I was in a cheap overnighter in Launceston on March 18, with screaming druggies or drunks two floors higher ditching their Chinese take-away tubs onto my landing. It was like a scene from a profanity-laden Tarantino movie. Seeking more cerebral things I switched on the TV to savour ABCTV Tasmania’s 7pm flagship news.
It goes without saying that the ABC is campaigning to rid the land of Morrison’s conservative government come May. I was also conscious that Tasmania, with about the same population as the ACT or Newcastle, sports six MHRs and twelve Senators.
But who’d have thought that ABCTV 7pm News (Tas) would be experimenting with subliminal messaging to smear the Prime Minister, and maybe divert Tasmanians’ attention from Penny Wong and her “mean girls” in the Senate?
Subliminal messaging involves flashing a visual cue so quickly that viewers are hardly aware of it. An example was the gin brand that showed a poured glass with the word “SEX” hidden in the ice cubes. That was a riff on the Ogden Nash poem, “Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker.”
In the ABCTV (Tas) case, the item involved the Hillsong Church admitting indiscretions by its former head, Brian Houston. These involved an inappropriate text to a woman parishioner in 2013 and a 40-minute alcohol and medication-fuelled visit to a woman’s hotel room during the Hillsong July 2019 conference in NSW. Both the woman and Houston said no sexual activity took place. Whatever did take place remains a mystery, akin to the 18-minute gap in Richard Nixon’s Watergate tapes.
While these unsavoury Hillsong incidents were recounted by newsreader Guy Stayner, ABC back-office activists spliced in two seconds showing Scott Morrison and wife Jenny Morrison onstage with then-Pastor Brian Houston. The clip then focuses in for another two seconds to show Morrison hand-shaking Houston.
What is the context for introducing the recently-elected Prime Minister into the scene? There is none: viewers are invited to imagine whatever they like about it and Morrison’s choice of friend. Me? I think the subliminal message was designed as follows:
1/ PM Scott Morrison is religious and therefore a bit creepy by ABC standards.
2/ He goes to a big Hillsong ceremony and schmoozes with the pastor the church now outs as doing two creepy things
3/ Scotty from Marketing therefore has two strikes against him and viewers should definitely not vote for this creepy conservative leader next May.
My transcript of the item’s relevanty passages is below.
Guy Stayner: The head of the Hillsong Church has told a staff meeting that two women had complained about the founder of the Church Pastor Brian Houston. In a video conference meeting today Pastor Phil Dooley said a female staff member left Hillsong after Mr Houston sent her an inappropriate text message in 2013. Pastor Dooley said that a second woman complained about Brian Houston after he spent 40 minutes in her hotel room while under the influence of alcohol and anti-anxiety medication during a Hillsong conference in Sydney in 2019.
Dooley: The truth is we don’t know exactly what happened next. This woman has not said there was any sexual activity. Brian has said there was no sexual activity, but he was in the room for 40 minutes.”
(ABC backroom activists insert two seconds of a distant PM Morrison and Jenny greeting Pastor Houston.)
Stayner: Pastor Dooley said the allegations were treated seriously and Mr Houston had apologised for his indiscretion.
(ABC activists switch the vision to close-up of Morrison and Houston shaking hands.)
Stayner: He (Dooley) denied that Hillsong board had tried to cover up the incident. (#Item ends).
At the weekend I checked other state ABCTV 7pm bulletins. Victoria, SA and Queensland ignored Hillsong, but on ABCTV NSW newsreader Kirsten Aiken delivered the same item as Tasmania. Doubtless it was created by the NSW team and recycled via ABC Tasmania to my seedy Launceston bed-sitter.
The subliminal Hillsong item is the latest in the ABC’s vendetta against Morrison. His personal and family life is blameless, unlike, say, Labor’s Prime Minister Bob Hawke, who ran around forcefully propositioning females who today would be called “Hawke survivors”. Instead the ABC runs “guilt by association” hit-jobs against Morrison based on his friendships, which I’ll concede can be peculiar. The ABC attacks have been led by its own mean-girl trio Louise Milligan, Sally Neighbour and Laura Tingle (I’m not suggesting they bullied Morrison, he can look after himself).
The ABC concedes that both the Liberal and Labor leaders for decades have cultivated Hillsong leaders and members, given the megachurch’s large following. The newly-elected Morrison thanked Hillsong leaders including Brian Houston in his maiden speech in 2008.
First, I’ll fill in the context to Morrison’s appearance with Pastor Houston at the 2019 Hillsong conference. Second, I’ll set out the ABC’s previous “guilt by association” gotcha involving Morrison, Pastor Houston and a Washington DC State dinner. Thirdly, let’s not forget the infamous Louise Milligan/Four Corners attempt to stitch up Morrison as allegedly suckered in by mates to do the bidding of conspiracy mob QAnon.
The Hillsong Conference
“We pray, Lord, that you will break the curse of suicide in this country,” the church account reported him, mentioning his plea for intervention against the mental illnesses driving self-harm. “He stood next to his wife, Jenny, and Hillsong Church Australia pastor Brian Houston as he addressed the crowd for roughly 10 minutes.” Other Morrison prayers addressed veterans, young people, remote and indigenous people, and protection of religious freedom.
Defining a miracle as something “the world can’t see but God can see,” Morrison shared how one of his two daughters was born on 7/7/2007 after the couple had struggled with infertility and waited 17 years to have a child.
“[Pastor Brian] Houston asked the political leader what believers in Australia could be praying for the Prime Minister and his wife. Morrison asked the crowd to pray for humility in leadership, for wisdom, and for grace. ‘Grace is amazing’, he said with a smile. He ended his speech by emphatically stating “God bless Australia.”
The Washington DC State Dinner:
In September 2019 Morrison was scheduled for the honor of a State dinner with President Trump and Trump-selected guests at the White House’s Rose Garden. A Wall Street Journal reporter Vivian Salama sussed out that Morrison persistently asked for Hillsong Pastor Brian Houston to be invited only to have the White House refuse the requests. The ABC’s reporting was that Salama had been told by her contacts that the White House might have learned about Australian police investigations of Houston for allegedly having failed to report historic sex abuse evidence involving his late father, Frank, and a young male. The ABC reported, buried in its 33rd para,
There is no suggestion that the Prime Minister was aware of the police investigation into Mr Houston at the time.
This rather knocks the stuffing out of its would-be gotcha. But at the time, Morrison parried questions about Houston and the state dinner as “minor gossip”. Then, five months later, he confirmed he had put forward Houston’s name with others, some of whom the White House also declined to accept. He said he had known Mr Houston for a “long time”, and Hillsong had a “very big network of churches all across the United States”.
He declined to comment further on what he called “the decisions of a foreign government.” He’s also not commenting on the charges against Brian Houston. Houston denies the charges and will fight them in court.
The ABC’s would-be QAnon stitch-up.
On June 14, 2021, after hosing down doubts by ABC managing director David Anderson, Four Corners ran Sally Neighbour’s and Louise Milligan’s beat-up, “The Great Awakening”. It was about Morrison supposedly being in thrall to his old mate Tim Stewart who Four Corners said had become a QAnon conspiracist about global satanic paedophiles. Tim Stewart’s wife, Lynelle, was a long-standing friend from high school of Jenny, Morrison’s wife. Jenny had been Lynelle’s maid of honour and Lynelle was Jenny’s bridesmaid. Lynelle, to late 2020, helped Jenny as a staffer with kids and household affairs at Kirribilli. Morrison invited Tim to Parliament to hear his 2008 maiden speech.
Four Corners’ narrative was that Tim Stewart bragged to his fellow conspiracists at QAnon that he had access and influence with the Prime Minister. According to Stewart, he somehow got Morrison to include a QAnon code-phrase “ritual sexual abuse” into his 2018 national apology to survivors of institutional child sexual abuse.
All this was well-ventilated old news anyway and Four Corners just warmed it over with embellishments. Morrison’s people responded that the word “ritual” in the speech was normal usage and not QAnon-related.
The bulk of the story was the anti-Tim Stewart wing of the Stewart family cataloguing the alleged poor behaviour of Tim and his son, Jesse, under the influence of the QAnon cultists. The anti-Stewart wing included Tim’s mother, Val, and husband Brian and in particular Tim’s sister, Karen.
As Louise Milligan put it, “Val and Brian Stewart and their daughter Karen have decided to speak out as a warning to others.”
Morrison, judging by Milligan’s phrasing, briefed Four Corners off the record but refused comment on the record. He then announced,
I find it deeply offensive that there would be any suggestion that I would have any involvement or support for such a dangerous organisation. I clearly do not. It’s also just so very disappointing that Four Corners in their inquiries seek to cast this aspersion, not just against me but against members of my only family. I just think that is really poor form.
In the Senate, Labor’s Penny Wong had tried several times to make mileage over Tim Stewart’s friendship with Morrison. The government response was basically that Morrison’s friendships were a personal and not an official matter.
Karen Stewart told Four Corners she had been repeatedly sexually assaulted and traumatised at age 14 by two young men from the church community. The church pastor acknowledged the “serious crime” but police said in 2011 they lacked evidence to proceed.
Apropos of Karen, a curious stuff-up or conspiracy occurred within the ABC itself. After the national broadcaster posted its Four Corners transcript online, commenter “Nancy” on my favorite Michael Smith blog read it and accused the ABC of concealing that Karen Stewart was a former State NSW candidate for the Greens Party.
Nancy, 16/6/21: With sisters like that, who needs enemies! ABC was quick enough to let us know about the family relationship, but oh, forgot to mention she is a failed Greens candidate. Nothings changes for me, though, for the last whatever years, I have never trusted the ABC reporters.
“Craig”: I watched the show, it was referenced that the sister ran as a Greens candidate, it was disclosed.
Myself: I’ve searched the transcript, where is the disclosure? I can’t see it but would welcome someone showing me the passage.
Myself (after re-watching on iView): I am baffled as to why the transcript omits the politically-vital statement on the show itself that Karen Stewart is an ex-Greens candidate:
Louise Milligan (on the video clip, but not in the transcript): “Karen ran as a state candidate for the Greens.”
Myself: I immediately sent the following to the ABC complaints panel. Let’s hope there is a prompt reply and fix. Stuff-ups do happen rather than conspiracies and I’ll keep an open mind:
Error/omission in transcript
At 31.39sec of the QAnon program, Ms Milligan says Karen Stewart was a previous Greens candidate. In the transcript on 4 Corners website this is omitted. How did this politically-important misstatement/omission occur? Please correct the transcript and acknowledge this important error.
Prompt reply from ABC:
“Dear Tony, Thank you for your email. We have amended the error and apologise for any inconvenience caused. Thanks for watching and taking the time to write.
Kind regards, The team at Four Corners.”
On reflection, I can’t credit that the ABC crowd just happened to accidentally omit from the transcript the reference to their major source being an ex-Greens candidate, a reference which qualifies the credibility of that whole ‘gotcha’ show. I hope I’m wrong but I assume some idiot or idiots there thought it was a politically-savvy idea to snip the reference. Those at the Louise Milligan/Sally Neighbour level are certainly not idiots nor transparently unethical. The bad deed was probably done by some ABC clown(s) at lower level, oblivious or indifferent that the attention of the ABC from MD David Anderson downwards and the whole Australian political class was focused on this particular program.
Bottom line is that in Scott Morrison we have a very Christian Prime Minister. The ABC smites him on the right cheek, and he restores their funding to 2018 levels with $3.3b for the coming triennium. I’d prefer him to be more of a devil, and by the way, for the ABC to look up its charter for impartiality.
Tony Thomas’ latest essay collection “Foot Soldier in the Culture Wars” ($29.95) is available from publisher ConnorCourt
 The ABC never sneered at the religiosity of Labor’s Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, and venerates Labor’s priapic Prime Minister Bob Hawke. ABC stalwart Barrie Cassidy was Hawke’s personal press secretary from 1986-91. It only dawned on him later that Hawke was having multiple affairs.
 The other states junked the Hillsong story in favor of the umpteenth ABC warning since 1980 that the Barrier Reef is doomed unless we shut down Australia’s coal industry. Its logic-challenged environment reporter, Michael Slezak, said that our greenhouse gases threatened “an outcome that risks losing this global icon for good.” Slezak (ex-far-left Guardian) didn’t mention that coral cover in 2020 was at its record extent in 36 years of measurement.
 “Growing up in a Christian home, I made a commitment to my faith at an early age and have been greatly assisted by the pastoral work of many dedicated church leaders, in particular the Reverend Ray Green and pastors Brian Houston and Leigh Coleman.”
 He also prayed – somewhat too successfully – for an end to the Eastern States drought.
 Morrison: “The crimes of ritual sexual abuse happened in schools, churches, youth groups, Scout troops, orphanages, foster homes.” A spokesperson for the Prime Minister said:
“The term ‘ritual’ is one that the Prime Minister heard directly from the abuse survivors and the National Apology to Victims and Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse Reference Group he met with in the lead up to the Apology and refers not just to the ritualised way or patterns in which so many crimes were committed but also to the frequency and repetition of them”.
The spokesman also said,
“This is a personally motivated slur against the Prime Minister and his family by a Four Corners program that is already facing serious questions about the accuracy, bias and credibility of its journalism, that is now giving credence to irrational Twitter conspiracy theorists and raising the profile of what the Prime Minister clearly deems a discredited and dangerous fringe group.”