Flat White

The Greenhouse Effect vs. The Ultimo Effect

2 February 2021

12:00 PM

2 February 2021

12:00 PM

One of the most intelligent and insightful humans to have ever walked the face of the earth is American economist and social commentator Thomas Sowell.  It was Sowell who first identified the Greenhouse Effect. 

Sowell’s Greenhouse Effect has nothing to do with carbon emissions or climate change.  It is rather the observation that, over time, conservative US Supreme Court Justices tend to move to the left because they are influenced by and seek the approval of the left-leaning mainstream media.  The effect is named for Linda Greenhouse, a Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times journalist who wrote about the US Supreme Court for 40 years. 

Washington D.C. Court of Appeals Judge Laurence Silberman, in a speech in 1992, described the nature of the New York Times’ Supreme Court coverage as seeking to “put activist heat on recently appointed Supreme Court justices.”

Well, Australia seems to have its own such effect, the Ultimo Effect which similarly seeks to nudge the behavior and views of (so called) conservative appointments to the ABC board to the left.  Or more precisely, the Ultimo Effect is the tendency of ABC Chairman and Directors to move to the left because they are influenced by and seek the approval of ABC staff and their support networks and proxies. 

Granted correlation does not necessarily establish policy, but let’s just take a sample of ABC Chairmen appointed by “Liberal” Governments: 

  • Donald McDonald appointed by the Howard Government in 1996 
  • Maurice Newman appointed by the Howard Government in 2007 
  • Justin Milne appointed by the Turnbull Government in 2017 
  • Ita Buttrose appointed by the Morrison Government in 2019 

Draw your own conclusion as to the performance of each of these. 

But the Ultimo Effect does not seem to end at the Chairman’s office.  It seems just as effective on regular directors.  Take one recent Board appointee, Mr Joseph Gersh, appointed to the ABC board in 2018 by the Turnbull Government.  According to Mr Gersh’s biography on the ABC website: 

Joe Gersh practised law for 20 years as a senior partner and has had significant business experience with a range of public and private companies. He is currently the founder and Executive Chairman of Gersh Investment Partners Ltd, a specialist real estate investment bank.  He is also a director of The Sydney Institute. From 2003–12, he was the inaugural Chair of the Australian Reinsurance Pool Corporation, and was a member of the Payments System Board of the Reserve Bank of Australia between 1998 and 2013.  Joe has also held numerous board positions in the arts community, including Deputy Chair of the Australia Council.

Now there is nowhere in Mr Gersh’s biography that actually says that Mr Gersh is a “conservative”.  However, being appointed by the Howard Government to the RBA Payment System Board (essentially one down from the main RBA board) and being on the Sydney Institute board might lead some to come to such a determinations.  And Mr Gersh has self-declared his “centre-right bias”. 

Yet in the space of two months, Mr Gersh has written two opinion pieces in two of Australia’s main newspapers, not just defending the ABC, but seeking to dismiss its critics like a pyromaniac in a field of strawmen. 

On 17 November 2020 in the Australian, Mr Gersh asserted: 

The ABC does not require redemption; it accepts constructive criticism but needs support and stable funding. 

There is ample evidence to the contrary that ABC accepts “constructive criticism”.  Nevertheless, on 31 January 2021, Mr Gersh further asserted that: 

The prominence of a public broadcaster committed to impartiality is a countervailing force against anti-democratic forces. 

Yes.  You read that correctly.  According to ABC Board director Mr Joseph Gersh, the ABC is essential for Australia’s democracy. 

Well… Dear Mr Gersh. Australia had a democracy before the ABC and should the ABC disappear or become more accountable, rest assured that Australia would still have a democracy.  And whilst it may be a surprise to those in the ABC bunker, there are plenty of nations that have democracies without a taxpayer funded broadcaster, including pre- and post-Trump America. There are even democracies that do have a public broadcasters but have broadcasters that are better governed and are more accountable than is the ABC. 

Mr Gersh’s latest defence of the ABC both starts, middles and ends with nonsense.   

This is Gersh’s opening paragraph: 

Critics of the ABC, including the Federal Communications Minister Paul Fletcher, have attacked the headline (since amended) of an online article detailing Australia Day events. The article included events marking what for many has become known as “Invasion Day”.

Since amended. Nice touch Mr Gersh. If there was not a problem organisationally or culturally, why did the article need amending?  

Then there is the usual reflexive response: 

It is not true there are no conservative voices at the ABC (although there could be more) and the assertion there are no conservative producers is without evidence.

One day those that wield this trope will actually name those conservatives voices at the ABC.  Who are they please? Who and where are they? Oh and for the avoidance of doubt, conservatives voices are not those to the right of former Australian Communist Party Member Phillip Adams. 

Then Mr Gersh closes with this: 

The ABC is part of the “settlement”, a broad consensus across all major parties as to the type of Australia we all want. We can’t meaningfully separate the components of what makes up the ABC – a rural and regional focus, a commitment to emergency broadcasting, its commitment to kids, the arts and at the same time a determination to retain the credibility, trust and affection in which it is held.

That the ABC is part of a “broad consensus across all major parties” is probably news to many Australian and major party members, particularly those not consulted. 

Mr Gersh finally claims that: 

Our job is to build on that consensus and protect and defend democracy and threats to civil discourse. 

Presumably when Mr Gersh writes “our job”, he is referring to the ABC and its board.  Nonetheless, such a claim is not only the hide of arrogance but it suggests that there is an actual consensus about the role and reach of the ABC.   

More to the point, if the ABC really wants to claim democracy defending credentials, it might first diversify its presented political opinions and second, it might propose replacing its fixed Government budget allocation with an optional subscription fee. 

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