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Milne debacle: how a 16 year old story was spiked by The Oz

Glenn Milne has egg all over his face after the re-hired columnist filed an error-filled op-ed reviving discredited allegations that Prime Minister Julia Gillard had somehow been an accomplice to her one-time partner Bruce Wilson’s alleged fraud.

The piece rehashed 16-year-old claims — vociferously denied by the Prime Minister whenever they are dredged up — suggesting Gillard had lived in a house with Wilson bought using illegal cash.

Milne had previously written about the saga in 2007. But this morning the Walkleys brawler went further, stating that “Gillard shared a home in Fitzroy bought by Wilson using the embezzled funds.”

Crikey understands that this sentence, removed by News Limited lawyers four years ago, is false.

Now, the entire piece has been deleted from The Australian’s website, with the newspaper forced to issue a grovelling apology acknowledging that the “assertions are untrue”. Damningly, Milne had failed to ring the PM’s office for comment.

The Australian’s editor, Clive Mathieson, issued the following statement to Crikey this morning: “We’re investigating the Prime Minister’s claim of inaccuracies in the story. As the correction points out, we regret that the PM was not given any chance to respond to the allegations.”

Asked whether Milne would be sacked, Mathieson said “he remains a contributor to The Australian.”

But while the article has been removed, the line continues to fester on fellow News Limited columnist Andrew Bolt’s blog. Interestingly, Bolt has written the following disclaimer directly after it:

I am not sure that Gillard did share a home with Wilson. My own understanding is that she maintained her own house.”

Late this morning, the Ten Network talk show host issued an “update”, acknowledging The Oz had pulled the story.

While a popular topic in the right wing blogosphere, the allegations are rarely taken seriously by professional journalists.

The fresh outbreak was three days in the making. Bolt had first blogged about the saga on Saturday, publishing part of a statutory declaration by embittered ex- Australian Workers Union Victorian vice president Bob Kernohan that was quoted by Milne. “It could be the last straw for Gillard’s leadership,” Bolt hypothesised.

The yarn had gathered steam a day earlier when 2UE afternoons jock Michael Smith said on air that he had been contacted by “a number of listeners” who had dredged up the Kernohan claims — first aired under privilege by Phil Gude in the Victorian parliament in 1995 and then again in 2001 by Liberal MP turned lobbyist Geoff Leigh.

Leigh told parliament that former AWU state secretary (and future jet-setting MP) Bob Smith had told Kernohan that Wilson had “spent $17,000 of women’s clothing for Gillian (sic) Gillard out of union funds” while Gillard was John Brumby’s chief-of-staff.

Kernohan’s story goes that during her time as a partner at Slater & Gordon, Gillard set up the association Wilson used as WA state secretary to allegedly funnel cash from employers. In a new statutory declaration made last year, he says two houses — one owned by Wilson in Fitzroy and another by the PM — had been bought or renovated using dirty funds.

Despite the usual legal disclaimers, 2UE’s Smith lapped it up to opine that “much of this comes to the heart of the judgement of the lady who runs the country.”

The factional motivation for the leaks has gone mostly unnoticed.

Bob Kernohan was in office when elements of the left took control of the old Victorian AWU in 1989. He has been at war with his internal AWU enemies ever since, alleging financial fraud in 1992 and in 1995 lobbed a kamikaze bid to unseat Bill Ludwig as the union’s national president.

Bruce Wilson was a former ally of Ludwig and former national secretary Ian Cambridge, but was dumped after the financial irregularities emerged. National Crime Authority and fraud squad investigations were initiated but there were never any adverse findings and Wilson never returned any money. On 2UE this afternoon, Kernohan said he was offered a seat in parliament — presumably by forces loyal to Ludwig — if he stayed silent.

The weak Gillard link has been doing the rounds among the PM’s enemies for years. In 2006, Kim Beazley supporters revived them when they thought she was hatching a deal to knife him as opposition leader.

And in 2007, The Age’s Jason Koutsoukis wrote that he had been summoned to a meeting with a figure who had presented him with a disappointing file that included a “well-worn tirade aired in the Victorian parliament last century.”

It’s worth quoting these lines:

The one skeleton in Gillard’s closet is the allegation — first raised under parliamentary privilege in 1995 by former Kennett minister Phil Gude — that Gillard’s one-time partner Bruce Wilson, a former secretary of the Australian Workers’ Union, was under investigation by the National Crime Authority and Victoria Police over the misappropriation of union funds.

According to Gude, the union funds were used to renovate Gillard’s house and buy her some personal items.

Gillard has repeatedly dismissed the allegations as being totally untrue and those who repeat them as ‘lying cowards’.

On Friday, 2UE’s Smith said one of the reasons for the rehash was that Gillard had said (to Milne in 2007) that she was “young and naive”. In fact, the PM has consistently shot down the suggestions with supreme force each time they get trotted out.

On Australian Story in 2006, she stated point blank that the suggestions were “absolutely untrue…of course I was angry and anybody whose subject to those sort of allegations under the privilege of Parliament, you are going to be angry and you don’t get a fair go in responding…so once the allegations are out there they are going to be reported and that might lead some people even though you have denied them to think that there’s something in them, so I was yeah you know angry but nothing you can do about it except sort of just issue the denials and move on.”

There were a number of other factual howlers in Milne’s article. He referred to the Health Services Union as the “Hospital Services Union”, made a hash of the HSU’s Victorian factional dynamic (Jeff and Kathy Jackson were hardly friendly with Craig Thomson) and got hopelessly confused over the separation between the national office and the HSU’s former No. 1 Victorian branch.

On 2UE early this afternoon, the key portions of a promised pre-recorded interview with Kernohan failed to proceed on legal grounds. Hilariously, Michael Smith said that his talent had been moved to a “safe location”.

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  • 1
    SusieQ
    Posted Monday, 29 August 2011 at 6:15 pm | Permalink

    What a farce!!!! Does anyone in Sydney take 2UE seriously? (perhaps someone from Sydney can advise??) Moved to a safe location? Why?? Scared a proper journalist might come along and ask some proper questions?
    As for the OZ, well, who is running the show over there? Krusty the Clown? And this is the paper that wants to be taken seriously as the nations leading broadsheet!

  • 2
    billie
    Posted Monday, 29 August 2011 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

    Sounds like The Oz is using Glenn Milne to continue their attack on the Prime Minister. Even though the story has been pulled from the online edition, for now, the damage has been done because the story has been re-aired

  • 3
    ggm
    Posted Monday, 29 August 2011 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

    In the context of Thompson, it would be hard to press for a suit, but I find myself drawn to a sense that Gillard should be capable of beating the royal crap (legally speaking) out of Milne, 2ue and the OZ, and force at the very least a grovelling front page retraction, and hopefully a whapping big donate to charity.

    I would of course also say that choosing NOT to, doesn’t imply guilt. Thompson doesn’t re-define absence of suit as a proof of absence of innocence.

    -G

  • 4
    GocomSys
    Posted Monday, 29 August 2011 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

    SUSIEQ
    Posted Monday, 29 August 2011 at 6:15 pm
    Frustrating isn’t it?

    What is your opinion to the following?

    Essential to free enterprise and democracy is access to information free of distortion. Newspapers are free to say what they will in editorials and opinion pieces, of course. But news data must be untainted.

    As for News Corp publications have a look at this:
    http://onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=12286

    May I also point out another related issue. The intrinsically destabilising effect the incessant “opinion poll peddling” has. Almost all news outlets (including the ABC and Crikey) faithfully report the latest polls, however dodgy and/or short lived they might be! News Corporation publications never fail to use the latest poll results to mount another offensive.

    When poll results favoured the government, one after another opposition leader tumbled.
    When results turned pear shaped for the government Rudd was toppled and at the same time allowed extremists in the opposition to gain a foothold. The avalanches of polls we are bombarded with now are pushing someone as unlikely as Abbott towards the lodge. A possible imminent disaster for the country waiting to happen, not decided by ballots but driven by “opinion poll peddlers”! What do you reckon?

  • 5
    geomac
    Posted Monday, 29 August 2011 at 7:39 pm | Permalink

    What a strange world for reporters in the Murdoch camp. Milne instead of having clarity seems to have substituted claret. Bolt makes claims but discounts any validity or accuracy. A big scoop to embarrass the PM that was scratched on the same day it is published. Does the Oz have any editors or even a copy boy to check stories before going to print ? Has law and order Bolt nicked himself and his leaker for receiving commonwealth classified documents ?

  • 6
    mari
    Posted Monday, 29 August 2011 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

    Thank you Andrew for this article a well researched article, shame main stream media, doesn’t do similar research

  • 7
    joe2
    Posted Monday, 29 August 2011 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

    As for the OZ, well, who is running the show over there?”

    Isn’t he part of The Quality Journalism Project on Crikey that has had all comments about him, by readers, deleted, without explanation?

    http://www.crikey.com.au/2011/08/10/the-quality-journalism-project-the-heart-of-the-oz-chris-mitchell/

  • 8
    Charles Richardson
    Posted Monday, 29 August 2011 at 10:01 pm | Permalink

    They just can’t help themselves: Mathieson says to you “As the correction points out, we regret that the PM was not given any chance to respond to the allegations.” But the correction doesn’t say that at all. It says “The Australian also acknowledges no attempt was made by anyone employed by, or associated with, The Australian to contact the Prime Minister in relation to this matter.” No regret expressed for that.

  • 9
    man on a bondi tram
    Posted Monday, 29 August 2011 at 10:48 pm | Permalink

    The Murdoch media empire does not sell facts, it sells entertainment.

  • 10
    Rich Uncle Skeleton
    Posted Monday, 29 August 2011 at 11:08 pm | Permalink

    So much for that vaunted Code Of Conduct. Milne should really read it sometime.

  • 11
    Andrew McIntosh
    Posted Monday, 29 August 2011 at 11:25 pm | Permalink

    Page not found” it says for the link to the 2007 H-S piece. And for some reason the links to the two recent Bolt pieces are dead.

  • 12
    Damotron
    Posted Tuesday, 30 August 2011 at 6:08 am | Permalink

    Boycott all News Limited papers.

  • 13
    GocomSys
    Posted Tuesday, 30 August 2011 at 7:55 am | Permalink

    FEDERAL POLITICS

    There Is A Plot To Destroy The Gillard Government”
    By Ben Eltham in “New Matilda”

    Now:

    Milne debacle: how a 16 year old story was spiked by The Oz”
    by Andrew Crook in “Crikey”

    As you said: Glenn Milne has egg all over his face after the re-hired columnist filed an error-filled report.

    Did Glen Milne let the cat out of the bag for everyone to see? Who are the player’s apart from News Corp wanting to unseat the government and in the process destabilise our democracy?

  • 14
    GocomSys
    Posted Tuesday, 30 August 2011 at 8:07 am | Permalink

    For clarification: I am not a member of a political party. Never have been and never will be. I believe that is essential for our democracy to function well the population needs to be informed and engaged. For a democracy to work voting for example must be seen as a duty, an obligation and a privilege! I am not an activist but when our democratic principles are systematically eroded I am forced to speak up!

  • 15
    John Rawson
    Posted Tuesday, 30 August 2011 at 8:16 am | Permalink

    Glenn Milne has been a journalist for many years. Wikipedia told me so. Good luck to Glenn when pursuing his next career. After his preposterous article about the PM, Milne has forfeited his right to be published in the pages of our press.

  • 16
    Robert McBride
    Posted Tuesday, 30 August 2011 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    Let’s just ask Bruce what he spent the money on that’s fair. It’s probably in the court documents anyway, so it’s public domain I guess. No one could draw the long bow that Gillard was a party to her partners crime/s. But if house renovations and fashion shopping were proceeds of crime then don’t we have a right to know. Not appropriate that stories are covered up at the bequest of the Labour Party. Question is pondered did Bruce Wilson have her support and full confidence?

  • 17
    Posted Tuesday, 30 August 2011 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    When I read about the spiked story I immediately popped into the nearest newsagent and bought a couple of copies of The Australian (first time in years I’ve actually paid for one). Only to increase News Limited’s defamation payout of course.

  • 18
    Bill Hilliger
    Posted Tuesday, 30 August 2011 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    Some people say that it is not beyond reality to presume the Australian would not resort to the News of the World grubby tacticts to get some kind of a scoop, this is an example. Furthermore, there should be an enquiry into the Australian to confirm that indeed, it is above the sleaze of the News of the World. I no longer buy a newspaper that increasingly seems to be morphing into just a scandal rag; I sometimes read it in the local library or on-line. The Australian is on a vedetta to destabilize the government, wouldn’t be surprised that one day the Australian “scandal rag” has a page 3 pin-up, with a page one headline promoting Allan Jones for prime minister

  • 19
    oggy
    Posted Tuesday, 30 August 2011 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    Further evidence of the continuing campaign to ensure the Conservatives take their rightful place as our economic and cultural overlords.This will not change while the conservative leaning billionaires control at least 60% of the media in Australia,which is roughly proportional to the current polls with both Labor and the Greens polling approx 35%.There is no doubt these Oligarchs determine who governs this country and our so called Democracy is a pathetic sham.

  • 20
    The Pav
    Posted Tuesday, 30 August 2011 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    One can only hope Gillard takes News Ltd for all that she can.

  • 21
    jeebus
    Posted Tuesday, 30 August 2011 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    It’s disgusting to witness such a brazen attempt to manipulate the political discourse in this country. Something needs to be done about the Murdoch empire and its corruption of the media.

    An uninformed population is dangerous for democracy, but a misinformed population is disastrous.

  • 22
    SimsonMc
    Posted Tuesday, 30 August 2011 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

    Stop writing crap, it can’t be that hard.

  • 23
    GocomSys
    Posted Tuesday, 30 August 2011 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    DAMOTRON posted Tuesday, 30 August 2011 at 6:08 am | Permalink

    You said: “Boycott all News Limited papers”. This link might assist:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_assets_owned_by_News_Corporation

    Has anyone observed how often the ABC in their reporting uses the term “the government DEFENDS” a decision and/or a policy? Who are they, the often discredited and/or unnamed obscure accusers? Add the usual meaningless sound bites from someone like Abbott and the lazy ABC reporting job is done! Today the ABC went one better, they urgently needed to inform us that the OZ had contracted a consulting firm in order to rubbish a government program. Forgot which one this time. Looking closer at the issue afterwards the so called “case” didn’t make sense and fizzled out.
    I still feel, even though I can’t think of any valid reason why they should, the government must always DEFEND itself. Well, that’s the way it’s done here at the ABC!

  • 24
    GocomSys
    Posted Tuesday, 30 August 2011 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    JEEBUS posted Tuesday, 30 August 2011 at 12:00 pm

    You said:
    “An uninformed population is dangerous for democracy, but a misinformed population is disastrous”.
    Agreed!
    The ABC has a bet each way! If they invite a “peace activist” they are forced to give the same air time to a “war monger”. Well, that’s the way it’s done here at the ABC!

  • 25
    Oscar Jones
    Posted Tuesday, 30 August 2011 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    I find the state of the Australian media (apart from some notable exceptions) quite demoralizing.

    The attacks upon Julia Gillard (love or loathe her) have become self perpetuating in a similar manner to how Paul Keating was destroyed by a media campaign that perpetuated the falsehood that he was ‘arrogant’. Over and over it was parroted until when a person was questioned in the street they repeated the claim without being able to give an example of this perceived arrogance.

    The TV networks, News Corp and even Fairfax repeat ad nauseam every guttural negative insult that pours from Abbott’s mouth as though it is fact and news, rather than opinion.

    We never hear of policy, we never hear of the government’s achievements (or failures), we are feed tawdry gossip as in the Thompson affair, something that happened long before the man was an MP and has little to do with today’s pressing problems.

    A year ago a great fraud was perpetuated upon the Australian people by the mining corporations who we now see care little about Australian jobs as they pander to Chinese firms and at the same time make obscene profits from our assets.

    There is no analysis, no in-depth investigations of any matter and the mass media is compliant in this.

  • 26
    yaybucky
    Posted Tuesday, 30 August 2011 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    “she had been led to believe by Mr Hartigan that News Ltd newspapers were not intending to pursue the decades-old story of her former conman lover.” (the Age today)

    How do such agreements come about?

    Why are we burdened with stories about the First Bloke tinkering in his shed yet our press is prohibited from investigating the “conman”lover?

    The story now has a new relevance – Ms Gillard has elected to support another union {Snip} (Craig Thompson) and thus a pattern of behaviour is being established. Possibly Ms Gillard is too inclined to think the best of people in the face or irrefutable evidence to the contrary. This is a character flaw and a newsworthy one where the individual concerned is the PM of our country.

    I see Andrew Bolt will be back at his column tommorrow (refer Bolt Blog) so a skerrick of free press still remains in this country.

    And we have the cheek to criticise the Chinese!!!!

  • 27
    Antibolt
    Posted Tuesday, 30 August 2011 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    Just have a funny feeling that this one wont make it into the Oz’s Cut and Paste column .!

  • 28
    Son of foro
    Posted Tuesday, 30 August 2011 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps Mr Bolt is simply returning to explain how he failed to bring down the government on Monday as promised.

  • 29
    SusieQ
    Posted Tuesday, 30 August 2011 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

    Andrew Bolt =free press? Oh, your’re having a lend

  • 30
    Robert McBride
    Posted Tuesday, 30 August 2011 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

    Geez. whats wrong with us knowing someones “colourful” and sometimes fractured past. Sounds like most of you are looking for a China style state controlled media. We sat and watched some ABC show documenting Abbot’s life history warts and all, but oh no we can’t look back in time at Gillard.

  • 31
    Son of foro
    Posted Tuesday, 30 August 2011 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

    Always surprising to see Andrew Bolt promoting Andrew Bolt.

  • 32
    Bellistner
    Posted Wednesday, 31 August 2011 at 5:29 am | Permalink

    Limited News said:

    When I read about the spiked story I immediately popped into the nearest newsagent and bought a couple of copies of The Australian (first time in years I’ve actually paid for one). Only to increase News Limited’s defamation payout of course.

    My Partner and I have ‘donated’ $3 (two copies) to the cause as well. First time I’ve paid for a News paper in probably ten years.

  • 33
    Mel Cook
    Posted Monday, 5 September 2011 at 1:36 am | Permalink

    Milne was telling the truth….

    http://www.rightpulse.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/declaration.pdf

    Type the following into your address bar and read what our government didn’t want being delved into.

    http://tex.parliament.vic.gov.au/bin/texhtmlt?form=jVicHansard.sel&origquery=true%250a%2509and%2B%2528%2Bdata%2Bcontains%2B\%27AWU\%27%250a%2509and%2Bdata%2Bcontains%2B\%27funds\%27%2B%2529%250a%2509and%2B%2528%2Bmembers%2Bcontains%2B\%27LEIGH\%27%2B%2529%250a%2509and%2B%2528%2Bhdate.hdate_3%2B%3D%2B2001%2B%2529%250a%2509and%2B%2528%2Bhdate.hdate_2%2Bcontains%2B\%27February\%27%2B%2529%250a%2509and%2B%2528%2Bhdate.hdate_1%2B%3D%2B28%2B%2529%250a&summspeech=10321~ASSEMBLY~AWU%3A%2Bfunds~28~February~2001

    Gillards fate is a given, though they had hoped Bill Shorten had enough puff to see them through the next election, or the one there after, now his prospects are looking rather grim.

  • 34
    Mel Cook
    Posted Monday, 5 September 2011 at 1:39 am | Permalink

    Type all the above text into your address bar, not just that which is hyper linked, it should direct you to a 2001 AWU hansard.

    Cheers

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