You don’t often get a media outlet admitting that it got it wrong, but that ‘s precisely what The Australian

did on Monday when the following line appeared in its editorial

about the late Queensland Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen:

For a politician who led a party that never won a majority
of votes in his home state to presume he could form a national
government, especially on electoral boundaries he could not rort, was
ridiculous. But Sir Joh conned all sorts of Australians – including, it
must be said, this newspaper – into climbing aboard his jimcrack
bandwagon. The failure of the Canberra campaign was the high-water mark
of Sir Joh’s power and when the tide turned it ran against him fast.

The Australian

certainly mercilessly savaged a dead politician, but another dead man – former Oz

editor Les Hollings – wouldn’t have enjoyed that reference at all. Then
again, current editor-in-chief Chris Mitchell, a man who spent several
years editing The Courier-Mail,

was the chief sub on the national broadsheet at the time and saw
Hollings make a fool of himself by climbing on to the Joh bandwagon.

So
what exactly happened? Hollings was editor-in-chief of the paper for
five years from 1983 before Frank Devine took over. The New Right term
first emerged in 1984 and was an attempt, by The Bulletin

and
others, to describe a bunch of businessmen and academics who were
pushing Thatcher-style economic policies and thus to distinguish them
from the old anti-communist Right.

Les ran with the New Right ball after a while, which was a smart thing to do as the post-Dismissal Oz

(Les was editor then, too) was already positioned at that end of the spectrum and this gave them a cause to push.

But
Hollings erred by broadening the New Right idea to include a range of
political causes beyond the economic – leading to support for the
Joh-for-Canberra fiasco.
John Stone was also influential in this movement, so it was fitting that he neatly explained

the Joh-for-Canberra push in The Australian

yesterday.

The Australian’s

foreign editor Greg Sheridan, who was poached by Hollings from The Bulletin

and wrote much of the New Right material for the paper, was also
influential. Katherine West, a former Peacock adviser, was also
considered an important mouthpiece through her column in The Weekend Australian

.

In view of the fact that there was no bigger supporter of the Joh-for-PM crusade in the mainstream media than The Australian,

Monday’s savaging of the dead premier represents one of the more dramatic about faces by a newspaper in recent times.

The Australian

apparently had much of Monday’s impressive eight-page liftout written
in advance, althought the editorial, news stories and Tony Koch’s
commentary were written to deadline. We hear the reaction has been very
positive, and several people have registered their disappointment that
so much of the media and political reaction has paid too little heed to
the lessons of the Fitzgerald Inquiry.

Too many of the editorials treated Joh as a well meaning but eccentric figure when he was nothing of the sort.

Peter Fray

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