Historical precedents for Jones' Shamegate


Charles Hughes Cousens Television appearanceThe name Charles Hughes Cousens is not one that has been canvassed at any time during the lamentable and often tawdry apology for debate and discussion that has characterised the more frenzied responses to the Alan Jones affair, but perhaps it should have been.

And so should have 'Section 80.1 of the Australian Criminal Code Act 1995 [which] makes it an offence to cause the death of, or harm to, the Sovereign, the heir apparent, the Governor-General or the Prime Minister'. And, while we're at it, add in, even more remarkably, a statute 'made at Westminster in the Parliament holden in the Feast of Saint Hilary in 1351, the Twenty-fifth Year of the Reign of King Edward the Third'.

As described by Ivan Chapman in The Australian Dictionary of Biography, Cousens, a graduate of the Royal Military College Sandhurst, was commissioned 'on 31 January 1924 and posted to the 2nd Battalion, Sherwood Foresters, in India'. The Foresters, however, lived too high for Cousens and unable 'to afford [their] expensive lifestyle ... he resigned his commission on 29 June 1927 and worked his way to Sydney'.

Various jobs followed, including some time on the wharves, a stint boxing preliminary rounds at a suburban stadium, and newspaper advertising, but he found his niche at last at a radio station — 2GB — and so his story becomes tenuously intertwined with that of Jones, who joined 2GB some 70 years later.

The quality of Cousens' voice, writes Chapman, and 'pleasing personality soon made him a popular announcer ... While uncommitted to any political viewpoint, he delivered a number of anti-communist broadcasts.'

As a Captain in the AIF in the Second World War, he was commended for his leadership but was captured during the fall of Singapore and ended up in the soon-to-be-notorious Changi Prisoner of War camp.

The Japanese, however, having discovered his radio experience, first tried to force him to do propaganda broadcasts then transported him to Japan where he wrote scripts, instructed Japanese radio announcers and worked with the infamous Tokyo Rose.

All this was done, as he always firmly insisted, under threat of torture. In any case the broadcasts were basically ephemeral and full of deliberate errors but also, on occasion, contained subtle information for Allied use.

Cousens was arrested when he returned to Sydney after the war and charged under the 1351 Statute with treason — a capital offence. Newspapers called it the 'Treason Trial' and, among many assorted slanders, the Canberra Times labelled him 'Australia's Lord Haw Haw'.

Flaws in the evidence led to the charge being dropped. The option of a court martial was then keenly proposed by some sections of the military but abandoned because it 'would have the appearance of persecution and would thus be politically inexpedient'. In the end, military authorities stripped Cousens of his commission, a last ditch humiliation so patently vindictive that it ennobled rather than diminished him.

Cousens' plight while a prisoner of the Japanese was strikingly similar to that of British author P. G. Wodehouse — the creator of Jeeves and Bertie Wooster among others.

As George Orwell puts it in his 1945 essay 'In Defence of P. G. Wodehouse': 'When the Germans made their rapid advance through Belgium in the early summer of 1940, they captured, among other things, Mr P. G. Wodehouse, who had been living throughout the early part of the war in his villa at Le Touquet, and seems not to have realised until the last moment that he was in any danger.'

Placed initially under house arrest, Wodehouse was moved to Berlin when the Germans — like the Japanese dealing with Cousens half a world away — realised that his literary talents, like Cousens' broadcasting experience, could be turned to useful propaganda.

'On 25 June 1941,' Orwell writes, 'the news came that Wodehouse ... was living at the Adlon Hotel in Berlin. On the following day the public was astonished to learn that he had agreed to do some broadcasts of a 'non-political' nature over the German radio.'

In a brilliant analysis of Wodehouse, his mentality and the imaginative world of his comic novels, Orwell demonstrates conclusively 'that the events of 1941 do not convict Wodehouse of anything worse than stupidity', that 'his moral outlook remained that of a public-school boy' and that, in considering his actions, one must allow for 'Wodehouse's complete lack ... of political awareness'.

Nevertheless, the dogs were loose. Journalist William ' Cassandra' Connor , the leading 'shock jock' of his day, accused Wodehouse of 'selling his country', of being a 'Quisling', and of 'worshipping the Führer'. A traitor, in short, who should be executed. A belated rapprochement 30 years later did not attract Wodehouse home and he died aged 93 in New York.

Cousens' ordeal as the target of a treason-baying press and its parallel in Wodehouse's victimisation by the vulpine Cassandra, lie in the distant but pointed background to Jones' assault on Prime Minister Julia Gillard. His odious reference to the death of her father, obliquely reprised by Tony Abbott in Parliament, was only the most infamous and reviled of his several slurs.

Enrolling Gillard in the Cousens-Wodehouse line, though no doubt unconsciously, Jones has made the Cassandra-like claim that Gillard's behaviour in imposing the carbon price 'borders on the treasonous' and, apparently impatient with the modern wishy-washy attitude to treason, agreed with one of his callers advocating a return to the more stringent methods of the past: 'Yeah, that's it. Bring back the guillotine!'

Whatever Gillard's 'crimes', 'treason' is surely too strong a word to describe them. On the other hand, consider again Section 80.1 of the Australian Criminal Code Act 1995 which makes it 'an offence to cause ... harm to ... the Prime Minister' — in light of this, it seems Jones might be, as the detectives say, a person of interest.

Brian Matthews headshotBrian Matthews is the award winning author of A Fine and Private Place, The Temple Down the Road and Manning Clark — A Life

Topic tags: Brian Matthews, Alan Jones



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Existing comments

Yes, an interesting and pertinent take on the 'died of shame' debacle - although in Ms Gillard's case there seems to be no serious suggestion that she has gone over to the enemy, rather that she IS the enemy. The big difference, though, on this occasion, is that the public's engagement with the social media has allowed us to raise a ruckus about the way Alan Jones and several other prominent journalists, and Tony Abbott and his parliamentary colleagues have been behaving towards the PM. I have been following the whole shemozzle with great interest, and it does seem that, painful as all this must have been to the PM, her detractors have lost a lot of credibility. Tony Abbott, in particular, has shown signs of desperation - wheeling out his family of 'strong women' and parading them about; the badly misjudged and truly revolting 'died of shame' remark; the electricity invoice from the dear old lady from WA which was supposed to show that the bad old carbon tax had more than doubled her bill, but only showed that she had almost dooubled her usage. Etc. I'm one who truly enjoys the fact that social media give the public the opportunity to applaud and decry, and to hold powerful people to account.

Kate Ahearne | 12 October 2012  

Thak you for the timely reminder on Charles Cousins.We, the people, needed that.

Bev Smith | 12 October 2012  

It’s difficult to bring back the guillotine when you never had it in the first place. Beheading has never been an official form of capital punishment in Australia, thanks be, and hanging by the neck went out after Sir Henry Bolte’s disgraceful politicking and a campaign to end the practice. (All praise to Barry Jones and Friends!) The question of the protection of the good office of Prime Minister is not often discussed in Australian life. Bob Hawke (never knighted) was one PM who had the populist light touch about the office, until people actually started making fun of him and it. The result was a spluttering Hawke who suddenly wanted to defend the office of PM from the mere razzing of the hoi polloi. It was quite a sight. Once greatness was thrust upon him he seemed rather to like greatness. It is worth knowing what damage the Jones ‘shame’ attacks and similar abuses actually have on the PM of the day. We expect our leaders to live with a balanced sense of judgement: how much does this sort of attack affect their ability to think straight on a daily basis?

PHILIP HARVEY | 12 October 2012  

Anyone wanting to read more about Cousens and his treatment after the war, might want to read Judith Keene's Treason on the Airwaves (Praeger 2009), which also discusses the treatment of an Englishman and an American woman who were accused of similar treason.

Jonathan Shaw | 12 October 2012  

Thanks Brian for the history lesson. Anyone in any doubt about how odious this campaign against the Prime Minister has become and its misogynistic nature should read a speech Anne Summers gave on the topic: http://annesummers.com.au/speeches/her-rights-at-work-r-rated/

Eclair | 12 October 2012  

One only needs to think back to Jones' attitude to John Howard to confirm his complete submission to the Liberal party. Despite Howard's commitment of Australia to war, based on the falsehood of WMDs, Jones continued to idolise him. I seem to recall he had Howard on his radio programme one day and said to him "Thank God for you Mr. Howard, thank God". Gillard's change of direction on the carbon tax (which many believe to be the right thing to do in taking a step towards reducing emissions), pales into insignificance when you consider the lives lost in Iraq as a result of Howard's falsehoods.But Jones and the main stream media don't pay much attention to that, do they.

Mike H | 12 October 2012  

Arguably the most intelligent comment on this man, Alan Jones, that I have read, well done Brian.

Perhaps your story should be posted on the Facebook page of whoever it is that organised the advertisers moral problems? It would be good to see Jones hauled before the Courts, and perhaps bailed to live with Derryn Hinch until he recanted? Wouldn't that make a spirited TV docodrama?

Andy Fitzharry | 12 October 2012  

Phillip, you are quite right to say that Hawke was never knighted, and how could he have been when the system was dead? But he did grab a gong like all the other timeservers from politics do - with the singular exception of Keating, who declined to be rewarded just for doing the job he was paid to do. Hurrah for Paul. And while we are on double standards, do I recall this correctly, or not - didn't Bill Hayden turn monarchist after his stint as our queen?

Andy Fitzharry | 12 October 2012  

Thanks Andy F. Habitual irony is my excuse for mentioning Hawke’s non-knighthood, though it is said in reference to Bolte, earlier. That conservative state premiers could be given knighthhoods while Labor PMs were not is one of the residual factors of Empire history. That Joh was knighted always sits significantly beside John Howard’s reduction of his name to “Petersen” during the Joh for PM Campaign. I understand that Howard is now Order of Merit, though the other person given this award in 2012 was David Hockney, a person who more closely meets the actual terms of OM, namely distinguished service to the promotion of culture. Why is Howard there at all? It must make for curious candlelit dinners in London. I would hesitate to call Hawke a time-server. Why is here a problem with a Labor PM winning many elections? History will treat well both Hawke and his nemesis Keating. The victim of their success was precisely Bill Hayden, who turned monarchist almost exactly because of the way he had been treated by his own party. I look forward to reading the Windsor–Hayden correspondence in my nineties. Of the lot of them, Keating is unquestionably the brave visionary. The Redfern Speech is one of the great redeeming moments in the European political history of Australia

PHILIP HARVEY | 12 October 2012  

The relevance of possible war-time collaboration to what Jones did, and the response to it, eludes me. No one was threatening to execute or torture Jones.

Penelope | 12 October 2012  

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