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Gadfly 169

By Robert Macklin


In his 2018 Memoir, Reporter, the distinguished American journalist [1] Seymour Hersch, who uncovered the My Lai massacre in Vietnam and the Abu Ghraib scandal in Iraq, wrote these perceptive comments:

‘The newspapers of today far too often rush into print with stories that are essentially little more than tips, or hints of something toxic or criminal. For lack of time, money or skilled staff, we are besieged with the “he said, she said” stories in which the reporter is little more than a parrot. I always thought it was the newspaper’s mission to search out the truth and not merely to report on the dispute…Was there a war crime?’

Happily, the last weeks and months in Australian journalism demonstrate that all is not lost. Against the odds, investigative journalism lives on despite the forces of repression that would bury it forever - most recently the revelations beginning with Brittany Higgins; the friends of Christian Porter’s accuser; Andrew Laming’s victims; and ending (so far) with Christine Holgate’s backlash. They have rocked the powers that be.

And there’s more to come.

Then there’s the great work by a combination of NINE Media’s 60 Minutes program and reporter Nick McKenzie that led to Judge Bergin’s inquiry into Sydney’s Crown Casino which blew James Packer’s board out of the water. Moreover, throughout regional Australia, civic-minded communities and entrepreneurs are starting their own online and hardcopy publications to hold their Councils to account and provide a forum for their readers. More power to them!

But perhaps the most difficult, time-consuming and personally dangerous story has been – and remains – the accusations against a cohort of SAS operatives, and particularly, Ben Roberts-Smith, holder of the prestigious Victoria Cross.

I first heard of him when writing the biography of my friend, Rob Maylor in the bestselling SAS Sniper in 2011. When Rob did the tough ‘Selection’ course in February 2003 he shared a room with ‘RS’. Rob’s wife, Georgina was on hand when they completed the course. In the book, Rob said, ‘George bought some beers, pizza and chocolate biscuits to the main gate of Campbell Barracks and I shared this with RS. I put the biscuits in the fridge for the next day but RS decided to have a midnight snack and ate the whole packet; he is a bloody eating machine.’

Fortunately, they were deployed in different units in Afghanistan where the alleged war crimes took place. Moreover, Roberts-Smith strongly denies any wrongdoing and has sued NINE, the indefatigable Nick McKenzie and the distinguished Chris Masters who have not only broken the story but have persistently brought new elements to public attention despite the threats, lawsuits and unceasing political and official pressure to desist. The ABC has also joined the task with excellent work from reporter Mark Willacy.

However, there is a militarist streak in the Australian community that really doesn’t want to know. It goes back to the earliest colonial days when the Troopers under government orders ‘dispersed’ the Aboriginal peoples in the armed invasion of the continent. It received a huge boost in the propaganda surrounding the British disaster called ANZAC. And the WWII rescue by the USA from the ‘yellow hordes’ sealed the deal.

The horrors of Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan notwithstanding, it lives on and the Morrison Government is aghast at the thought of holding the military to account. Deputy PM Michael McCormack when confronted by the allegations of RS and others partying with the prosthetic leg of a dead Afghan, responded:

Ben Roberts-Smith was sent to Afghanistan, to the Middle East to do a job for and on behalf of Australians. And he certainly did that. He was honoured with the highest award of valour that any Australian could possibly receive. And if there are allegations against him, then they should play out in the proper processes. Everybody is certainly innocent until proven otherwise in this country and the media should respect that and appreciate that there's a lot to play out in this regard.’

Indeed there is.


robert@robertmacklin.com

[1] The difference between a reporter and a journalist? The journalist has two suits.













Robert Macklin has carved out a unique place among Australia’s literary biographers and historians. His Dark Paradise swept aside the curtain of euphemism to expose the horror of colonial sadism on the penal colony of Norfolk Island. His monumental history of Australia’s Special Forces – Warrior Elite – is required reading in the fields of Military Security and Intelligence. His best-selling biography, SAS Sniper revealed as never before the battles against Islamist fanatics. And these are just a few of the highlights among his 28 respected and popular works of fiction and non-fiction.

He has won numerous literary prizes including the 2009 Blake Dawson award for business literature with Peter Thompson for their classic THE BIG FELLA – the Rise and Rise of BHP Billiton. His Kevin Rudd: The Biography was shortlisted for the ACT Book of the Year; and he has won three Critics Circle Awards for his military biographies and histories. He has completed a lecture tour of three Chinese universities based on his works and is presently writing a history of Australia/China relations over the last 200 years.

Queensland born, he has been a journalist at the highest level, a confidant and biographer of two Australian prime ministers; a documentary filmmaker in 32 countries of Asia and the Pacific; and is also political columnist and commentator in the nation’s capital. He presently divides his writing time on fiction, non-fiction and screenplays between Canberra and Tuross Head on the NSW South Coast. https://robertmacklin.com/

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