One needs to read Gerard Henderson’s words carefully, to understand the circular nature of his arguments. In his last Media Matters column in the Spectator Australia on June 10 he threw the switch to ideology, opining that:
The key division in democratic societies is no longer between rich and poor, but between those who regard themselves as morally superior beings intent on saving the planet and those who live in the suburbs and regions whose prime focus is on supporting their families.
He went on to describe climate change campaigners as “upper class” and the suburban and regional types as having “less secure employment and scant superannuation”. Surely when the upper class is pitted against the economically insecure, it is a case of rich versus poor. Poor Gerard, his argument has come full circle.
It also sounds like a depiction of Australian politics as a contest between insiders (morally superior beings intent on saving the planet) and outsiders (suburban and regional families). These days Hendo disparages The Age as “The Guardian on the Yarra”. In happier times (that is, before they sacked him) he was actually an Age columnist, writing on September 28, 2004, that:
Ideology makes little sense in Australia. The essential fact about Australian society is not that there is a distinctive division between insiders and outsiders.
How times have changed.
I said his last Media Matters column because, well … there will be no more. Hendo has resigned as the penultimate pager in the Spectator Australia. Could it have been because of little old me? I raised a few of his mistakes in a playful way in my Latham’s Law column. On past form, this would have been enough to send him berserk. The sensitive petal has been dishing out pedantic criticism for 20 years or more, but thinks it’s a one-way argument. That is, the rules of engagement are such that he can open fire on any number of targets, day after day, year after year, and nobody can, should or will fire back.
Can we now expect Gerard to describe the Spectator as “The Age on the Thames”? That’s the problem with being an ex-columnist at so many places — your insults come full circle. At least there’s one fringe benefit from his decision to quit: it means less work for Viren Nathoo.
In the first instalment of Henderson Watch I advised Gerard to write less. By quitting the Speccie he is, at last, taking my advice. His next step should be to quit the Sydney Institute’s Media Watch Dog because it too suffers from Henderson-inspired inaccuracy. Look at last Friday’s edition. Gerard opined, in relation to Peter Reith’s born-again campaign for labour market deregulation, that:
Ian Kortlang’s reference (on Sydney ABC radio) to a “fascist policy unit” was to the H.R. Nicholls Society which is focused on industrial relations and is not in any sense fascist. This was just slander by verballing.
Oh dear. One would have thought that Hendo, in running a right-wing talk tank, would know something about other right-wing talk tanks. Think again. Earlier last week, several media outlets reported that Reith’s IR campaign would include policy work for a new unit within the Institute of Public Affairs. This is the outfit that Kortlang referred to as a “fascist policy unit”, not the HR Nicholls Society. This is not a typographical error. Rather it is a significant howler. Gerard needs a fact checker.
While on the subject of fascism, Henderson (ex-Age, ex-Spectator) has got himself in a terrible tangle. In attacking Kortlang he also returned to his pet obsession, the otherwise innocuous ABC radio presenter Deborah Cameron:
Then yesterday (June 30) during “The Spin Doctors” segment on Mornings with Deborah Cameron, the presenter said nothing when one of her guests used the “F” word — as in FASCIST. She allowed Ian Kortlang to have a tremendous spray — and merely responded to his outburst with her traditional artificial laugh.
Perhaps, however, the last laugh is on Gerard. On June 28 in his Sydney Morning Herald column, he described Lord Christopher Monckton’s recent outburst, linking Ross Garnaut’s work on climate change to fascism and Adolf Hitler, as “trivial”. This reversed Hendo’s long-standing practice of taking such matters seriously. Rewind, for instance, to his days at the Guardian-on-the-Yarra. On January 18, 2005, he condemned the way in which:
In Australia, in recent years, it has become almost a fashion to make reference to Fascism/Nazism and/or communism in order to score political points.
He described these comparisons as “historical howlers”. On August 24, 2004, he was more strident, calling the comparisons “crazy” and “nuts”, exaggerations that diminish “the memory of fascism’s many victims”. Now, for Monckton at least, such matters have become “trivial”.
Work this out if you can. Are there two Gerard Hendersons? Or just one confused Gerard Henderson?
So as not to sound altogether negative about the great man, let’s give two cheers for Hendo’s critique of Oscar Humphries’ piece in Friday’s Guardian-on-the-Yarra:
Oscar’s conclusion? Well, there’s a “seam of racism” in Australia. What’s his source for such a serious charge? The only authority cited is, wait for it, Dame Edna Everage (Oscar’s old man in performance drag) … Humphries seems unaware that Australia has a relatively low level of ethnic motivated crime and a high level of inter-marriage between ethnic groups.
Sounds like Henderson’s standard endorsement of multiculturalism in Australia. Well, it used to be his standard defence, until his Herald column of February 8, 2011, a mea culpa to his old boss:
I used to be a strong supporter of multiculturalism and, at times, was critical of John Howard’s apparent disdain for the concept. However, on reflection, I am coming to the view that some of Howard’s critique was essentially correct and that David Cameron and Angela Merkel are saying what needs to be said in Europe … Cameron has followed German Chancellor Merkel in distancing himself from multiculturalism.
Howard’s most memorable contribution to the multiculturalism debate in Australia was to declare that we had too many Asian migrants — people presumably ill-suited to “inter-marriage” and crime prevention. Henderson was right to rebuke Humphries for quoting Dame Edna Everage but, just as much, he can no longer dress up his own views as supporting multiculturalism. Perhaps he is just having another Hendo moment: anti-multiculturalism one moment, pro- the next.
What sort of person writes a pedantic letter about an election result 80 years ago but gets it hopelessly wrong? A Henderson-sort-of-person, of course. Let’s go to the pages of The Australian, starting with Michael Kroger’s splendid op-ed piece on June 21:
What her colleagues do not appear to have noticed is the electoral carnage they face if Gillard remains leader of the Labor Party. Last Saturday’s poll showing the two-party preferred vote presently sitting at 59 per cent for the Coalition with 41 per cent for Labor would translate into the greatest electoral landslide ever seen against an incumbent Australian government. To date, Malcolm Fraser’s 1975 victory resulted in the biggest majority in the House of Representatives, in that case 55 seats.
It seemed such an unremarkable observation: that Fraser’s 1975 victory was the biggest ever. Unremarkable that is, unless you are a grudge-bearing Henderson. After all, Gerard worked for a Fraser government minister. So naturally he has fallen out with Fraser, attacking his memoirs, rebutting his public remarks, challenging his place in Liberal Party history … you know the drill.
The challenge for the Hendersons, therefore, was to sully Kroger’s statement of fact. Thus Anne Henderson, Gerard’s spouse and conveniently enough, his deputy director at the Sydney Institute (has the position ever been advertised?) jumped into the letter pages on June 23:
In numbers of seats (Kroger’s statement) cannot be disputed. However, if changes in the number of seats in the House of Representatives over time is taken into account, the record for the greatest House of Representatives win must go to Joseph Lyons, the conservative leader at the 1931 election. In this landslide victory, for what was then a coalition of non-Labor parties known as the United Australia Party, the Country Party and the South Australian Emergency Committee, the Lyons government held 74.6 per cent of the House of Representatives seats after the 1931 election. Malcolm Fraser’s Liberal Party/Country Party Coalition did well in 1975, but not so well as Lyons, holding 71.6 per cent of seats after the federal election.
The Sydney Institute website lists Anne Henderson as the author of “the biographical chapter on Prime Minister Joe Lyons for Australian Prime Ministers edited by Michelle Grattan (New Holland 2000) … In 2008 (she) published a biography of Dame Enid Lyons, Enid Lyons — Leading Lady to a Nation (Pluto Press).” Having written extensively about the UAP leader, Joe Lyons, one might have expected her to know something about how he formed government after the 1931 election. Apparently not.
Lyons, having recently defected from the Labor Party, did not form a coalition with the Country Party until after the 1934 election. As Kroger pointed out in his letter of June 27:
The Country Party was not part of a coalition with the UAP at the 1931 election. Its position was to offer “general support to the Government”, according to the autobiography of Earle Page, the then leader of the Country Party. Page refused a ministry after that election and his party wasn’t part of the Lyons government. Accordingly, it’s incorrect to include their 16 seats with the UAP’s 34 and the South Australian Emergency Committee’s six (total 56 of 75 seats) in the 74.6 per cent claimed by Henderson. The Country Party joined the UAP in government after the election held on September 15, 1934 by an announcement made on November 9 that year.
At this point, any normal person would fold their hand, acknowledging a foolhardy error. But Anne is not quite normal. She comes from the Henderson school of obfuscation, writing on June 28:
That the UAP and the Country Party did not form a coalition government after the 1931 election is not in dispute … Joe Lyons’s win in 1931 went to a coalition of forces. And the percentage of seats won by that informal coalition was greater than that of Malcolm Fraser’s in 1975.
This is an instructive example of Henderson technique. Anne’s initial letter was unequivocal:
The Lyons government held 74.6 per cent of the House of Representatives seats after the 1931 election.
When faced with a self-inflicted howler, the Hendi never admit an error but move the goalposts and pray that nobody notices. Anne referred to “the Lyons government”, not a “coalition of forces” or an “informal coalition”. The Hendersons are not historians but grudge-driven flakes, readily arguing that black is white and white is black. In party politics there is no such thing as an “informal coalition”. Either a formal agreement exists between coalition partners or it does not.
Remember my observation in the first edition of Henderson Watch:
It is said that the definition of a fanatic is someone who redoubles his efforts when all is lost. This captures the Henderson method. Even when he is hopelessly wrong, he keeps churning out correspondence.
Ditto Anne Henderson in letters to the editor. Corresponditis must be a contagious condition.
This is a critical issue for the Hendi coalition (of the formal variety). Anne needs a fact checker. But she can’t use Gerard, for obvious reasons. Looks like more work for Viren Nathoo after all.