The West Australian hit back with three great front pages last week on the explosive finance brokers scandal which threatens to bring down the Court Government. And Crikey’s many spies in The West kept feeding us great stuff.
Well, this week The West hit back by breaking a very good yarn on Kevin Prince, the Police Minister, and his involvement with a finance broker. Prince is a senior minister aligned with Deputy Lib Leader Colin Barnett, who is an enemy of Doug Shave and Noel Crighton-Browne.
Needless to say, The West’s chief political reporter Anne Burns was providing enthusiastic support for this story. Labor Party observers believe she is far too close to the Shave-NCB camp.
Our spies in the West report that other yarns on finance brokers have been broken and very well covered by business journo Mark Pownall.
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Anyway, Crikey came out on Monday morning Perth time and the Kevin Prince yarn ran front page on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday – all days editor Brian Rogers was off sick! David Hummerston, who was the internal front-runner for the editor’s job, was running the show and put some much-need anti-government spine back into proceedings. Rogers came back in on Wednesday and, whaddaya know it, a court story on the front on Thursday.
And for those of you who reckon The West have a far-sighted internet strategy, we have some reports coming in that access to Crikey from West terminals was barred on Thursday.
Another West insider has emailed to alert us that Rogers has been invited to spend a week on Kerry Stokes’s yacht during the Olympics. Hmmm, what does the board think of that if it is true?
Now let’s look at an email that came from someone very familiar with the goings on inside the West bunker.
I like the fact that you are putting the blowtorch to my bosses at The West on the issue of editorial independence and I’m glad to anonymously give you info on what I know.
You’re on the money with chief of staff Tony Barrass and I can tell you, you are succeeding to get right up his nose. He tells all and sundry that one day he’s gonna get round to suing – yeah, right. Barrass can be good company over a beer and is laid back with staff who deliver the goods and make him look good in the process. But he’s shown his nasty side to a few people and is not afraid to play dirty. He’s also not that smart – as his clumsy memos have revealed.
On the Southwell saga, be careful not to overly portray Southy as the lone knight in shining armour. He has fought to get a prominent run with his Gunning inquiry yarns and has been restrained, so to speak, as you pointed out. But to be honest, his role in exposing the finance brokers’ scandal is supplementary to the work of others. Some would say he jumped on the bandwagon. Others, less kind, would argue he tried to hijack another journo’s story. Consumer Affairs writer Gay McNamara won the top prize at the WA Media Awards last year for breaking the story over several months. The West, not realising that Gay was chipping away at an iceberg cooled on the story and it was drifting more towards the back pages. The Australian’s Colleen Egan exploited this and got stuck into the yarn with gusto. She scored some direct hits and if any journalist forced the Gunning inquiry it was her. Southwell has faithfully covered the inquiry and has lobbied hard for it to get a good run. But he’s not the real hero of the hour and he’s certainly not the only reporter here at The West with “fire in his belly”, though equally, there is plenty of dead wood around the swamp.
As for the disciplinary stuff, it’s intriguing. To Southy’s credit he is not afraid to stick his neck out on stories, unlike others. Though, he has a reputation here at The Worst as a bit of a loner (many of his fellow reporters think he’s unfriendly and plain rude) and he’s also got form for cock-ups. There are lots of flashing warnings when you call up his stories on the library database, so maybe that had something to do with his chat with new editor Brian Rogers.
Next time you write about The West/Worst you might mention its free-falling circulation. The latest figures suggest there is no parachute in sight.
And then we got this colorful contribution from a new Crikey columnist passing himself off as “The Dingo”.
Secret ‘Minister’s’ Business
The secret is out. Amid growing fears the West Oz was holding out on front page finance broking antics. CRIKEY the headlines fell out of the Albany skyline into the Cabinet, and the Aust didn’t even get a look in. On Monday’s West: “Prince Snared” – another broker – another million $$ – another round of misery for Albany retirees (they had Grubb as well). And, whilst the ‘boys in blue’ were swarming all over the countryside looking for nasty little brokers (every town should have one) surprise, surprise. Our Kev, Minister for Police and trusted MP for Albany, fesses up, under media pressure, to being well connected in LKJamieson – finance broker. So enthusiastic is our Kev for LKJ’s business, he recommends his constituents put their money in; and in “Blind Faith” (West Oz Tues) Kev whacks trustee money in the pot for good measure. Funny thing, our Minister for Police and Other Matters didn’t put his own money in. Who was it that said: “every retiree who trusts a broker shall be in poverty before the next state election?”
And, what about the Finance Brokers Board – that highly prized watchdog is at it again. Our Boys on the Board have been actively “watching and watching” Leon KJ. So faithful are these little “doggies” they permitted Leon KJ to run an extra few weeks to tidy things up and, hand the badge in “when you’re ready Leon.” By Wednesday the West Oz were on a roll with “Breach of Trust”. It turns out that Leon with the help of our Kev as his lawyer, was convicted of stealing in 1982, but the Boys on the Board didn’t let that bother them, they merely did a few audits now and again – obviously not lately!!!
Now what does our illustrious Premier have to say about all this? Of Course, he is standing by his Man in the Ministry. He has a bit of the ‘blind faith’ also, (it’s a Cabinet thing). No conflict of interest here, with the Police investigating the Minister – no way!!! Our fearless leader appoints the Attorney General – but hang on – wasn’t Pete (AG) the Minister for Fair Trading whilst Gamel Ward (finance broker) had a few problems in 1995? Well we guess the AG must be an expert on finance broking shonks. Yep he’s the guy. We don’t want the rest of the Cabinet finding out what the six of us have been up to, or not up to, do we?
Leader of the Opposition? Yep Geoff, rushes in with the fact that “the government has sent all the retirees out for a day on the Titanic when it knew about the iceberg.” And our Deputy Opposition leader Jim McGinty reckons: the Premier’s brother dabbling in finance broking chaos, Minister Shave (Minister for Lounging Around) throwing lifeboats to ‘family only’ on the good ship FBC, and now the Minister for Police recommending the tickets. McGinty says; “No wonder the Cabinet doesn’t want an inquiry!!!” We’re with you there Jim!!!
Just when the Prem’s Boys thought the wind had died down: the West Oz hits again with more Blind Faith – Kev forgot to meet a small legal requirement to review the trust monies and he “knows how the victims feel” Glad to hear a little empathy going on. But hang on Kev, you didn’t put YOUR money in. Well that’s when the typhoon hit in the West Oz hat-trick with “Silence Broken” – Kev though LKJ was such a good finance advisor – he recommended the Church pour in the offerings – after all he’s the Minister for Police, watching 40 of his detectives wading through enough dodgy paperwork to ignite the Sydney Olympic Skyshow. The Church is in LKJ’s benevolent fund for $900,000!! Crikey, was it Kev’s Church? No way, be fair – it was someone else’s.
Meanwhile the Premier said: “the Police Minister did not get involved in operational matters” – well we know that, our Kev’s been busy with operational matters of his own. LKJ says “it’s all unfortunate” as retirees sit down to an “unfortunate life.”
And where’s Alan Bond in all of this? Well the builders are making a bit of a mess on his brand new multi-million palace So he’s flown off to sunny Canada. On OP’s money perhaps or to rearrange “family trusts?” Funny about this word TRUST. And the Premier’s favorite finance broker, Olli Douglas, flew out to Mississippi, (the Supreme Court allowed his passport back). To muddier waters perhaps?
And to all Eastern States Crikey fans who think “CRIKEY, what’s going on in the West?” Don’t laugh, all these colorful little brokers and their Cabinet mates could be heading your way. They’ve already made a run for Federal.
The Beauty of ABC links
Here at Crikey we’ve only just discovered the gold mine of stories on the ABC’s website and would like to draw your attention to the following links.
This transcript of Media Watch from last year explains the sacking of West sub-editor Tim Southgate for inserting “Bring back Mooner” into a story because of the shameless plugging of Harold Clough’s interests. Check it out.
And if you want to check out what Four Corners said about the finance brokers scandal. Check this out.
But wait, there’s more Here is a missive we received out of the West bunker a few months back which highlights the management paralysis and adds to the Media Watch piece.
The Less Than Wild West
By A West Insider
Media Watch’s expose of a dramatic sacking at The West Australian was more interesting for what it ignored rather than what it included. The program’s focus on the unfortunate departure of a sub-editor who tacked the phrase “Mooner, please return” on the end of a soft story missed the main point, of which this protest was just a symptom.
The point is management paralysis, not just the void in editorial created when Paul “Mooner” Murray vacated the editor’s seat after 10 years to become a shock jock, but right at the top where the managing director and his board have failed to make a decision of any significance for years.
The Australian newspaper’s media section gossip column got it right when it suggested the first thing MD Denis Thompson should do, post the Media Watch program, to fix things up was to appoint an editor.
The problem is he can’t. Reports from within the West suggest he returned to Perth from a raft of interviews in Sydney frustrated that none of the dozen or more candidates were up to scratch.
Is that surprising? While Fairfax and others have spent millions of dollars over the past five years developing an Internet presence, The West has sat back smugly feeling invulnerable. The geriatric board have failed to see it coming, but then again, look at the share prices of their companies. You don’t see Clough Ltd going ballistic on the market. And Trevor Eastwood’s Avatar? Shareholders must be wondering why these stiff old codgers are paid at all. Perhaps they are wondering themselves.
Does Thompson need $600,000 plus a year to run a company where the biggest thing he has done is shift headquarters from downtown to the burbs? Why didn’t he buy that 25% stake in Fairfax when it was worth one quarter what it is today? What about the Canberra Times, Channel Seven and the lost Community News deal, stolen by News Corp Ltd as Kerry Stokes was about to sign his half share over to joint venture partner WA Newspapers Ltd!
Boy, you can just see the way the editor’s job ad should have been written: “Journo near retirement to join provincial paper with head in the sand”. If you offer peanuts you get monkeys, and we are not talking about money.
And this is our story from last week which caused a huge reaction in political and media circles out west.
The Worst Is Getting Worse
By Stephen Mayne
Published August 15, 2000
A Couple of missives from the West in recent days have firmed up our commitment to find someone to run for the board of West Australian Newspapers at their AGM on November 2.
There has been some scary stuff happening on the question of editorial independence, particularly with powerful director Harold Clough who really should not be getting involved.
Firstly, the Clough forces have put in a big effort to show hard-hitting political correspondent Michael Southwell the door. Why would they do this? Could it be because he has stuck it to Minister Doug Shave over the $200 million lost through the finance broking scandal.
Doug Shave is not the brightest of chaps and actually admitted at the press conference calling the Gunning inquiry into the finance broking scandal that it was triggered by The West’s Southwell front page story a week earlier.
Now Crikey hears that Southwell can sometimes go a little over the top, but this often comes with the package when you’ve got someone with some passion who has a go. So why did he cop a lot more grief than fellow reporter Torrance Mendez who just earned The West a full-page drubbing from the Press Council.
A look at The West since Brian Rogers beat the bullet at Channel Nine to be promoted to editor would suggest that Southwell and some of his anti-government stories have not been getting a good run of late.
Could this be because Brian Rogers’ wife Val is on the board of numerous companies and was once a director of a company alongside the Premier’s brother Ken Court, who is now caught up in the finance broking scandal. (Last week we said they were on the Kingstream board together which we now gather is incorrect. Apologies.)
Wife or no wife, Rogers certainly seems to be doing the bidding of powerful director Clough with the help of chief of staff Tony Barrass who is no longer the journalistic martyr who went to jail to protect his source. Barrass showed his colors with his “no more tunnel stories” decree which director Clough must have really enjoyed given that it was his firm that was under the pump for damaging about 40 houses in Northbridge.
Rogers, who was known at Channel 9 for pulling sensitive stories, got together with Barrass to call Southwell in recently for a what staff on The West have suggested was a meeting to discuss “disciplinary proceedings over substandard work”. They pointed out a couple of minor errors in a couple of stories and told Southwell he’d been warned. Barrass then penned an “I said, Brian said, you said”-style memo, which contained some personal stuff and was very contentious to say the least. The fool then “accidentally” put the memo in a computer file that all reporters could read – hence Crikey being alerted to it by our loyal spies on the West.
The memo stayed in this file for about a day. Southwell’s next story about Doug Shave getting carpeted in Parliament for allegedly lying to the Gunning inquiry was buried on page 47.
Rumour has it that Southwell got some good legal advice and, hey presto, everything’s been retracted and now the “disciplinary proceedings” have been labelled by management as “just a discussion”. Rumour also has it that Southwell, one of the few journos at the West with fire in the belly, is on Clough’s hitlist.
Rumour also has it that Rogers thought Southwell was his “golden boy” at Channel 9 and didn’t want him to leave – but as soon as he hit The West, Rogers all of a sudden thought he wasn’t much chop as a journo.
Rumour also has it that Rogers tried to pull a story written by Southwell about Multiplex – a WA giant of industry who just won a very controversial contract for a convention centre to be built with $110m of taxpayers’ money.
The story was reinstated after Rogers went home and the backbench/subs thought it was a worthy of inclusion in the paper.
Rumour also has it that Rogers rang one of his reporters about a week ago with the message: “Mr Clough would like to speak to you about a story you’re writing, so expect his call.”
Evidence has it that Rogers has run stories critical of Shave and the government on finance brokers on left pages, but defence of them on forward, right hand pages, including a front-page lead last week.
The other interesting factor in all this is the very close relationship between Southwell’s boss on the Parliamentary round, Anne Burns, and Shave. Labor Party people have observed that she also seems close to Shave’s creator, the much-despised Noel Crichton-Browne.
So, we’ve got the new editor going easy on the government, his wife having links into the Premier’s family, a move is on against the reporter who writes the most critical stories about the government and the West’s chief political reporter is aligned to the discredited Liberal faction that is copping it for the $200 million lost in this widening finance brokers scandal.
And if that wasn’t enough, Rogers has conducted focus group studies of readers and concluded that politics must be downgraded in the West. He’s also showing himself to be highly conservative with a recent editorial “Howard is right on IVF”.
With West Australians likely to go to the polls in the next 9 months, it is imperative that The West, as the only state-wide daily paper, provide a lot of balanced coverage leading into the election. To this end, we’re looking for candidates to spell all these arguments out in their platform to run for The West’s board. If Southwell does get the sack, he’d be a very interesting candidate.
We emailed WA News company secretary Bernard Yates to find out the board nomination requirements recently and this is what he came with:
Dear Mr Mayne
In response to your query of Friday 28 July, 2000, I advise:
* The company’s constitution provides as follows:
8.1(l) A person may only be elected to the office of a director at a general meeting if:
(1) he or she is a director retiring from office under rule 8.1(e) and standing for re-election at that meeting;
(2) he or she has been nominated by the directors for election at that meeting;
(3) if the person is a member, he or she has at least 35 days before the meeting served on the company a notice signed by him or her signifying his or her desire to be a candidate for election at that meeting; or
(4) whether or not the person is a member, some member intending to nominate him or her for election at that meeting has at least 35 days before the meeting served on the company a notice signed by the member and signifying the member’s intention to nominate the person for election, which is accompanied by a notice signed by the person and signifying his or her consent to the nomination.
The AGM will be held on Thursday 2 November, 2000. The time and venue, while likely to be in Perth, is yet to be decided.
West Australian Newspapers Holdings Limited
So, all you need is one shareholder to nominate you 35 business days before the AGM and you’re up before what Ian Huntley reckons is 292,667 shareholders. We reckon that must be a misprint and there is probably about 30,000 shareholders. Let the board contest begin because this is a company that does not appear to have any directors with newspaper experience.
At this stage, Ansett is quoting $560 for a return flight so it is looking a tad expensive for Crikey to get over there. However, it would be nice because the ERG AGM is being held in Perth on Friday, October 27. The challenge is getting back to Sydney in time for the Fairfax, ecorp and PBL AGMs which, coincidentally of course, are all on November 3 in Sydney. Anyway, if enough of you out west subscribe, we’ll be able to afford the air fare – otherwise, one of you should volunteer to stand for the board and ask questions at the AGM.