Sunday, August 02, 2015

Bob Santamaria: A Most Unusual Man

Gerard Henderson has some well-informed comments below.  I had some involvement with the DLP back in the '60s so was well aware of Bartholomew Augustine Santamaria. I certainly watched his TV broadcasts. But I am surprised that Henderson fails to mention that Santamaria was a devout Catholic under considerable influence from Melbourne's redoubtable and long-serving Archbishop Daniel Mannix.  

His anti-Communism was  heroic at a time when the CPA was still influental in the unions and he was undoubtedly instrumental in defeating the Communist unionists.  But on the other hand he often quoted the bumbling economic thinking of Leftist intellectuals like Felix Rohatyn. 

I concluded that it was only the atheism of the Soviets that drove Santamaria.  He was a Catholic first and last and that was all.  If the Soviets had been tolerant of religion, I think it is pretty clear that he would have been a cheerful democratic Leftist.  The 1891 encyclical "De rerum novarum" was after all fairly sympathetic to Leftism as long as it was not Communist.

So Santamaria was in fact consistent --  a consistent "De rerum novarum" Catholic.  He was certainly influential but he was no conservative.  One should remember that Catholics were overwhelmingly Labor Party supporters in those days.  The ALP was "their" party. 

Menzies was the first to disrupt that attachment by giving Federal financial assistance to Catholic schools, something that still continues and is now something of a "third rail" in Australian politics -- as ALP leader Mark "Biffo" Latham found out

B­A Santamaria did not encourage conservative Catholics to join the Liberal Party. At the time of his death, the two Liberal MPs who were most in agreement with Bob Santamaria’s philosophy were Tony Abbott and Kevin Andrews.

In 1994, Abbott asked Santamaria for a reference for use in his preselection for the Sydney seat of Warringah. During an interview on May 8 2000, Abbott recalled the occasion: “I asked Santa for a reference for my preselection. And Santa said to me: ‘I don’t think it will do you any good’. And I said to him: ‘Well, let me be the judge of that’. He said: ‘Well, let me think about it and come back to you’. And he came back to me about 24 hours later and said: ‘Look, Tony, I just don’t think I can do it’. And I said: ‘How come?’ And he said: ‘I just don’t think at my time in life I really should be writing references for people in Liberal Party pre­selections’.”

Abbott concluded his recall: “Anyway, I said: ‘I don’t agree with you, Bob, but it’s your call’.

“And then, of course, I won the preselection. And I think there was a slight sense of disappointment that I had disproven his deep conviction that someone who was very publicly a Catholic — as opposed to simply, quietly and unobtrusively a Catholic — could get anywhere inside the Liberal Party. I think he always regarded me as a bit of a jarring figure in his intellectual and social landscape because I was a public Catholic and still it didn’t appear to be stopping me from going places inside the Liberal Party.”

Andrews had a not dissimilar experience. Unlike Abbott, he had not been involved with Santamaria’s National Civic Council, which commenced in the late 1930s-early 1940s as an organisation called the Movement.

Andrews first met Santamaria when, as a residential student at Newman College at Melbourne University, he and a group of friends decided to establish an Archbishop Daniel Mannix Lecture — and asked Santamaria to deliver the inaugural oration in October 1977.

Over the next decade or so, Andrews met Santamaria on about 10 occasions. There were also irregular telephone conversations.

Andrews was not a long-term Liberal Party member before contesting the Melbourne seat of Menzies. Before deciding to enter the preselection ballot, he visited Santamaria at his office. Andrews recalled that the NCC president was not at all encouraging and seemed to exhibit a negative attitude to party politics in general — and to the Liberal Party in particular. Andrews commented that if Santamaria were intent on influencing Liberal MPs, he would have expected to receive invitations to NCC board lunches — along with regular telephone calls — once he became a parliamentarian. This did not happen.

On the Saturday after his death, The Weekend Australian reported that Santamaria had grown so disillusioned with the Liberals after they lost in 1993 that he spent much of the remainder of the year trying to organise a new pro-­family and anti-economic reform political party.

The Santamaria family placed a 40-year embargo on the Santamaria Papers when they were given to the State Library of Victoria in 2006. However, Patrick Morgan (see facing page) was given an exemption to this embargo when preparing his two-­volume edited collection of Santamaria’s letters and documents, Your Most Obedient Servant and Running the Show, published by Melbourne Uni­versity Press in 2007 and 2008.

Morgan’s research indicates that in late 1992, Santamaria formed a group comprising Malcolm Fraser and academics Robert Manne and John Carroll. The aim was to establish a new political grouping, which was protectionist and interventionist, to be headed by Fraser. This is confirmed in Malcolm Fraser: The Political Memoirs, which Fraser co-authored with Margaret Simons.

At the time, Fraser had been out of office for almost a decade and neither Manne nor Carroll had any experience in mainstream politics. This initiative suffered the same fate as all of Santamaria’s ­attempts to establish a third party to take on the Liberal and Labor parties in the 1980s and 1990s — that is, failure.

Santamaria was fond of quoting the saying that “anti-Catholicism is the anti-Semitism of the intelligentsia”.

In 2012 and 2013, David Marr wrote biographical monographs on Tony Abbott and Cardinal George Pell respectively. Both are tinged with the anti-Catholic sectarianism of a born-again atheist and are long on secular sneering, in the Marr way.

Marr attempts to make much of the alleged Santamaria-Pell-Abbott axis. But his case is always overstated and frequently confused — particularly with respect to the Democratic Labor Party which, with the support of Santamaria, broke away from the Australian Labor Party at the Labor split in the mid-1950s.

In The Prince: Faith, Abuse and George Pell, Marr wrote, with ­reference to Santamaria’s state ­funeral: “Pell’s oldest political loyalties were to the DLP, but when the party collapsed Santamaria had directed his followers to cross the bridge to the Liberals. It was not altogether comfortable for either party, so it mattered a great deal for Santamaria’s people when (John) Howard reconciled with the old man at the very end.”

The fact is that when the DLP collapsed in the second half of the 1970s, Santamaria did not direct his followers to “cross the bridge” to the Liberal Party. If this had been the case, then Abbott — as a follower of Santamaria in the late 1970s and the early 1980s — might have joined the Liberal Party at that time. He didn’t.

In 2012, the Melbourne-based researcher Geoffrey Browne was given access to correspondence that passed between Santamaria and Abbott in the late 1980s. It seems that the State Library of Victoria made an error with respect to the 40-year embargo that applies to this vast collection. Browne passed the material to the historians Ross Fitzgerald and Stephen Holt, who reported the exchange in The Weekend Australian on October 13-14, 2012.

Marr read only the newspaper report; I have been able to obtain a copy of the entire correspondence. According to Marr, Santamaria gave Abbott his political bearings. But Santamaria merely advised Abbott not to flirt with the NSW Labor Party, which was dominated by the ALP’s right wing in the state. Santamaria restated his decades-long hostility to the NSW Labor Right. In spite of this, he provided no encouragement for Abbott to join the Liberal Party.

The correspondence went as follows: In April 1987, at a meeting, Santamaria offered Abbott a job in Melbourne working for the Council for the National Interest. The CNI was one of the many front organisations created by Santamaria. Its focus was defence and foreign policy, but its creation was part of his plan to construct a new political party.

At the time, Abbott had just quit as a Catholic seminarian (a trainee priest). He told Santamaria in a letter dated April 21, 1987 that he needed to build a career and was inclined to accept a job offer to become a journalist working for The Bulletin. He politely rejected Santamaria’s proposal.

On December 8, 1987, Abbott again wrote to Santamaria — shortly after returning from the NCC’s national conference. In a thoughtful, but blunt letter, Abbott told Santamaria that his current political strategy was not working.

Abbott wrote: “To change society one must work in it, share the priorities and fears, cares and concerns of the ‘common herd’, make the compromises that life requires, be wrong, get blood on one’s hands — but at least, be in it. Are we? In 1954, the Movement dominated a major party [the ALP]. In 1969, the Movement had some significant parliamentary influence [through the DLP]. In 1980, the Movement controlled four big unions. Today, we run the AFA [Australian Family Association] and are the main force behind an as yet embryonic lobby group, the CNI. The CNI and AFA are worthy works. But they are essentially waiting in the wings of politics on the off-chance that someone might ask them to dance.”

Interpreting the Abbott-Santamaria letters during an appearance on the ABC’s program The Drum on March 23, 2013, Marr claimed that Santamaria said the following to Abbott: “No [not the Labor Party] — the Liberal Party. Yes, there are many, many risible and ridiculous things about the Liberal Party. But it’s the Liberal Party, now, Tony.”

This is a complete invention — as Abbott’s contemporary writings make clear. Soon after their correspondence, Abbott wrote a profile on Santamaria for The Weekend Australian, which was published on December 30-31, 1989 to mark the collapse of Soviet communism.

It was a broadly sympathetic assessment, but some critical points were made. Abbott commented that “the difference between Santamaria and more mainstream economic commentators is that Santamaria has predicted 30 (rather than just 20) of the last five crises”. Clearly, Abbott understood Santamaria’s crisis mentality.

During the interview on which the profile was based, Santamaria restated the position that he had never stood for political office because he did not think he would be very good at politics owing to “an inability to compromise”. Abbott asks the following question about Santamaria: “Has he not entered the political fray without ever putting his ideas to the electoral test; has he not asked lesser men to undertake the task he would not do himself?”

It is a significant query — which reflects Abbott’s commitment to mainstream politics and explains why he had rejected Santamaria’s offer to devote himself fulltime to the Movement in its final manifestation as the NCC.

How, then, to explain the relationship between Abbott and Santamaria? To a Catholic, anti-communist political activist on a university campus in the 1960s and 1970s, Santamaria had considerable appeal. He was a charismatic speaker and a first-class TV performer on his weekly program, Point of View. He was also a compelling writer.

As a person born in September 1945, I found Santamaria compelling when I first met him in early 1965. So did Abbott, who was born in November 1957 and first met Santamaria around 1978. So did many anti-communist Catholic men and women of our generation. It’s just that the closer you got to Santamaria, the more likely you were to disagree with him over tactics.

I made a public critique of the Movement at the NCC’s national convention in October 1974, when I was 29. Abbott made a not dissimilar critique in his private letter of December 8, 1987, aged 30. By this time, in both cases it seems, Santamaria’s charisma had faded and the flaws in his way of operating had become more evident.

David Marr’s assessment of Santamaria’s influence on Abbott is facile. In the second edition of Political Animal: The Making of Tony Abbott, Marr writes: “Santamaria’s instinct was always to block Labor. Starving it of the talent of young Tony was a tiny detail in a lifetime of hostility. Abbott was not immediately persuaded to ditch his fundamental allegiance — he voted Labor in that [NSW 1988] state election — but the man he called his ‘philosophical star’ had given him his bearings.”

This theory that a strong-willed person like Abbott — possessed of the drive that makes it possible for someone to become prime minister — had to be given “bearings” by Santamaria is ridiculous. As Michael Duffy makes clear in his book Latham and Abbott, Abbott drifted towards the Liberal Party around 1989 — a party that Santamaria then regarded as “reptilian” in nature. Clearly, Abbott found his own bearings.

Abbott has been surprisingly open about this relationship with Santamaria — despite the fact that he had little to gain from stating his long-ago contacts with the one-time Catholic political operator. Addressing the H R Nicholls Society in March 2001, Abbott described Santamaria as his “first political mentor”.

Abbott elaborated on this in a December 2003 interview with Paul Kelly in The Weekend Australian Magazine: “All the way through student politics at university, I was closely involved with the National Civic Council. I regarded him [Santamaria] as an important presence in my life and an important source of ideas, inspiration, example. To this day, I regard Santa as my earliest political mentor, and with the possible exception of the PM [John Howard], as my greatest mentor.”

In launching the first volume of Patrick Morgan’s edited collection of Santamaria’s papers at the State Library of Victoria in January 2007, Abbott referred to his correspondence with Santamaria in the late 1980s.

He maintained that Santa­maria’s enduring political legacy could be located in the Howard government’s foreign policy and social conservatism. According to Abbott, this showed “that the tide of secular humanism was not as ­irreversible as he [Santamaria] thought”.

Abbott concluded that, “the DLP is alive and well and living inside the Howard government, and Labor’s SDA caucus has a leader who should at least give them a fair hearing. The times may not have suited his [Santamaria’s] more dire predictions but they have been kinder to his values.”

The latter reference was to the backing achieved by Labor’s new leader Kevin Rudd, who received strong support in the caucus from Labor MPs aligned to the Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association — the SDA, or “Shoppies”, led by one-time Santamaria associate Joe de Bruyn.

Rudd’s mother, Margaret, was a DLP supporter in the aftermath of the Labor split. Abbott’s line was that Santamaria’s influence lived on not only in the DLP but even, to a lesser extent, in the ALP.

That was Abbott’s generous assessment at a function attended by Santamaria’s extended family. It glossed over the reality that Santamaria never really liked the Liberal Party in general — or the Howard government in particular.

When the second edition of Patrick Morgan’s collection was launched in 2008, it was revealed that in March 1996 — just two years before Santamaria’s death — Santamaria went back to where he had commenced with the Movement some six decades previously. He suggested to the NCC national executive in early 1996 that what was left of the Movement “should begin a new fight for the ‘soul’ of the Labor Party”.

So, in 1996, Santamaria was so disillusioned with the Liberals that he wanted his remaining forces to try their luck in the ALP. By then, however, Santamaria had conceded that his long-time wish to “establish a new political party … was beyond us”. Not before time.


"Media Watch" has a climate change obsession

Like a judge turned advocate, or umpire turned player, the ABC’s Media Watch has become a ­spruiker in one of the nation’s most crucial policy debates — ­climate change.

Jonathon Holmes, a former presenter and columnist for The Age, this week trumpeted his fondness for renewable energy and disinterest in the cost of electricity.

Defending Bill Shorten’s uncosted promise to deliver 50 per cent of Australia’s electricity from renewable sources by 2030, Holmes said “no one has a clue what the comparative cost of coal-fired and renewable energy will be by 2030.”

He also argued that renewables “create at least as many — arguably far more” jobs than coal-fired ­electricity and that News Corporation Australia (publisher of The Weekend Australian) has launched an “assault on climate change ­action.”

He is free to subscribe to whatever ill-founded conspiracy theory he likes, of course, and The Age is perfectly entitled to publish them.

But it would be a shame if he had used his pulpit at Media Watch to promote Leunig Left views.

Holmes fronted Media Watch from 2008 until 2013 when he was replaced by Paul Barry.

Over that period climate policy has been one of the nation’s most contentious political, economic and environmental issues: Labor’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme was proposed, rejected and then dropped; the Coalition switched from supporting emissions trading schemes to opposing them; Labor ruled out a carbon tax then introduced one; the Coalition repealed it; and now Labor again proposes a trading scheme and the ambitious renewables target.

A quick check of Barry’s Twitter feed shows he shares the ­climate alarmist and renewable-at-any-cost stance of his predecessor (along with a healthy dose of Murdochophobia).

Views such as these might be economically naive and politically jaundiced but they are common enough among university activists and Greens politicians, so we can hardly get too excited about Barry subscribing to them.

But what if this Green Left push infiltrated the professional posture of senior journalists at the national broadcaster?

What if Media Watch — a program the ABC says aims to expose “conflicts of interest, misrepresentation and manipulation” — was used to consistently promote a climate alarmist and pro-renewables mindset?

This week, Media Watch returned to an old theme when it picked up commentators using an erroneous figure relating to the high cost of wind and solar energy over coal.

The mistake inflated the costs by a factor of 10 (so was most likely the result of a misplaced decimal point). It occurred in this newspaper’s Cut&Paste section more than four years ago and was ­corrected.

Given the incorrect figures made wind power 19 times more expensive than coal, “you’d have to be mad to support it (wind ­energy),” Barry mocked.

Yet the correct figures showed wind was twice as expensive as coal and that solar is more than five times the cost — so the pertinent question might be whether you would be mad to support renewables on those numbers?

Barry didn’t make that point or pose that question.

Far from being a binary emotional question about “belief” in climate change and “love” for renewables, climate policy involves a complex serious of competing objectives to reduce emissions, contain costs and support economic growth.

Every cost needs to be measured against a desired benefit, and each goal needs to be weighed against the known costs.

Aside from this newspaper, and perhaps the Australian Financial Review, few media organisations have looked at these issues seriously.

The Australian has long accepted the scientific basis of anthropogenic climate change, understanding the need to reduce CO2 emissions and, for a quarter of a century, has argued for an economically rational market mechanism to deal with it.

At the same time it has fostered an intelligent debate, including reportage of changing climate observations and modelling, and rational analysis of various climate factors and proposed solutions.

Media Watch has shown something of an obsession for pursuing coverage of climate change issues and, in particular, reportage in The Australian.

Its executive producer, Tim Latham, declined to provide a tally of how often the program had criticised coverage of dissenting or sceptical climate views compared to reports showing alarmist overreach. He did, however, point out a segment from March last year, which appears to be the exception that proves the rule.

It highlighted media reports of a climate change study that found the Sydney Opera House would be swamped by rising sea levels.

Mocking the sensational nature of the reporting, Media Watch pointed out the study was looking at consequences 2000 years into the future.

“The Sydney Opera House will not be submerged in the next 100 or 200 years if indeed it ever is,” lectured Barry, “and to imply that it will be is alarmist nonsense of the sort that brings journalism and ­climate science into disrepute.”

Yet, of course, it was the study that was sensational. It claimed more than one per cent of the global land mass, 7 per cent of the world’s population and 136 UNESCO world cultural heritage sites would be swamped — in 2000 years.

If anyone was bringing climate science into disrepute surely it was these climate scientists themselves.

The study generated exactly the sort of media reporting intended.

Typically, Media Watch analyses, corrects, criticises, crosschecks and mocks journalists and commentators who give oxygen (pun intended) to scientists or activists making dissenting or sceptical arguments about global warming.

The alarmist scaremongering and frightening predictions of climate activists that are regurgitated daily by a wide variety of media organisations, especially Fairfax and the ABC, are seldom subjected to scrutiny.

When the national broadcaster publishes claims such as this — “That’s over 2 billion atomic bombs worth of heat built up on our planet since 1998” — Media Watch doesn’t spring into action to question the language.

Tim Flannery’s predictions about permanent drought and dams running dry sit stubbornly unfulfilled and inexplicably unexamined on ABC websites.

Instead of pointing out the jaundice, Media Watch replicates it and continues its crusade against sceptics.

Often that effort has been directed at this newspaper’s environment editor, Graham Lloyd, who is a committed environmentalist, accepts the physics of climate science and has opined in favour of an emissions trading scheme but dares to report a wide range of scientific analysis.

“The fundamental point,” says Lloyd, “is just because I don’t agree with something doesn’t mean it should not be put into the public domain where it can sharpen debate and understanding.

“The alternative is self-censorship and authoritarian control.”

In extensive and diverse coverage of data, developments and opinions on climate issues over countless stories and many years there is one story (sourced from overseas, misinterpreted in the production process and for which The Australian published a correction) that would have been better left unpublished.

But the rest of Media Watch’s numerous admonishments amount to little more than a misplaced decimal point here, a less than ideal headline there, or nitpicking about the emphasis given to particular points of view in ­various reports.

It is beyond contention The Australian and The Weekend Australian have covered a broader array of scientific and economic analysis and opinion on climate than the ABC.

Take the hiatus, or global warming pause, which has been debated in detail by scientists for more than six years, especially since scientific frustration at the pace of warming was revealed through the infamous “Climategate” emails. Renowned climate scientist ­Judith Curry blogged about the latest research this month saying the “hiatus clearly lives, both in upper ocean heat content and surface temperatures” and added it would be interesting to see how the media reacted to this news given they had declared it an “artefact” only weeks earlier.

This debate has been largely absent from the ABC except for belated attempts to debunk the pause claims.

The science program Catalyst tackled the issue last October in a story that included Professor Curry explaining that “globally ­average surface temperatures haven’t increased in any significant way since 1998.”

While Curry was identified as belonging to a “small minority” of scientists she was allowed to make the central points about a “growing divergence between the observations and climate model simulations.”

Yet the story’s clear aim was to relay that “all things considered, there’s been no global warming pause.” It gave most prominence to that argument and scientists promoting it.

“The whole of the climate system is really warming,” said Kevin Trenberth, “it’s just that the warming can be manifested in different ways.”

What we’re seeing in the models,” said Matthew England, “is that the warming out of the hiatus is gonna be rapid, regardless of when that hiatus ends.”

In other words the models that did not predict the hiatus are now predicting that when the hiatus ends warming will be even more rapid.

Does this mean they are really saying forget the observations, believe the modelling?

The ABC refuses to ask such obvious and sceptical questions.

The national broadcaster prefers to turn its sights on any media raising an eyebrow, testing an assertion or allowing experts to do the same.

Tellingly, the ABC never reported the significant revisions to global climate predictions that were snuck onto the UK Met Office website on Christmas Eve 2012.

Given the Met’s standing as a leading international climate centre, this was big news.

“If the forecast is accurate, the result would be that the global average temperature would have remained relatively static for about two decades,” reported the BBC.

“An apparent standstill in global temperatures is used by critics of efforts to tackle climate change as evidence that the threat has been exaggerated. Climate scientists at the Met Office and other centres are involved in intense research to try to understand what is happening over the most recent period.”

It appears the ABC never reported this issue and, all-in-all, ­ignored the pause until it was ready to run reports debunking it, or at the end of last year, saying it was over.

ABC radio breathlessly reported in December that 2014 was on track to be the warmest year ever and that “contrary to the position argued by climate change sceptics” global warming had neither paused nor slowed down. Rather than “contrary to the position argued” by sceptics it would have been more accurate to say “contrary to the recorded ­observations.”

The ABC gives us alarmist claims from those demanding urgent action and denies us information about observed evidence or dissent against the alarmist claims. Yet we are given rebuttals of the dissent.

It is Orwellian.

Media Watch took a keen interest in this newspaper’s coverage from 2012 of beach erosion issues at Lake Cathie, on the NSW ­Central Coast, where residents faced the threat of planning changes based on IPCC sea level projections.

“We don’t want to shift, no way,” said Russell Secombe who, along with his wife, Anne, and the owners of 16 other houses on the Illaroo Road beachfront, was ­concerned about a report before council recommending a “planned retreat” in the face of coastal ­erosion.

Media Watch forensically analysed these reports, demonstrating poor headline choice and contesting some interpretations.

But reporter Ean Higgins ­pursued this story over subsequent years, taking up the cause of ­people who had invested their life savings in their homes and seen their values fall because of the looming restrictions.

Eventually, thanks in no small part to Higgins’s reporting, the planning minister stepped in.

“The problem that property owners face is that some councils have been casting potential longer-term issues as a clear-and-present danger,” said the minister.

“We just needed to get councils to jump away from that doomsday scenario.”

This is the core work of journalists — identifying issues where citizens are being adversely affected by authorities, shedding light on their fears and concerns, seeking responses and sometimes, just sometimes, helping to build ­momentum for resolutions.

Ideally such reportage would never suffer from an error or inappropriate headline but the world is not perfect.

In a range of other areas — perhaps workers concerned about asbestos, or farmers concerned about climate change reducing their crops — we know the ABC would champion such journalism.

Perhaps for Media Watch the problem with Higgins and the homeowners at Lake Cathie was not so much that they stood between the council and the sea but that they stood between climate alarmism and a sensible, more cautious approach.

Another Media Watch attack centred on Lloyd’s January report about a groundbreaking study into the possibility of adverse health effects from wind turbines.

His story contained all the relevant details about the scope, funding and limitations of the study.

And it overtly referred to the need for more research into an open question: “It opens the way for a full-scale medical trial that may resolve the contentious ­debate about the health impact of wind farms.” Yet Media Watch insisted that Lloyd’s report had “got it so wrong” and it lined up a series of so-called experts to condemn the coverage.

Barry selectively quoted the study’s author to suggest he disagreed with Lloyd’s reporting when he did not (Barry had him rebutting a claim that was not made) and he quoted damning comments about the “atrocious” study and its coverage from an academic without disclosing the professor’s qualifications were not in science but sociology.

Media Watch was slapping down Lloyd for daring to air a study that merely raises the possibility of adverse health consequences from wind turbines.

Barry and his sizeable team used precisely the toolkit of selective reporting, omission and emotive posturing that they seek to expose in their targets.

They mock the suggestion of health concerns with jokes about “yolkless eggs” and snide ­comments about stories being “excitedly” relayed.

To put the program’s journalism and objectivity into perspective we need only pose this question; do we think they would be this dismissive of early reports about possible health risks with asbestos, coal dust or yellowcake?

We don’t need to believe wind turbines are harmful to make the point that if the industry were not renewable energy, the ABC might be all over the potential workplace health and safety implications of new technologies.

Good journalism is obliged to investigate and debate such ­matters.

For regular viewers there is a clear sense that Media Watch is campaigning on climate. Inquirer spoke to prominent advocates in the climate change debate and none seemed surprised to be asked about their engagement with the program.

Australian National University professor and former climate commissioner Will Steffen says he “interacts a lot” with the ABC but “not a whole lot” with Media Watch.

“I think I have been in contact with them once or twice to comment on issues but that has come at their instigation,” he said.

At the Clean Energy Council, spokesman Mark Bretherton also talked down their contact. “It is not that often that we talk to Media Watch,” he said, “the last time would have been a year or two ago and generally when we talk to them they contact us rather than the other way around.”

But the Climate Institute’s John Connor admits to being more proactive. “They come to us for fact-checking,” he said, “we’re happy to help and perhaps the same amount of times I have raised issues with them, perhaps once or twice.”

Mr Connor said when he made his suggestions they had been followed up with broadcasts but he can’t remember what the issues were. “I certainly wouldn’t characterise it as an ongoing relationship.”

Back in 2012 Media Watch was again defending the renewable energy sector and admonishing The Australian for daring to report that despite the addition of wind turbines, Victoria’s dirty brown coal generators were still running at full capacity.

“It was one of those stories that make The Australian’s readers wonder why we bother with all this renewable energy nonsense,” sneered Holmes, preferring not to review it as an important story explaining how the addition of wind farms tended not to diminish the need for baseload power.

Media Watch based their entire criticism on the reality of the National Electricity Market, suggesting that with wind energy inputs Victoria could export more coal power and reduce emissions in NSW and South Australia.

It was a heroic argument, ignoring the coal burned, not for export, but just to keep the baseload generators running.

The facts were disputed by experts including Hamish Cumming, the source of Lloyd’s story, who complained that Media Watch refused to consider his research.

Few issues could be more pertinent to the national policy debate than whether the additional costs to consumers of mandated renewables was actually reducing emissions. But Media Watch, it seems, would rather we didn’t inquire.

This month Media Watch again singled out a Lloyd report as it ­attacked many media organisations for the way they reported new research about the prospects of a “mini-ice age” or, more correctly, the onset of a Maunder Minimum because of reduced solar activity.

Barry admonished Lloyd, even though his report was detailed, ­accurate and played down the overall impact of this phenomenon.

“The dominant view among ­climate scientists is that it is too small to have a major impact,” ­reported Lloyd.

Tellingly, Barry was dismissive about the possibility of regionalised cooling of up to 0.8 degrees when warming projections generate great excitement.

Laughably, he criticised Lloyd’s report because the qualifying information was deeper in the story than the newsworthy claims in the first two paragraphs “which is what everyone reads”.

We can only imagine how busy Barry would be if he troubled himself with such journalistic parsing-in-full of stories predicting increased global warming or exacerbated environmental damage.

We see a familiar pattern here.

The Australian puts studies, concerns and information into the public arena to contribute to serious policy debates and Media Watch hits back, condemning those reports, suggesting information that questions the economics, environmental benefits or health effects of renewable energy should not be reported or that reports focusing on climate observations that are less than alarmist should be ignored.

This is jaundice, pure and ­simple.

And it raises the question of whether the personal prejudices of Holmes and Barry (and possibly others) have had a strong influence on the editorial direction of Media Watch over the past decade, helping to buttress a widespread lack of journalistic curiosity on ­climate change issues.

Media Watch could be the choirmaster of the ABC’s climate change groupthink and a broader journalistic chorus.


The Australian church that grew

THE backstage corridors of London’s O2 arena are a hallowed place, lined with pictures of Jay Z, Beyonce, The Who and Dolly Parton — legends who have packed the venue and left a signed picture or hoody as tribute.

Tonight I’m here for a different kind of star. Past a soundstage packed with volunteers are closed doors flanked by security. Inside is Hillsong’s lead pastor, Brian Houston.

He’s just stepped off stage from a sermon at the church’s annual Europe conference where 15,000 devotees have come from 20 countries to hear him speak at opening night of the three-day event that is translated into eight different languages.

“One thing I do know is that Hillsong church and Hillsong conference isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. I’m fine with that,” says the charismatic 61-year-old New Zealander. “I don’t feel like everyone has to do it the way we do it. But there is a lot of other people …. who really love this and who want to be a part of this.”

He’s talking about the incredible growth of a church from Sydney suburb Baulkam Hills that has morphed into a global mega-brand attracting millions of followers.

Earlier, the reason for its success became clear with a full-blown rock concert with professional lighting, sound and visual effects. The opener included a lone pianist in a Daft Punk-style helmet playing a cover of Mad World as drone-like workers trooped around the ‘land of the forgetful’. Then Hillsong United, the band led by Houston and wife Bobbie’s son Joel and singer Taya Smith, got the audience rocking with not a single twerk or nip-slip in sight.

The rockers set the scene for Houston’s rousing introduction where he welcomed visitors and said over the next three days those with trouble in their work, finances, marriage, relationships or health could get the answers they need. Broken hearts can be fixed, anxieties can be washed way. As the only nonbeliever there, I started to wonder if I was the one missing something.

Then came the pitch: “A lot of people assume with this many delegates this conference just pays for itself,” he told the crowd who paid £140 ($298) for an adult ticket.

“Giving is never a ‘have-to’. You don’t have to do anything,” he reminded them. “People give out of their heart because they want to. When you have to it’s really not giving at all.”

Outside the south London venue, delegates appear straight out of a Uniqlo ad: Fresh, young and healthy with gleaming trainers and artful quiffs. Selfie sticks are definitely not banned.

Luke recently returned from bible college in Sydney. He joined the church at 19 after trouble with drugs, alcohol and police and says Hillsong provided him a new lease on life.

“I’m now a lot happier and more content. I used to be depressed. I don’t have depression anymore and I’m not an addict anymore,” he says, adding that his friends are happy for his turnaround. “They don’t necessarily see that it’s for them but they respect that it’s been a really good thing for me.”

Nigerian-born teens Kaldora and Zaneta grew up watching the DVDs at home and follow the leaders on social media.

“You always feel like you’re the only one, especially being our age, but when you come here and you see everyone else who is there because they want to be, it’s really good,“ Zaneta said. Young pastors Nathan and Laurence say the music and fresh approach has engaged a new generation.

“They’re willing to take risks and to break out of what people expect church to be. To focus on the next generation and to be ruthless with that,” said Laurence.

During Houston’s 50-minute sermon, the captivated audience tapped notes as he spoke of how faith allowed the church to grow from renting a venue slated for demolition for $1 a month to selling a Sydney campus for $41 million. It’s recently bought a factory in Melbourne and have venues planned in Kiev, Buenos Aires and Sao Paulo while expansion into Asia is also on the cards.

“Where the church should be young and relevant and contemporary and full, so often it’s old and empty and irrelevant and I don’t think it has to be like that. We like to think about keeping the message, which is sacred, but being very open to changing the methods,” Houston says backstage.

These new methods include everything from kids and women’s conferences to documentaries, albums and books, all artfully packaged into a cohesive experience. Want to stay close to Jesus on the road? Get Hillsong United’s album for your car. Stay up to date while travelling? There’s an app for that. The business of believing is booming.

Australian National University sociology researcher Matthew Wade said Hillsong’s genius is the combination of being consumer savvy and multi-platform that has given people a “digital entry point” to the brand.

“Your average ‘seeker’ is incredibly unlikely to simply turn up at the Baulkham Hills church on a whim, rather they will likely learn about the church through a news story, a shared song,” he said.

Not to mention the attendance of celebrities like Justin Bieber, Kendall Jenner and Selena Gomez, which has showered the brand with global attention. Mr Wade said the PR team doesn’t get enough credit, however Houston denies it’s a marketing ploy, saying it’s all part of their “faceless to famous” philosophy.

“I think [Justin Bieber] is genuinely trying to find help, he’s just trying to change the foundations in his life. I think he’s got a long way to go because he went straight from there to putting up a naked photo of him in Vanuatu or something!” he joked.

Hillsong’s success has led to inevitable criticism, specifically over its finances and whether or not it should be paying tax. Houston has also had to testify about his father, Frank Houston, to a Royal Commission inquiry into child sexual abuse (he has repeatedly condemned his father’s conduct).

More recently, the church dropped controversial US preacher Mark Driscoll from the bill after he called women ‘penis homes’.

Anti-violence campaigner Natalie Collins protested outside the O2 in support of those she says are “seriously damaged” by Driscoll. “There are people who are going to be in therapy for the rest of their lives because of what he’s done so I’m just here making a statement,” she said.

However for Houston, the reason the church is “treated with suspicion” is because he believes it’s misunderstood.

“It breaks all the rules - everything says that churches shouldn’t be like that. In Australia, religion is on the decline and churches are empty. For a church to be young and full and relevant and alive, people don’t understand that and what they don’t understand, they tend to criticise.”

As the concert wraps with a prayer and people head off into the night, it’s clear Hillsong’s mission is far from complete.

“All I have to do is walk down my little street where I live in the Hills District in Sydney and there might be one or two houses that come to our church or any church but the vast majority don’t. So to me the mission is huge,” he said.

“I’ve always been a visionary. I wanted to pastor a visionary church.”



By Renny Carter, 53, an old journo, who has opinions on anything and everything in contemporary life

If Australia was a business (it is) - it would be in receivership right now. No self respecting accountant type would let it trade while insolvent for another day. When everything that is coming in only covers the debt interest bill, it would be all over bar the shouting.  

I stood in one of the vast halls of a giant Australian motor vehicle manufacturing plant last week. A huge company that employed thousands and had done so for generations - well over 100 years.

I have bought a number of their products which were as venerable as Australians themselves.

Today it is a cold, draughty place with the only audible sound the dripping water from the holes in the roof. Its machines either lay idle or are stripped out for their scrap value. The workers' lockers remain as they were - their doors left open and swinging with the smell of mildewed old lunches hanging in the air.

A family of possums has moved in, going by the excrement on every flat surface. A huge empty nothing that not long ago, vibrated to the sound of frenetic and wonderful production. And it is a picture that is so commonplace today that the asset realisation experts and demolishers can barely keep up.

The question is - why? And the answer is -Greed! Greed brought about by militant unions demanding more and more until they finally bring an enormous number of once-proud manufacturers to their knees. Unable to compete. Unable to proceed any further.

The workforce, once happy with every EBA their union masters came up with, didn't perhaps realise that one day they would be out of a job and unlikely to find another. So that worked out well didn't it?

So I asked one of my colleagues what his take on it was. Funnily enough, he is just now coming to grips with yet another union EBA demand which will guarantee that any profit that might be made is cut so intensely fine - that if one little thing goes wrong - they are suddenly out of business.

But here's the rub. And this is where 'Shorton Brains' and his union buddies just don't get it. This clown goes on and on about 'edukashun.' We need more 'edukashun' he continually whines in his unsolicited policy speeches. Guess what Bill. We bloody well don't. There are no jobs you idiot.

And this is where the unions don't get it either. In the aforementioned business they employed lots of engineers and project managers - all multi degreed men and women who studied for years and worked hard to get where they were. They had enormous responsibilities. And worked long hours. But the unionists in the same business - from general labourers to machine operators who worked for them - were vastly better off.

An 18 year old kid can walk in off the street and get a job as a general site dog's body with little or no education and he will earn $5 an hour less than a multiple degreed engineer who has six years of education and 20 years of work under his belt. So the engineer feels a bit cheated and the unions rub their hands together because the gap has closed.

They hate bosses as part of their charter. The war against the bloody elite university bred bastard bosses is being won. And Shorton Brains wants every man woman and child to go to university? Surely he wants them to be turned into socialists and not to gain any usable knowledge for which few jobs exist.

Today this great nation of ours does not produce a car - something it has done since 1925 or thereabouts when Henry Ford built his plant at Geelong and Holden built its headquarters at Fisherman's Bend.

Our oil refiners have all but all closed down. It's cheaper to bring it in from Singapore in a boat. Thousands of jobs lost. Alcoa viewed Australia as a great new hope and opportunity in the 1950s - and today its plants are being torn down and recycled. All jobs are gone.

And that's only a few notables from a very long list of closures.

All we had to do was not get too greedy and keep working. But when you force wages through the roof, things happen. Profit margins drop to nothing. Other countries that are not as greedy put their hands up to make the same stuff.

Real estate, food and utilities go through the roof to keep up with the high wage demands and the whole thing descends into a cycle of decline that leaves the place up to its arse in debt with no jobs. A commercial wasteland.

Australia is now seriously rooted and the Libs are again trying to save us from complete disaster. Only this time they don't have a fighting chance. When Global businesses don't support a country - it's all over bar the shouting.

Meanwhile our unions and Labour leaders have been making hay while the sun shone. The union bosses - so awash with the subscriptions and donations of their members and 'partners' - have been partying big time. Millions have been squandered on everything from property to prostitutes, some have fallen by the wayside like those in prison, while others hunker down hoping to Jesus that the Royal Commission will not see their names on anything.

Our former Labour leaders - having thrown our money around like it was petty cash - now reap the benefits of their wages. Rudd - the cretinous little Narcissist now resides near his new power base at Harvard working on US/China relations. Some sort of study that is redundant even before he formulates it. And utterly irrelevant to Australia - the place 'he loves so much'.

Gillard seems to be permanently on the campaign trail for Hillary Clinton - although God only knows why. Something about America having its first female President which she trail blazed and should therefore be regarded like some sort of modern day Emmeline Pankhurst. God help us! Are they doing anything at all for Australia -the country they pillaged and then basically deserted.?

The same country that continues, for some unknown reason, to pay them millions!

Why can't they means test these Socialist cretins? Rudd made sure his family would prosper when he was working in government circles in Queensland. He put all sorts of dodgy contracts his wife's way and she is now worth somewhere in the ballpark of $120 million!

Why then is this man entitled to another $750,000 pa of our money for the rest of his life? If a would-be pensioner was successful in life- they DON'T get a pension! They have enough! But not Rudd and his crumby family. Gillard wants to work at a university she gave $100 million to - unchallenged. So let her work. She's young enough to make a good living for the rest of her life. Why do we reward her massively after she and her cohorts sent us broke? When are we going to realize that this system - this way of doing things is unsustainable? When we are all living on the streets?

Trust me folks - - that is yet to come. But it will come. There is no other way.

Miracles can only be performed where there is a pulse. And Australia is currently in a Socialist induced coma.

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