November 17

Books and Blabbergate

This column is about the reviews or comments on  three new books involving Paul Keating, Manning Clarke and Gough Whitlam.  They reminded me of the advice given me by one of the nation’s prominent publishers some years ago.  “Only the left reads books on politics ,” he said.  

He complimented me on the draft of Twilight of the Elites, but sadly, he could not publish it.  Freedom Publishing did, but when a friend asked for a copy in an ABC shop, he was told “We don’t carry that sort of book.”

The recent launch by Alan Jones of a book in which I have a chapter, Liberals and Power, was dominated by the allegations of plagiarism about another chapter by deputy Liberal leader and prominent republican Julie Bishop.

Those allegations fortunately turned out to be untrue. You see, Ms.Bishop hadn’t actually written the chapter but had delegated it to a member of her staff. After all, it was only about the future of the Liberal Party, and one has more important things than that.

For example, one had to prepare for the significantly more important 2008 Annual Republican Lecture which happily coincided with the world financial crisis when the minister one shadows, the Treasurer, was away in Washington attending to such mundane matters.

Well the good staffer, being human, overlooked sending his  footnotes to the editor which would have explained the origin of various sentences in the chapter attributed to Ms. Bishop. Unfortunately, it seems he had also forgotten to insert the requisite quotation marks to show these were not Ms. Bishop’s. 

 In the meantime, the 2008 Republican Lecture was delivered, but curiously, both the ARM and the honorable member’s web editor seem to have forgotten to publish it.

I am told that the publishers and editors have requested Julie Bishop to apologize to each of the other authors the distress caused to them.

 I think mine has gone to the same place my invitation to the 2020 Summit went.

….”Blabbergate” and the three books….

Two reviews about new books appeared in The Australian on 15 November, 2008 and a story about a book launch on 31 October.

I have twice checked the dates of publication, because the editor spent almost all of Cut and Paste on Friday 14 November 2008 ( “Online amateurs ignore journalism basic: check the facts” ) getting stuck into me because I thought I had used the online date of publication and not the print date when I put in a small piece in Crikey on 13 November 2008 (Bob Brown, the G20,the Oz and Australia’s right to know).

This was my second about the scoop in his paper which is increasingly becoming known as “Blabbergate”.

He came back to Crikey in his editorial the following day, 15 November, 2008 ( “Digging up old news”). Now Blabbergate is about the story in The Australian on 25 October, 2008 that our Kevin Rudd had all by himself persuaded George Bush to refer the world financial crisis to the G20, where guess who has a seat. The story also claimed that when our PM referred to the G20, the President said “What’s the G20?” 

 Now among those  who just happened to be at Kirribilli House when the pre-arranged call from came through from GWB was, purely by chance, one Chris Mitchell, the editor-in-chief of The Australian. Some reports are saying he was the only one left when the PM re-emerged.  

The report of the content of the conversation proved to be completely untrue, but even when the American Ambassador complained the PM remained silent. It was only when an exasperated White House briefed the Washington Post that Mr. Rudd admitted the story was untrue.

The Australian claimed I was in error about the date of publication, rather than explaining why it had not told its readers the editor was present when the call came through and why the paper  had not obtained a comment from the White House.

So I do have to be careful about dates in The Australian.

Blabbergate doesn’t suggest close attention to the proper conventions which surround the practice of diplomacy; just as announcing a republican ambition just before meeting your Sovereign is not shall we say diplomatic or even courteous.  

It does not seem to have been managed well, something which we noticed with the 2020 Summit where representation to the overwhelming majority of Australians who are not interested in a politicians’ republic was reduced to one per cent. 

And now to the book reports and reviews.

….Paul Keating ….

The first, by Imre Salusinszki on 31 October, was more about Paul Keating’s speech  while launching “Churchill and Australia” by the well known  Labor Party speechwriter Graham Freudenberg.

Paul Keating said: "The truth is that Gallipoli was shocking for us. Dragged into service by the imperial government in an ill-conceived and poorly executed campaign, we were cut to ribbons and dispatched — and none of it in the defence of Australia.

"Without seeking to simplify the then bonds of empire and the implicit sense of obligation, or to diminish the bravery of our own men, we still go on as though the nation was born again or even was redeemed there. (It is) an utter and complete nonsense. For these reasons, I have never been to Gallipoli and I never will."


According to Imre Salusinszky, Mr Keating had previously contrasted his attachment to the "patriotic" Kokoda story with John Howard's loyalty to the "nationalist" Gallipoli myth, which he said had "fuelled the Australian conservative story for nine decades".

This is as out of touch as his refusal to fly the Australian flag.

…Manning Clarke… 


 Then came Geoffrey Bolton’s review on 15 November, 2008 of “Manning Clark: A Life,” by Brian Matthews. Apart from the many errors he sees in Clarke’s work, Professor Bolton observes that Clarke lamented Australia's failure to generate an “authentic nationalism”

“ He seemed disappointed that Federation was achieved by middle-aged lawyers and politicians talking about constitutional details instead of through a republican war of independence with Liberty leading the sans-culottes over the barricades. Australians rushed to fight Britain's wars; Australian public men grovelled for British honours.

“This oversimplified view of Anglo-Australian relations went down well in some quarters after Gough Whitlam's dismissal in 1975, but it marked a falling away from the original vision of the History. “

….Gough Whitlam…  

 Finally there was Evan William’s review on 15  November  2008  of  Volume 1 of Jenny Hocking’s biography, “Gough Whitlam: A Moment in History.”

This was launched at Parliament House Sydney at the same time as Senator George Brandis SC was delivering the ACM  2008 Neville Bonner Oration.The book is written, says Evan Williams, “ with grace and vigour in a tone of firmly disciplined admiration.

"If there is anything in the theory that the best biographers are half in love with their subjects, Jenny Hocking may not object to my saying that the relationship in her case is something closer to infatuation.”

“Perhaps this should not surprise us. A research professor of political studies at Monash University, she has written warm biographies of Lionel Murphy and communist author Frank Hardy.

“Her political sympathies were proclaimed in her introduction to a 2005 collection of reminiscences of Whitlam's dismissal.

“The sacking, she wrote, put an end to Australia's most reforming Labor government and ‘brought glory to none’. I should declare, as a former member of Whitlam's staff, that I share all her biases. “ 

What particularly caught my eye is something which Sir David Smith deals with in his book, Head of State. This is that Gough Whitlam had many times tried to do to Liberal governments what Malcolm Fraser did to him: refuse supply to bring down the government.

The tears spilt over the dismissal could well be described as emanating from, dare we say it, a crocodile.

Evan Williams is very clear, and very fair on this.

“On all the causes he espoused or made his own — electoral reform, Aboriginal land rights, an independent foreign policy, relations with China, equality of opportunity, opposition to discrimination of any kind — he spoke with an unwavering voice.

“The glaring exception was his championing in 1970 of the Senate's right to block budget bills and force an election. Those comments came back to haunt him; and on this issue, I think, Hocking lets him off lightly.

“ It was a stance that contradicted Whitlam's lifelong adherence to the principle that governments are made and unmade in the lower house. Hocking calls it a ‘shift in rhetoric’.”

Sir John Kerr has been condemned for doing no more that Gough Whitlam had long expected the Viceroy to deliver had the Senate agreed.

But we still read and hear about the terrible wrong Sir John Kerr visited on Gough. What’s that about living by the sword?   


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