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John Pilger: How the Murdoch press keeps Australia’s dirty secret

News Corp papers across the world propagate the myth that prejudice has no effect on the lives of modern-day Aboriginal people.

The illegal eavesdropping on well-known people by the News of the World is said to be Rupert Murdoch's Watergate. But is it the crime by which Murdoch ought to be known? In his native land, Australia, Murdoch controls 70 per cent of the capital city press and the only national newspaper. Australia is the world's first murdochracy, in which smear by media is power.

The most enduring and insidious Murdoch campaign has been against the Aboriginal people, who were dispossessed by the arrival of the British in the late 18th century and have never been allowed to recover. "Nigger hunts" continued into the 1960s and beyond. The officially inspired theft of children from Aboriginal families, justified by the racist theories of the eugenics movement, produced those known as the Stolen Generation and in 1997 was identified as genocide. Today, the first Australians have the shortest life expectancy of any of the world's 90 indigenous peoples. Australia imprisons Aborigines at five times the rate South Africa jailed black people during the apartheid years. In the state of Western Australia, the figure is eight times the apartheid rate.

Return of the noble savage

Political power in Australia often rests in the control of resource-rich land. Most of the uran­ium, iron ore, gold, oil and natural gas is in Western Australia and the Northern Territory - on Aboriginal land. Indeed, Aboriginal "prog­ress" is all but defined by the mining industry and its political guardians in both Labor and coalition (conservative) governments. Their faithful, strident voice is the Murdoch press. The exceptional, reformist Labor government of Gough Whitlam in the 1970s set up a royal commission that made clear that social justice for Australia's first people would be achieved only with universal land rights and a share in the national wealth with dignity. In 1975, Whitlam was sacked by the governor general in a "constitutional coup". The Murdoch press had turned on the prime minister with such venom that rebellious journalists on the Australian burned their newspaper in the street.

In 1984, the Labor Party "solemnly pledged" to finish what Whitlam had begun and legislate Aboriginal land rights. This was opposed by the then Labor prime minister, Bob Hawke, a "mate" of Rupert Murdoch. Hawke blamed the public for being "less compassionate"; but a secret, 64-page report to the party showed that most Australians supported land rights. It was leaked to the Australian, whose front page declared, "Few support Aboriginal land rights", the opposite of the truth, thus feeding an atmosphere of self-fulfilling distrust, "backlash" and rejection of rights that might have distinguished Australia from South Africa.

In 1988, an editorial in Murdoch's Sun in London described "the Abos" as "treacherous and brutal". This was condemned by the UK Press Council as "unacceptably racist". The Australian publishes long articles that present Aboriginal people not unsympathetically but as perennial victims of each other, an "entire culture committing suicide", or as noble primitives requiring firm direction: the eugenicist's view. It promotes Aboriginal "leaders" who, by blaming their own people for their poverty, tell the white elite what it wants to hear. The writer Michael Brull parodied this: "O White man, please save us. Take away our rights because we are so backward."

This is also the government's view. In railing against what it called the "black armband view" of Australia's past, the conservative government of John Howard encouraged and absorbed the views of white supremacists - that there was no genocide, no Stolen Generation, no racism; indeed, white people are the victims of "liberal racism". A collection of far-right journalists, minor academics and hangers-on became the Antipodean equivalent of David Irving Holocaust deniers. Their platform has been the Murdoch press.


Andrew Bolt, columnist on Murdoch's Melbourne Herald Sun tabloid, is the defendant in a racial vilification case brought by nine prominent Aborigines, including Larissa Behrendt, a professor of law and indigenous studies in Sydney. Behrendt has been an authoritative and outspoken opponent of Howard's 2007 "emergency intervention" in the Northern Territory, which the Labor government of Julia Gillard has reinforced. The rationale to "intervene" was that child abuse among Aborigines was in "unthinkable numbers". This was a fraud. Out of 7,433 Aboriginal children examined by doctors, four possible cases were identified - about the rate of child abuse in white Australia. There is an old-fashioned colonial grab of mineral-rich land in the Northern Territory where Aboriginal land rights were granted in 1976.

The Murdoch press has been the most lurid and vociferous in promoting the "intervention", which a United Nations special rapporteur has condemned for its racial discrimination. Once again, Australian politicians are dispossessing the first inhabitants, demanding leasehold of land in return for health and education rights that white people take for granted and driving them into "economically viable hubs" where they will be effectively detained - a form of apartheid.

The despair and outrage of most Aboriginal people is not heard. For using her institutional voice and exposing the government's black supporters, Larissa Behrendt has been subjected to a vicious campaign of innuendo in the Murdoch press, including the implication that she is not a "real" Aborigine. Deploying the language of its soulmate the Sun, the Australian derides the "abstract debate" of "land rights, apologies, treaties" as a "moralising mumbo-jumbo spreading like a virus". The aim is to silence those who dare tell Australia's dirty secret.

John Pilger, renowned investigative journalist and documentary film-maker, is one of only two to have twice won British journalism's top award; his documentaries have won academy awards in both the UK and the US. In a New Statesman survey of the 50 heroes of our time, Pilger came fourth behind Aung San Suu Kyi and Nelson Mandela. "John Pilger," wrote Harold Pinter, "unearths, with steely attention facts, the filthy truth. I salute him."

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No, IDS, welfare isn't a path to wealth. Quite the opposite, in fact

Far from being a lifestyle choice, welfare is all too often a struggle for survival.

Iain Duncan Smith really is the gift that keeps on giving. You get one bile-filled giftbag of small-minded, hypocritical nastiness and, just when you think it has no more pain to inflict, off comes another ghastly layer of wrapping paper and out oozes some more. He is a game of Pass the Parcel for people who hate humanity.

For reasons beyond current understanding, the Conservative party not only let him have his own department but set him loose on a stage at their conference, despite the fact that there was both a microphone and an audience and that people might hear and report on what he was going to say. It’s almost like they don’t care that the man in charge of the benefits system displays a fundamental - and, dare I say, deliberate - misunderstanding of what that system is for.

IDS took to the stage to tell the disabled people of Britain - or as he likes to think of us, the not “normal” people of Britain -  “We won’t lift you out of poverty by simply transferring taxpayers’ money to you. With our help, you’ll work your way out of poverty.” It really is fascinating that he was allowed to make such an important speech on Opposite Day.

Iain Duncan Smith is a man possessed by the concept of work. That’s why he put in so many hours and Universal Credit was such a roaring success. Work, when available and suitable and accessible, is a wonderful thing, but for those unable to access it, the welfare system is a crucial safety net that keeps them from becoming totally impoverished.

Benefits absolutely should be the route out of poverty. They are the essential buffer between people and penury. Iain Duncan Smith speaks as though there is a weekly rollover on them, building and building until claimants can skip into the kind of mansion he lives in. They are not that. They are a small stipend to keep body and soul together.

Benefits shouldn’t be a route to wealth and DWP cuts have ensured that, but the notion that we should leave people in poverty astounds me. The people who rely on benefits don’t see it as a quick buck, an easy income. We cannot be the kind of society who is content to leave people destitute because they are unable to work, through long-term illness or short-term job-seeking. Without benefits, people are literally starving. People don’t go to food banks because Waitrose are out of asparagus. They go because the government has snipped away at their benefits until they have become too poor to feed themselves.

The utter hypocrisy of telling disabled people to work themselves out of poverty while cutting Access to Work is so audacious as to be almost impressive. IDS suggests that suitable jobs for disabled workers are constantly popping out of the ground like daisies, despite the fact that his own government closed 36 Remploy factories. If he wants people to work their way out of poverty, he has make it very easy to find that work.

His speech was riddled with odious little snippets digging at those who rely on his department. No one is “simply transferring taxpayers’ money” to claimants, as though every Friday he sits down with his card reader to do some online banking, sneaking into people’s accounts and spiriting their cash away to the scrounging masses. Anyone who has come within ten feet of claiming benefits knows it is far from a simple process.

He is incredulous that if a doctor says you are too sick to work, you get signed off work, as though doctors are untrained apes that somehow gained access to a pen. This is only the latest absurd episode in DWP’s ongoing deep mistrust of the medical profession, whose knowledge of their own patients is often ignored in favour of a brief assessment by an outside agency. IDS implies it is yes-no question that GPs ask; you’re either well enough to work or signed off indefinitely to leech from the state. This is simply not true. GPs can recommend their patients for differing approaches for remaining in work, be it a phased return or adapted circumstances and they do tend to have the advantage over the DWP’s agency of having actually met their patient before.

I have read enough stories of the callous ineptitude of sanctions and cuts starving the people we are meant to be protecting. A robust welfare system is the sign of a society that cares for those in need. We need to provide accessible, suitable jobs for those who can work and accessible, suitable benefits for those who can’t. That truly would be a gift that keeps giving.