HE FLOATS like a butterchurn and stings like a bidet. John Pilger's latest is an attempted bashing of the Australian government, but, as usual, the maladroit journalistic heavyweight ends up tripping over his own feet and landing face-first on the canvas.
We're not even out of the second paragraph before the errors commence:
"When [Elizabeth] Taylor and her then husband, Mike Todd, the Hollywood producer, told the [Australian] press to sod off, they were dogged by negative publicity and their visit was, in show-business terms, a disaster. Something similar happened to the great star Ava Gardner, filming Nevil Shute's On the Beach in Melbourne, about the nuclear apocalypse. Asked what she thought of Australia, she replied: ‘I cannot think of a better place to make a movie about the end of the world.’"
There's a couple of things wrong here. One, Gardner's famous quote referred to Melbourne, not Australia. And two, she never said it. Melbourne journalist Neil Jillett made up Gardner's comment, and confessed his crime 20 years ago.
"The 2000 Olympics [were] regarded as an ultimate rite of passage to the rest of the world. Small-time politicians pressed the flesh of the international great and good, Sydney's traffic lights were fixed on green for the motorcade of the International Olympic Committee, and civil liberties were suspended so that the authorities could control those who might interrupt the joy."
None of us who survived will ever forget the suspension of our civil liberties. The nights were the worst – that was when the death squads would arrive.
"Alas, all those warm millennium feelings are long forgotten as the Government of John Howard has, at a stroke, demolished the national image with racist and inhumane policies, shamelessly and aggressively implemented, currently against desperate refugees."
John Howard's government didn't introduce the mandatory detention policies to which Pilger refers. They were introduced in 1994, by the previous Labor government.
"In their attempts to justify this contravention of the most basic of human rights, the right of refuge, Prime Minister Howard and his ministers lied that another group of refugees had thrown their children overboard as a sacrificial means of attracting attention. 'I find that [the refugees' behaviour] is against the natural instinct,' said Howard. These people, said a senator, 'are repulsive ... and unworthy of Australia'. The then Labor Party leader, Kim Beazley, joined in the condemnation, to the disgust of almost everyone."
Almost everyone? Polls show 70 per cent support for the government's refugee policies. As for Howard's "lies", well, claims that children were thrown overboard seem a little more believable following reports that children in detention centres have had their lips sewn shut.
"In their desperation, the refugees, many of them unaccompanied children, have resorted to suicide, starvation, arson and mass escapes."
Not one single suicide has occurred, despite the media's urging.
"The minister responsible is Philip Ruddock, a man who speaks in a strange, congealed jargon, usually with a smirk. Three years ago, Ruddock boasted to me that Aboriginal infant mortality was 'only' three times that of white children."
This is disgraceful. Ruddock's "boast", as Pilger characterises it, followed the government's success in bringing infant mortality down to three times the white figure from a rate previously 20 times worse.
"The treatment of 'white' illegal immigrants is very different. In 2001, there were 6,160 Britons who had overstayed the duration of their visas, and as many other Europeans. None goes to a detention camp."
Leaving aside the difference between tourists who overstay their visas and illegal immigrants who deliberately destroy their passports and identification, let's examine Pilger's claim that no white visa-overstayers go to detention camps.
"The Murdoch newspapers' campaign against an Australian drifter, David Hicks, who fought with the Taliban, is matched by Howard's disgraceful refusal to demand that the United States hand him back to his own country or treat him as a PoW."
Key words: "fought with the Taliban". Sympathy: zero.
"When an Aboriginal boxer, Anthony Mundine, remarked on television that Americans had 'brought [terrorism] upon themselves [for] what they done in the history of time', he was all but lynched."
For "lynched", read "criticised by some in the media". Mundine also had plenty of media support, from idiots.
"Last week, Pauline Hanson retired from politics, mainly because the Howard government pre-empted and absorbed her populism. Her openly racist One Nation party at its peak captured 10 per cent of the national vote: about a million people. Now they are Howard's people."
Yeah, sure. One Nation's policies always more closely resembled those of the leftist Australian Democrats, another party sliding in popularity. Hanson retired because she couldn't win a seat in Parliament, in either the Senate or the House of Representatives.
"She also had middle-class support, though this is seldom mentioned. 'Pauline, you made us more honest', said the headline over an article in the Sydney Morning Herald. The writer, Margo Kingston, who apparently thinks of herself as a liberal, waffled about 'the unfinished legacy of the redhead from Ipswich (Queensland)' and about Hanson's stimulating contribution to a national 'debate'. In fact, Hanson encouraged dishonesty by giving bigotry credence."
Pilger versus Kingston! Bring it on!
"Murdoch owns 70 per cent of the capital city press; and journalists and broadcasters who speak too freely must consider the consequences, especially those in the state-funded Australian Broadcasting Corporation."
The only people recently fired by the ABC for "speaking too freely" are me and Imre Salusinszky. It may have been something to do with the fact that our radio show was the only conservative program on the entire ABC schedule.
"Over a year ago, almost a million people filled the Sydney Harbour Bridge in protest against the treatment of the Aborigines."
In Pilgerland, "almost a million" means 850,000 less than a million. If Pilger's figure is accurate, it means one out of every 19 Australians marched on the Harbour Bridge. This didn't happen.
"It is difficult to find anyone not appalled by the policy on refugees."
No, it isn't. The policy is supported by nearly three quarters of the population.
Apparently the Sydney Morning Herald is considering running this article, originally published in the New Statesman, this weekend. It will interesting to see how they rewrite it.