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Thursday, 10 October 1996
Page: 3981

Senator ELLISON(7.33 p.m.) —I rise to speak this evening on a matter which recently came to my attention. It involves coverage on Media Watch by Stuart Littlemore of a program which was put to air on 1 September this year by 60 Minutes . That program involved a story involving the Christian Brothers. What has come to my attention has caused me a great deal of concern, to say the least. In fact, Stuart Littlemore described this whole affair as `breathtakingly dishonest'. What happened was that Geoff McMullan interviewed Brother Tony Shanahan, the provincial head of the Christian Brothers. During the course of the interview, he asked him:

We're talking about possible murder within the Christian Brothers.

The answer that Brother Shanahan gave was as follows:

The evidence on the information I have is that yes, the allegation was made, but there is nothing, there's nothing, there is no other evidence to support that.

That is what Brother Shanahan said but that is not what 60 Minutes put on air as being the reply to the question. What in fact 60 Minutes did was it showed Brother Shanahan being at a loss for words, frowning and having to grasp a glass of water and take a drink from the glass. That was not his response to the question. In fact, what it gave the viewer was an impression of some sort of guilt, some sort of concern by Brother Shanahan, some sort of amazement or surprise. Indeed, that was not the answer that Brother Shanahan gave. That was not his response. The wrong segment was put in as the answer and passed off dishonestly as his response to that question. Of course, that misled any viewer who would be looking at that.

It came to my attention that this had, in fact, been looked at by Media Watch and I note that Stuart Littlemore said that Peter Meakin, Channel Nine's current affairs boss, declined an interview with Media Watch in relation to this. I think it is quite a scandalous piece of journalism. Stuart Littlemore said that it really was not the interviewer's fault, as such. It was not Geoff McMullan's fault. It was, in fact, the fault of the producer who put the program together, and I take his point. I find this piece of journalism absolutely scandalous. I have a tape of Media Watch for any of those senators who would like to watch it. I think that once you see it, and see how the deception occurred, you too would be most concerned.

I also wish to refer to the question of these so-called unexplained deaths that were raised by the program. Brother Shanahan mentioned, in a letter dated 4 September 1996:

It is perhaps significant that no other mainstream media have seen fit to pick up these stories over the last few years. They refer to four students who are buried at Bindoon and one who died in a fall at Tardun in 1949. Two of the students buried at Bindoon died in road accidents after they had left Bindoon and were brought back there for burial. The other two died in accidents, one falling under the wheel of a cart on the farm, and the other striking his head on the stairs as he fell from a balustrade down which he was sliding. The lad at Tardun was a sleep walker and was discovered one morning below an open verandah on the first floor where he slept, with other students. It is presumed that he walked over the edge of the balcony in his sleep and was killed in the fall.

In none of these cases did the examining doctor who signed the death certificate see fit to ask for an inquest. I am aware of no evidence which would cause us to re-examine the circumstances of these deaths. I am aware of no-one offering any eye witness testimony to contradict what we know of their deaths.

That is an account of what took place, but 60 Minutes put it in the context of a possible murder within the Christian Brothers. That is absolutely disgraceful because there is the explanation and, indeed, Brother Shanahan's answer that he gave to 60 Minutes said that there was no evidence to show that there was any foul play afoot.

I note that there was a letter written to the director of 60 Minutes by Professor Ivan Kennedy, who is a professor in agricultural and environmental chemistry from the University of Sydney. He is an old boy from Clontarf Boys Town. He said:

. . . I find it impossible to relate what I saw in your program last Sunday night with my very positive experiences at Clontarf for several years in the first half of the 1950s. My clear recollection is of a well run and caring enterprise of which the Christian Brothers have every right to be proud and with many achievements of which most of the boys certainly were.

Professor Kennedy goes on to mention:

. . . I have attended Perth on several occasions to attend Old Boys' reunions.

. . . . . . . . .

Those old boys included a VC winner, a number of university graduates, business managers, senior civil servants and a host of others who have made a go of their lives.

That stands as testament to the fine work that the Christian Brothers have done in this country. I know that in this Senate there are several senators who are a product of their education and hard work. I find it despicable that we have this sort of journalism which tries to bring down such a fine institution and fine body of men.

I raise this tonight in the wake of the beatification of Edmund Rice, who is the founder of the Christian Brothers. He was beatified on Sunday, 6 October this year in Rome. I think it is fitting that he was beatified as the founder of the Christian Brothers. I will be talking on that matter on another day in this Senate. I certainly will be taking this matter of 60 Minutes up with the minister concerned. I will be bringing it to the attention of the producers of 60 Minutes because I think this is a matter which should not go without comment. I find it thoroughly despicable.