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Monday, 19 September 1994
Page: 927

Senator ABETZ (6.25 p.m.) —I rise this evening in the adjournment debate to comment on the behaviour of the media in recent times and to highlight Monica Attard's excellent address when she won the Walkley Award and, in doing so, combine that with comment on the outrageous attack by certain elements of the media on my friend and colleague the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Opposition, Senator Nick Minchin.

  To commence my remarks, it is appropriate to recall what Monica Attard said. It is reported in the Australian of Friday, 9 September on page 3. Might I add, simply as an aside, that I think it was the only newspaper to report her comments—in itself an indication of the sort of censorship that the people of Australia unfortunately have to put up with from the media. The article stated that Australian political journalism had been invaded by a Canberra based pack. Ms Attard said that this journalistic culture resulted in poor and unfair coverage of the Liberal Party. She went on to say that, if stories did not fit a certain preconceived pattern, they often did not get a run.

  She then suggested this proposition for consideration: `We might begin asking whether the tried and true methods are making of us judges and executioners of individual politicians rather than being reporters chronicling events around us, asking questions and reporting the answers.'

  What the media in recent times has sought to do, first of all to my leader, Alexander Downer, and now more recently to his parliamentary secretary, Senator Nick Minchin, is to somehow attack and assert that, if one addresses a certain organisation, one automatically embraces its views and somehow marginalises oneself in the Australian political arena.

  Senator Loosley pursued that line with a notice of motion which he gave on the last day of sitting, but I do note that Senator Coulter on the same day gave a very good and proper notice of motion relating to free speech. Ultimately, the test is not whom one addresses but what one says when addressing that particular group.

  Indeed, for myself, I would have thought that entertaining an audience with the Palestine Liberation Organisation would be an affront to democracy and would be an affront to all civil standards that one might hold dear. Yet the simple fact is the state of Israel took up discussions with the PLO and has now been able to resolve some fairly important longstanding differences. The only way those issues were resolved was because they took up a dialogue: they were willing to talk to each other. So there we have a fairly recent example of where speaking to groups to whom one may be very much opposed can produce good results.

  For Senator Nick Minchin to have been attacked because he addressed some organisation in recent times is, to my way of thinking, an example of the Australian media becoming partisan players and doing the dirty work for the Australian Labor Party. Surely the media's job is to report the facts and not to seek to tarnish somebody because that person has addressed a particular organisation, in this case the Australian Freedom Foundation. Senator Nick Minchin addressed that group in Adelaide. Those people are entitled to know his views just as much as any other South Australian citizens are.

  Channel 7, with respect, was quite out of order when it sought to suggest that Senator Minchin showed appalling judgment for speaking at a seminar which that channel asserted had links with the League of Rights. Whether that organisation does or does not have links with it I do not know. It appears that it does not, but whether it does or does not is beside the point. Surely, within our country we have not reached the stage where people are not allowed to address organisations from which they may have very strong and differing views.

  On two occasions I have addressed Trotskyite organisations in Tasmania, yet the media does not in any way seek to assert that, as a result, I am a Trotskyite. I may have addressed the boy scout movement; but that does not make me a boy scout. Similarly, if Senator Nick Minchin addresses the Australian Freedom Foundation members on a topic that they wanted to hear him speak on, it does not necessarily mean that he embraces their values.

  It is about time the media got out of the rat pack mentality and started to look at the principles of free speech and the importance of dialogue with different groups within the community, and not marginalise people and organisations just because they disagree. If there is disagreement or differences surely it is within the interests of all Australians that an active dialogue be undertaken with those groups to ascertain possibly some areas of agreement and some areas where the disagreements can be resolved. The example I used earlier in this speech was the state of Israel commencing dialogue and discussions with the Palestinian Liberation Organisation.

  I believe that the people of Australia are becoming sick and tired of the media seeking to be judge and jury, of reporters pretending to be reporters but acting as commentators. If they want to be commentators, let them state that that is what they are doing. It is not for a news bulletin such as that of Channel 7 the other night to criticise Senator Minchin for showing appalling judgment.

  If somebody from the Labor Party wants to make that assertion and do that sort of grubby, dirty political work, let the Labor Party do it; but for a Channel 7 reporter to seek to make that assertion I find beyond the pale and beyond the duty the reporter has. It very badly lets down the people of Australia because they happen to think that the news as provided by that reporter—or, more correctly, commentator—was the factual situation when it was a commentary by a biased journalist who was doing the dirty work for the Labor Party.

  Very shortly in this country we will be in the situation where the Labor Party will not have to issue media releases attacking the Liberal Party, because the reporters—more accurately described as commentators—will be doing all the dirty work. I ask all journalists to read the article by Errol Simper on page 3 of the Australian of 9 September 1994, a report of Ms Monica Attard's comments on receiving her well-deserved award.

  One would hope that somebody who has won such a prestigious prize in journalism would be able to see through the rat pack mentality of the media in this country, and that people like that would be able to assess themselves in a mature and moderate way and realise that what they have become is the henchmen of the Labor Party, the thought police and those pursuing what they believe to be the politically correct agenda. Let the people decide what the correct political agenda is; but they can do so only if they are given fair and accurate reports in the media. I call on all journalists to do that and take to heart the words of Monica Attard when she received her award.