The 60 Minutes debate/debacle
26th July 1998

Commentary by Scott Balson, Global Web Builders


It was the day that the pariah of our society, the elite politicians in the major parties (or Laboral), faced the music on 60 Minutes.

They did not do it because they thought they might be upstaged - there appeared to a clearly set agenda between presenter Richard Carlton and the "big business" stooges. One Nation had been advised that this would be the opportunity for One Nation members to present a series of questions to the major parties. The debate was to be moderated by Richard Carlton with Kroger for the Liberals and Richardson for the Labor party.

The following infamous words by Sydney Morning Herald journalist, Margo Kingston, coming to mind:

"Now when you have a man so powerful that he can buy Graeme Richardson to talk the Labor party around and Michael Kroger to talk the Liberal party around, and Howard and Costello and Alston jump to his every need no matter how irrational, no matter how transparently incoherent their arguments, we have a huge problem. And yes, personally I am very scared, personally, of Mr Packer taking over Fairfax."

Richardson and Kroger would represent their respective parties (or was it Kerry Packer) at the debate.

Unfortunately for Laboral even the best planned strategies can come unstuck and below I outline exactly how this happened.

The lead up to the debate:

During the week I was contacted to prepare a set of questions which could be presented to the major parties at a 60 Minutes debate.

On Saturday the 25th July David Oldfield bunkered down in Pauline Hanson's office going through reams of newspaper clippings and Hansard reports looking for chinks in the armour. When I met him at the office at about 1.30pm he was exhausted - having worked non-stop for nearly 24 hours.

What he had achieved was quite exceptional - a list of questions with supporting information by way of press cuttings and extracts from Hansard which would be distributed to selected people within the One Nation audience.

I was advised that a 60 Minutes producer, Steve... would contact me to find out what line of questioning I would like to put to the panel. Sure enough at about 4pm on Saturday afternoon I was contacted by Steve who grilled me on my area of interest. I made it clear that it was to do with the Australian banks... without mentioning the FSIA - which would be my main thrust. About 20 One Nation members were to be contacted in this manner to "ensure that Carlton knew where to direct his debate when issues were raised".

As you will see 60 Minutes changed the rules.

The warm up, Sunday 26th:

One thing that you learn about David Oldfield is that he always prepares for the battle with a studious efficiency which borders on obsession. (Somewhere, someone has accused me of the same thing)...

About 130 One Nation members including a large number of State MPs met at the Parliamentary Annex where the historic weekend had been held some weeks ago.

Here are some images taken at the briefing:

Left to right: Some of the Queensland MPs around the center table; Peter James (State director) and Lynne; Heidi Lewis and Vanessa Stewart; Heather Hill (policy adviser) with husband Ken and kids; Ian Petersen with Heather Hill and state leader Bill Feldman; David Oldfield addressing the gathering before we moved to Channel 9's studios.

The One Nation members filled the large room with the state MPs seated at the main table. At about 1.45pm Bill Feldman addressed the gathering. He was followed by the state MPs - the theme was the same - we need to get our real message out to Australia. The media bias and misreporting was a common theme.

A couple of Australia First white anters were identified in the room during this session and they were summarily kicked out despite loud bleatings of wanting to be there...

David Oldfield arrived just before 2.00pm and launched into a presentation on what to expect at the 60 Minutes debate - how we had been advised it would be run and what not to do. He went through the questions he had prepared and who should take on the role of challenging the panel on the issues.

At just after 2.30pm we left en-masse for the Channel 9 studio at Mt Cootha some 20 minutes drive away.

The "great" debate:

I arrived at the Channel 9 studios. After being approached by Steve to confirm my interest in "banking" I took my seat alongside several state MPs. The seating area was crushed with over 100 One Nation faithful banked in the gallery facing four small podiums. Three grouped for the representatives of the major parties and the fourth slightly off to one side for presenter Richard Carlton.

The debate started at about 3pm shortly after the Laboral team (Labor, National and Liberal representatives) had taken their positions behind the podiums.

Richard Carlton introduced the panel and then the manner in which the debate was to be run. In classic 60 Minutes fashion the rules were changed.

All of the well-briefed One Nation audience rose as one in protest as Carlton started by trying to extract questions from the group on hot issue like Pauline's comments on "the Asianisation of Australia". The level of outrage drowned out his surprised look with Michael Kroger looking decidedly smug... a look which would soon disappear from his face.

Carlton posing for me after the debate - a picture he did not like having taken, and it shows...

When Carlton, after a few minutes of pushing the line, realised that his scam had been found out he put a question to Kroger. He asked Kroger to explain why he called One Nation members ill-informed, racist and stupid.... Kroger launched into a prepared statement on the Liberal Party's policy on refugees.

This created a furore that had been simmering from the time that Carlton's move was recognised as foul play.

Kroger was drowned out with "Answer the question".... he droned on for about a minute with the refugee policy while the outrage spread right through the One Nation group facing him. His was not to be a happy time.

Meanwhile Carlton had completely lost control of the debate and any semblance of respect from those gathered opposite.

What resulted was a series of uninformed comments by the Laboral panel which continued to draw derision from the One Nation gathering. In short the whole thing became a farce. I raised my hand when the issue of the banks was discussed but was clearly ignored by Carlton despite the assurances of Steve who had done the phone around.

In fact what we discovered was that those who had been contacted were those who Carlton would ignore - State director Peter James, normally a very reserved man, had a heated exchange with Carlton who refused to accept his question.

State leader Bill Feldman rose to ask a question with Carlton ignoring him and pointing to an elderly man behind - Feldman being forced to ask the question without being given Carlton's approval...

I joined in the fray - finding the only way I could get a question in was by just standing up and shouting it out... as I said a farce. A farce which will probably be cut and edited to make the One Nation group look like a bunch of hooligans, but anybody there would attest to the dismal failure in Carlton's ethics in following the rules and the patronising attitude of the panel. An attitude which was best summed up by the National Party representative who's unforgettable character resulted in me forgetting his name. He pointed us and said ".... the common Australian"...

Well you could have lifted the roof with the outrage! The fellow, like Kroger had a torrid time. Their lies, lack of understanding in One Nation policy and the resulting outrage from people who were better informed than they were on issues that affect the "common" Australian made the debate a farce.

Graham Richardson faired a lot better because he actually agreed with a lot of what we stood for and said as much and kept mostly to the truth.

Of course the final cutting and editing by the 60 Minutes team will reflect the bias of Channel 9, but one thing is for sure - Carlton's best laid trap fell apart from the moment he tried to lay it on us.

Click on the thumbnail on the right to see the untrue perception of the debate  that has been prepared by 60 Minutes... (screen dump from Channel 9 web site)

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