismiss the existence of others; and that this could even be so, in Australia in the 21st century, because we are a deeply puritanical people.

An affair to remember

To wrap up Webdiary’s coverage of The Affair, some Webdiarist statistics. Then my column this week for The Echo newspaper in Lismore and a piece by its editor Simon Thomsen, who thoroughly disapproves of Laurie’s decision to publish. To end, former executive member of the WA Democrats Brian Jenkins replies to Senator Andrew Bartlett’s version of the coup against Janet Powell (see Rights of reply).

Of the emails published, regular Webdiarists split 50/50 on whether it was right to publish, while irregulars and newcomers voted NTP 16 to 12. Female Webdiarists were heavily skewed to the NTP case, 11 to 3.

The closeness of the result does not mean Webdiarists don’t reflect the mainstream. When people got the news last Wednesday night on TV and Thursday morning in the papers, only those outraged by the disclosure would have rushed to their computers or the phone to comment. The next day, once people read that initial public opinion was overwhelmingly against publication, those who supported it would rush to their computers and phones. Still, my guess is that like Webdiarists, the Not For Publication people are in the majority. Here’s the Webdiary list, and the main arguments on both sides.


Regulars: John Wojdylo, Brian Bahnisch, Peter Woodforde, Sean O’Donohue, George Ooi, Susan Metcalfe, Simon Thomsen,

Others: Bernadette Neubecker, Jim McKenna, Debbie Jeffrey, Richard Hand, Jenny Forster, Paul Kilborn, Laura Taylor, Fergus Hancock, Kylie Ann Scott, Felix Davis, Sue Corrigan, Harry Lawrence, Hannah Maria, Libby Werthein, Rosemary Cuthbert, Gloria, .

Main points:

* affair revealed only because Kernot’s a woman/sexist assumption she was influenced to change parties by the affair.

* thin end of the wedge/crosses the rubicon/ the beginning of big brother journalism

* it’s not relevant

* no causality to public affairs proved

* it’s history – neither are still in politics

* Laurie was motivated by revenge

* don’t want to know

* Kernot betrayed Labor – she deserves what she gets

* the focus on private lives means less focus on important matters

* disclosure damage to the families, especially children

* why should the media play God – we all live in glass houses

* the media should have disclosed it when it WAS relevant.


Regulars: Robert Lawton, Cathy Bannister, David Davis, Jozef Imrich, Hugh Bingham, Noel Hadjimichael, Greg Weilo

Others: John Carson, Cynthia Harris, Peter Hannemann, Sue Deane, Stuart Mackenzie, Dominic Puiu, Craig Schwarze, Marcus Bosch, Julian Harlow, Ron Jones, Rob Reeves, Ben Furby,

Main points:

* writing a memoir invites scrutiny

*attack others and you risk counter-attack

* it’s a relevant fact in the story of the defection/ both were influential public figures.

* clear conflict of interest while Cheryl Democrats leader and Gareth Labor Senate leader.

* Cheryl’s hypocrisy re former Dems leader Janet Powell

* clearly had an impact on the course of political history

* Gareth turned the affair into a matter of public interest by lying to Parliament about it.

* Cheryl denied she had a big secret, a lie.

* sexist claims are rubbish – Gareth has lost the most since disclosure.


What if…

Would I have exposed The Affair? Like many journalists, I’ve been soul-searching since Laurie Oakes did, and my answers are all over the place.

The first time Kernot provoked consideration of the convention against disclosure of private lives was just after her defection, when rumours of an affair with a youth at a school she had taught at jumped back to life. Everyone in the Canberra bureau of the Herald and elsewhere in the press gallery refused requests by head-offices to chase the yarn. It broke when Herald writer Paul McGeough in Sydney got the job from editor-in-chief John Alexander.

The next big test came in March 1998 after a Parliamentary attack on Kernot by Liberal Don Randall. She had “the morals of an alley cat on heat” and “we often wonder” whether her affections extend to Gareth Evans.

Kernot, who to my knowledge was not asked about the truth of the allegation, said of Randall, “Australians will reject personal viciousness as a substitute for policy”. Evans, also not asked, denied the affair in Parliament.

As a member of the press gallery, I knew of speculation that the pair were lovers. But even if Evans had not issued a denial, I think the gallery would still have taken the angle it did – to focus on what Howard would do. He ordered Randall to apologise, saying: “I have never approved of attacks being made on people’s lives – it has no place in public life in this country.”

At the time I did not consider whether it was in the public interest to disclose an affair between the pair. I assumed that the public interest was in not discussing such topics publicly.

There is another factor here. Say I’d wanted to make the affair public. I had no evidence, and would get denials or no comment if I questioned the alleged lovers. To get proof I’d have had to act as private detective, perhaps following one or the other. This is distasteful, not within the job description of a political journalist, and not a good use of time compared to other issues I could be chasing.

The debate about whether Laurie – or any of us – should have published earlier overlooks the fact that no-one had evidence.No responsible media group would publish on rumour, and no-one did when Laurie referred to Cheryl’s big secret in The Bulletin. Only rushed to reveal the secret before Laurie produced his evidence on Nine’s 6 o’clock news. (Crikey’s editor Stephen Mayne can wax lyrical about the purity of his motives all he likes, but he did it for commercial reasons – to get noticed and get more subscribers. The emergence of such sites, which specialise in anonymous pieces alleging scurrilous activities, will make it harder in future to observe the privacy convention.)

Without evidence of the affair I wasn’t going to chase it. But what if I had evidence before the defection? I wrote in Webdiary that I would not have published unless I also had evidence that the affair had effected the judgement of Cheryl or Gareth in Senate negotiations, and was roundly scorned by several Webdiarists. Their point: it is for the public to decide whether the affair has effected public policy, as the affair itself is a relevant fact for the public to know. And as Brian Toohey has pointed out, the fact that both participants were married with children and both kept the affair from their families, meant Evans in particular, as foreign minister, was ripe for blackmail.

I’ve changed my mind on this one. In future, if I have evidence that two powerful political figures not in the same party were having an affair, I would publish without proof of causality. But if I had no evidence I would still not chase it.

Similarly, if I had the evidence of the affair I would have immediately published on Cheryl’s defection, published without hesitation when Gareth lied to Parliament, and published after Cheryl’s book, which in my view is amounts to a blatant lie by omission.

I support Laurie’s decision to publish, but like him, persist with the view that private lives should be off-limits unless they impinge or could be perceived to impinge on the performance of public duty. This is what I wrote when John Anderson opined a couple of years ago that “I’ve never understood the difference between private and public: If a man’s family can’t trust him, why should the nation?”

“The rule is part self-interest – who among political journalists can afford to cast the first stone? A general ban on private life stories also gives politicians more confidence to relax with reporters off duty, allowing a smoother flow of background information. It also allows reporter and politician to be human with each other.”

“But the rule serves a public interest too. It’s use has avoided the domination of politics with sex scandals, as in the US and Britain. And everyone knows wowsers who make terrible politicians and miscreants who are brilliant at the job.”

We haven’t crossed the Rubicon. We’ve just had a big conversation about the boundary and where it is and why it’s there. The public has forced us journos to examine our assumptions, and told us where they stand – like us, on both sides of the Kernot/Evans fence. But by overwhelming majority we agree there should be a a fence somewhere.


From the editor

By Simon Thomsen

I agree that many people say “That’s disgusting, now tell me more…’, but to me that’s the point. This isn’t about some deep truth as a public interest story, it’s simply an exercise in salaciousness. The Sun Herald’s‘love nest’ yarn is the natural distillation of what is basically a tabloid/women’s mag yarn.

But suddenly the high brow journos like David Marr are going ‘tut tut’. Hasn’t anyone learnt what happens after you open Pandora’s box?

Otherwise, how do you explain the anomaly between the minimal media interest in the launch of a big long whinge few people were going to pay any attention to – the key rationale to Laurie’s bean-spilling – followed by three days of front page, plus a special news page with endless analysis (well, speculation really, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing…).

And most of the debate turns into an exercise in naval gazing – should we/shouldn’t we – so that shagging is reduced to nothing more than a chance for the media to contemplate its news values. (Margo: That’s better than chasing down the salacious details of the affair – which very few in the media have done.)

Some tried to get caught up in the lying thing, but if the Coalition tried to capitalise on that, you can bet Latham would be in there next session putting bonking questions to members in an effort to get them to lie – and thus be forced to resign as ministers.

Now that would be almost as much fun as making Bill Harrigan the Speaker!

Given that the national capital is home to the porn industry and a shagfest for those around the parliament, perhaps the most pertinent contribution the columnists who’ve waffled on looking for meaning could offer would be an understanding of how and why you end up screwing the most inappropriate people.

PS: Don’t think I’m not sitting here giggling at my own double-standards in hoping for a Cheryl piece from you. Perhaps I should drag out the photo I took of her holding a Feral Cheryl doll (I still remember her acceding to my request while complaining, “I’ll probably regret this”. I didn’t publish the shot).

Margo: How about publishing the Feral Cheryl shot next to my column?


Debating history…

By Brian Jenkins

Senator Andrew Bartlett wrote: “The decision to initiate the petition of members [to depose Janet Powell] was made by the party’s [Qld] State Council, not by the Management Committee. This body had around 20 members at the time. It was chaired by the then-President John Woodley (who was not a Senator at the time). State Council was not made aware of any relationship between Janet and Senator Sid Spindler. Neither the Management Committee or State Council ‘conspired to get rid of Janet and get Cheryl in as Leader’. This is self-evident as Cheryl didn’t get in as Leader after the Leadership ballot.”

The petition originated in South Australia, not Queensland. I learned about it and was urged to promote it in WA by a male member of John Coulter’s staff. (SA Senator John Coulter later beat Powell for the leadership.) I immediately phoned Janet and warned her, after which the action was apparently laid to rest for a few months.

Later, it resurfaced in a letter from the former SA preacher and party apparatchik Rev John Woodley, who had moved to Brisbane and was writing to all divisions in his new capacity of Queensland divisional president. The letter advised that the Queensland State Council had endorsed the petition and asked me (as WA divisional secretary) to initiate commensurate action by my own State Council.

In my view, this was an unprecedented and improper way to advance a members’ petition, and I merely reported it as an item of correspondence. The WA State Council decided to take no action on Woodley’s request. It is a great pity that Bartlett and his Council did not act in the same way, though the pressures in and upon them were very different. WA had no Senators, relatives or staffers on its State Council.

Senator Bartlett is correct that Janet’s private life was not at issue in the original petition. Nor, for that matter, was the question of excessive overtime by a staff member. The sole explicit basis of complaint lay in an assertion that Janet’s public image and performance in media polls were poor. The other issues were dredged up later, presumably to incite a better flow of signatories and to bring the (reluctant) tabloid press into the fray.

The overtime issue was publicly disclosed by Coulter in an appalling Senate speech which shocked even hardened Labor senators and precipitated the immediate and sudden resignation of NSW Democrats Senator Paul McLean.

The liaison between Janet and Senator Sid Spindler (who were both morally free to conduct it in public and did so openly) was selected as a useful cause by a cabal of hostile Senators and national officers who deployed the late Robert Bell (a Quaker, then Senator for Tasmania) as the first media mouthpiece for that purpose.

Witnesses recall Cheryl Kernot, Meg Lees, national president Heather Southcott and national secretary Sam Hudson as being central figures in the lobbying for Janet’s removal.

Senator Bartlett is also correct that the goal of the conspiracy was not to get Kernot immediately elected as leader. That would have been ridiculous, since Kernot had been a senator for only one year when the petition was first initiated in 1991. In fact, Cheryl hoped (and in fact negotiated, as reported by Paul McGeough) to become deputy leader under Paul McLean as a stepping stone to the leadership.

Bartlett wrote: “I did not sign the petition, despite a lot of pressure to do so. My refusal to do so was the cause of my first major dispute with Cheryl and her key staff.”

This is a pretty conclusive acknowledgement of Bartlett’s awareness that Kernot and her staff were actively lobbying for Janet Powell’s removal.

Bartlett: “. . .it was Powell and Spindler who chose to make their relationship public through the media.”

Indeed, but only after its being harmfully speculated on by media. We might equally say: “It was Gareth Evans who chose to make his past relationship public through the media.”

Weighing in on ‘The Affair’

Let’s hope The Affair is behind us and this is the last Webdiary on the subject.

Yesterday, readers asked a few questions. Some answers, then Stephen and Natasha James have a go at Alan Ramsey and Polly Bush reckons Cheryl’s done alright. John Wojdylo and Sean O’Donohue want a certain secret kept, and Cathy Bannister and Roy Reeves reckon it was right to reveal this one.

Peter Woodforde asked: “How many other stolen private e-mails are in the hands of PBL, and to what political/commercial ends will they be put? Were they stolen by members, employees or agents of the Liberal Party or by government officials?”

Margo: My working assumption is that they were stolen by Labor people, but who knows? Assuming they were stolen – ie not leaked by Gareth or Cheryl or with their permission – whoever did it has committed a criminal offence.

Here’s a little piece I did on this today.

“The unauthorised use of emails is a criminal offence, but as nothing is known about who leaked the Evans/Kernot emails and where they were obtained, the Australian Federal Police will investigate only if the matter is referred to them by the ex-lovers or the Parliament.

“The AFP have received no complaint from Ms Kernot or Mr Evans, and federal parliament has not referred the matter because no-one knows whether the emails were obtained from an office or home computer or from a printout.

“Under the federal Crimes Act it is a criminal offence to knowingly give an email to someone other than its recipient without permission, and to use an email to harass another person. Under the NSW Crimes Act it is a criminal offence to access computer data on someone’s personal affairs.

“A spokeswoman for the AFP was not investigating the leaking of the personal emails and would not do so unless asked by Mr Evans, Ms Kernot or the Parliament.

“The Privacy Commissioner, Mr Malcolm Crompton, said he could not launch an investigation without proof that the leaked emails were obtained from a work computer, as emails sent to and received on a home computer using a private ISP were not covered by the Privacy Act.

“Ms Kernot or Mr Evans would need to produce copies of the emails which proved they were sent and/or received on work computers before he could act.

“The Privacy Commissioner cannot force Mr Laurie Oakes to hand over the documents – if he has them – as the Privacy Act exempts journalists from having to do anything which might reveal their sources.”


Ian MacDougall: I think you are wrong in your statement of today that Cheryl has lost everything (including her super). I read a report after she left Parliament that she had managed to qualify for a backbencher’s package of around 70 grand pa plus perks. Suggest you check this.

Margo: You’re right. I was going on what she did on the defection. She could have sat in the Senate as a Labor person, but she resigned from the Senate after serving for seven years. You have to serve two terms – 12 years – if you leave voluntarily, or 8 years if you’re voted out. So her super was in limbo. But once she won Dickson and stayed for the term, she could claim the parliamentary pension for life. According to Jim Dickins in The Daily Telegraphh on November 12 last year, she was entitled to $62,500 a year.


Rosemary Cuthbert

Why aren’t people questioning the ethics of Don Randall asking a question in parliament under privilege about someone’s personal life? I’m disgusted at the media hype over this matter.

Margo: In March 1998, WA Liberal Don Randall told Parliament Kernot had “the morals of an alley cat on heat”

“I was a teacher and I can assure you that if I had an affair with somebody ten years younger than me I would have been in trouble. You might then say, does this affection extend to the member for Holt (Evans) we often wonder?”

His ethics were questioned at the time, and John Howard ordered Randall to withdraw the remarks and apologise to Kernot and Evans, which he did in a statement. “As you know, I have never approved of attacks being made on people’s private lives – it has no place in public life in this country,” Howard said. As far as I know, no-one followed up Randall’s innuendo. Gareth denied an affair in Parliament, and that was that.


Stephen and Natasha James

I read Alan Ramsey, not because his content is much chop but because he does write good, tight prose. I thought his effort on Saturday was a bit sanctimonious. Yes, Oakes was carrying on like an old woman, but then so did Ramsey a year or so ago, on the anniversary of Harold Holt going missing. I haven’t looked it up, but he wrote a column saying words to the effect that Holt was “showing off to a married woman with whom he was having an affair” when he waded into the drink and didn’t return. As Hilary Clinton would say, a hard dog to keep on the porch.

How Black Jack set the Scorpion loose


JOHN McEwen was not known as Black Jack for nothing. After Harold Holt drowned in an unruly surf 33 years ago while showing off in front of the married woman he was bedding, McEwen, the Country Party junior partner in Holt’s government, was sworn in as caretaker prime minister until the Liberals finished haggling over Holt’s successor. We know this as recorded history, however discreet that history might be about Holt’s uninhibited private life. What few of us ever knew is what McEwen did that first day he held the ultimate political power in this country.


Polly Bush in Melbourne

In the last few days I’ve been wondering how stupid the woman is. The thing is, she’s not stupid, she’s a seasoned media player who’s written a book on suffering the wrath of the media. If anyone could expect a media backlash for omitting a big chunk of the story it should be Cheryl! It just all seems a little too convenient that the affair’s out without her having to do the dirty work of revealing it. The media have blown the lid on the story and Cheryl can back up her book claims that she’s been unfairly done by and is the victim in all this. Sweet.


People with Ugly Face

By John Wojdylo

There was this kid at our school – we called him “Spaceman” – who was such a f…ing ween that we used to get him behind the toilet block and pummel his face in until the little shit stopped being so arrogant and began to look as pathetic as he really was. But what really pissed us off was when he used to go to the headmistress and make himself out to be real special and whinge, whinge, whinge: “I’ve got rights, too!” Sob. Pathetic shit.

He used to say “I’m telling the truth,” but we knew he was lying, because he was a faggot.

He made up all these crap excuses why he couldn’t join in our peer group and be one of US, but we knew he was bullshitting because his mother was a Kalgoorlie prostitute and his father tried to f… my mate Peter’s mother.

He said he bombed out in maths because we made him feel bad – I mean, what sort of crap excuse is that? Like, he makes ME feel bad because pathetic shits like him exist. And they’re a menace to society, especially when they get into positions of power. They don’t know what they want and then they end up having the morals of an alley cat on heat.

The headmaster called us in one day and asked us why don’t we show any mercy. We said, because “God helps those who help themselves and Spaceman has forgotten how to do just that. Our advice to SPACEMAN would be to forget the whole thing and get on with real life. Life is not unlimited and there’s no sense in spending the time SPACEMAN has left on this earth with this kind of nonsense. SPACEMAN should surround himself with trusted friends and family and just get on with the FUTURE. The mercy factor with SPACEMAN is zero. He has brought EVERYTHING upon himself.”

It’s a bloody miracle he passed and got into uni at all. We all wonder how the f… he did it. Well, we all know now, don’t we. And don’t you believe a word of what he says because we know his face is ugly and he’s a liar – either that or he’s too pathetic to know anything for himself.

Now Spaceman’s written a book, basically trying to justify his existence – giving his “considered” reasons for doing the things he did, and telling about the years of special coaching he got from university lecturers that he paid for himself by working late nights at McDonalds. But he’s left out the bit about how his father was f…ing the headmistress for about 5 years.

The loser put out his jaw to have it punched by writing that book, and, you know, it’s SPACEMAN all over: It is just the saddest, saddest thing.

The fact of this matter is – SPACEMAN – a tragic figure, really – has chosen to write a tell-all book, titled “BLAH bloody BLAH”, and has not disclosed something that is clearly of enormous relevance.

Of course Fat F… has done the right thing. There is absolutely no doubt that if Spaceman writes a book laughably entitled “BLAH bloody BLAH” and leaves out the central aspect of his saga, then he deserves to be exposed for what he is. How can you understand the whole story unless you know this?

Spaceman had a right to privacy but he forfeited it when he wrote the book. Like most people, I believe in the general rule that private lives should remain private. But this is clearly different, hey. Exceptions to the general rule should be made only in rare circumstances and this is one of them. What goes around comes around.

PS: Thank Christ the new headmaster is coming down hard on those lying Arab “asylum-seekers”. They’ll tell you anything – and do anything – to get your sympathy.


Sean O’Donohue

I cannot agree with you or Mr Oakes on the revelation of the Evans-Kernot affair. If the test is public interest I fail to see where the public’s interest in Oakes’ tardy – way tardy – revelation is. Perhaps 5, 8 or however many years ago when the potential for a personal relationship to influence political outcome was a real issue.

But now? Several years after both have fallen from prominence? Surely not. Neither Kernot or Evans are tub-thumping, family-values types whose exposure might unmask hypocrisy or reveal some hidden canker in their characters. Instead, the exposure of their affair revelation reduces them and in the process us.

Kernot has now completed her journey from sensible voice above the fray to shrill and tarnished prima donna – a truly tragic trajectory. And I agree with you – Evans too now has that ‘damaged goods’ tag politically as well as morally, leaving any future Labour government that does appoint him to a generous sinecure condemned to be labelled brave or foolish.

But what of the real issues? What of executive pay? Of Aboriginal health? Of the politicisation of the public service? Of the absence of vision for our country? Lost in the tawdry embers of a long-dead romantic flame. More of the bread and circuses?


Cathy Bannister

It’s impossible to cast unambiguous hero or villain in the Kernot/Evans saga. I believe Kernot is correct in noting she has borne an inordinate amount of media scrutiny, particularly from Laurie Oakes. It’s obviously too cheap a shot to pre-guess why she in particular offends Oakes, but clearly he deeply disapproved of the defection, almost personally so. This comes across in his questioning – he’s been at the woman for ages.

If you are a woman in the public eye, you have to break stereotype, never show emotion, never show weakness, and preferably, never be attractive, because as soon as any of these female traits becomes obvious it is extremely difficult to ever regain credibility. Dowdy and masculine woman fare far better.

While it’s important to question the effect of her affair on Kernot’s performance, it is also necessary to factor in the effect of the media hounding. Over the last seven years Cheryl has appeared increasingly silly and vulnerable in the public gaze, but then this is how she has been painted.

That said, this particular disclosure was necessary to correct the public record. The screamingly obvious question to come out of the whole Gareth/Cheryl disclosure is this: What on earth was a senior minister doing in courting the leader (no less) of another party?

While we Australians in general are deeply of the opinion that private lives are sacrosanct, there are limits. Take the medical professions, where relationships between certain parties is absolutely verboten. The power dynamic between psychiatrists, gynaecologists and their clientele is such that a relationship between practitioner and patient is completely out of the question.

So it should be with senior parliamentarians of different parties. Thus far all the emphasis has been on the ethics of Cheryl, the leaving of the Democrats being seen as an appalling betrayal. Gareth, apart from some muffled complaint over his misleading parliament, has remained largely blame free on this count. Why? Possibly because Ms Kernot has been fitted with (or fitted up with) the cultural archetype of the “scarlet woman”. Both were guilty of a clear conflict of interest and both should shoulder the scorn.

Here there is a clear disparity in the treatment of people of different genders. The media is not happy merely to disclose the affair, but it must pretty much destroy poor Cheryl into the bargain.

I believe she was right to defect, for two reasons. Firstly, if nothing else, Kernot’s defection solved the conflict of interest caused by her affair with Gareth Evans. If the relationship was serious and strong, and she wished to remain a voice in Australian politics, then she had no other ethical choice.

Secondly, the reason she cited at the time is compelling, that she was never going to have real power in the Democrats. While the balance is said to be a very powerful position, all that can ever be done is to take the edges from what is considered bad policy.

Meg Lee’s GST deal, which seemed oh so sweet at the time, is a prime example. What has happened to the $400 million to be spent on the Greenhouse Gas Abatement Program? Well, firstly the Australian Greenhouse Office (who administered the program), didn’t approve funding of most proposed projects during the first year, on the (ludicrous) grounds that only projects that are not commercially viable were eligible. (Naturally, those that were not commercially viable tended to be dogs, thereby being also ineligible for funding. Catch 22.)

And this year, the whole $400 million kitty has been swallowed back up in defence and border protection. So poor Meg’s brilliant deal was for nothing.

So if Kernot really wanted to make a difference to the way policy was shaped, she would need to be in a major party. She would also need to have been accepted as a member of the party, and in this she failed spectacularly.

She needed to shut up, take a back seat and quietly earn the respect of her colleagues, rather than come straight in from a rival party and expect to be able to get a plumb leadership position. If you look at the performance of Kernot prior to her defection, and the performance of the Labor afterwards, it’s no less than a tragedy that she couldn’t have made the transition smoothly.


Rob Reeves in Brisbane

I do feel that many members of the public, including your correspondents, have misunderstood the significance of the Kernot-Evans affair. They believe it is about sex between two public figures, and as such is part of their private lives, and should be out of bounds to the press.

However, the affair is about two public figures of significant power and influence creating a clandestine coalition in which self interest and public interest, and the interests of their respective parties, became blurred and confused. The sex part of it is secondary, what is important is that they established and acted upon a hidden agenda – potentially betraying their parties and the public’s trust.

Whether that trust was betrayed is the motivation for the story. The prurient interest in the sex no doubt titillates many, but most of the reporting has, quite rightly, focussed on the political implications, not the prurient details.

Sex and the politicians

What a week! Tonight the piece the paper refused to run, by me, a piece by my brother Hamish, who was in the thick of Democrats action during the last Democrats sex scandal, and loads more emails from readers on whether The Affair should have become public. I’m overrun with emails and hope to do another edition on the weekend. Have a good one.

A reader called Stephen emailed today: “Wow Margo, you sure upset “the cause” on Lateline. Gentlemanly guys and concerned feminists everywhere only see one thing: you kicking poor Cheryl when she’s down. Better not write any books this year….”

Oh well, in for a penny in for a pound.

Just a thought

By Margo Kingston

Mix sex, politics, lies and tribes and the first take on a breaking scandal might only scratch its surface.

For example, don’t automatically empathise with the Labor politicians expressing sadness and outrage at the revelation of The Affair.

Think about it. The Oakes emails made public so far were written long after Cheryl joined Labor, in 1999 and 2000. We can thus safely rule out a Democrat’s revenge, say from trawling through Cheryl’s computer on her departure. It’s a Labor leak, a Labor trawl.

Self-interest – positive or negative – motivates the overwhelming majority of leaks. Public-spirited leaks, as the children overboard scandal illustrates, are as rare as hens teeth.

In this case, a Labor person or persons leaked the emails, probably just before extracts from her book were published last weekend. Revenge is the obvious motive – hardened political players collect their evidence early and have the discipline to wait until, or if, it’s required.

For the reporter, the leaker’s motivation is irrelevant. The judgement we use is whether the material is newsworthy, and in case of private matters, whether it is in the public interest to publish.

There is an argument, not beyond the bounds of possibility, that Laurie Oakes was not “a pawn” for Labor revenge, but for Cheryl.

In her book, Cheryl is a vociferous critic of her treatment by journalists, accusing us of relentless intrusion into her privacy. Yet the media observed the privacy convention in relation to her affair with Gareth and, in reliance on that convention holding, she wrote a book omitting a central personal and political thread of her Labor Party odyssey.

She relies on the rules of the political game she has left to protect a book in which she breaks the rules of that game to attack Kim Beazley and the Labor Party for her downfall and to declare herself an innocent victim. She even discusses her private life, in particular the precious time she can grab to be with her husband.

Did she really think she would get away with it? According to her publisher Shona Martyn, she did not. On the night of the day the story broke, Lateline’s Tony Jones asked Martyn for Cheryl’s reaction. “The saddest thing is that she’s not entirely surprised”,.

“I think she thinks it’s par for the course”, and “she also feels that she’s been a target for criticism in certain sections of the media for a long time, so I guess maybe it was always bound to happen”.

So at the very least, Cheryl published her book knowing she ran the grave risk of the affair going public.

In an email to Gareth in 2000 castigating him for lying to Parliament, she writes: “Don’t say you protected all of us, because I told you I did not accept that lying. It was not for me. It was always for you. And it will be addressed one day.”

It would be bad form for Cheryl to voluntarily disclose the affair in her book. But if the audacity of omitting it triggered retaliation through its disclosure, she is a victim, again, and Gareth’s calumny is revealed. Cheryl has lost everything – husband, career, job prospects, superannuation and – vital for her self esteem – publicity. In contrast, Gareth keeps his family intact, has an interesting job and, once Labor returns to power, the possibility of an appointment to the High Court, or something equally important.

No big job possibilities for Gareth now. Instead, total humiliation for him and for his wife, who thought his denial of the affair in Parliament proved he had told her the truth in private, and now discovers he continued the affair long after he lied to Parliament and to her.

Cheryl has her revenge, is the centre of attention again, and gets enormous publicity for her book and the possibility of spectacular sales when the missing chapter is written.

Just a thought.


Kernot and sex

By Hamish Alcorn

It is right that politician’s social lives should not be the stuff of journalistic enquiry. Laurie Oakes does have an argument though. A conflict of interests is a conflict of interest, and no less so if one interest is private and the other is public. As a principle, it would be wrong if we were not told of political conflicts of interest merely because there was a private dimension.

But there is something else up my nose. I joined the Australian Democrats in my early twenties, shortly after Cheryl became a Senator. About eighteen months later I resigned. Here’s why.

Janet Powell was the leader of the Democrats at that time. Cheryl was our Queensland Senator. Andrew Bartlett (now a Senator) was the Queensland State Secretary. John Woodley (then a senator) was the Queensland President. I was the rookie, Assistant Secretary to Andrew. This Queensland Management Committee conspired with Senator Kernot to get rid of Janet and get Cheryl in as leader.

Janet had replaced Janine Haines as leader after the latter’s resignation following a failed bid for the lower house. Janet came to the leadership, according to the party’s constitution, with a general vote of the entire membership. Her credentials were impeccable. Her electoral base was genuinely popular as she had been a social justice activist before entering politics. To get rid of her, it was going to take muck. There were two thrusts to the muck.

Some background first. The membership in the Democrats can oust a leader by getting a certain quantity of signatures, putting them to the National Executive and thereby forcing a new vote for leader. It’s basically like a no-confidence motion but from the membership as a whole. Of course someone has to organise this effort, and have an alternate leader in mind, and in this case it was the Queensland Management Committee, led by Cheryl, who coordinated the coup.

The muck. The first was a statistical complaint about media inches as a measure of effectiveness. The previous leader, Janine Haines, had more than Janet, so the latter was clearly letting the side down. The underbelly of this complaint was about charisma, attached to the fact that we were a bit down in the polls. Cynical politics. That the Democrats had real moral credibility that would hold in the long term was not really an issue. Deconstruct this complaint for yourself. It’s ridiculous.

The second is the nub. Janet Powell was having an affair with her colleague Senator Sid Spindler and this was adversely affecting her performance as leader. How it was affecting her performance was not specified – it was the affair itself which was supposed to do the damage, alongside some muck on Spindler which I won’t even repeat in respect for the man. This affair was not just used privately, malicious though this would have been in itself. It was used TO THE MEDIA, in answer to the question “Why oust Powell?” Cheryl led this conspiracy. I believe she provided the information and the tactical brains. It was successful. Janet was ousted.

(MARGO: Cheryl told me about the affair, by then over, when I was at The Age, after I rang to ask her why? She argued that the breakup of the affair was adversely affecting Powell’s performance. I was surprised, and after consulting my bureau chief Michelle Grattan, did not write the story because of the convention against reporting private matters. But the news was spreading like wildfire – but not reported – and Powell and Spindler finally outed themselves in an attempt to close the campaign down. They agreed to an on-the-record interview with The Age’s Sally Loane.)

But to complete the story there is something else, and perhaps the reason I resigned in disgust (with myself actually – though a rookie I was a co-conspirator and must take my own share of responsibility). Cheryl was not to be put up as a candidate because that would look too much like a coup (rather than a highly principled challenge to a failing leader) and Cheryl was too new to the Senate. so John Coulter was our man and Cheryl was put up as Deputy. All respect to the man, but Coulter (the gnome, if anyone remembers the media caricature of him) was no leader. We knew – and said to each other in private – that there was no way he would last as leader after the next election, when there would be another leadership ballot automatically. THE PLAN was that Cheryl would surely become leader after that, AS SHE WOULD NOT, if Janet was still leader.

Some time after I resigned Andrew Bartlett said to me in regret that they had moved me into the thick of it too early, implying that I was still too naive about the ways of power. He was right I guess. I lost sleep. I had joined the Democrats for deeply moral reasons. It didn’t fit. So I left and became an anarchist.

So when Cheryl defected to the ALP I wasn’t surprised. She might be female and blonde but she is an animal like the rest of them.

In the current context, Cheryl and Gareth’s affair may well have had serious implications on politics, especially for Democrat members who believed Cheryl was batting for them, but to a lesser extent for all of us who were led to believe that the Democrats were playing a particular and perhaps important role in Australian politics. That might be debatable, but it is not debatable that Janet Powell’s affair with Sid Spindler, which Cheryl used in her campaign to attain the leadership of the Democrats, involved no conflict of interests at all. It was an affair between colleagues on the same side. I haven’t read Cheryl’s book but suspect that the above is not well elaborated.

Most important of all, for me anyway, is that charisma and media inches are crap. Polls blip up and down, but credibility is for the long term. Belatedly, I’d like to salute Janet Powell as the last moment of principle in the Australian Democrats. It’s been down hill ever since for them. Natasha is just the logical consequence, and it does not surprise me to see Andrew Bartlett bobbing alongside her either – a younger and blonder version of his old icon. The party is addicted to reading about itself in the paper. I hope the Green Party can do better.




Hugh Bingham in Toowoomba, Queensland

I’m about 40 years past my prime as a reporter. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t have hesitated to report the Kernot-Evans affair whenever it had occurred. Two significant people in leadership roles in love and bedded. There are boundaries, I guess, to what is personal in Parliamentary lives but in my view this is NOT one of them. Parliament is the people’s house and any secret liaison that might (repeat might) become influential in political outcomes should be reported.

Oakes regarded the Kernot autobiography as an unavoidable trigger – and so would I. Unhesitatingly.

The thing I do question is Oakes double-barrelled approach – the “secret” in the Bulletin, then the open allegation and the email on Channel Nine. I simply can’t take on board that a hard-head, a newsman to his bootlaces, like Laurie Oakes could believe the Bulletin piece could possibly live alone. Or intend it to! Was this an arrangement? Or is the Bullie left fuming at losing out on the real story.

Margo: Nine and the Bulletin are owned by Packer. This is the new cross-media world. A scoop for both! Everyone happy.


Robert Lawton in Adelaide

I’m not a SIEV-X fan – the people smugglers who pack people aboard these hideous tubs and send them off to us will never appear before the House Select Committee, and without them the story is hardly complete – but I did watch you on Lateline and felt great pride that you were able to see through the sleaze factor on the latest Kernot affair.

Of course Oakes was right to put the lie to Kernot’s grievances of isolation and alienation. You were right to defend him. And Gerard Henderson is a bizarre chap who sadly benefits from the dearth of sensible conservative talking heads in this country.

It seems that most of your readers are obsessed by Kernot’s gender, and the cheap, tacky taste of the revelation. If she had been a man, and had been wooed to the ALP by another man with whom she was on intimate terms, and both were “out”, would it have been appalling to release that information in the light of a self-styled tell-all book which attacked ALP figures for casting him adrift?

The fact of sexism in political life shouldn’t be a cover for misleading the public, just as racism shouldn’t protect people like Geoff Clark against criminal prosecution if it’s justified on the facts.

Cheryl was silly enough to leave the Dems in the first place; to write a book about her failures and thus exonerate her from them was even sillier if she intended to attack others in the process.


John Carson

You are correct in your views on the Kernot-Evans-Oakes matter. What I find particularly depressing in all of this is the way that the left takes a reasonable position (that women, like men, are capable of making decisions on grounds other than those of romantic or sexual attachment) and takes it to a ridiculous extreme (denying that a romantic or sexual attachment raises any presumption of influence).

To take a somewhat analogous case, are we happy to have academics (of either sex) grading the work of students with whom they have a sexual relationship? Is there not an obvious conflict of interest?

Less troubling than Kernot’s motivations for switching parties is the fact that for years she negotiated the passage of legislation with Labor on the Democrat’s behalf while having an undisclosed sexual relationship with Labor’s Senate leader. If this was not a conflict of interest (on the part of both of them), then I don’t know what a conflict of interest is.

If a trade union leader negotiating on behalf of workers had an undisclosed sexual relationship with the employer’s representative, would this not constitute a serious conflict of interest? What if a local government representative is sleeping with a developer? A judge sleeping with the accused? Would we hear the same drivel about affairs being a private matter?


Stuart Mackenzie

Everyone (at least those that are thinking about it) seems to be focusing on the potential public interest aspects of Cheryl Kernot’s defection to Labor. Surely of more importance are the ramifications of the then Government leader in the Senate having an affair with the leader of the minor party holding the balance of power? What legislation was passed during this period, besides Mabo?

If the press gallery knew about this affair while Kernot was still the Democrat leader, it must have been in the public interest for it to be revealed at the time.

Margo: I hadn’t heard the rumours when she was Democrats leader. I did hear rumours after the defection. I didn’t chase them down because of the convention against reporting private matters, because there were better things to do with my time, and because these things are invariably impossible to prove. If I had email proof at the time? No, unless I also had proof that the affair had compromised Democrats or Labor policy-making or Senate deals. Would I have actively sought out proof or otherwise of this? No. If I had email proof when Evans lied to Parliament? Definitely. When she published her book? I hope I would have published. The big downside would have been if I’d been extensively attacked in Kernot’s book, as Laurie was. Publishing would leave me wide open to credible allegations that I was motivated by revenge, thus impugning my professional integrity. I hope I would have been brave enough to accept that risk.


Dominic Puiu in Sydney

The Kernot affair is like a train wreck – both horrifying and compelling.

I saw Cheryl’s publisher Shona Martyn on the Today Program this morning, with the usual mantra that everyone is ganging up on Cheryl because she’s a woman. Not so. I agree that what people do – even public people like politicians – is not necessarily fair game for the public. The feature that makes it relevant is where there the private acts impinge on public roles.

A few years ago the media staked out US politician Gary Hart and eventually caught him in flagrante. The public interest test here was activated not just by the affair, but by Gary’s high-profile pro-family politics and his (foolish) taunt to the media that they couldn’t catch him in the act. Note to Cheryl and her publisher – Gary is a man.

With Cheryl and Gareth, we have the two main players in Cheryl’s extraordinary defection to the ALP and the fact that Cheryl gained the leadership of the Democrats in the first place by revealing Janet Powell’s affair with Sid Spindler. And of course Gareth lying to Parliament.

It’s the hypocrisy that makes the issue public, even more so when Cheryl was on ABC Radio earlier this week opining that the quality she admires most is trustworthiness! Time she practiced what she preaches, methinks.


Dale Grounds

Can someone please explain the process for prosecuting someone who has lied to Parliament? Is this the same as perjury in Court? Maybe we could get a photo of Gareth and Ali Alatas in handcuffs on board a plane over the Timor Gap.

Margo: The penalty is resignation from the ministry, unless your leader is prepared to pretend you haven’t lied and you are prepared to lie by saying you haven’t. No penalty for backbencher lies or former ministers.


Craig Schwarze

I cannot believe that people are suggesting the Evans/Kernot affair is a private matter, and no-one’s business. As a Democrat, Kernot presented herself to the public as an impartial figure who would “keep the bastards honest”. We now find out that she was actually sleeping with one of the “bastards”! It was a massive conflict of interest. And this is not relevant?

The “bastard” in question lies to parliament to cover himself. And this is not relevant?

Kernot then betrays her political colleagues (and voters) by dramatically resigning from the Democrats and joining (surprise, surprise) the party of her lover. And this is not relevant?

How silly of me. There’s no evidence that the affair had any impact on Australian politics *at all*.


Ben Furby in Sydney

1. Gareth’s lie to Parliament detracts from the whole intent of the private-lives convention. Similarly many years ago a British politician, after dalliance with a prostitute, had to resign after being found out for lying to Parliament.

2. Ms Kernot had a high profile in the anti-monarchist movement, which drew on the marital problems of the Royal Family. On the one hand, marital problems in Britain’s Royal Family: What’s new after near 1000 years? Secondly, what’s different about the royals from any other modern family?

However, I suggest it ill became Ms Kernot to back a movement to cast off the British queen, a movement that used the disarray of the British Royal Family as part of of its reasons to want a republic, when we find out that she herself was certainly not a Caesar’s wife, above reproach.

A small point, but one I believe she should remember – like people in glass houses….




Debbie Jeffrey in Newport, NSW

In Your say on the Cheryl Affair you write: “People disapprove but are compulsively interested”???- Margo, really! What a pathetic justification for breach of privacy. People disapprove but are compulsively interested in necrophilia, too – does this mean we should publish a whole lot of details and public discussion about specific instances of it? (Probably not a good analogy when you’re talking about Gareth Evans, but you get my point…)

Margo: I did not make that comment as a justification for publication. I agree it is no such thing. I made it in response to Simon Thomsen’s remark, “Two ex-politicians shagged each other five years ago. Is this front page news? Is it even interesting?” I was having a go at explaining why so many people hate publication, but once it happens, find themselves compelled to read all about it. It is a reason why the question of when the line between public/private should be crossed is so important.



Instead of concentrating on trouble spots in the Middle East and elsewhere, let alone improving its own data gathering against terrorists, America focused its attention (and millions of dollars) for over a year on the Lewinsky affair. If we get a republic there’ll be the same problem – either a braindead gutless sexless President like Reagan or Bush or someone actually alive and with sexual impulses like Clinton and Kernot. The latter possibility means that every reporter/photographer in the region will be watching his sexlife instead of his policies.


Jenny Forster

Anyone who thinks Cheryl Kernot went across to the Labor Party because Gareth Evans beckoned must have read too much Mills & Boon or have rocks in their head. Laurie’s declaration – “Without the distraction and distress it caused Kernot at crucial times, she would certainly have been a less flaky and more effective shadow minister” – is purely his guesstimate and would be credible if the Labor party had a record of inclusion of and support for women. It has quite the reverse.

This whole episode is a squalid condemnation of the chase for sales and ratings by Oakes, and of the Canberra press gallery, who are shouting so loudly about truth that they cannot hear the word the public is shouting back at them – ethics.

The argument that writing a book and leaving something out makes one fair game is a nonsense. What political biography written last or this century has included every last detail. The Labor Party comes across as a boys’ club run on lines hostile to women and drenched in the male culture as exemplified by the outmoded sexist attitudes of the politicians and the conservative union leaders.

Look at the recent past history of the Labor party and see the smoking bodies of female politicians burnt on chauvinistic stakes. If Cheryl has exposed this in her book then good on her. If the stitched-up politicians and journalists can’t handle a female politician who covers the whole human spectrum of life experiences then perhaps they should look at their own failings before they seek to condemn.

On the ethics issue I feel sorry for the children of both Kernot and Evans. It is hard enough to raise children in this toxic , explicit and violent society. Their parents were in politics and they would have accepted a certain amount of negative exposure because of that.

This revelation has drawn another line in the sand right inside the personal territory of a politician’s family.They could possibly feel they have been exposed to shame and humiliation in the eyes of the whole country. Shame is one of the strongest human emotions.

I see this as another tear in the ethical fabric of this country and hope that Oakes, Margo, Stephen Mayne and co consider this when they next set off in pursuit of *the truth*. What they consider to be for the greater good of the country many of us see as the swampy depths of the gutter press.


Kylie Ann Scott in Haberfield, Sydney

Laurie’s reasons, and the general press consensus that it was justified to release the secret of the affair because Cheryl had written her book, are very flawed and do not stand up. No-one spoke up in the press, and in deed Laurie was silent, when Gareth’s book came out. Gareth’s book omitted the affair, why wasn’t Laurie so committed to exposing the truth then.

This is a vindictive slur, plain and simple.

Margo: Gareth has written on foreign policy. He has not written an autobiography. Keith Scott’s biography of Gareth was published in 1999.


Brian Bahnisch in Brisbane

I was one who admired Cheryl Kernot as a Democrat and welcomed her switch to Labor. I was saddened and distressed by her virtual public disintegration and demise.

On Oakes and the big secret, first I did not know what to think. Then Gerard Henderson, not from Lateline, which I did not see, but from an interview with Vivian Schenker, persuaded me to his view on Thursday morning. He said that in the absence of evidence of a causal link between the affair and the defection, Oakes should not have spilled the beans.

I have changed my view again. The causality may have run the other way; more likely it was all of a piece. Sex is part of life, not something restricted to a separate little compartment. The regard and affection Cheryl and Gareth had for each other was evident for all to see; the fact that they shared a bed at times for five years is really a footnote, not the main story.

Unfortunately, all the energy and air time is now focussed on the footnote, not on the story.

For that we have to thank Laurie Oakes. But look what else he has done! He has almost certainly caused pain and further harm to two families. He has almost certainly ruined any chance Cheryl and the publisher had of decent sales of the book. He has given further impetus to the notion that women are victims of their emotions, suggesting that the affair explains some of her “erratic” and “flaky” behaviour at that time. It could, in fact, have given her strength. Furthermore, as Natasha says, it will almost certainly discourage other women from entering politics. Finally, it has almost certainly damaged Cheryl’s prospects of remaking her life.

So did Laurie Oakes really think this thing through? I think not. He sought to clarify matters; instead he has distracted and confused. Part of the problem is that as a society we can’t properly come to terms with sex.

For reasons too extensive to go into here, I generally favour fidelity within marriage. It is up to Cheryl and Gareth to reflect on whether their affair was on balance positive or negative. I would prefer them to have controlled themselves and spared us all the drama.

Nevertheless, I do not see sex between consenting adults as seamy, sleazy or even necessarily steamy. The fact that two people, with attractive personalities, with shared values, ideals and political goals (purge the country of Howard and co), whose work brought them in close proximity, shared a bed for a while is, I say again, a footnote to the main story and entirely unremarkable in terms of the public interest.

So Laurie Oakes has served the public interest badly, and has almost certainly caused harm to those with a great and very legitimate interest, the immediate families.


Fergus Hancock in Muswellbrook, NSW

I will have one bleat on this topic before, hopefully, the thing goes out of the public mind. Both Cheryl Kernot and Gareth Evans were married at the time the affair occurred. Both have (or have had) spouses and children. It is therefore completely untrue to say that they are the only ones involved – why not jettison families all together if they are that much of an inconvenience?. It is also completely untrue to say that the whole thing was in the public interest – if it is, why don’t you publicly interview the respective spouses (or ex-) and children so that all Australia can see their shame?

Cheryl and Gareth have to deal with this before their families, and hopefully there will be reconciliation and forgiveness. Otherwise, the family issue will fester until untold damage will occur. Will any of the Canberra press gallery offer their support to the families? Or even acknowledge they exist? What about their rights?

Gareth said in about 1997, quoting St Augustine, “I pray to God for continence, but not just yet.” I didn’t realise what that meant at the time. I hope and pray that his family can find grace and acceptance and love to deal with this wrong done to them.


Felix Davis

The Chezza and Gazza tabloid fodder provided by Laurie Oakes only serves to demonstrate the extent that so much of our society needs to source the drama in their lives through squabbling over the bones of the past relationships of public figures.

Did Gough, Gorton or Bob tell nothing but the truth in their memoirs? Who really cares? If Laurie Oakes was intent on redressing what he saw as the besmirching of Big Kim’s character, why didn’t he encourage a tort of defamation or slander, rather than tell tales of who pashed who behind the bike shed?

Let the Kangaroo Court begin.


Sue Corrigan

I am amazed that you would in any way support Laurie Oakes’ latest vindictive, disgraceful attack on Cheryl Kernot.

If you look back at what happened when Kernot announced her defection to the ALP in October 1997, you will see that Oakes attacked her that very day, and in the most savage terms. And the gist of his complaint? That Kernot had had the nerve to keep her decision to defect a secret so that she could break the story herself, at a time and in the manner of her own choosing.

It struck me at the time as a petulant outburst from a pompously self-important journalist who apparently appeared to believe that he had some some of Divine Right to be tipped off in advance. It appeared to outrage him that something could happen in federal politics that he didn’t know about first. He seemed to take Kernot’s surprise announcement almost as a personal and professional slight.

From that day on he has never let up on her. When she announced her decision to join the ALP, Kernot tried to articulate important points about her political philosophy and values, and to raise significant issues to do with the country’s future political, economic and social directions. Nobody in the personality-obsessed media paid very much attention to what she was saying then; and now, the process is tragically complete. Kernot goes down in history as just another silly, emotional, airhead woman lured into giving up the leadership of the Democrats and switching to the ALP because she was having an affair with Gareth Evans.

I can understand all the boys in Canberra getting excited about that. I honestly don’t understand your attitude at all.


George Ooi

I’m terribly disappointed with you, Margo, with regards to your attitude towards The Affair. I agree with the comments of Rob Schaap in Your say on the Cheryl Affair. The fact that they had a prior affair does not mean that Cheryl’s defection is solely due to Gareth’s honey trap!

I’m disgusted with the media treatment of the whole affair, and Crean’s “holier than thou attitude”. Are you, Crean and Oakes, implying that ministers never lie? Gareth’s lie is of miniscule consequences and importance compared to the big lies of the PM, Reith etc. So why do you journos apply the blowtorch to Gareth and Cheryl?

Margo: It is imperative that the media put maximum pressure on those who are tempted to lie to Parliament so that they think better of it. Gareth’s mistake was the same as Bill Clinton’s – to lie. Both should have said they would not deign to respond to suggestions concerning their private lives. Gareth did because his wife insisted on it as proof that he was telling her the truth. This is morally indefensible and unforgiveably cowardly. Evans thus used a public forum for a private purpose – HE converted a private matter into one of public interest. Even worse, Gareth appears to have had no intention at the time he lied to his wife and the Parliament (ie the Australian people) to convert it to truth in retrospect. He lied on March 12, 1998. His affair with Kernot ended in 1999.


Libby Werthein

In your response to me in Your say on the Cheryl Affair you wrote: “The last journo I know of who had an affair with a politician was outed in the press after suspicions that some of her stories were based on leaks from him. An affair of itself is not relevant, but an affair between leaders of opposing parties can (not MUST) be a different matter, I would have thought, as could an affair between a politician and a person who got a job under the politician’s patronage.”

I guess I don’t know as much as you and other journalists about the what is printed in the press so I don’t know about the journalist who was outed in the press. I also agree with you that if someone gets a job purely because of a personal relationship with a politician then that is different.

But I do not think Cheryl Kernot got the job with labor for having an affair. In fact it would appear that she may not have got the job if others knew of affair. That in itself is interesting. I’m sure that many people, particularly in politics and media, and if even if deserving, in part get jobs and positions of authority because of their personal relationships and friendships. Isn’t it called mateship? You know the old saying, it’s not what you know it’s who you know.

I am sure that much of what happens in politics is about personal relationship, which is most unfortunate because it means that the best leaders and politicians may not get the job.

Her affair and the attitude of Labor members to this may well explain some of the negative treatment she got. But this is also double standards, and as others have pointed out she may have better served herself and exposed more about the functioning and boys club mentality of Labour party by speaking of this.

I know little of Cheryl Kernot and have learnt more about her dealings in the past few days. What some suggest is a Lady Di syndrome, which may explain why she has been a bit of a target. But still, as it is so difficult for woman to get into politics I feel that such extreme personal attacks on the few woman in politics neither furthers their right to be there nor encourages them to get involved. This is what mostly concerns me.

Lastly I do think that the media need to address their own actions and decisions on what is published. The media, like politicians and business, should be held accountable, and many media people seem to think they should not have to answer for themselves or be held accountable. Strange, since they spend their time reporting and exposing others. The media has a huge amount of power and more serious and responsible journalism would go a long way to assisting in improving this dumb, narrow minded, selfish and still sexist country.

Margo: I agree with on media accountability – the question is, in what form? It’s fraught to have legislation enforcing accountablity , because that effectively means state control of the media, the first sign of a society heading towards fascism. Our self- regulation mechanisms are deeply flawed but are improving slowly. I favour in-house ombudsmen to receive complaints and publish responses, and to comment more broadly on decisions of the paper in the paper.

In my view, the story of the affair is not a capital-letter important story in itself. but the response certainly is. The community and its media are talking together on the merits of publication all round Australia. At the end of this discussion – which is so passionate because there is no black and white on the specifics and because different organs of our democracy have different bottom-lines – I believe a consensus about when private spills into public to the extent that publication is justified could well be reached. Perhaps Webdiarists would like to have a go at draft guidelines.

Your say on the Cheryl Affair

Like just about every other media forum today, emails on The Affair raced into Webdiary and the vast majority hated the disclosure. I came in for criticism for my defence of Laurie Oakes in a debate with Gerard Henderson on Lateline last night. After the transcript your say, leading off with a welcome guest appearance by Don Arthur, former star Webdiarist who now his his own weblog,

LATELINE, 3/7/2002

Where is Australian journalism headed?

TONY JONES: Channel Nine’s political correspondent Laurie Oakes broadcast the allegations tonight, claiming that he’d been sitting on the information for years. It was only the publication of Ms Kernot’s book this week that prompted him, reluctantly, he says, to break his silence. Why? Because the “big secret” of a liaison between Cheryl Kernot and Gareth Evans was not revealed. He claims the book had left out a critical element of recent Labor Party history. Well, was the reporting of these, essentially private allegations justified? Or have we now plumbed the depths of America’s Clinton-Lewinsky-style reporting?

Laurie Oakes declined our invitation to appear on Lateline tonight but joining me now to discuss these issues — Gerard Henderson, executive director of the Sydney Institute and Sydney Morning Herald online political reporter, Margo Kingston.

JONES: Gerard Henderson, starting with you, has Laurie Oakes actually taken us over some rubicon here into a new territory?

GERARD HENDERSON, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, SYDNEY INSTITUTE: To start with I think sections of the press gallery in Canberra have had an obsession with Cheryl Kernot’s sex life for some years. In relation to Laurie Oakes’s reporting, well he’s certainly gone further than any other journalist has gone in Australian political history, as far as I’m aware. He’s a fine journalist but I don’t think he has a strong case on this occasion.

JONES: So what do you think the implications of this, both for politics and for political reporting?

HENDERSON: We’re dealing with two retired politicians about what may or may not have happened some time ago, and there is no evidence of causality. If Mr Oakes’s case is correct he hasn’t proved a causal relationship with what may have happened and what we know did happen in relation to Cheryl Kernot moving from the Democrats to the Labor Party. It seems to me if you’re going to justify this, you have to demonstrate causality. He hasn’t done so.

As Shona Martyn said earlier on, there is enough evidence as to why Cheryl Kernot may have wished to switch sides from the Democrats to Labor without any involvement of any personal considerations whatsoever.

JONES: Let me bring in Margo Kingston. What do you think? Is there any justification there your point of view of what Laurie Oakes has done in reporting this, Margot Kingston?

MARGO KINGSTON, SYDNEY MORNING HERALD: He’s completely justified. I certainly didn’t think that this morning with his big secret in the Bulletin and in fact myself and a lot of other people are very critical, if you’re going to cross this line, you have to cross it, not make an innuendo to let everyone else cross it.

As it turned out all he was doing was splitting the story so he could get scoops for both legs of his employer, the Bulletin and Channel Nine.

As to the lack of causality, I mean really, Gerard, one of the intriguing things about the defection was that it had all the hallmarks of an elopement, all these secret little notes between Gareth and Cheryl. I remember Michelle Grattan saying to me years ago that is what she suspected, there was this whole undercurrent of ‘I’m about to leave my husband without notice and run off with my lover’… The person I’m critical of here is Simon Crean. That is an unbelievable statement he made in London tonight, that both sides had a duty to explain all to the Australian people.

Now, that’s the real precedent. I would have thought (the) precedent for that is something is published somewhere and then you’ve got to tell all the details of your private life. That is outrageous, which gets us back to, of course, the paybacks going on within Labor, and one would suspect that a couple of people that didn’t have much time for Cheryl in the last term of — have done a fair bit of confirmation to Laurie.

… HENDERSON: Going back to your earlier comment – you don’t know that. Because someone passes a note it doesn’t necessarily mean anything. We know what the Democrats comprise. There were some people who had a Liberal background and some people who had a Labor background. Cheryl Kernot was always an admirer of Gough Whitlam and Whitlamism. It wasn’t surprising to me that she moved. You don’t know the reason, Laurie Oakes doesn’t know the reason.

JONES: Let’s get right to what we do actually know at this point. Neither of the parties have confirmed there was an affair at all. I mean, at the moment Laurie Oakes is saying so, and everyone is accepting that it may be true.

KINGSTON: Well, there’s two aspects to this. There’s two names in the gallery. If they make a serious statement about news … they’re automatically believed. They are Oakes and Grattan. The second point is that –

JONES: That can’t be right. They’re not documentary evidence in and of themselves, are they?

KINGSTON: No, I’m talking about the credibility factor.

HENDERSON: Oakes is talking about motivation, not about facts. He’s talking about motivation. He doesn’t know motivation. You don’t, I don’t, and nor does Michelle Grattan, none of us do. It’s a matter of motivation.

KINGSTON: I think the fact is the thing, isn’t it? I don’t think we’d be on tonight if Laurie Oakes had given a psychological portrait of Cheryl Kernot.

HENDERSON: No, it is a question of motivation. If we’re talking facts, there are many politicians who’ve had affairs, there are politicians who’ve had affairs with journalists. These are facts. They are not run because there’s no causal link with some motivation for what happened. So what’s crucial here is the issue of motivation. I’m simply saying I don’t know and you don’t know and Laurie Oakes doesn’t know.

JONES: Margo Kingston, let me throw a question to you. Do you believe that Laurie Oakes has crossed a line that we have never crossed before in political journalism in Australia, as Gerard Henderson said earlier?

KINGSTON: Well every factual situation is different, but I don’t believe he has crossed the line. I mean, what keeps flashing through my head is Alan Ramsey’s comment this morning: ‘I believe Cheryl will truly regret lifting this scab. What have you done again, Cheryl’. Cheryl has invited this, and listening to Shona, I mean, you have a whole new theory. Shona actually said, ‘Cheryl thinks this was par for the course and was bound to happen’. Well then you have to start to think if she thought it was bound to happen is this her way of paying Gareth back?

Cheryl has enough experience with the media to know what’s possible. The fact of this matter is – Cheryl – a tragic figure, really – has chosen to write a tell-all book, Speaking for Myself Again, and has not disclosed something that is clearly of enormous relevance.

HENDERSON: Well the test here is to name a politician who’s written a memoir in recent years in Australia who has done a tell-all book. I mean who has actually done it? There are plenty of holes in most memoirs. I mean Laurie Oakes’s essential criticism was, tonight on Channel Nine, that Cheryl Kernot had purported to write a political history when it was based on a falsehood. I mean how many memoirs are based on falsehoods or — or ignore issues?

We know heaps of cases, but nobody in the media in Canberra has chosen to write these up before, and in my view, rightly so. But I think what you have here is a very unpleasant double standard. If everyone is going to have their private life, or alleged private life, revealed because they’ve written what Laurie Oakes regards as a false history or a bad book, where will we stop?

JONES: Margo Kingston, this has been around for years, this scuttlebutt, hasn’t it? Laurie Oakes said he’s been sitting on this information for years. The only reason he’s decided to come forward, he says, is because this book was published. And yet Cheryl Kernot and Gareth Evans are now not public figures. They’re no longer politicians?

KINGSTON: Well, the explanation that Laurie gives is that once you know this big secret, it puts a whole different tenor and a whole different interpretation on some of the things Cheryl describes in the book, like Beazley not wanting to have much to do with her, and so on. It also helps explain some of her, you know, behaviour at certain times. I mean, to me – and, you know, I just thought watching Laurie tonight that the person that came out terribly from this was Gareth Evans. I mean the betrayal of his colleagues, the inherent conflict of interest in –

JONES: If there’s any truth to it at all, we have to keep saying.

KINGSTON: It’s true! It’s true that they had an affair. And I was about to get to the second thing. Labor figures have confirmed to us tonight – and I’m sure to other people – that they found out about this affair some time after the defection.

HENDERSON: But this goes back to the other issue. This goes back to your judgment. You say that certain activities explain certain behaviour. You have no knowledge of that. I mean Laurie Oakes has been talking tonight about a steamy affair. He has no knowledge of that. You have no knowledge as to whether –

KINGSTON: Well he has Gareth’s words in the email, Gerard. ‘Consuming passion’, I mean usually if someone’s got a consuming passion it effects their life in some way –

HENDERSON: This is getting a bit tabloid: Steamy affair.

KINGSTON: …especially (if) the person they’ve got the consuming passion with seduces them into defecting and changing parties.

HENDERSON: Well I think you might calm down a bit…

JONES: None of us have actually seen this email and, after all, it can be written by any person. We don’t know the email came from person X to person Y. We don’t know anything about the email except Laurie Oakes tells us it exists.

… HENDERSON: Just because someone does something after something else doesn’t mean they did it because of something else. And if you’re going to run that line, which you’re running very strongly tonight, you should have some evidence, preferably primary sources. You have none, and as far as I’m aware Laurie Oakes has none, that goes to causality, which is pretty important.

JONES: Can I just jump ahead to the other point that point that Margo Kingston made, which is a very important political point. Simon Crean did jump into this issue today in London and he has said that both of these parties have to come out essentially and clear the air. Has he made a misjudgment here?

HENDERSON: I haven’t seen the full context in which he said that. I was surprised by his comment, but it was probably thrown at him and he responded. I don’t know that they do. Unless we’re going to change the rules in Australia, but I must say if we change the rules, they’re going to be people in the Labor Party, the Liberal Party, and the Democrats and other places, who will be required to say things they never have to have been before.

I mean, it is in the recent biography on John Gorton by Ian Hancock, the late John Gorton told him he’d had what he called two or three affairs while the Prime Minister, but no-one raised them at the time. There was no public interest in that and if John Gorton chose to reveal that late in his life that was his judgment. What we’re dealing with here is something quite different. I think it’s an unnecessary move in Australian politics.

I think we’ve been better off without it. If we’re going to do it with politicians, I mean they’re figures in business, they’re media proprietors, they’re figures in the media. Where are we going to stop?

Just because I think or Margo Kingston thinks or Laurie Oakes thinks there’s a causality here, we can then say what we like?

JONES: Margo Kingston this is precisely the debate that the United States had, isn’t it, when the Lewinsky-Clinton affair was first brought into the public. We’re bound now to have it here. Which side are you going to fall on? Are you saying that it’s history and therefore it’s an unwritten history, we need to know all the truth and therefore that justifies this personal exposure?

KINGSTON: No, not at all. That’s why I say if it’s a precedent, it’s a very particular precedent. Cheryl Kernot put out her jaw to have it punched by writing that book, and, you know, it’s Cheryl all over: It is just the saddest, saddest thing. To me the real villain in this is Simon Crean. Neither of those people have any duty or any obligation to say anything.

HENDERSON: You just said the real villain was Gareth Evans. Now it’s Simon Crean. Who is the real villain here? In my view the issue didn’t have to be raised in the first place. Perhaps it might be some figures in the Canberra press gallery.

KINGSTON: The fact of the matter is Laurie sat on this for several years. Cheryl has made all sorts of aspersions about all sorts of people in the Labor Party whom she felt distanced themselves from her and we now have a possible explanation for that.

GERARD HENDERSON: Her book is pretty mild. It’s not a strong critique of people.


Princess Cheryl’s Revenge

By Don Arthur

The Mercedes has entered the tunnel. Let’s see who’s on board…

In the back seat is Princess Cheryl sipping chablis and chatting to journalists on a mobile phone. What a long strange trip it’s been, she says. And what a useless lump of lard that chauffeur is…

At the wheel is the addled Mr Oakes. Enraged by spiteful comments from the back seat he turns the wheel sharply towards the gutter…

And trapped in the boot, grinding his teeth with rage, is Gareth Evans.

Will anyone get out alive?


Susan Metcalfe

I just heard you on Lateline and have to strongly disagree with most of your views on this one.

I don’t believe this revelation by Laurie Oakes takes us any closer to any kind of truth. What this does is once again attempt to discredit an individual, a woman – Cheryl Kernot. The media may feel justified in doing this but I fail to see how this is in the national interest. I am not served by the constant attacks on this woman, in fact I am sickened and diminished. All she has done is put out a book which expresses her point of view. But heaven forbid she criticised the media, so now she needs to be punished yet again.

I don’t need to know about Cheryl’s sex life, I am not interested in Cheryl’s sex life – it is irrelevant to me. Do we attack the decisions of male politicians because of who they are sleeping with? No. It is only because she is a woman that there is an assumption that her decisions were based on her relationship with a man.

But where does this truth telling end? Will Laurie Oakes continue playing God and decide which of our gay politicians, past and present, should be outed. Will he start pointing the finger at all the sham marriages and affairs because surely then that would help us to explain their motivation and decision making. That’s not the kind of truth I’m interested in.

Perhaps we should all have to disclose who we’re sleeping with before we express our point of view or tell our side of a story. Or maybe we could start disclosing which journalists have had affairs with which politicians – undoubtedly this would reveal something, although I don’t think it would be the truth.

To all of the media please leave Cheryl Kernot alone and focus on more important political issues. Get out of the gutter. I DON’T WANT TO KNOW.


Bernadette Neubecker

I’ve just seen you on Lateline. Now, as a woman, I don’t really care who has an affair with whom or whether they disclose this information or not. The fact that Laurie Oakes should ‘hello’ express this to us all says a lot more about Laurie Oakes than it does about Cheryl Kernot. I really don’t care if John Howard has affairs! I do care about whether it has any relevance (which I believe from your interview this evening, you think ) to the situation. I don’t. But then I’m just your ordinary jo blow. I feel this has more relevance in the parliamentary press gallery than it does with the rest of us!


Jozef Imrich

It appeared that Gerard last night just wanted to disagree for the sake of disagreement for the sake of ABC viewers …

No writer can be a hero in his or her memoir and Cheryl is no acception. Memoir is risky and writers must take the good and bad. Human nature is complex and I assume this is what makes us read the paper:


Jim McKenna

I’ve just finished watching your encounter with Gerard Henderson on Lateline and I feel a little saddened. As a person I have some time for in the media I was very disappointed by the line you took and the seemingly poorly thought out reasoning you presented.

The whole idea that this affair – relationship has any relevance is nonsense. Most of us have had affairs and do dumb things but in most situations others don’t have any right to know about it. The same goes for politicians. Up until now this has set us apart from the Americans and British. I hate the thought that our politics and media should go down that path.

Gerard is correct – no cause can be shown! Please return to the side of the good guys.


Richard Hand

I was very disappointed to see you supporting Laurie Oakes, he has gone over the line and should be condemned for it.


Peter Hannemann

Gerard Henderson was appalling on Lateline. You did an excellent job in putting up with his continous ridiculous interjections. He was almost an apologist for Kernot and her pathetic book and her more pathetic affair with Gareth. Shona Martyn made herself look stupid.


Paul Kilborn

I was an admirer of your work until I watched your performance on Lateline. Sleazy!


Laura Taylor

I must say, Margo, that I was appalled by your justication of the Oakes report on Lateline last night. I remember some years ago you featured as one of the cheerleaders in the Margaret Simons book on the gallery, which among other things, made strident criticism of trivial reporting in the Press Gallery, not to mention the so-called caucusing of junior reporters.

Now a senior reporter (a “big hitter” I believe the term was) says “it’s true” because Laurie says so. I think that’s called the herd following the leader. So much for the caucus theory!

As for the Kernot affair, surely if it was relevant at all, the time for reporting it was years ago. That time has passed and the publishing of her book is a lame cover. Even Oakes looks uncomfortable trying to justify this. This is just payback, or worse a vendetta.

Margo: I argued on Lateline that big stories by two names in the gallery – Oakes and Grattan – are always considered reliable – and that we (the Herald) had independently confirmed with Labor sources that there was an affair and that it was not revealed to Labor leaders before the defection. All I am saying is that Oakes is very credible, and that we always follow-up his stories on that basis.


Cynthia Harris

Of course the truth impacts on all Ms Kernot’s actions. Bring out all the muck I say!!


Rob Schaap

I do think you’d have done well to allow Henderson’s point last night (that a legal private act neither persuasively necessary nor sufficient to cause an act in public life should stay private). Our media’s default setting is already far too individualistic, gladitorial and sensationalist to serve its purported democratic function well, and I think Henderson’s point that a journo needs a pretty compelling public interest case (as opposed to whatever might interest those weaned on news-as-celebrity-soap-opera) before vomiting a public figure’s carnal affiliations all over us is very important.

The Australian’s case, made today by its editor, that public and private life can not be distinguished that easily, has important truth in it, but not nearly enough to justify this reckless launch down the slippery slope, for mine. Michael Stutchbury’s argument affords sallacious tattle-tales carte blanche, no?

With respect to your Lateline argument, as I understood it, four points came to my mind:

(a) It’s pretty insulting to both parties (and, arguably, their respective genders) to portray a helplessly swooning Kernot being literally seduced from one party to another by an Evans you seem to frame as an unscrupulous party honey-trap;

(b) To the (undoubtedly significant) degree one’s decisions in public life might be influenced by one’s private relationships, I don’t see why sexual relationships should be considered particularly decisive in this respect, yet the front page has not bothered to tell us who Kernot’s best friends and mentors are;

(c) If one’s sex partners do have the role you ascribe them, then the sex lives of those who interpret, package and convey our news for us should be a matter of public record, no? As you often declare, journos work hard and long. Would I be too far off the mark in assuming that if they’re to have a sex life at all, it’s likely to involve those with whom they’re in such daily and prolonged contact? Certainly, the Canberra rumour mill churns out the rumours of such liaisons at a steady rate. If a particular journo bonks a pollie, should s/he be obliged to disclose this at column’s bottom?

(d) The reasoning you seemed to employ last night, that (x) occurred before (y) and therefore caused it, might as easily be applied to Oakes himself. On such an account, Oakes finds he is not as generously treated in the book as he might like, and consequently wreaks some vengeance. But you can’t be reasoning thus in this case, else you wouldn’t be supporting the act publicly, eh? No, in the case of an esteemed colleague, you’re happy to grant the benefit of a significant doubt …

This story is out of the bottle, but perhaps it’s not too late to nip a nascent sheet-sniffing journo culture in the bud, eh?

Margo: In my view, the criticisms of Laurie in Kernot’s book would be a factor weighing AGAINST publication, for the very reason that it leaves him open to allegations that he was motivated by revenge.


Libby Werthein

I totally disagree with your point of view on Lateline. . What about Bob Hawke and the journalist and the many other woman he had affairs with? What about all the other male politicians who have had affairs? What about all the affairs and personal friendships between journalists and politicians – do those affairs explain their articles? Why don’t we make a hit list and put them all in the newspaper. Bob Hawke would have been constantly in the media for his affairs.

This is another form of sexism and I am sorry you are buying into it. But I guess your just another journalist playing the boys game. All I think the last two days behaviour of politicans and media highlights is exactly what Cheryl Kernot said she was subjected too. The issue of the afffair should never have been raised in parliment and good on Gareth for denying it.

There are far more important issues to address, like the total lack of accountability of universities and voice and rights of the 2.4 million students, but who cares about that when you can have some fun at other peoples expense.

I look forward to seeing the list of affairs and juicy little tit bits of all the journalists and politicians who think that subjecting Cheryl Kernot, Garth Evan and their families to this is OK.

Margo: The last journo I know of who had an affair with a politician was outed in the press after suspicions that some of her stories were based on leaks from him. An affair of itself is not relevant, but an affair between leaders of opposing parties can (not MUST) be a different matter, I would have thought, as could an affair between a politician and a person who got a job under the politician’s patronage.


Simon Thomsen, editor, The Echo, Lismore

Tell me – perhaps it might explain why I’m a country hack at a two-bob paper….

Two ex-politicians shagged each other five years ago. Is this front page news? Is it even interesting? Evans supposedly lied to parliament – about sex between consenting adults. Like doh…

In the scheme of lies, it seems to be the Canberra press gallery would be better off watching big brother and providing analysis on the dancing doona’s importance to national security.

If you’re gonna run with this story surely the big issue is why would anyone want to shag Evans?

Margo: When I told the friend I’m staying with in Canberra over breakfast today that Cheryl had a long affair with Gareth, she said; “What a terrible breach of privacy; could you go out and buy all the papers?” People disapprove, but are compulsively interested.


Philip Birch-Marston in Curtin, Canberra

After watching Lateline I am a little amazed at the naivity, or professional discretion, that came over in the discussion over the Kernot/Evans soap opera. Ever a believer in the glory of conspiracy theories, I have an opinion that perhaps Simon Crean is being a lot more clever than he is being given credit for.

Living in Canberra, one of the warming aspects of frosty mornings is the latest rumour. However, one persistent rumour that has served to provide a surfeit of heat for a couple of winters is the purported relationship between (RUMOUR DELETED)

Maybe Simon Crean is trying to create a stage where moral responsibility of our elected representatives will become a major issue. If this theory is correct, Mr Crean may well prove to be the most far sighted leader the Labor Party has had since Whitlam. The backchat in the House of Representatives during the next session will probably cause more public outcry and hopefully will cause the current Speaker no small amount of apoplexy.


Chris Kuan

I notice Con Vaitsas in Waiting game on SIEV-X bemoaning the lack of mongrel “get-into-em” from Michelle Grattan and was reminded of your appearance on Lateline. I think aggressive confrontation tends to elicit defensive answers (duh!) which degenerates into the blandspeak which Con hopes to avoid.

How did a discussion on the journalistic merits of the Kernot revelations turn into a personal baiting competition? Not that I’ve ever been a fond follower of the interviewing technique that Tony Jones used, which seems to be more common everywhere nowadays (ie “Do you agree with my statement ‘X’?” usually phrased as “BUT isn’t it the case …” ) which is just begging to be answered by a curt “No” by a mischievous interviewee one of these days.

Anyway, it looks like you need more sleep 🙂


Sue Deane

Once upon a time I wrote a furious letter to you after an article you wrote on Ms Kernot. I explained that after 20 odd years in the ALP, I had let my membership lapse. The last straw was the breathless news from a friend that Cheryl had “defected” and all that followed.

At the time the safe seat of Sydney was being contested by a handful of most extraordinally capable women, the left having the numbers and deciding a woman must have the seat. Why? They should all have had a chance of a seat – wherever.

I eventually picked up my membership as Ms Kernot slid into chaos. At the post-campaign report by a failed candidate in 1998 I listened as she politely tried to find ways and means of explaining the awful situations Cheryl had placed OTHER PEOPLE in (not just C herself ) in the previous months. I’m afraid I let go a speech of sorts, full of frustration and anger re Ms Kernot. I recall “total lack of depth academically, politically, and intellectually” and “no sense of humour”.

Suffice to say I have been preening myself every since on my fabulous insight. Cheryl Kernot never did concern herself with others – Cheryl was alway numero uno and expected to be treated as such. Her outstanding flaw is the ability to be totally insensible to the feelings of others.

You talked on Lateline about the perception now of Cheryl and whether it would change. NO – but my perception of Gareth Evans has. What a twit – he was witty and articulate and and and ……. what was he thinking?

Bugger Gerard Henderson and his holier than thou third degreeing. He’s missing the point. Cheryl has betrayed the trust of all sorts of people over and over – and then paid out on them almost endlessly for anyone who wishes to set her up on a public platform. I felt miserable each time she betrayed the party which supported her. Remember – she was supported and paid for some fatuous job when endless numbers of branch members were seriously desperate for work prior to her standing. Of course there should be pay back – how long do you stand around being pummelled without reciprocating.


Glenn Murray in Chatsworth Is. NSW

I’ll believe in the slob’s integrity when he starts releasing info on the sexual activities of all the other members of parliament. Is he now trying to imply that he has never sat on info relating to parliamentarians? I think he is a rat. This smacks of some sort of revenge attack by Oakes.

The ABC has done itself no glory either – it has been wallowing in the “affair” under the guise of reporting the issues. As for the alleged participants I couldn’t care less and I really don’t want to know about other peoples private lives.


Noel Hadjimichael in Camden, NSW

What has happened to the ALP? Policy paralysis at the last election; dubious debates about the 60:40 rule that union hacks could not fathom; the tacky soap opera of Evans and Kernot …. it appears that the Prime Minister has achieved his often reported desire to return to the 1950s: an impotent Opposition, racked by policy indecision, unresponsive to the major issues of the day and tainted by petty scandal.

The Liberals have promoted a “steady as she goes” reputation and toughed out any upsetting scenarios such as the SIEV-X. Grey and dependable seems electorally sound!

The general population, especially in regional and rural Australia, are fed up with this lacklustre Opposition. The Kernot relevations have just about put the icing on the cake – Labor can’t even manage the defection of a media junky like Cheryl without collateral damage.


Peter Woodforde in Canberra

Laurie Oakes said on ABC RN World Today – – “If I’d wanted to be a News of the World journalist, or a British tabloid type journalist, I could knock off five front pages tomorrow , you’re right about that. But that’s not what I’m about, and I hope that’s not we’re about in Australia.”

His boast of Five More Big Secrets ready for page one must have sent an interesting frisson through the offices of politicians, journalists, public servants, service personnel and the moneyed elites watching PBL’s careful demolition of Mrs Kernot and whatever remains of the Democrats.

It’s a little like the phase-one tease aspect of the PBL magazine piece aimed at Kernot. The fact that Oakes uses the subjunctive (and elsewhere during the interview was painfully contrite) does not excuse the fact that there are plenty in and out of the profession who may now say: “Oakes got Kernot but is shielding plenty of others”, whatever his intentions. There isn’t any more particularity about Kernot’s (or Evans’s) private life than there is about Oakes’s. The email and Evans telling parliament the Randall statement was “baseless” are just furphies. Evans’s and Kernot’s private lives (if any) are not and were not the business of the Parliament any more than they are of the media. Evans’s statement will not close this issue (ie public figures’ private lives), because now, all bets are off.

What do we now say to the mawkish media bottom feeder bastards who would maintain that the public (ie the media marketplace) can’t judge what Oakes has written about Kernot until we know all about Oakes’s private life, and who, having fed off that, demand the details of other private lives, maybe starting on you or some other journalist, then going on to hector Brian Harradine from his front yard, a la Colston, about his private sexual fantasies (that would amuse the $lobbering classes, that would rate), or demanding to know what Mrs Crean or Janette Howard are like in the sack from the Opposition Leader or the PM when they are visiting some foreign capital, should they decide any of those matters are relevant.

Now that Jung and Freud are patrolling the corridors of the Press Gallery, we must know everyone’s innermost dispositions.

Big Brother has come to Australian public life and all bets are off.

PS – I particularly look forward to any forthcoming book by ex-Archbishop-Hollingwor=th-defender Professor David Flint, who crowed about the Oakes-Kernot stories and effectively said her book was asking for it. Presumably any Flint tome will come with some sort of confessional prologue, perhaps festooned with tasteful Polaroids.

Waiting game on SIEV-X saga

Today more SIEV-X, including the ever-so-helpful personal briefing Matt Brown, Defence Minister Robert Hill’s chief of staff, gave to The Australian last week on the SIEV-X surveillance maps – maps Hill still has not given the unthrown children inquiry.

Then the remarks on SIEV-X by outgoing chief of the defence force Admiral Chris Barrie and incoming navy chief Admiral Chris Ritchie at today’s handover ceremony to the ADF’s new leadership team. To end, readers comment on the state of journalism as discussed on Late Night Live’s journos forum this week and more Webdiarists out themselves as members of the audience.

It’s a waiting game now on SIEV-X – waiting until Robert Hill has finished exclusive briefings to The Australian on the defence task force report before he deigns to give it to the inquiry for which the task force prepared the report.

You have to feel sorry for the Defence Force people. They’re not allowed to tell the story as they see it because their political master is too busy playing pay-back and media manipulation games with it to suit his petty political agenda. Three hundred and fiftythree people dead by drowning – what better topic to play games with. And why should the defence minister, of all people, care that he’s wrecked Defence’s careful process of rebuilding the media’s confidence in it after the children overboard fiasco, where Peter Reith banned them from saying anything so he could perpetrate his lies. Hill began his tenure telling defence to be open. Now he’s playing Reith’s game.

The contempt Hill is showing to the Senate unthrown children inquiry is simply staggering. The inquiry has had to look up Webdiary to see the navy’s surveillance maps. The maps and the SIEV-X report have been on Hill’s desk for ages, after he told Defence to send it to him and he’d send it on to the inquiry. Yesterday, Defence was reduced to lobbying Hill to get the documents it thinks will clear up the SIEV-X mystery to the inquiry now. No luck – Hill promised the inquiry the documents today; they didn’t come.

Hills game, it seems, is to drip feed The Australian so the report is old news by the time everyone else gets the documents.

All this comes after Hill destroyed the navy’s chance to get its maps into the public arena 12 days ago. The defence force task force chief, Admiral Raydon Gates, was scheduled to give evidence on June 21. That week, partly in response to Herald questions, the navy plotted aerial surveillance patterns on the crucial SIEV-X days. The week before, Hill banned Gates giving evidence. On Network Nine’s Sunday program on June 16 he unbanned him under tough questioning.

On Wednesday Defence advised the Herald that it wouldn’t answer our questions because Gates would do so at the hearing on the 21st. Believe it or not, Hill had rebanned him in a letter to the inquiry but hadn’t told Defence! And the reason? Not to stop Gates giving evidence on SIEV-X, but on witness tampering.

It was Gates who blew the whistle on an alleged attempt by an officer in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Brendon Hammer, to interfere with the testimony of Commander Stefan King, who told Hammer the children overboard photos were fraudulent on October 11. An attempt to tamper with a witness to an inquiry is self-evidently within the terms of reference of that inquiry, yet Hill pretended it wasn’t and asserts the Senate will have to extend its terms of reference before Gates can give evidence. Another political game, yet more contempt for the inquiry and the Defence Force.

Hill thus stuffed Defence’s attempt to explain to the public its search patterns on the day SIEV-X departed and the day it sank.

I’ve got hold of briefing notes Matt Brown apparently gave The Australian to accompany the maps he leaked the paper. So you’re aware of Hill’s current spin here are Brown’s notes.


SIEV-X surveillance

By Matt Brown

This will form the basis of a new submission from Defence to the Committee which we hope will correct a lot of the ‘assumptions’ relating to surveillance.

They are in addition to the declassified summary of intelligence which will be provided to the Committee.

The bottom line is that we are looking for all illegal vessels entering our surveillance zone.

SLIDE A-1 (MAP 1 in Webdiary maps archive)

Shows the full “Charlie” surveillance zone relevant to this issue. There were two other aerial surveillance zones used to capture other routes to mainland. PLEASE NOTE – the blue line is the 24nm zone where Orions did not fly. You will note the Charlie zone line crosses it in some places – this is only because the map they’ve drawn connects coordinates with straight lines (it can’t draw curved lines), so it’s a technical glitch. The planes would not fly beyond the blue line – the first 12nm is sovereign Indonesian territory, the second 12nm is a “contiguous zone” recognised under UNCLOS (the International Convention on the Law of the Sea). While I’m not sure if Indonesia actually claims this zone, Australia, as a signatory of UNCLOS, recognises it. It is also primarily used as a ‘buffer’ to ensure our planes don’t fly into the more important 12nm sovereign area.

The surveillance zone is approx 34,600 square nautical miles.

The times expressed on these maps are local times in the Charlie surveillance zone.

Defence advises that there was one full surveillance flight flown each today – the times of which varied from day to day. I can explain this once you’ve looked at the maps.

They had to fly approx 2 hours 40 minutes from the mainland before they entered the zone. They would then spend 4 to 5 hours covering the zone (dependent on weather and level of activity) before returning to the mainland.

It was standard for them to start their fly patterns from the south and work their way north before departing. I can explain that too.

Importantly, Defence advises that all radar contacts on the 18th and 19th scheduled daily flights were visually identified.

The flight patterns on the maps are indicative only – they show the general pattern followed. The distance between flight tracks would depend on weather and atmospherics and how they impacted on radar range. We can talk about that too.

SLIDE A-2 (MAP 2 – Flight path, the morning of October 18, the day SIEV-X departed Indonesia)

Gives the general pattern of surveillance flown that day.

Flight entered at 0935 and left 1411.

The aircrew assessed that the flight achieved 100 percent surveillance of area Charlie and 25 contacts were located. Slide A-3 (MAP 3) gives these contacts. 21 were visually identified – 2 as merchant vessels and 19 as fishing vessels. (Two of the contacts were multiple fishing vessels so you want (sic) see 25 dots on the map.) The other four were detected within the 24nm Indonesian zone so were therefore not visually identified.

SLIDE A-5 (MAP 5, flight path on the morning of October 19, the day SIEV-X sunk)

Shows the flight pattern for the scheduled flight of Oct 19.

Entered zone at 0530 and left 1044 – 5 hours 14 minutes in the zone.

You will note it detected SIEV 6 in the southern zone. (Margo: Intelligence reported to the PM’s people smuggling task force on October 18 says two boats left Indonesia that day – SIEV-6 and SIEV-X.)

Why hadn’t SIEV 6 been picked up further north? This comes back to staggering the times of the daily surveillance flight.

It is possible that SIEVs can enter the northern zone after the daily surveillance flight. The reasons the flights are at different times is if you miss them on one day in the north, you can still spot them the next day in the south before they reach Christmas Island. You simply can’t have 24 hour a day aerial surveillance.

The aircrew reported 100 percent surveillance of area Charlie with a 75% probability of detection in the northern areas. This acknowledges the simple fact that radar is not perfect and the weather conditions on the 19th were not as favourable as they were on the 18th.

The flight detected 37 contacts in the zone – 8 visually identified as merchant ships and 22 as fishing vessels (again some were multiple detections so the numbers don’t match up exactly on the slide.) A further 7 contacts were not identified as they were either outside of the zone or inside the Indonesian 24nm zone.

SLIDE A-7 (MAP 7, flight path on the afternoon of October 19, when SIEV-X sank)

While the Orions flew a daily flight to cover the entire zone, the HMAS Arunta had a helicopter which flew surveillance flights as required over the southern zone to support the ship. It is important to understand that helo flights did not cover the full zone and were never intended to. They flew close in to Christmas Island in support of our ships.

On the 19th, the HMAS Arunta helicopter was out of service. Navy requested an additional Orion flight to cover its absence.

The flight path is shown at Slide A-7.

Into zone at 1644 and deported at 2115 – 4 hours 31 minutes.

The flight concentrated on the southern zone as per above – it’s what the helicopter was supposed to do. As noted in our letters to the SMH and Age, bad weather reduced the flights ability to proceed any further north so the whole Charlie area was not covered. (As noted, the helicopter would not have covered the whole area.)

It only covered 95% of the two southern quadrants because of bad weather.

You will note that Slide A-8 (MAP 8) shows only one radar contact in the north-west sector. Poor weather meant they didn’t have the flight endurance to check it. You should also note that this is after the time that SIEV X reportedly sank – so it could not be it. The one contact could also (speculation) give an indication of the deteriorating weather conditions leading to vessels leaving the area – that’s my speculation, not ADF (Australian Defence Force).

SLIDE A-9 (MAP 9, flight path on the morning of October 20, when Indonesian fishing boats picked up survivors)

Flight path for normal flight Oct 20.

Entered 0535 and departed 1046.

Achieved 100% of southwest and northwest sectors, 90% of northeast and 45% of southeast.

This, of course, is after SIEV X sank. Differing reports say the survivors were picked up between “just after dawn” or as late as 1000.

Boats were detected on radar and visually identified at around 0800 in the northwest sector.

Importantly none of the accounts from survivors have indicated that a plane was heard overhead so it’s unlikely that the Orion flew straight over the top of them.


As I said, a full aerial surveillance was done each day.

October 21 – 1250 to 1724

October 22 – 0628 to 1125

October 23 – 1225 to 1744

Again, please note that the times bounce around and that this is standard practice. We don’t want the conspiracy theorists accusing us of scheduling our flights to avoid the chance of seeing SIEV X. (Margo: What a strange remark! SIEV-X was well and truly sunk, 353 people well and truly drowned and 44 survivors well and truly picked up by two Indonesian fishing boats by October 21. And who is the “we” – he’s not including the Australian reporter in his little conspiracy, surely.)


TONY KEVIN on the maps

A few quick reactions:

* Note how the words “Sunda Strait” are persistantly misplaced on all the maps, way out to sea in the Indian Ocean. This is quite seriously misleading. Was it accidental, or was it done to try to bolster the false claim that SIEV-X sank in the Sunda Strait?

* The afternoon 19 October flight path map (MAP 7) is striking. Look how (after the storm encounter) fuel and flying time were subsequently wasted in the southeastern quarter which could have been applied to the vital, in a search-and-rescue sense, northwest quarter.

* Note how on 18 October the Orions were detecting vessels up to 20 miles outside the limits of the NW surveillance zone, going up towards and into Sunda Strait, but not on 19 or 20 October. Were there really fewer boats around in these locations on 19 and 20 than on 18 (hard to see why) or weren’t they looking so far outside their zone boundary on these two days? If so, why?

These maps reinforce the importance of Senators quizzing Orion flight commanders on how they operated (see my piece in Peeling the onion) and – especially – if they had been briefed to look out for SIEV X on any of these flights, and if so what information they were given?

On the Commander Banks precedent, I don’t see how ADF could try to refuse to give the Committee access to flight commanders. After all, nobody died on SIEV 4 – 353 died on SIEV X. Australian surveillance activity is now a crucial issue.



Vice Admiral C.A. Ritchie AO RAN

My primary message today is rightly to the members of the Navy, both uniformed and civilian and to those who work in close support of us in industry. I know, as do the majority of people in this country, that you are doing a great job for Australia. Navy has a high public profile and is well regarded for its operational competence. We must value that reputation and work together to nurture it and remove any misconceptions that will put it at risk. There are a few of those around and their correction is of great importance to me.

Admiral Chris Barrie

I would also like to address today some of the genuine concerns raised by a number of commentators over the deaths of approximately 353 asylum seekers from the vessel now known as SIEV-X. While this was a tragic event, the Australian Defence Force cannot be responsible for the deaths of those people. Our ships and aircraft received no distress calls. None of the vessels detected by our aerial surveillance around that time gave us any indication that they were aware of any vessel in distress, or had picked up survivors.

Moreover, our mission was directed specifically at enabling the Australian Defence Force to act when it could have a lawful authority to do so. That is, when vessels approached suspected of carrying asylum seekers, approached Australian waters. Not on the high seas and not in another country’s waters.

The first indication received that the vessel had foundered was on the 23rd October.

Let me remind you that the Navy has a proud record of rescue at sea. You may recall the crew of HMAS Adelaide, courageously rescuing all the survivors from SIEV-IV when it foundered.

Advice available to Defence on when and from where SIEV-X departed was contradictory and it did not provide a basis for changing surveillance patterns.

Some commentators had concluded that the position of the sinking of SIEV-X is known. The fact is the position where the vessel foundered is unknown and all attempts to estimate the location are speculative at best.

Senior Defence Force Officers testifying before the Senate Select Committee in Estimates have provided detailed information on Operation Relics. Unfortunately their factual testimony has been incorrectly construed by some to imply that we deliberately pulled back our aerial surveillance in mid-October of 2001 to the vicinity of Christmas Island. In fact, we continued to survey the area and we did not pull back the surveillance as suggested.

None of the surveillance flights detected the SIEV-X vessel. I am scandalised that some people seriously believe that we somehow changed our modus operandi to deliberately avoid detecting this vessel.

The men and women of the Australian Defence Force that I lead stand ready to assist people in distress, as we have always done. However, we can only effect rescue when we are aware there is a vessel in distress.


Simon Kelly

Partly in response to comments made by Hamish Tweedy in The truth is out there… and by others elsewhere, I’d like to make the obvious point that there is more to this than just one isolated incident.

As was shown by the ABC’s 4 Corners earlier this year, the PM’s office had direct input into what would happen to a boatload of Afghanis intercepted near Ashmore Island. Instead of following normal operating procedure, the Navy was to hold them at Ashmore for a matter of days before word came through they were to be escorted to Indonesian waters. On the way towards Indonesia the Afghani’s were allegedly ‘restrained’ with capsicum spray and electric batons. Once left in Indonesian waters the ship sank and at least three people are believed to have drowned – all because the PM didn’t want them interfering with election coverage. (A Prime Minister surreptitiously demanding a leaky wooden boat, overcrowded and unseaworthy be taken out of Australian waters during the middle of an election campaign is not leadership, it is manipulative, opportunistic, spineless and cowardly behaviour. I for one expect far greater moral judgement and a far more ethical approach from a leader.)

This, after Tampa, the disgraceful handling by government ministers and their staff of the ‘children overboard’ photographs and the ridiculously expensive and unnecessary ‘Pacific solution’ is not responsible government.

No-one is trying to denigrate the men and women serving on the ships of the RAN, or the Orions of the RAAF. But the fact is they have become the ones doing the Goverment’s dirty work. It is not written policy that is being followed but cynical politics.

I say good on you to the journos putting in the effort to peel all those onions.

PS: Regarding SIEV-X, we hear everyone heard it first on CNN. How did CNN find out? (Margo: Here’s how, courtesy of the original CNN story. This is the only story to state that SIEV-X had a radio on board.)


Migrant ship sinks; most of those aboard killed

October 22, 2001 Posted: 8:24 PM EDT (0024 GMT)

GENEVA, Switzerland (CNN) — A boat carrying 400 migrants sank in the Java Sea Friday night, and all but 44 of the passengers are believed to have drowned, the International Organization for Migration said here Monday.

Spokesman Jean-Philippe Chauzy said the boat left Java last Thursday morning with 421 people aboard. He said 21 people demanded to be let off and were left on an island.

Later, he said, the captain radioed that the engine had failed and the boat was sinking.

He quoted survivors as saying that the boat went down quickly, and that they were picked up Saturday morning by local fishermen.

Chauzy said the ultimate destination of the boat was unknown but migrants frequently use such voyages as a way of reaching Australia.

He said most of the passengers were Iraqis but there were also Iranians, Palestinians, and Algerians on board.

Every year thousands of migrants pass through the waters of southeast Asia in their search for better lives. Many who leave Indonesia head for Australia.

In August a Norwegian freighter rescued more than 400 people from a sinking Indonesian ferry off the coast of Christmas Island. Australia refused entry to the asylum seekers and they were eventually sent to New Zealand and to the remote Pacific island of Nauru.


Hamish Tweedy

I concede that it is your job to question and investigate, I am also prepared to concede that in fulfilling this role you become vulnerable to the charge of having become a partisan participant in the process and am happy to accept that your motives are journalistic and apologise for questioning your motives (although I don’t believe I was too wide of the mark on your opinion of the Government Ministers involved).

I cannot however escape the feeling that the way this whole SIEV issue has been framed has a lot to do with people who felt that John Howard exploited the refugee situation to win the last election trying to force a few pigeons home to roost. By that I mean John Faulkner leading the questioning and the lack of subpoenas. I imagine that this appearance whether a reality or not is likely to make judgements about what the inquiry means necessarily partial and ultimately futile.

In the end what I object to is, that the RAN will be apportioned a share of the blame (either publicly or by inference) for the deaths of 353 people and I don’t think they should.


David Dowell

The consistent spin of the Liberals and their apologists is that it is an attack on the Navy. Nonsense, we just want to know what happened. Each time there is new information the story changes.

I pay for the Navy, the task force, the camps, etc. I want to know. The same apologists are screaming for the details of the “Kernot Secret”. I am waiting for one of them to use the “War on Terrorism” as the reason it must be revealed. Do we know who issued the order not to “Humanise or Personalise”. Has this been revealed in the inquiry? (

As for the attacks on Webdiary, why does it worry them so? Why are we constantly being told to shut up and stop asking questions.

Margo: Peter Reith’s media adviser Ross Hampton (now media flak for health minister Brendan Nelson and banned by Cabinet from giving evidence to the unthrown children inquiry) gave the don’t humanise, don’t personalise order to Brian Humphreys, director-general of communication strategies at Defence.


For a pessimistic stake on the state of journalism today, see Former New York Times correspondent Russell Baker describes “journalism’s age of melancholy” in What else is news?

Jenny Forster

I was at the Late Night Live forum and I didn’t go up and shake your hand either. (See David Eastwood in yesterday’s Webdiary.) I thought Neil from Redfern or Newtown or wherever Crullers lurks sounded like an idiot when he said to listen to Price. Maybe I just didn’t get it.

Re Webdiarist Hamish Tweedy’s comment – “I think you know it is a political stunt (much like the ABC) but really don’t care. If the Opposition thought the inquiry was anything more than a political stunt they would issue the subpoenas” – It is absurd to suggest the ABC can do any investigative journalism of this sort as it would be assumed to have an anti-government agenda and a result in mind.

Apart from a couple of pointed questions from Kerry or a report on 4 corners ( which the lawyers have whitewashed for a week prior) or Adams talking to the converted (the 2.3% converted according to Crullers on the ABC is in a state of stall due to all the axe grinders.

PS: What has happened to David Davis? I am actually missing the boomer bashing. (Margo: He’s promised he’ll be back soon. I miss him too.)


Con Vaitsas

I went along to the ABC forum and found the debate by the journos stimulating, but the questions asked by the public were very disappointing. Most didn’t focus on what is wrong with journalism but on various issues not within the confines of the topic – mostly the asylum seekers and the ABC.

Unfortunately the show ended before I got my chance to ask a question. One of the reasons why many people are turned off by the media is because they keep reading/hearing the same opinion makers. Why does the print media have such an emphasis on using commentators who are related? We have the Gerard & Anne Henderson, Robert & Anne Manne, Dennis & Angela Shanahan, the Devine family…..

You made a comment about Michelle Grattan being eased out of the SMH. Sure she is considered an excellent journo but she is too damn polite and boring in her stories. She is dealing with politicians who are now highly skilled and given comprehensive training in how to handle the media, but Michelle and too many other jounos treat these people like novices.

We the readers want some BITE, we don’t want politicians to pull the wool over the eyes of the media and consequently the public. I want news stories to feature all the facts and not use ambiguous language that can be code for a completely different meaning. Opinions should be written separately.

Is this too much to ask for? If some respected media commentators/journos have to be sacrificed, so be it.



I listened with interest to the media forum, apropos of which you may be interested to read this excerpt of an email from Dave McKay at the Woomera Refugee Embassy:

“As you know, there has been a lot of media interest in the role of the Refugee Embassy in relation to the refugee breakout, including interviews with BBC World News, CNN, and some European News mob. However, media interest here in Australia has had a bit of a nasty touch to it, heavily orchestrated by DIMIA.

“ABC Radio’s PM crew did an interview with me yesterday, and they really beat up a two-word message that I received from the “Desert Liberation Front”, which was merely that the escapees had reached “relative safety”. The interviewer did a bit to make something more of that than it was (and never even bothered to ask how old that piece of information was… it was, in fact, quite old), and then their news crew beat it up a bit more, until it became the second lead story on their news broadcasts throughout the night, as though they had some really strong evidence regarding the whereabouts of the escapees. The truth is that they had NOTHING.

“What bothers us is that the media takes the REAL information that we have and says, “We don’t believe it,” and then when we say we DON’T really know much, they invent things that we have not said. We have had several reports from journalists that DIMIA is pushing them to create a picture of a conspiracy which would justify even greater oppression and secrecy at Woomera. The amazing thing is how much the media (even the ABC, surprisingly) has either knowingly or unknowingly, co-operated with it. ”

This battle is hard enough without activists having to fight misinformation and biased slants in the media.