Has journalism ever witnessed
anything quite like the Kevin Donnelly phenomenon? Has any other
barrow-pushing ideologue ever been given such free access to the pages
of a newspaper to run his agenda?

Who is Kevin Donnelly? He’s a former Kevin Andrews staffer and an endorsed Liberal candidate whose company, Impetus Consulting, has received several hundred thousand dollars from the Howard Government (some of it is detailed here),
most of it as Category Four funding, no tender required. Donnelly also
accepted funding from tobacco giant Philip Morris and produced the
controversial “I’ve got the Power” program for schools that contained
little or no (in its early versions) mention of why smoking was harmful
(Donnelly admitted as much to Crikey last year).

According to this attack
in the WA Parliament earlier this year, Donnelly has received $795, 000
from the Federal Government; and his tobacco education kit was “run out
of town” by every State’s education department. (Donnelly’s defence of
the kit can be
found here). Donnelly has also received funding from the Liberal-based Menzies Research Centre, for his book, Why Our Schools Are Failing.

But it’s not just Federal Liberals who give Donnelly a free hand. So does The Australian‘s editor-in-chief Chris Mitchell.

Take one of the reports Donnelly wrote for then Education Minister Brendan Nelson, Benchmarking Australian Primary School Curricula, released on 27 September last year. Somehow The Australian managed to get a drop on the report and quoted Donnelly in its news story which contained not one dissenting view. The same day, Donnelly wrote a column for The Oz, highlighting the report’s findings.

media management for you – write the report, “drop” it, get quoted on
it, and write the column. Activists everywhere eat your hearts out.

On top of all that, Donnelly’s views on the world of education appear regularly in the Weekend Inquirer section of The Oz, sometimes
labelled as opinion, often not. For a social engineer, it doesn’t get
better. For independent, sceptical journalism, it doesn’t get much

As editor of The Courier-Mail, Mitchell ran an
identical conservative campaign, notably against Queensland’s Study of
Society and the Environment curriculum, employing similarly
questionable journalism. (Someone for whom I worked at the time had the
experience of being asked to be part of it all.)

As for what the whole agenda is, well it has never been spelled out more clearly than in Donnelly’s column today.
He doesn’t want history to be taught better, he wants his version of
history taught – a white bread, white picket view of the world that
could have come straight from a Liberal Party manifesto written by John

As indeed, for all intents and purposes, it was.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey