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Wednesday, 9 March 2005
Page: 59


Senator BROWN (1:39 PM) —In an ABC radio Triple J interview on 12 November last year, presenter Steve Cannane was interviewing Father David Smith who, it is well known, was a friend of Mordechai Vanunu, who was jailed for a long period of time in Israel for publishing secrets about Israel’s stockpiling of nuclear weapons, amongst other things. Amongst the questions that Mr Cannane put to Father Smith was this: ‘Eighteen years ago, he’—that is, Mordechai Vanunu—‘blew the lid on weapons of mass destruction, this thing that’s such a big topic in our world today. What’s he think about what is going on at the moment?’ One would think that a very fair and balanced question to ask of Father Smith. However, move in the radical right with its penchant for attacking the ABC and this concern, which we must all share, that where the media—and in particular the public media—is under attack it be fair and that there be a proper opportunity for debate of the matter but, at the outset, that it be based on factual material.

What has happened here is that a senator of this parliament has used that interview by Mr Cannane on Triple J to invent a circumstance which never existed. He has put into the mouth of Mr Cannane words that were never used, to insult and defame this ABC interviewer, his program, his station and the ABC in a way which is totally reprehensible and needs redress, so I bring it to the Senate’s attention. At Senate estimates on Monday 14 February this year, in a question on notice to the Communications, Information Technology and the Arts portfolio—in fact, question No. 52—Queensland’s Senator Santoro put this—and it is on the public record, under parliamentary privilege, of course—under the heading anti-Semitism:

On 12 November Triple J presenter Steve Cannane was interviewing Father Smith who claimed to be a close friend of a former Israeli nuclear technician who has been convicted of treason for providing Israeli state secrets to a British newspaper and imprisoned for 18 years for this offence. No transcripts are provided for Triple J on-air interviews, but I am informed that the gist of Cannane’s remarks was this: ‘Father Dave, why did those awful Jews lock up this great man? Why is it okay for Jews to have a nuclear arsenal when it isn’t okay for Iraq?’ There was no balance sought from a suitable source—for example, from the Israeli Embassy in Canberra.

I am continuing to quote the question on record from Senator Santoro. He goes on:

Since this propaganda of anti-Israeli and arguably anti-Semitic propaganda was broadcast in the week in which the ABC announced it cannot fund the broadcasting of opera, is there something you would like to tell us about the real priorities of the ABC?

What Senator Santoro has done in injecting those words, in particular ‘awful Jews’, into the mouth of an ABC journalist in an interview who never used those words—and from all I know never would—is beyond belief. It is beyond belief that a senator could do that. In looking at this matter, the best explanation for this traducing of an honourable journalist at the ABC, and the ABC itself, is a blog called Jealous, which is run by someone named Jonathon located on the Gold Coast in Queensland. Jonathon describes himself as a boring corporate lawyer type who has a penchant for current affairs and politics. He thought he would join a couple of friends in publishing his thoughts.

On that site, which is labelled ‘Late night thoughts of a conservative’, is an early piece of praise for Senator Santo Santoro, and when you move further into the site there is an attack on Triple J and Mr Cannane. This anonymous ‘Jonathon’ from the Gold Coast claims that he was driving along and heard the Triple J interview and, to the best of his recollection, then quotes Mr Cannane as saying, ‘Father Dave, why did those awful Jews lock up this great man?’ It is, after all, a blog, and it is an invented recollection of words that were never used—but we have to look at that invention.

This is an incredible calumny which was unchecked by Senator Santoro. Senator Santoro is a trenchant critic of the ABC. Most recently he had a column in the Australian which took on the ABC for getting it wrong and then not apologising. I think that was as recent as the 4th of this month. This attack is appalling and unprincipled. The damage from this attack could be so great that there is nothing more important than for Senator Santoro to make a full retraction and apology in the Senate and withdraw that question from public notice. Of course much more could be done, but it is extraordinarily important that he answer for the terrible wrong that has been done here. It is unconscionable, it is unprincipled and there is no excuse.


Senator Ian Campbell —Did you advise him that you were giving this speech?


Senator BROWN —Senator Santoro and the government—which is now interjecting—should see that there is an immediate remedy for the wrong that is being done. It reflects on the Senate every minute that that question is left on the public record.


Senator Ian Campbell —Did you let him know that you were going to make this speech?


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Knowles)—Senator Campbell, do you wish to move the suspension?


Senator Ian Campbell —I was interjecting to see whether Senator Brown had shown Senator Santoro the basic courtesy that all senators show when they are about to ask questions of other senators, and that is to give senators the courtesy of advising them that they are going to make a speech—and Senator Brown, for the first time in his career, has had lockjaw.

Sitting suspended from 1.48 p.m. to 2.00 p.m.