The Truth about Gerard Henderson


In Tuesday’s Sydney Morning Herald, Gerard Henderson moved into wholly unexplored realms of stupidity. His broad point was that there is a recent trend to accuse political opponents as liars. This is his latest excuse for having a go at a few of his favourite targets, including me.

But, sadly, he seems to have over-reached himself. He said:

In the lead-up to the 2004 election, Burnside let it be known that he was thinking of leaving Australia if Howard defeated Latham. He later told readers of the New Matilda website that one of his reasons for staying in Australia was ‘inertia’ since the ‘effort of selling up and moving to New Zealand or Canada and re-establishing a career is formidable.’ Quite so. But a broken promise is a broken promise. On Burnside’s own criteria, such a whopper should be worth a couple of years in the slammer, don’t you think?’

Henderson ‘s starting premise was wrong. It is true that, I was thinking of leaving Australia, and it is true that I wrote about the idea after the election, in a piece for New Matilda in which I said:

In the lead-up to the recent Federal election, I toyed with the idea of leaving Australia if John Howard were re-elected.

But, before the 2004 election, I did not discuss the fact that I was thinking of leaving. Henderson’s mistake is only a small one, but a bit surprising in a journalist obsessed with accuracy.

That little error, however, pales into insignificance when you consider what I did say and what Henderson makes of it.

It is a fact that I toyed with the idea of leaving Australia. In the end, the difficulties of transplanting myself to another country where I would have to qualify again to practise law carried the day, and I stayed. But how could Henderson think that to consider a possibility and reject it involves telling ‘a whopper.’

Let’s tease out what is really going on. It begins with my suggestion at the Future Summit in May that politicians should be held to the same standard of conduct as they demand from the business community. The Trade Practices Act forbids conduct in commerce which is ‘misleading or deceptive or likely to mislead or deceive.’ There is a perception that politicians engage in misleading and deceptive conduct, especially at election time. The proposal I put forward was greeted enthusiastically at the Future Summit, and by members of the public, but not by politicians or the journalists who have a symbiotic relationship with them.

Henderson ‘s piece is scornful of the idea, as is to be expected.

But then his reasoning breaks down.

Let us suppose, for Henderson’s sake, that I had told someone before the 2004 election that I was toying with the idea of leaving Australia if Howard was re-elected. Let us accept the fact that I did not leave. Does this mean that my suggesting a possibility and later rejecting it makes me a liar? Can it seriously be called a ‘whopper’ to toy with an idea and decide against it? Henderson must be working from a different dictionary.

The competing possibilities are that Henderson genuinely believes what he wrote, or he really does not know the difference between truth and falsehood.

It is too hard to imagine that he would misrepresent his true thoughts in a piece about truth (his story is titled, ‘Truck of Truth Hits a Few Potholes’). If we assume, in Henderson’s favour, that he is telling the truth, then it explains his opposition to my idea that there should be sanctions against politicians who lie to us, because Henderson’s idea of a lie would prevent politicians from saying just about anything.

Perhaps it also explains a lot about his writing: he’s just not very bright.

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