Sacked by Witness, Graham Davis sued Channel Seven and won. Now he’s taking on Queensland Premier Peter Beattie. Good on him we reckon. There should be more journalists with this sort of fire in the belly.

The Davis Email to Crikey

Stephen, thanks for your comments.

My encounter with Beatie was pretty extraordinary. What you saw on Sunday was pretty much the guts of many minutes of toing and froing between us. What we left out was largely me whacking him over the suggestion that I was being dishonest ( “Now you’ve gone too far…I’ve been a journalist for nearly 30 years and you’ve no right to impugn my reputation etc”) and him continually arguing the same point…( that what he’d gone to investigate in Townsville was some “argy bargy” and “bruising” arising out of the pre-selection battles and didn’t involve any suggestion of rorting…and that I was unethical and stupid )

You’ll recall him swearing on John Curtin’s grave that he knew nothing whatsoever about Labor’s rorts before they emerged out of the federal police and Shepherdson inquiries. This is arrant nonsense.

It’s quite clear from the evidence that while he was visiting Townsville in December 1996, he was made aware of the allegations of vote rigging, branch stacking and multiple registrations at postal addresses during the preselections of two local candidates including Karen Erhmann, who’s now serving a three year jail sentence for fraud. He chose to dismiss them quite publicly to the local media, although it was never reported in Brisbane, which is why it probably slipped through the net.

After the interview ended, Beattie suggested we try to patch things up between us. “I’m not the kind of person who holds a grudge” – he said – “so let’s shake hands and I’ll explain the whole thing”. I took his hand and he began his explanation.

This is what I recall him saying – “come on, you’ve been around and you know what happens in pre-selections. This kind of thing always goes on. Of course there was branch stacking and more than one person registered at postal addresses. It happens all the time. But I’m telling you now I didn’t know anything about any illegal activity whatsoever. I don’t regard branch stacking and multiple registrations as illegal. And I had no evidence of actual vote tampering.”

I said – “Listen we’re talking here about electoral rorts and you said quite clearly that you weren’t aware of any and swore on Curtin’s grave. Since when has a rort had to be illegal? We’re talking about improper behaviour and that’s what was being alleged. So as far as I’m concerned you’ve got a problem. You went to investigate these allegations and said there was nothing in it. You’re problem is in making a categorical denial about any knowledge of rorting when you were clearly aware of it. Why didn’t you just say you didn’t find anything illegal?

He blustered for a moment and then turned his attention to his press secretary, asking him if he’d recorded the interview. The poor bloke, Stephen Bishop ( nice guy but…) hadn’t and had gone a bright shade of red. We had an awkward parting and Beattie seemed very rattled. Then on Friday night, the press sec rang to ask if we could provide him with a tape. Of course we weren’t going to until after the event for obvious reasons.

I was staggered to get a phone call from Amanda Meade on Sunday afternoon saying Beattie had held a presser in Brisbane accusing me of having accused him of beating his wife. It was a throw-away line I used when asking him that with all his popularity and Mr Nice-guy image, did he have a dark side? “ha ha I don’t know, what do you mean? (like beating your wife) ha ha she’s the one who beats me.”

Beattie was in the Australian today calling me a southern journalist. He put the exchange in context himself and then went on about how, as the interview progressed, he got more and more angry about the question I’d asked. Bollocks. He got more and more angry cause I had him over the ropes and he isn’t used to it. At one point in the interview he said it was obvious from my line of questioning that I wasn’t from Queensland. Christ almighty!

The problem in Brisbane is this: the loss of the state-based 7.30 Report means politicians like Beattie no longer get a grilling from anyone. A Current Affair is a national show and was planning only one segment on the Queensland election this week sometime. That leaves Today Tonight which is essentially pap. Beattie’s tactic is to always provide a picture opportunity and doorstop every day for the evening news. It’s feeding the chooks just like Joh. And then, as you know, Brisbane is a one paper town with the Courier Mail. Borbidge’s people say the CM’s editor Chris Mitchell fields calls from Beattie almost on a daily basis. So much for the media doing its job.

The ABC’s role in all of this is simply unforgivable. The national 7.30 Report may be good for Kerry O’Brien’s ego but is a total waste of time when it comes to keeping state politicians honest. Perhaps the new state programming on Friday may reverse the process but Friday nights traditionally have lower ratings than earlier in the week so I wonder.

Fancy Beattie trying to stall all through the interview and then making the admission off camera that he was aware of “rorts” but they needed to be illegal for him to do anything. He was simply angry cause I’d boxed him into a corner instead of curling up like some of the “chooks” he’s used to in the face of this kind of intimidation. He’s famous for his charm but I can see now why he’s made it in the Labor Party. He’s quite capable of turning into a Cobra if he chooses.

Anyway I seem to be in the habit of upsetting people! More proof that television is not a dignified career for a grown-up. Fortunately it was a guest appearance and I’m now retreating back to the relative calm of my second home in Fiji. Better gun totting soldiers than the bully boys of Queensland Labor.

Loved the article on you in “Media”. Keep up the good work!!!!!

Kind regards, Graham Davis

Finally, check out this email which Davis has sent to the Courier Mail and which we still believe has not been published yet.

Beattie deserves a beating

Dear Sir,

I am the “southern” Channel Nine reporter Premier Beattie has accused of being gullible, badly prepared and unethical after our encounter on this week’s Sunday program.

For the record, my question as to whether he beat his wife occured in the context of a light-hearted exchange in which I asked him if, for all his obvious personal qualities, he had a dark side. “Like what?” he said. “Like beating your wife or something” I replied jocularly. At this the Premier laughed heartily and said he was more likely to be the one on the receiving end of a beating. We then moved on to more substantive issues.

Foremost of these was clear evidence that the Premier was aware of allegations of Labor rorts in Townsville involving candidate Karen Erhmann as far back as December 1996. I presented him with this evidence after he’d sworn on John Curtin’s grave that he’d never been aware of any impropriety. So who’s unethical Mr Beattie?

This is a man clearly prepared to mislead not just the electorate but his wife. If I’m unethical and immoral, Heather, for asking your bloke some serious questions on behalf of Queenslanders, why not ask him yourself what really happened in Townsville? And then give him the beating he so richly deserves.

Graham Davis

Sydney

Peter Fray

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