What's disturbing is the dark side of Alan Jones

The Right's campaign against Chris Masters is hypocritical, given its history of homophobia, writes Phillip Adams

31st October 2006

Gloria - I think they've got your number
I think they've got the alias
That you've been living under

- Lyrics from Gloria, Alan Jones's theme song

DESPITE subtle differences in our political attitudes, I quite liked Alan Jones. He, John Laws, Stan Zemanek and I were disputative colleagues at Sydney's radio 2UE when the London loo incident occurred in 1988, leading station executives to energetically imitate headless chooks.

I sent Alan a cheery telegram of support, something about keeping his chin up and "British spunk". It wasn't Jones's behaviour that shocked me but that of the London police. Why was Mr Plod still loitering around lavatories 30 years after the Wolfenden report on homosexual law reform had introduced consenting adults into the language and legislation?

Chris Masters tells the story in Jonestown. Alan came to my home on his return from Britain to convince me he was innocent of all charges. I urged him to come all the way out of the closet - Alan's sexuality, after all, was never a secret at 2UE - and to learn from his bitter experience. Having been judged and lynched by the media, he'd be a better broadcaster if he stopped judging and lynching others.

Sadly, Alan learned nothing. Instead, his personal attacks escalated, leading to perhaps the biggest pile of defamation actions in Australian media history. Case in point: Jones's enraged reaction to my announcement of Mandawuy Yunupingu as Australian of the Year. Universally condemned, the bigotry was so breathtaking that it provoked an editorial from Jones's friends at the Daily Mirror. Undeterred, he remained the master of the mud-sling. Yet we're expected to sympathise with him in this row with Masters?

Outing Jones is like revealing that the Pope's a Catholic. With decades of on-air innuendo from Laws and Mike Carlton, Jonestown's discussion of Alan's homosexuality is comparable to branding Bob Hawke a heterosexual. Mind you, heterosexuality is sin enough.

When Hawke's priapism was used against him, it necessitated the watered-down, pre-emptive revelations in Blanche D'Alpuget's intimate biography to salvage his career. Previously, John Gorton's conservative enemies had used alleged improprieties with Ainsley Gotto and Liza Minnelli as an excuse to evict him from the Lodge. More recently, US right-wingers tried to impeach Bill Clinton over Monica Lewinsky.

Gay men in public life are perennial targets of right-wing attack. I urged Don Dunstan to publicly profess his homosexuality, so as to spike the guns of gossiping conservatives seeking to destroy his premiership. And the Bill Heffernan-led crusade against the publicly gay judge Michael Kirby remains fresh in the memory.

Thus the Right's campaign against Masters reeks of hypocrisy. Let the record show that homophobia is, by definition, symptomatic of the worst brand of conservatism in political, religious and cultural life. It is not progressives who oppose gays (or women) in the clergy or the armed forces, let alone homosexual marriage. Left-wing support for homosexual law reform brands us anti-family, with John Howard using it as a wedge issue.

Alan's sexuality was never an issue for the Left but it was a huge issue for Alan. My conversations with him made it clear he dreaded the prim disapproval of friends on the Right. So he stayed in the closet.

Well, half in. Feeling increasingly bulletproof, Alan comes ever closer to outing himself. Shortly before his death, my friend John Marsden talked of his gratitude for Jones's public and private support over his long-running and finally successful defamation case against Kerry Stokes. When the Seven Network repeatedly branded Marsden a pedophile, Jones, to his credit, took up Marsden's cause.

In publishing extracts from the early chapters of Masters's 500-page book, the Fairfax newspapers distorted its emphasis. Yes, Masters has painstakingly connected Jones's open secret with his professional lives, showing how it influenced and jeopardised past careers as teacher, rugby coach and politician.

More important, it shows how a young man growing up when homosexuality was branded a perversion, when Australian police hunted and entrapped gay men, might develop a desperate need for acceptance and approval.

Such homophobic times may explain the public life of that influential Jones admirer, the now openly gay David Flint. He was writing Jones gushing fan mail at the time of the cash-for-comment inquiry conducted by the Australian Broadcasting Authority, which Flint chaired. Masters's case is strong: that a lifetime of secrecy has clearly taken its toll on the gay men of Alan's era and has affected how he conducts himself onstage as a broadcaster and backstage as a powerbroker.

Perhaps Masters's most disturbing chapters focus on Jones's interference in NSW police matters: how he cowed the kowtowing Carr government into replacing ministers at his whim. By interesting coincidence, this is a white-hot issue again, with revelations that Carl Scully, the latest police minister to be sacked, had tried to keep the Cronulla riot report under wraps. Why? Because it was critical of the ministry? Of the NSW Government? Or the police? Perhaps. Or was it also because it was critical of Alan bloody Jones? The report, after all, detailed Jones's appalling provocations at the time: his bigoted broadcasts urging vengeance against Muslim kids.

There are odd moments when Jones fights the good fight. (Marsden wasn't alone in getting Alan's help; so did the beleaguered Lindy Chamberlain.) But his worthy efforts are totally eclipsed by dangerous stupidities such as his Joh for Canberra campaign in 1987 and his escalation of racial and religious conflicts at Cronulla last year.

It's neither Jones's comments for cash nor his negotiated silences that represent his darkest side, and certainly not his sexuality. It's what Jones says for free in his most irresponsible outbursts that should concern us. On these issues the pro-Jones lobby, up to and including James Packer and the Prime Minster, is silent.

back      © The Australian