Laurie Oakes cops what is probably his biggest and most sustained spray from a political player in the Cheryl Kernot book so it comes as little surprise that he has sought revenge. So let’s have a look at the relevant extracts so you can make up your own mind.

On page 35 Cheryl gives Laurie Oakes a spray for his Demo-rat line at her press conference announcing the defection:

“I had done many press conferences before, but I knew this one was utterly crucial: my key opportunity to explain, in reasonable detail, in my own words, why I was making this move. (Labor’s National Secretary, Gary Gray, christened these words ‘Cheryl’s Gettysburg Address’.)

Laurie Oakes from Channel Nine was sitting on my left, about two seats down from the front. At every slight pause in my delivery I could sense that he was itching to get in with the first questions. I could hear him taking a breath to start. It seemed to me that he didn’t really want to spend the time listening, but I was determined to to utter every word whose creation I had agonised over. My words…without the cynical filters of those paid to interpret and add a spin to them!

People listened respectfully. I had absolutely no idea that the television and radio stations had interrupted their normal programming to take a live broadcast. This was to be important because it meant that thousands of Australians also watched me and heard my words, my explanation, before the questions of journalists cut in.

I was astonished to learn that day and for years later in letters and phone calls and coversations that some women at home had danced around their living rooms with babes in their arms; that some had been driving and pulled over to the side of the road to listen; that some Labor members had been so surprised and exultant that they almost ran off the road; that people travelling overseas had received mobile phone calls from friends.

Given the accepted pecking order of the Canberra press gallery, Laurie Oakes did get to jump in with the first question within a split section of my finishing. ‘How does it fell to be a Demo-rat?’ he asked, no doubt hoping to set a certain tone.

I learnt later that he had come to the press conference forewarned. Rebecca from my staff had told me she had phoned him as soon as she had heard. She had previously been his researcher.”

Laurie’s interest in Cheryl’s living arrangements

From page 78

“Little by little these intrusions ate in the precious private time we had. Eventually Gavin would be rude to starers. To a woman sitting at the next table contorting her body in an effort to see me, he said aggressively, “Have you worked it out yet?” It really weighed us down and became a source of unpredictable tension in our relationship.”

That’s why I was so obsessive about the sanctity of where I lived. Home became my only refuge; the place where I could let my guard down without a prying camera lens. That’s why I felt sick in the stomach when Laurie Oakes rang to discuss ‘your living arrangements’ in September 2001, just before the election was called. The Liberals, with the help of some in the media, managed to make my ‘living arrangements’ the climax of their four year campaign to defeat me.”

Serious Laurie takes an interest in Cheryl’s hair

From page 114

The context here is that hubby Gavin had a scuffle with a Sun-Herald photographer when she was spotted wearing a wig to the cinema during a three month break:

“With both of us feeling quite shaken by the events I rang John Faulkner and asked him to alert Greg Turnbull and Kim’s chief of staff, Michael Costello. I must say I was extremely pissed off when most of their interest was in whether Gavin had hurt the photographer. Gavin was very distressed. With hindsight, it’s easy to say he should have kept walking and ignored the photographer, but he was thrust into a difficult situation and tried loyally to protect me. We waited quite some time until we had regained our composure and thought it might be safe to go home. We didn’t get to see the film. Our peace of mind and security had been shattered again.

‘Rested Cheryl Shows off her True Colours’ screamed the Sun-Herald’s headline. And the media, and then the country, began discussing my hair. Even Laurie Oakes, the peer-appointed media ‘guru’ made phone calls to Greg Turnbull to ask about my hair! Can you believe that? Of all the things to occupy the media agenda of the nation!”

Laurie label Cheryl arrogant

On page 126, Laurie takes issue with a Cheryl speech:

“The first indicators of an intense media focus became evident at the 1997 Labor National Conference with my dinner speech. I had written it on the plane on my way back from checking on my family and the furniture truck damage. I showed it to some of Kim’s staff to check for inaccuracies and for feedback. None of them saw any problems with it. But Laurie Oakes did!

I was on the ferry which was taking us all to the dinner venue, a vineyard across Hobart harbour, and feeling a little apprehensive about the hours ahead when, not long after we pulled out from the jetty, Greg Turnbull came to us and said that Laurie Oakes ‘had a problem’ with the ending of my speech, which had been pre-circulated.

My words as written were:

“In a way I certainly did not expect it to, the earth moved on October 15. A fault line opened up at Kirribilli and now it’s running all the way to the Prime Minister’s office in Canberra. Because this government has been exposed as mean and petty and lacking vision.”

Laurie apparently thought it was arrogant of me to talk about ‘fault lines’ and to imply that I had anything to do with the boost in the opinion polls for Labor. Well I thought it was fair to say that my actions provided a circuit-breaker for Labor. I had hoped that might happen as a result of joining them and I had in mind, as I wrote, the Sunday Mail poll which showed a 19 per cent increase in Labor’s vote and which used the words ‘Cheryl Kernot’s move to Labor has triggered a landslide of support that would sweep the Howard government from office’.

I had mixed up my geographical features: landslide…fault line! If you ask me, Laurie was just looking for something to pounce on. Many have suggested to me that it may have been somehow connected to the fact that I had not given the exclusive story ahead of the others of my intention to change parties. I don’t know if that was relevant but there was often a scathing tone to his broadcast comments about me. Yet in private discussions before any of my appearances on ‘Sunday’ he always seemed reasonably warm in tone and fair in his interviewing style.

I was also mindful of John Howard’s reaction to my move. In the days following my change to Labor it was noticed that the Prime Minister said more about me in two days than he had said about Pauline Hanson in a year!

Over an attempt at eating dinner while under the stressful deadline of the impending speech, Gareth Evans, John Faulkner and I tried to work out how to rephrase what I had said while maintaining the meaning. We had a few tries at it only to end asking why we should change it anyway.

I did change the words, but it didn’t make any difference. In his television bulletin Laurie accused me of arrogance. And most of the rest of the press gallery who were present to hear my speech followed his lead.”

Oakes rips into Cheryl in Bulletin column

On page 145, Cheryl quotes Oakes saying the following about her:

“What makes her compelling is the deterioration of a woman who was really impressive and apparently a natural politician – a brilliant communicator who seems to have lost it. After she ratted, she suffered from limelight deprivation syndrome. She can’t seem to stand being out of the media. She can’t adjust to the fact that, not being party leader, she’s not the centre of attention, so she keeps trying to become the centre of attention. If she’s not the centre of media attention, she’s unhappy, and when she is, she whinges. It’s quite evident whose fault it is. She has messed it up and the blame is clearly hers and her deficiencies are there for all to see.”

So Cheryl responds as follows in the book:

“I think those comments say as much about Laurie Oakes as they do about me. Like many older male commentators, Oakes makes the mistake of applying conditioned, masculine interpretations to his analysis. For example, it’s interesting to note that for him, women ‘whinge’, but presumably men raise valid issues consistently and forcefully. And he never spoke to me about my claims that I didn’t want to be a celebrity, and could not have been more wrong about ‘limelight deprivation’. Maybe many politicians craved it. I didn’t. ‘Limelight’ and ‘celebrity’ were ruining my life and my marriage.

Laurie even chases Cheryl to London

On page 149 Cheryl gets stuck into Laurie for pursuing her to London:

“Increasingly, some political journalists see themselves as players with the power to make or break political careers. I vividly recall a function at the Boat House restaurant in Canberra in late January 1996. A small group of journalists, discussing whether Paul Keating would call the election that coming weekend, agreed without hesitation or self-consciousness, ‘If he doesn’t, we’ll fuckin’ well make him!’ Is that how they view their power? I remember thinking, with a certain restrained astonishment.

Just as worrying, I think, from a media ethics perspective, is the way some journalists seem prepared to do the ‘dirty work’ for political parties. The constant pursuit and misrepresentation of Paul Keating in the six years since he retired from parliament is one example and the columnist who specialises in using his column to promote the agenda of some politicians whose sole purpose is to undermine is another. How can this be classified as journalism? It’s barely independent comment; just an example of seeking to create momentum.

When I made a hurriedly planned trip to London a couple of years ago, Laurie Oakes requested the London-based Channel Nine journalist track me down. As I turned up for my appointment to tour a regenerated East End community health centre, the journalist remarked to me that I didn’t look very sick. On my expressing surprise at the line of questioning he showed me the fax he had received from Mr Oakes which instructed him to ‘press me’ on my health as there were suggestions I had had a nervous breakdown; Liberal Party associated suggestions, of course, as was confirmed to me by others on my return. Mr Oakes was the only Australian journalist to pursue this all the way to London.”

Laurie finishes the job with stamp duty controversy

On page 173 we discover it was Laurie the Libs used on the stamp duty story.

“On 6 September when I was in Sydney for a two-day shadow ministry meeting, Laurie Oakes rang me. He’d been given materials, he said, which raised the question of whether I had falsely claimed a stamp duty concessional rate for the Gold Coast unit as my ‘principal place of residence’, when I publicly stated I lived principally in Dickson. I listened to him rattle off the figures he had: how much I had sold my previous residence for, how much I had paid for the unit, what the full rate of stamp duty should have been and how I had paid $2000 less. And he casually added that he could see from the footage he had already taken that it looked to be a very nice and secure building. I felt violated again. He was going to televise the location of Gavin and Sian’s home for the whole of Australia to see. The security they had moved for was about to be undone with no regard at all for them.

I asked him if he was aware of the federal police convention that no identifying details of politicians’ residences be broadcast. He said he wasn’t. I felt sick. I am not a dishonest person and as it all sank in I began to cry. I said this would place an enormous strain on my marriage which would probably see the end of it. I saw this as the climax of the campaign to destroy my credibility and paint me as a crook. I asked him why he was willing to do the Liberals’ dirty work.

With what sounded like a slight softening of the voice, Oakes offered me time to check with my solicitor as to the accuracy of the figures. I did. My solicitor was adamant that I was eligible for the concession but wrote immediately to the Commissioner of Stamp Duties seeking clarification.”

ends

Crikey’s take on all of this

Laurie Oakes is clearly a bloke who likes to get his way and throw his weight around, but being accused of contributing to a marriage breakdown is a very big call. If Cheryl was sick, why was she in London? Surely the stamp duty story was legitimate and the ‘fault line’ comment did seem a little over the top.

But he’s also looking a bit thin-skinned, launching such a vicious attack on Cheryl at a time designed to cause maximum damage. It’s a difficult call and we’d like to hear your feedback on this.

Peter Fray

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