Yesterday I read a tweet from Annabel Crabb to a tweep who’d complained that Peter Reith was on The Drum AGAIN. Anyone on my Twitter feed will know that we are constantly complaining about the regular presence of Mr Reith, both on the televised and the online version of The Drum. Regulars like David Horton of the Watermelon Blog ask several times a week that the ABC reveal Reith’s contract with the public broadcaster, to no avail.
Many tweeps repeatedly point out the role Reith played in the Howard government, particularly in regard to the so-called “Children Overboard” scandal, in which the government made unsubstantiated (and later discredited) claims that seafaring asylum seekers had thrown children overboard in a presumed ploy to secure rescue and passage to Australia.
A Senate Select committee later found that no children were thrown overboard from SIEV 4, and that several Howard government ministers including Peter Reith had deliberately misled the public by “cynically exploiting voters’ fears of a wave of illegal immigrants by demonising asylum seekers.”
It was also found that on no less than fourteen occasions, Reith and/or his office were informed that children had not been thrown overboard, and that photos Reith claimed proved the allegations were in reality images of asylum seekers and children struggling in the water after their boat had sunk.
Add to that charges of the improper use of a phone card, and Reith’s much criticised handling of the waterfront dispute when he was Industrial Relations Minister, and you have a politician with a very fraught history. His close relationship with the ABC is regularly and rightly questioned. The public broadcaster usually makes no comment, but yesterday Ms Crabb broke with tradition and tweeted:
While I acknowledge that the ABC’s responsibility to attempt a balance of perspectives in its opinion and analysis means there will inevitably be guests with whom somebody disagrees, I do wonder why a politician with a record such as Reith’s is their choice as a regular participant.
Now I wonder why Ms Crabb decided to so wholeheartedly endorse him, and in such a personal fashion. I thought we’d just established through the shaming of Stephen Long, that it is not the job of ABC journalists to express displeasure or favour towards any public figure.
The ABC presumably offers Peter Reith as a credible, honest commentator on current affairs. Now endorsed by Annabel Crabb, it seems confirmed that as we have long suspected, Mr Reith’s history is irrelevant to the ABC because he’s “a great panel member.” The ABC legitimises Mr Reith by offering him a regular platform, and now by Ms Crabb’s personal seal of approval as well.
There are many far more credible alternatives to Peter Reith, whom the ABC might invite to express a right-wing point of view. Personally, I am unable to dismiss Mr Reith’s role in the Children Overboard affair, and I am saddened that the ABC and Annabel Crabb apparently find it so easy to erase that shameful chapter of our history, and to redeem and grant legitimacy to someone who was a central participant in that disgrace.