Tag Archives: Greg Sheridan

An Abbott hagiography. Wonder and awe.

1 Mar



You all know about The Australian’s paywall, right?

The first paragraph of the Greg Sheridan hagiography of Prime Minister Tony Abbott reads thus:

NO Australian prime minister has been quite so complex, or quite so spectacularly misunderstood, by supporters and detractors, and indeed the public, as Tony Abbott.

I implore you to read this if you haven’t already. It is an outstanding example of delusional thinking. It isn’t spin, which is calculated and deceitful linguistic manipulation employed in order to achieve a specific outcome. Sheridan is a true believer, an acolyte, a devotee, a worshipper at the altar of Abbott, and I read this piece with wonder and awe. Look:

Abbott is decisive…But decisiveness is a bit like papal infallibility. As Pope Pius IX is said to have remarked: when you are infallible, you have to be very careful of what you say. 

Abbott loves to write. He loves words in the service of ideas. He is a truly gifted headline writer: stop the boats; a great big new tax on everything;

He loves soldiers, I suspect, for two main reasons. They have a culture of getting things done. And they have engaged in heroic sacrifice beyond even that which he has done himself.

It is a rich personality, as varied and complex as that of any occupant of the Lodge in our history.

Right now, Australians find him a riddle wrapped inside an enigma. After all these years, they don’t know him yet.

As Ray Charles grieves, so does Tony Abbott:

You give your hand to me
And then you say, “Hello.”
And I can hardly speak,
My heart is beating so.
And anyone can tell
You think you know me well.
Well, you don’t know me.
(no you don’t know me)


 Sheridan does acknowledge some of Abbott’s faults, but to him they are only temporarily misdirected strengths and he will, if allowed to remain Prime Minister, grow out of them into full maturity.

I can truthfully say this is the first time I have ever heard the notion of the Prime Ministership as a training ground, a learning space reminiscent of Montessori or Steiner in which the incumbent is awarded the opportunity to fully realise his or her potential according to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. I honestly thought the position was something to do with the interests of the country and its citizens, rather than a path to personal fulfilment.

Abbott does not, according to Sheridan, hold grudges. Someone needs to tell that to Philip Ruddock before he stumbles off like a defanged Shakespearean Father of the House of Liberals, overthrown by a trusted son whose rampant ambitions would see the old man banished to the chilly outers to languish and rot, friendless and unmourned.

On reaching the end of the Sheridan piece I was reminded of a Seinfeld episode in which George observes of a mutual acquaintance, “There’s more to him than meets the eye.”

“No,” says Jerry, “there’s less.”





Did Bush claim God told him to invade Iraq? Yes, he did.

3 Oct

On Q&A tonight, News Limited journalist Greg Sheridan insisted, and insisted, and insisted again that George Bush did not claim that God had told him to invade Iraq.

But the BBC, The Independent, The Guardian, The Age, and The Washington Post said this in October 2005:

(In June 2003)…the former Palestinian foreign minister Nabil Shaath says Mr Bush told him and Mahmoud Abbas, former prime minister and now Palestinian President: “I’m driven with a mission from God. God would tell me, ‘George, go and fight those terrorists in Afghanistan.’ And I did, and then God would tell me, ‘George go and end the tyranny in Iraq,’ and I did.”

And “now again”, Mr Bush is quoted as telling the two, “I feel God’s words coming to me: ‘Go get the Palestinians their state and get the Israelis their security, and get peace in the Middle East.’ And by God, I’m gonna do it.”

Those Christian fundamentalists and their imaginary friends.

Those News Limited journalists and their selective hearing.

Those warmongering religious fanatics with God on their side.

But now we got weapons
Of the chemical dust
If fire them we’re forced to
Then fire them we must
One push of the button
And a shot the world wide
And you never ask questions
When God’s on your side.

“Illegal immigrants” Press Council ruling: Why is Paul Sheehan is allowed to say it while Greg Sheridan is not?

3 Jul

Imagine my astonishment when I came across this post describing how in June 2011 the Australian Press Council upheld complaints against the Australian‘s Greg Sheridan alleging that he had wrongly described boat arrivals as “illegal immigrants” not once, but three times.

On January 7 2011 I put the following post up on  No Place for Sheep:

Today we sent a complaint to the Australian Press Council claiming that the article by Paul SheehanSydney Morning Herald January 3 2011, titled Cast adrift from reality, the slick spruikers of ‘our’ shame, breaches Principles 1,2,3 and 6 of the Council’s Statement of Principles.

These Principles address misrepresentation of groups and individuals; suppression of available facts; deliberate misinformation through omission or commission, and fairness and balance.

We claim that these principles were breached by the use of the terms “illegal” and “without proper papers” when referring to asylum seekers arriving by boat.

This is the post I put up on January 13 2011, announcing the APC’s dismissal of my complaint against Sheehan:

I received the following email from the Australian Press Council today:

Dear Dr Wilson,

The Council has received a complaint from you, in which you raise a concern with terminology used by a bylined opinion columnist in The Sydney Morning Herald.

For your information, a copy of the Council’s principles and practices can be found on the Council’s website http://www.presscouncil.org.au.Therein are set out the standards of journalistic ethics that the Council upholds and the procedures it uses to deal with complaints alleging breaches of those standards.

Attached, for your information, is a copy of the Council’s Guideline No 288 on the issue of asylum seekers.

The Council believes that columns such as Sheehan’s should be given a reasonably wide licence to express a point of view. They are the clear expression of a viewpoint of the individual writing them and are commentary upon the news.

The terminology you complain of talks of  “illegal boats”. Since the boats can be seized and their crew tried before the courts, there is good reason to suggest that the arrival of the boats is in fact “illegal”.

Have you submitted a letter to the Sydney Morning Herald for publication in response to the published column? The Council has consistently said that the best response to a disagreement with such material is the submission of a contrary view for publication. I therefore urge you to take the matter up direct with the newspaper in the first instance, if you have not already. I will write to the newspaper urging it give due consideration to any submitted letter as a way of dealing with your concern.

I will bring your concern to the attention of the newspaper but believe that the best settlement of your concern, in this case, is through the letters to the editor column.

Yours sincerely,

Deb Kirkman, Acting Executive Secretary, Australian Press Council

To which I replied as follows:

Dear Ms Kirkman,
I have indeed twice written to the SMH letters on this matter, as I stated on my complaint form, and neither letter has been acknowledged.

To reiterate, the terminology I complained of is as follows:

1. Illegal boat arrivals. If Sheehan was referring only to the arrival of SIEVs, or to the crew of SIEVs, then these references makes no sense at all in the context of his paragraph.

It is rather disingenuous to suggest that Sheehan was referring to the vessels and their crew, given that the crews are arrested and the vessels are impounded, therefore the problem is addressed immediately at the source and offers no basis for Sheehan’s on-going angst.

Sheehan then goes on to comment on the “relatively small number of people who arrive by boat,” thus clearly confirming that he is indeed referring to the passengers who are seeking asylum, and not to the SIEVs and their crew.

2. Those who arrive by illegal means,and those who arrive without proper papers.

The UN Refugee Convention, to which Australia is signatory, recognises that refugees have a lawful right to enter a country for the purposes of seeking asylum. The Convention stipulates that what would usually be considered an illegal action, eg entering a country without a visa, should not be treated as illegal if a person is seeking asylum.Australian law, in line with the Convention, also permits unauthorised entry for the purposes of seeking asylum.

Therefore, under Australian law, and under the terms of the Convention we have signed, a person who is seeking asylum has the legal right to enter this country without papers, and by any method of transport, even SIEVs, and has the legal right to remain in this country, until his or her refugee status is established through the proper legal processes, to which, as asylum seekers, they are legally entitled.

Their mode of transport does not render asylum seekers “illegal,” as suggested by Sheehan.

This was re-affirmed by the High Court of Australia in November 2010.

Again, my complaints  relate to numbers 1, 2, 3, and 6 of your Statement of Principles.

Sheehan has misrepresented the facts of this situation – asylum seekers are not illegal, even if they enter the country on SIEVs.

Sheehan has suppressed facts that are available to him, i.e. the facts that under domestic law and by international agreement, Australia does not consider those requesting asylum to be illegal in any way, no matter how they arrived in this country, including if they arrived “without proper papers.”

The illegality of their mode of transport is a separate issue, as the law recognises, and is dealt with as a separate issue. Asylum seekers are not held responsible for the legality or otherwise of their mode of transport.

Sheehan has misinformed and misled the SMH readership by conflating the two, and in so doing, ignores Australian law and the UNHCRConvention.

Since when has it been acceptable that even an opinion writer has the license to misinform their readers about Australian law, and the legal status of a particular group of people?

Sheehan has not presented his readers with the facts, and his opinions are not based on the facts. Sheehan has acted irresponsibly in putting forward an uninformed point of view as his opinion. The facts are readily available to him. Surely even opinion pieces are supposed to have some basis in reality?

I have requested that the SMH correct Sheehan’s inaccuracies and conflations. I have received no response

Yours sincerely,

Jennifer Wilson.

Australian Press Council Guideline 288 in regard to Asylum seekers.

Guideline No. 288 Describing “asylum seekers”

Issued: October 30, 2009

For immediate release

The Australian Press Council has updated its guideline on “asylum seekers”, replacing General Press Release 262 with the attached guide. The Council issues guidelines from time to time. These are, in essence, amplifications on particular issues arising from the Council’s Statement of Principles. The guidelines apply the Principles to the practice of reporting and are intended to guide the press on how it should report certain matters. These guidelines are not intended to be prescriptive instructions to the press but act as a series of advisories on the application of the Principles that the Council seeks the co-operation of editors in maintaining. A list of the extant guidelines (and links to them) can be found on the Council’s website athttp://www.presscouncil.org.au/pcsite/activities/gprguide.html.

The Council has from time to time received complaints about the terminology used to describe people who arrive in Australia through means other than regulated immigration and visa transit processes. They are often referred to by the press and others as “illegal immigrants”, “illegal boatpeople” and so on –  or simply as  “illegals”. The descriptor “illegal(s)” is very often inaccurate and typically connotes criminality.

The press has, by and large, abided by the Council’s 2004 Guideline about the use of inaccurate and derogatory terminology to describe such people.

Having considered the matter further, the Council believes that the term “asylum seeker” is a widely understood descriptor, generally a fair and a sufficiently accurate one, and one which avoids the kinds of difficulties outlined above. The Council recommends its use as the default terminology in relevant headlines and reports both by the press and others.

The Australian Press Council comprises representatives of the public and of the industry and acts to preserve the freedom, and the responsibility, of the Australian press. It was founded in July 1976 and has been in continuous operation for over 30 years.

End of Guideline 288

What are we to make of this disparity in the Press Council’s judgement?

 Is the APC favouring the Sydney Morning Herald, while holding the Australian to a different set of standards? Is it more personal than that, ie can Sheehan do what Sheridan cannot and if so, why?



The propaganda and collusion at the heart of “Stop the boats.”

3 Jan

January 8 2011: No Place for Sheep lodged a complaint with the Australian Press Council, claiming that Sheehan’s article breaches principles 1,2 3 and 6 of the Statement of Principles.

No Place for Sheep earlier sent the following letter to the Editor at the Sydney Morning Herald:

In the last paragraph of his article of January 4th, Mr Sheehan refers to “illegal boat arrivals” and arrivals “without proper papers.”

Will Mr Sheehan kindly explain his complete disregard for the Australian law that permits those seeking asylum to arrive in any manner, and without documentation?

It used to be that journalists were required to get their facts right.
This would seem to be an example of either woeful ignorance on the part of Mr Sheehan, or deliberate obfuscation in order to promote political propaganda.
Would the SMH please explain Sheehan’s campaign of disinformation?
This was not published.


In the Brisbane Courier Mail on December 20 2010, Opposition leader Tony Abbott called for: an “urgent” return to temporary protection visas, the reopening of the Nauru detention centre and turning the boats around.

“We stopped the boats before, we can stop the boats again if we put the right policies in place,” he said.

It’s not clear just where Abbott intends to “stop the boats” and “turn them around.” Presumably before they enter Australian waters. Nobody has yet requested that the Opposition Leader clarify his proposals.

Will he use the navy, and will they fire on vessels that disregard instructions, risking death and injury to asylum seekers and their children? In international waters?

Will he kill and maim them rather than let them apply for asylum?

Why is nobody in the mainstream media asking him these questions?

Instead, on January 4 2011, Sydney Morning Herald senior journalist Paul Sheehan yet again resorts to using the completely wrong term “illegal boat arrivals” and yet again makes the completely irrelevant characterisation of boat arrivals as people “without proper papers.”

The Coalition mantra of “Stop the Boats” disregards Australia’s international obligations, incurred as a consequence of signing the UNHCR 1951 Refugee Convention. Asylum seekers who arrive by boat, even without papers, are entitled to apply for refugee status in Australia, according to both our domestic and international law.

For the last few years, politicians from both major parties have sought to find ways around our obligations to those seeking asylum, rather than ways to responsibly fulfill our undertakings.

One of the major tactics used is the propagandist description of boat arrivals as “illegal.” The mainstream media in general support and promote this propaganda. The justification is that boat arrivals have breached our sovereignty, and our right to protect our borders.

What’s not acknowledged is our domestic and international legal obligation to accept asylum seekers no matter how they arrive. Those seeking asylum are not illegal immigrants breaching border security. Their pursuit of asylum legally removes them from that category.

In July 2010 both Adrienne Millbank of the Age and Greg Sheridan of the Australian, launched calls in their respective newspapers for Australia to withdraw from the Refugee Convention, claiming that 1951 Convention is no longer appropriate for world conditions. These calls continue in the blogosphere, and in the mainstream press.

In fact, Australia revisited our agreement to the original Convention and subsequent updates and additions as recently as 2008, so the Convention has not exactly languished unexamined for almost sixty years.

There may well be reasons why the Convention needs re-assessment. However, until such time as it is revisited, the facts remain that Australia did not add a rider to the Convention limiting the manner in which asylum seekers could arrive in this country. Australia did not specify that those seeking asylum must have a certain amount of money, or no money. Australia did not say we would accept asylum seekers only from specific countries. Australia did not add a clause specifying only people in queues.

At the heart of “Stop the Boats” is a profound dishonesty and immorality. Those promoting this position are making a mockery of UN Conventions, and domestic law.

They are advocating the behaviours and attitudes of a rogue state, while in an act of two-faced political bastardry, continuing to apparently support the principles of the Convention, by virtue of making no move to withdraw from it or change it.

If we don’t intend to abide by our obligations we should withdraw from the Convention, and change domestic law. As it is, we are inviting asylum seekers to seek sanctuary in Australia, then incarcerating, criminalizing or refusing them entry when they accept our invitation.

We are subjecting them to indefinite mandatory detention when they have done nothing more than recognize Australia as a democratic country that has signed the Refugee Convention, and therefore as a safe place for them to seek asylum.

This is a despicable act of duplicity, of which our nation should be thoroughly ashamed.

On December 6 2010, Amnesty International launched a campaign they titled Stopping the spin on “the boats.” Amnesty’s research found that hostility towards asylum seekers originates not in racism, but is primarily caused by myths and misinformation, for example their portrayal by politicians and some mainstream commentators as “illegals without papers.” This framing implies to the community that boat arrivals are committing a criminal act by attempting to force their way into the country ahead of a mythical queue comprised of those who do not arrive by boat. This offends a strong community sense of the fair go, and provokes antipathy and outrage, and is entirely inaccurate.

It’s a brilliant example of the power of propaganda when applied by both politicians and colluding media.

In November last year, a High Court ruling put all asylum seekers on an equal footing under Australian law, regardless of their mode of travel. (Sydney Morning Herald November 11 2010. Court casts doubt over legality of processing off-shore asylum seekers.) In spite of this re-affirmation of our domestic law by the High Court, Abbott and many media commentators still continue to use the term “illegals.”

Assertions that asylum seekers want to come here because they know they will receive welfare payments etc makes little psychological sense. 

People with the drive, ingenuity and courage to undertake journeys such as theirs, are not usually people who easily accept welfare as a life-style.

However, when people with these strengths are incarcerated for indefinite periods and/or issued with temporary protection visas (TPVs) whose long term uncertainty has alarming effects on their well being, they are damaged in ways they have not been damaged in the countries they fled, and may well be much reduced in their extraordinary strengths, and their will to survive and prosper. Their spirits can be broken.

Australian governments manage to achieve what the Taliban could not.

As a nation, we cannot continue to behave in this duplicitous manner, giving lie to the international commitments we voluntarily undertake, as well as to our own domestic laws.

Politicians must be forced to acknowledge our international responsibilities, along with our domestic laws and concerns. Politicians must not be allowed to toss our international obligations, and our corresponding domestic laws out the window, in order to win an election.

Whenever one of them starts up about stopping the boats, somebody needs to ask, what about the Refugee Convention we’ve signed? What about our own laws?

When will the mainstream media abandon its role of political apologist, and ask these questions?

Bush, Blair and Howard ignored the UN and its weapons inspectors, and took us to war in Iraq. It isn’t difficult to ignore the UN, very little if anything happens as a consequence.

But is that the point? Isn’t the point rather about being a country that cares about the morality and ethics of its way of being in the world? A country with the common decency to abide by its commitments?

Does our word as a country mean so piteously little that we are under no compunction to abide by it?

Are we happy to be a country whose signature on an international UN Convention is worth less than the paper it’s written on?

The questions need to be asked of all politicians engaging in the refugee debate. We should be demanding straight answers, and refusing to accept this ongoing campaign of disinformation.

Asylum seekers are not the problem, but they are an easy target.  The real problem is politicians with no moral compass, and not much interest in anything more than winning the next election.

The problem is politicians who have decided to exploit asylum seekers, even to their deaths, for their own political gain.

The problem is a tame media, who lack the courage to confront political inaccuracies and lies.

We have a responsibility to instigate a reassessment of the Convention if it is no longer to our liking. Until then, we are obliged to fulfill our commitments. Just as with any domestic law, we cannot decide to ignore it because it no longer seems appropriate.

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