One of Gerard Henderson’s longest held grudges is about an episode of Lateline which aired in 1975. In his words:
It was in Ashbolt’s time that the ABC phenomenon emerged where debates were held in which everyone agrees with everyone else, including the presenter — all in a leftist way. And so it came to pass on July 14, 1975, when Richard Neville presented a Lateline program on pederasty where three adult men proclaimed what a great idea it was to have sex with boys. No other view was heard on the program.
Not surprisingly, the Lateline program on pederasty was subjected to considerable criticism by, among others, the Reverend Fred Nile (then of the morally conservative Festival of Light) and The Sydney Morning Herald. Needless to say, Nile and his fellow critics were dismissed and ridiculed. In his 1979 book Outside Interference: The Politics of Australian Broadcasting, ABC friend and one-time board member Richard Harding declared that the pederasty program “was too much for the susceptibilities of some worthy citizens”.
However, the most extraordinary intervention in the debate came from the then ABC chairman, Richard Downing. He said that “in general, men will sleep with young boys and that’s the sort of thing the community ought to know about”.
In a letter to The Sydney Morning Herald, published on July 19, 1975, Downing argued that “the phenomenon of pederasty” was “appropriate for public discussion in a society which, if it is to be open, democratic and responsible, needs also to understand the diverse natures of the people who compose that society”.
In other words, Downing stated that pederasty or “boylove” was an acceptable form of sexual behaviour which needed to be understood.
This week, the suppression order was lifted on George Pell’s conviction related to sexual abuse of two children in the 1990s. Gerard Henderson has been one of the people who has consistently criticised those who thought Pell had a case to answer. He has been especially critical of the ABC: ‘It’s all of its own (taxpayer funded) amateur detective work.’ Dr Henderson (for a doctor he is) has not retracted his claims against the ABC now that we can all talk publicly about the conviction.
Instead, Dr Henderson has pivoted to quibbling over microdetails in the commentary about the conviction. Among mainstream conservatives, the possibility that the conviction might be overturned on appeal has become grounds to deny that Pell is actually guilty: ‘The reason there is a court of appeal in criminal cases turns on the fact that juries sometimes make mistakes.’
It would be wrong to say that Dr Henderson is alone in this regard. Sydney lawyer, Gray Connolly — who routinely appears on The Drum to give a ‘conservative perspective’ — spent years claiming that the ABC was pursuing Pell improperly: ‘Media esp ABC hunt for Cardinal Pell stands in distinction to its pursuit of other churches & institutions afflicted by same evils & abuses‘. When the suppression order was lifted, Connolly very broadly interpreted his duties to clients to avoid retracting his earlier claims against the ABC.
But it’s not just those on the fringes of conservative opinion who have been running cover for Pell. Even those well-established in the News Corp stable have been forthcoming with defences for the now convicted Pell.
The argument needs to be stated clearly: Australian conservatism needs to be more than in-group/out-group dynamics, and the Pell conviction has instead demonstrated the moral void at its heart.
Continue reading “A conservative take on the conviction of George Pell”