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The Great Australian Gaslighting

We are all accustomed to being fed nonsense by the right-wing. Sky News after dark is largely untouched by common-sense, decency, or journalistic balance. When reading the Australian, or the Telegraph, we all share an expectation that we will likely need to wade through a swamp of ideological claptrap. But it does not have to be this way.

Once upon a time these same media outlets at least pretended that they were trying to be ‘fair and balanced’. There was a sometimes-indistinct line drawn between commentary and the ‘news’. It was a blurry boundary, but it was there. However, in recent days, in their ‘coverage’ of the impending referendum, it seems that the whole of News Corp has been given over to gaslighting. In all their outlets the pending question is never described as being a referendum formulated in response to a grassroots movement, it is ‘Albanese’s referendum’. Or ‘Labor’s referendum’. The LNPs hand in developing the idea has been erased from history. As has any hint of non-partisanship. Instead of a relatively powerless advisory committee, the Voice is depicted as being the plaything of rich aboriginal city-slickers, who are all Labor stooges.

Moreover, the dog-whistle is just about deafening. Every tired old racist trope has been given a further airing. Often many are trotted-out in quick succession. For example, today in the Australian (behind their paywall), Maurice Newman advises his readers that:

If the proposal is carried, a small racial minority will have constitutional privileges denied the majority of Australians. It will permanently define our system of government as one country, two systems. It will establish a platform for the politics of envy. The very expectation of race-based benefits is no doubt reflected in the latest census, which recorded a 25 per cent jump in those identifying as Indigenous.

The Uluru Statement from the Heart may be well-intended, but its authors are open to the charge that it’s really about more power and money for elites. After all, Indigenous people are anything but voiceless now. Indeed, in the past 15 years, thousands of Indigenous voices have been heard and tens of billions of taxpayer dollars, together with royalties and service payments, invested where the collective voices recommended. It is not clear how an additional voice will improve Indigenous lives.

It is a wonder the sun doesn’t momentarily dim every time Newman opens his mouth! I will not canvass any more of this article as further exposure could very well cause actual brain damage. And it would provide the article and author with a degree of consideration that they do not warrant. Plus, the details are entirely immaterial. There is no actual intent to deliver a message – just stir the possum. These many articles are designed to support and reinforce the torrent of racist bullshit and nonsense that is being given voice in the threads of these newspapers and all across the right-wing swamp. These are not articles designed to inform but rather inflame.

Which brings me to the nub of this article. The difficulty with political commentary such as this is that it commonly hides behind the proposition that all that is being advanced is merely an ‘opinion’. So, even though the author is presenting puerile and tangibly insulting claptrap which is quite obviously designed to reinforce many of the commonplace lies that are currently circulating within the right-wing media, it is not illegal (even though it is palpably dishonourable and despicable). Nor should it be illegal. What is needed is to address the root cause of this problem, which is that we only have two large media conglomerates in our country, one of which is a right-wing outfit, while the other is a far-right wing organisation that is owned by Americans and is run from America.

I feel passionately about the need for media sector reform as that is the only way to effectively banish this sort of hateful rhetoric from our mainstream press. It results from allowing just one or two players to have an outsized impact upon the social discourse. Regulating what can be said by any given journalist is not going to address this sort of problem. The problem is not the language but rather the tacit and sometimes enthusiastic pedalling of falsehoods via a massive megaphone. We need lots and lots of smaller megaphones.

Regulating the minutiae of the press is not an option, simply because it does not work. It will not address this problem. The right wing in Australia know that they are pandering to a racist minority and they carefully, yet quite consciously, craft articles such as that quoted above, which are all dog-whistle and no substance. These many utterly objectionable articles are not being written by fools, nor are they being read by fools. A racist dog-whistle is being sounded gleefully and its meaning is being clearly understood. If you change the rules then the tune being played will simply change – yet the noxious intent and the facility to do mischief will remain. As Marcia Langton observes,

They’re very clever falsehoods. They appeal to the long-held tropes of discrimination. You know, we’ve heard words like ‘squalid’, ‘underbelly’, ‘maintain the rage’ thrown about. It’s as if, you know, the frontier wars were still happening. It’s very disappointing that so many Australians have been deceived…

But I am not as forgiving as Marcia. I know that many of the people who are throwing these racist tropes about are doing so quite deliberately. Yes, many readers are being deceived, but many others are enthusiastic about being given the chance to air their repugnant racist views in public without drawing down upon themselves any well-deserved derision.

Thus, we are all witnessing the Great Australian Gaslighting of 2024. It may or may not be successful. But regardless of the outcome of the referendum, these last few weeks have served to illustrate just why there is a pressing need for a Royal Commission into the media sector.

During the last few weeks, the Murdoch newspapers have been quite deliberately, and successfully, stoking racial division and disharmony in Australia. Which demonstrates the disproportionate degree of influence that is currently being welded by News Corp; which is a foreign controlled entity that is based in America. The influence of this media group is palpable. Consider that at the moment, the right-wing forces in our country are not in government anywhere on the mainland or in the federal sphere. Yet despite this overwhelming rejection by the Australian public, our media is still chocka-block full of the concerns and fears of the right-wing conservative rump.

Very few Aussies are far right-wing conservatives, yet we nevertheless have an entire segment of the press in our country, including several major masthead newspapers, that enthusiastically embrace and openly advocate for such an ideological position. As a result, it is evident that News Corp is acting as a political player and not just a disinterested media concern. For the entirety of the last year, the actual federal opposition in Australia has been News Corp – not the LNP.

This is an unacceptable situation. So, I would suggest that regardless of the outcome of the referendum, the behavior of News Corp during the last few weeks demonstrates that the right-wing press is currently a clear and present danger to our national interests.

The gross concentration of media ownership in our country is a problem that must be addressed soon. The existing monopolies must be broken up. The ability for one corporation to own large segments of both print and broadcast media, in several states, must be eliminated. We must return to the days when we had laws that served to supress the development of just these sorts of media monopolies. After all; there were laws in place to guard against the situation that we currently find ourselves in. Laws that were progressively watered down and abolished in response to the many lies that were sold to us by these same media magnates.

Those with long memories will remember how, over the course of several decades, the need for both horizontal and vertical integration in the media sector was sold to us by these big media conglomerates as being necessary. We were confidently informed that the only way to ensure that our media sector would not fail in the new digital world was to allow the big players to get bigger. So, for twenty years, we were all constantly fed a diet of unadulterated bullshit.

Despite the massive concentration of ownership that we now enjoy, all of the negative outcomes that we were warned about have nevertheless still come to pass. Most of the newspaper groups have disappeared and all of the large newsrooms have been merged. Almost all of the small regional newspapers have been bought up by the bigger players, then shuttered. Thousands of journalists have been laid off. And now we have only two huge media corporations left standing. Which is the worst of all possible outcomes – unless you are an owner or shareholder a media conglomerate.

The current referendum debate concretely demonstrates that the current media environment in Australia is not serving our national interests. At the moment, the whims of one non-Australian media owner, living in another country, are serving to dictate the nature and content of much of the social and political discourse of our country. As a consequence, our social discourse is becoming less civil and more extreme. Due to the baleful influence of News Corp and its deliberate spreading of misinformation and racist claptrap, after this referendum is over, regardless of the outcome, there needs to be a reckoning.

That the political thuggery has become quite overt is well illustrated by another article in the Australian today (also behind the paywall), in which the top corporate contributors to the ‘Yes’ campaign are listed as if they are guilty of war crimes. The article invites the reader to deride the corporations and their leaders, which are all named and shamed individually. The inescapable inference being that it would be a dandy idea if all of the readers of the newspaper boycotted these companies. Which, I would suggest, are just the sort of transparent mafia tactics that we can all live without.

The political thuggery has become overt. There has to be pushback, to not do so would be dangerous.


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  1. Andrew Smith

    Interesting, the same also promote the negative white Australia or eugenic tropes of overpopulation, high immigration and that refugees are just low IQ economic migrants, to get at the above median age ‘skip’ &/or European heritage voter which rewarded Howard.

    However. their influence is slowly ebbing away with demographic change hitting electoral rolls…..’the great replacement’, but see the US & UK, this just makes them more paranoid and immoral in their outlook.

  2. B Sullivan

    Andrew Smith,

    Overpopulation is a fact. Every human being alive today is descended from a few thousand survivors of a natural catastrophe that occurred more than ten thousand years ago. That’s why we all belong to same race, a fact confirmed by the lack of genetic diversity today between people from all over the world to which genetic science can attest.

    At the beginning of the 20th Century the human population had just passed a billion people. It had taken more than ten thousand years to reach that number. At the end of the 20th Century the population was nearly seven billion, and now it is more than eight billion, more likely nine. Human exploitation of the earth’s resources over a period of less than six months is now far more than the earth can regenerate in a year. We now face a man made mass extinction event as a consequence of the loss of habitat for biodiversity given over to insatiable human demands for food, shelter and energy. Competition over the last remaining resources will provoke disastrous wars. The consequences of man made climate change is already pushing the earth’s habitats to ecological collapse, which will lead to unprecedented famines and pandemics. These are not negative tropes, they are scientific realities.

    The incredibly stupid ‘positive’ tropes such as the belief that perpetual growth of the economy through ever increasing population growth is the only way to maintain ever improving human living standards has put not just our future, but the future of every other living thing on this planet in jeopardy. It is not sustainable. It is a guarantee of an anthropogenic mass extinction event. Those disastrous fires that scientists so accurately predicted as a consequence of man made global warming wiped out a fifth of Australia’s wildlife population. How many more of these events do you think it will take to wipe out the rest. All because of the demands of overpopulation.

  3. andyfiftysix

    B Sullivan, as much as i think the population needs to decrease a bit to be sustainable, the latest stats show that it will reach a point where the populations as a whole will decrease. The greatest cause of population growth is POVERTY. Increasing the australian population is not going to cause global overpopulation. In fact , it alleviates some of the burden the rest of the globe carries. Having a sparsely populated australia IS NOT going to stop any global disaster. I think its morally wrong to think that isolation is somehow a magic fix all. Its a global problem that needs global attention, yea i get it, we are but a drop in the bucket…….go tell the tax man when you dont want to pay your fair share cause its too small….Only an idiot will keep using that arguement.
    Perpetual growth, yes i agree its a pretty stupid ideology. Resources wars? I personally dont think it will happen. Small pockets of resistance like palestine and israel, sure. Ecological collapse and mass famines yes a possibility but thats one area the “market” does work. Supply and demand, surprisingly can be made to work.

    the media has a lot to answer for. Peddaling falsehoods for the last 40yrs hasnt improved anything, in fact things have gotten worse as we accepted their ideology. Politicians have been all to eager to amplify those fuckwit voices. Couched in terms that imply authority and certainty. Its about time they were called out. We have living proof that economics as espoused by people like Kennet and Howard are no good for us. Yet the media in its frenzy wants us to keep going. Who are these immoral and narcistic hacks that just dont want to see the reality on the ground?

    the cult of even handed debates still rages. Yes i understand we all see things differently from our perspective but some things are surely non negotiable. Facts dont lie, wilful ignorance to get attention and notoriety doesnt give you a right to twist the truth in any “even handed debate”. And yes there are lots of people out there who are all to willing to gain noteriety by any means possible.

  4. New England Cocky

    Perhaps the optimal solution to the mainstream media owned by American citizens is to completely ignore those media products. I could never understand why Foxsmell television was beamed into parliamentary offices when it has only about three percent (3%) of the national viewing audience. Cut Foxsmell out of the Parliamentary bubble and the nation will benefit.
    Newspaper readership is more difficult. The Daily Bellylaugh has a historic role as the news source for workers travelling on the NSW suburban rail & bus networks, having page size and editorial instructions to encourage easy reading.
    The Murdoch move to Internet paywalls was a financial decision that may backfire when consumers encourage all their friends to get better informed, more accurate news information from independent media like AIMN.
    Mainstream media scribblers are naturally lazy and too frequently regurgitating press release handout propaganda from corporations intent on achieving their own agendas rather than conduct investigations as the historic fourth estate due to the cost to publishers of exposing political and corporate antics against the best interests of Australian voters.

  5. Harry Lime

    Waiting for the ‘walk and chew gum at the same time’ Albo government to institute a Royal Commission into the Muckrake .Meeja….nah easier to just keep bullshitting about everything else.
    Nice illustration of knucklehead having his first gaslight idea.Anyone who has been outsmarted by Morrison should be ashamed to show their face in public,but not our boy Petey…he’s too clever for that.Between him and his deputy mouth,they are giving an excellent portrayal of an escaped clown act.As yet no circus has admitted liability.

  6. Centrelink customer

    Services Australia reduced my payments and issued debt letters even though I was eligible for a higher rate of benefits (with dependent child). Their internal review was made by an anonymous delegate /officer with no phone number provided. They also issued 2 debt notices to return all of my rent assistance (around $4700) for over a year , including the RA base rate (no dependent child). They told I was not eligible for the RA base rate (no dependent child) because it was paid through Family Assistance Office.

    I reported the abuse to Australian Counsil of Social Services (ACOSS), and they referred me to Economic Justice Australia. I really wonder what actions ACOSS should take in response to reports of illegal debt scheme targeting Centrelink customers. Why Services Australia did not provide me with a formal review made by an Authorised Review Officer?

    The Attorney General Department confirmed my report of illegal debt scheme. Then stated: “The matters you raised do not fall within the Attorney-Generals portfolio responsibilities so your correspondence has been referred to the Department of Social Services for their information and response as appropriate”. Why Mr Mark Dreyfus is not responsible for illegal debt schemes run by Servies Australia?

  7. Michael Taylor

    Cs, that’s cruel. I feel for you.

    In a previous life I was a public servant working on social security legislation and litigation.

    On the latter, we were instructed to appeal EVERY finding that ruled in favour of the Centrelink recipient in the SSAT or the AAT that involved a $500 or more loss for the government. Each appeal would cost $5,000, but we had to “teach the welfare recipient a lesson.”

    No need to mention that at the time we had the Howard government.

    When Rudd was elected in 2007 our new minister was quick to note the absurdity of forking out $5,000 of taxpayer’s money to chase $500 (which also put unnecessary stress on the poor victim).

    And what a relief this newfound humanity in government was for us public servants.

  8. Centrelink customer

    Thank you very much for your response, Michael.

    I have 2 separate review decisions. One decision (CSA debt) was made by an anonymous delegate/officer, and another decision (FTB debt) by an Authorised Review Officer who did not disclose his family name. The ARO waived $3698.90 (the base rate of my Rent Assistance) due to “special circumstances”.The review says: “Having found that you were not eligible to receive FTB rent assistance for the relevant period, it is incumbent upon me to consider the amount of rent assistance that would otherwise have been payable as a component of your jobseeker payment”. That was in 2022.

    Recently they sent me another FTB debt notice $392, most of which (around $340) is the base rate of Rent Assistance. None of the 2 FTB debt letters mentioned Rent Assistance while the total amount of Rent Assistance was $4748.49.

    Can ACOSS CEO Cassandra Goldie comment this?

  9. frances

    Incisive, scary, clarifying – thank you James.

  10. Canguro

    Hard to know where to park a significant story like this given the current focus on the upcoming referendum on The Voice; still, as it’s said, every dog has its day, and hopefully Michael Pezzullo’s are soon to be over. Being nothing more than a relatively disinterested observer of this country’s political shenanigans, Pezullo’s various appearances at Senate enquiries always struck me as the measured theatrics of a man who acted as if he were above & beyond, merely a professional bureaucrat doing what he was charged to do. Given the Achille’s heels to which we are all subject, it comes as no surprise that this machiavellian apparatchik had a hidden agenda.

    As the SMH suggests, his position is no longer tenable. Good riddance, ought to be the cry!

  11. Terence Mills


    You’re right about this unfolding story – it’s dynamite for the so called impartial , non-partisan public service and potentially for our constitutional and democratic arrangements.

    Here we have a senior unelected official acting as a political manipulator and puppet master trying to influence and succeeding to have ministerial positions filled by the people he wanted and presumably people he considered that he could influence on matters of policy.

    Where were the whistle blowers ?

  12. Canguro

    More on ‘Ello, Ello, I’m Mike Pezzullo, cock of the rock, king of kings and lord of lords, listen to me and do as I say or be put to the sword each day by day. I’m the man, I’m number one, politicians are fine but they’re mostly dumb. If they had a brain like mine they might be fine, but they’re mostly fools and useless tools. Ha fucking ha!’

    And good to see the Albanese government has acted swiftly and appropriately in suspending this man’s duties; look forward to his swift resignation and what, if anything, he might add to the story should he wish to comment on what is most certainly a massive overreach in his professional role.

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