The former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd has declared that Australian politicians are frightened of Rupert Murdoch – a fear that persisted when he was in the top job and subsided only when he left politics.
Speaking under parliamentary privilege at Parliament House in Canberra, Rudd said the “Murdoch mob” was seeking “compliant politicians”. He told an inquiry into media diversity that politicians were fearful of facing a “systematic campaign”.
“Everyone’s frightened of Murdoch. They really are. There’s a culture of fear across the country,” said Rudd, who has become an outspoken critic of the Murdoch media’s dominant role in the Australian print media.
The former Labor prime minister said the unspoken word about Murdoch in Parliament House was that “it’s not in your personal political interests ever to go after Rupert Murdoch or Lachlan Murdoch because they’ll get ya”.
Rudd said this culture of fear about the Murdoch media monopoly was “just dead wrong for any democracy”.
“The truth is as prime minister I was still fearful of the Murdoch media beast,” he said.
“When did I stop being fearful? Probably when I walked out of the building in 2013.”
Rudd said he had had many discussions with the former Coalition prime minister Malcolm Turnbull over this culture of fear in recent times.
“No one should be frightened of Murdoch, but can I tell you, he’s a frightening kind of guy, because of the power he wields,” Rudd said.
The media diversity inquiry, chaired by Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young, is expected to hear from News Corp representatives later on Friday.
Rudd used the appearance to continue his campaign for a royal commission into the Murdoch media and broader issues of media diversity.
“The reason I’m here senators is because more than half a million Australians signed a petition,” he said, noting that was “quite a large number”. It was “a big call from the Australian people” to look deeply and carefully at media diversity for future of democracy.
Rudd said he was still seeking a royal commission and it should look not just at the Murdoch monopoly but also the emerging monopolies of Google and Facebook.
Rudd said that in the 19 most recent federal and state elections over the past decade, the Murdoch media “campaigned viciously for one side of politics” – the Liberal and National parties – and against the Labor party.
Rudd made a generalised comment that he believed “monopoly has a real danger of encouraging over time corruption”.
He cited the “bad old days in Queensland” prior to the election of Wayne Goss in the early 1990s “where it’s a case of you scratch your back, I’ll scratch yours”.
Rudd also contended that media monopolies “destroy alternative media voices” and he criticised News Corp for shutting down regional newspapers during the Covid-19 crisis last year.
He says another reason to have a royal commission was his “deep and abiding concern for climate change”. Rudd told the Senate committee Murdoch was “a climate change denialist”.
Since he first introduced legislation for a price on carbon in 2009, Rudd said there had been “this rolling systematic campaign” against climate action. He cited what he described as an “organised coalition between the Murdoch empire and the carbon lobby”.
Rudd also raised concern about the potential building of an “alternative political ecosystem out there on the far-right”.
The former prime minister asked the Senate committee to play a video in which Sky News Australia host Alan Jones interviewed a guest who promoted the conspiracy theory known as “the great reset”.
In the video, the guest warned viewers of “a coup by the globalist elite” and that “this is our world war three, it’s not the world war we expected”.
Rudd said Murdoch’s Fox News in America had seen “the most unfounded conspiracy theories become gospel truth”.
He pointed to the storming of the US Capitol building on 6 January by Trump supporters who believed unfounded claims that the presidential election had been stolen.
“What I worry about in this country is that Sky News is becoming the vehicle for the Fox News-isation of Australia,” Rudd said.
The former prime minister said his concern was not just the broadcast output, but the “huge” Sky News online presence. He asked “what happens with this ecosystem” in Australia in the next five to 10 years.
Rudd was challenged by some Coalition senators whether News Corp was the only media outlet to perform character assassinations.
“No, but they’ve taken the art to science,” he replied.
Rudd held up a front page of the Herald Sun showing “Dan-made disaster”, attacking the Labor premier Daniel Andrews’ handling of Covid-19.
Rudd also fielded questions about tweets by Australian Broadcasting Corporation reporters. Asked whether he believed it was the ABC’s role to “balance out” the Murdoch media, Rudd said: “No, I see its role to provide a fair and balanced platform for news reporting across the country.”