Today Tonight was set to unveil an embarrassing travel rort scandal involving a Federal Liberal MP tonight but has been temporarily derailed by an injunction granted over the weekend.

Crikey has provided some reaction to the story and can confirm that Today Tonight are onto a strong story. As far as we can remember, this is the first injunction that an individual Australian politician has taken out against a media outlet in many years.

It is ironic that it comes as Federal Attorney General Philip Ruddock proposes a new set of national defamation laws that will include guidelines on the circumstances surrounding the issuing of injunctions by the courts.

Because our existing eight sets of defamation laws currently provide generous relief (ie damages) after publication, most judges are reluctant to grant an injunction because if the story proves incorrect they can then take action by issuing defamation proceedings.

We don’t know what arguments were put before the courts, but when you are talking about tens of thousands of public money being spent on an overseas junket, it is hard to see how anyone could argue that this information not be made public.

Howard’s family values put to the test

Wednesday 19 May

The conservative, family-oriented John Howard has come out in defence of Liberal MP Trish Draper and her taxpayer funded trip with a former boyfriend this morning.

In an interview with Jon Faine on ABC radio in Melbourne, Howard said he had been advised that Draper hadn’t broken any rules by taking her partner and as long as that was the case, it was fine.

Today’s Oz reported that Special Minister of State Eric Abetz has also said Draper did not breach travel guidelines by listing her former boyfriend as a spouse on the $9832 European tour in 2000, even though she was not in a de facto relationship with him.

But Draper’s actions must come as a blow to Howard, who has been married for more than 30 years and believes strongly in old-fashioned family values.

Indeed Democrat Senator Brian Greig battled for five years to have his partner of 18 years, Keith Mackenzie, recognised as his de facto spouse.

Under the parliamentary partner travel scheme, the partners of gay couples were not regarded spouses or de factos and it wasn’t until April this year that Mackenzie was finally officially recognised by the Remuneration Tribunal as a spouse for the purpose of travel entitlements.

However, the question still remains, if Draper’s former boyfriend Derick Sands was not her spouse and not her de facto, how can Howard and Abets say she was within the travel guidelines?

The guidelines specify the spouse should live with the politician and Draper’s abuse is unprecedented.

The Age – Howard backs MP’s travel junket

SMH – Win for gay MP on travel entitlements

Trish Draper junket, conflicts and suppression

Thursday 20 May

You’ve got to feel sorry for Today Tonight, which is still yet to broadcast its Trish Draper story and now has very little left to go with, apart from an interview with Draper claiming she had done nothing wrong. Ironically, the injunction only applies in South Australia so TT were able to touch briefly on the story last night on the east coast.

The story has put the Murdoch press in a difficult position because Draper’s former boyfriend and fellow junketeer Derick Sands, revealed in today’s Age (but not its website) as (removed due to suppression order), is a photographer at News Ltd’s Messenger chain of suburban papers in Adelaide. The lad has picture by-lines in this week’s Messenger papers.

What is it about Rupert’s employees in Adelaide and why don’t News Ltd papers report that one of their own is caught up in the Draper scandal and (removed due to suppression order).

In 2002 rumours circulated that a News Ltd employee who usually drives Rupert around Adelaide was storing guns in a locker used by the garage staff of The Advertiser.

Apparently the story of the man who broke into the locker was pulled from The Advertiser, even though it appeared on Channel 10 news the previous evening? Media Watch explains all the juicy details here:

No wonder Rupert is getting the hell out of Adelaide.

One subscriber wrote to Crikey yesterday asking why you need suppression orders when The Advertiser will happily suppress a good story anyway:

“I was just wondering why it is that The Australian has had a fairly sizeable article about Trish Draper for each of the last two days, but The Advertiser has had nothing at all on it. I don’t understand how it can be an interesting national issue, but not an interesting South Australian issue. Some people are of the view that we don’t really need suppression orders in South Australia.”

The Tiser finally got onto the story today as you can see here, but they’ve failed to reveal Sands is employed by News Ltd.

Trish Draper and strange coincidences

Thursday 20 May

Light of my life, fire of my loins… No, subscribers, no-one’s getting carried away here. It’s just that as a big Martin Amis fan, Hillary Bray always reacts to the genuine article, the first few pars of Lolita, the way a light beer drinker reacts to a belt of Carlsberg Elephant.

But what a coincidence, hey? Trish Draper, the embattled MHR for Makin, first came to national attention for calling for a ban on the 1997 film adaptation of the Nabokov novel – and hero, Humbert Humbert, first discovers the predilection for younger members of the opposite sex that causes him so much trouble while in France, the scene of her own dalliance. Spooky, hey?

Brian Greig on same-sex travel rights

Thursday 20 May

By Democrats Senator Brian Greig

Well done to Crikey for raising the question of same-sex couples in the context of Trish Draper’s apparent “travel rort” issue, and for pointing out my own difficulties in this area.

It’s true that the Remuneration Tribunal recently changed the guidelines to recognise my same-sex partner for the purposes of travel entitlements, but it’s my understanding (yet to be tested), that this ruling applies only to domestic travel, not international, and it does not seem to apply therefore to overseas “study tours.”

A few years ago, this federal situation was also challenged through a formal complaint to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, which found in favour of the same-sex partner. Regrettably, HREOC rulings are not binding, hence the Government got away with doing nothing.

So, that’s at least two cases where independent statutory authorities have reasonably recognised same-sex couples and nudged for reform, but both have been partly or wholly ignored by the Government. Long-term same-sex partners get no leniency nor flexibility in their overseas travel arrangements. Gay partners are grounded. Full stop.

Yet, in Ms Draper’s case, the Minister (Senator Abetz), seems to be willing to allow leniency and flexibility, even where the rules are unambiguous. You rightly point out that “de facto” nominees must live together to qualify for travel entitlements but from news reports, it appears Ms Draper and her lover never did live together. Despite this, Senator Abetz says it’s ok and it doesn’t break the rules. Well actually, yes it does.

The result? MP’s in same-sex relationships and who live together are refused overseas travel rights in accordance with strict guidelines. Heterosexual MP’s who have casual lovers and who do not live together, are allowed to bend the rules as they please.

It would seem, according to the Government, that a casual fling from a neighbouring suburb has greater rights than a long-term partner living under the same roof.

Brian Greig
Democrats Senator

Draper – the plot thickens

Thursday 20 May

Crikey hears that an Adelaide PR identity with impeccable Liberal links was ringing around other firms several weeks before the Trish Draper story broke on behalf of her travelling companion, photographer Derick Sands. Yes, Sands has issues of his own that could do with a spin doctor – but the Liberal associations of the person making the calls are curious.

If they simply wanted to help Sands, why couldn’t they take him on as a client themselves? Did they want other parties involved in the matter? And, given who their friends are, whose interests were they really considering – Sands’ or Draper’s?

We hear they rang at least five firms – firms with diverse political connections of their own. Did they want them to be accessories after the fact? The plot thickens.

And what about this talk that South Australian Liberal Party President Bob Randall rushed into the courts to get the injunction against Today Tonight on Sunday without reference to the State Executive. Is it true?

Last weekend was a long weekend in the shallow bush grave capital of Australia – but haven’t the Libs heard of telephone hook ups? The SA Division of the party is cash strapped – and after pouring megabucks down the drain with a Court of Disputed Returns case against the state’s mad Speaker and former party member Peter Lewis that seemed doomed from the word go surely the Exec would have liked to know about any legal moves.

Today Tonight refutes Draper interview claim

Friday 21 May

Yesterday Trish Draper issued a press release stating that she had conducted two interviews with a Today Tonight journalist in her electoral office. The journalist in question, Peter Leybourne, denies that.

He and his camera crew were waiting at Draper’s office on the afternoon of Friday 14 May in the hope of getting an on camera interview. Two calls were made to Draper and resulted in being told she was in meetings with constituents. Leybourne was rung by his boss, Graham Archer, who had just received a fax from Draper saying that she was happy to answer any questions put to her in writing.

The crew then noticed some activity near the fire escape in the carpark under her office and a staffer emerged carrying a bundle of folders which he placed in a car. When the staffer went back upstairs, Leybourne looked through the window and saw the top folder was marked “Itinerary for Trish Draper Monday 10 May 2004 – Monday 17 August 2004”. Realising the pollie might be heading out for the rest of the day, they waited at the car. Sure enough the fire escape opened and they spied Draper standing there. She didn’t emerge and the door closed very quickly.

Leybourne then went upstairs to ask to speak to Mrs Draper and to verbally supply the questions she wanted in writing. On enquiring at the office he was told the Member was out, he informed the sheepish staffer that he’d seen Draper hiding in the fire exit stairwell.

Eventually Draper emerged and Leybourne was invited to an “off the record” chat in the presence of a staffer. Leybourne was asked if he had any cameras or listening devices on his person. As the meeting was “off the record”, he was not permitted to take notes either.

Draper and Leybourne both agree she stated her actions were in accordance with official guidelines. Draper also showed Leybourne a letter from Special Minister of State Eric Abetz (dated, curiously enough, the previous day, 13 May 2004), which Draper claimed was proof of her entitlements had in accordance with guidelines of the Remuneration Tribunal Determination. She would not hand over a copy of the letter.

However, amongst other things, Senator Abetz said he “was aware of her domestic circumstances in 2000”. Now just how would he know such personal details when she’s so vague about them? He also says at no stage has DFAT expressed any concerns. This, of course, doesn’t mean they’ve ever been asked. While Trish Draper in her press release claims Abetz “confirmed in writing my actions were in accordance with the guidelines”. In fact Abetz’s letter and his press release raise more questions than they answer. Sure you nominate a spouse, but the real questions is, how does someone qualify as a spouse? That’s the question being skipped over.

Anyway, upon finishing the off record chat, Peter Leybourne spoke with Graham Archer again and returned to ask Draper a couple more questions in clarification. There was no “interview”. Neither party was ever in any doubt that the conversations were off the record. Draper tried backdoor pressure on Today Tonight using numerous intermediaries but every time Graham Archer said just tell her to call him. All they got was silence.

And as for Crikey’s comments that all Today Tonight had left were the interview with Draper, well they don’t because there wasn’t one. But Today Tonight says it has a full powder keg to use whenever it can broadcast the story. Remember they’re the only ones with any documents which show the full extent of Draper’s actions or inactions. And they’re the only ones who have actually interviewed the man in question, the man no one from the press can now find. And they say the overseas travel story is not the only Trish Draper story they’re working on.

Draper hasn’t got a prayer

Friday 21 May

Trish Draper must have thanked the good Lord last year when the redistribution increased the margin in her South Australian seat of Makin to 3.7 per cent – and thanking the good Lord is important in Makin, as it takes in much of Adelaide’s Bible belt.

However, after this week’s revelations (geddit?!?), it looks as if she’ll be in for a devil of a time.

At the 2002 state election, a new force appeared on the South Australian political scene. The Assemblies of God backed a party that seemed to have forgotten the commandment about not bearing false witness, but instead packaged themselves up as “Families First”. Such was the force of the God-bothering vote that even when it was finally revealed who was behind the new movement, Families First still won a place in the Legislative Council.

The nascent party fought the good fight in 27 seats across the state, averaging 4.6 of the vote. In the state electorates covered by Makin, however, Families First scored much better. In Elizabeth they got 7.5 per cent of the vote, in Florey 6.6, in Newland 6.9, in Playford 5.5 and 7.2 in Wright.

How will these voters react to the news about Draper and her friend? Talk says that some of the photography practised by Draper’s travelling companion may not be to these people’s taste, either. Where will their preferences now go?

It looks as if Draper could be engulfed – just as those other sinners were engulfed by the flood so many years ago.

If the Makin God-botherers flex their muscle, Draper doesn’t have a prayer.

Who dobbed in Draper?

A very nasty answer is drifting around South Australian Liberal circles to a bleeding obvious question – just who dobbed in Trish Draper?

Nasty, because there are local Libs who say her own hard right faction was to blame. Draper, they allege, had strayed from the paths of righteousness – or just rightness – in the eyes of some of her colleagues and was getting too cosy with the wrong sort of people (politically speaking, that is).

A wink here, a nod there – and Today Tonight was soon beating down her door.

The early warning everyone missed

We should have known. Sources say a vital sign in the very earliest days of Trish Draper’s career as Member for Makin indicated that her appetites would get her into trouble.

On one of her first trips back from Canberra the new MP, clearly unused to flying up the sharp end of a plane, left the cabin crew and everyone in earshot gobsmacked when she asked for seconds after the in flight meal had been served.

Draper – a correction?

A subscriber has written claiming Hillary is wrong to say that Trish Draper came to attention with her opposition to the Adrian Lynne film of Lolita. “Trish first came to national attention in about 1994/95 when she tries to ban the move Salo,” they say.

We put this to our National Affairs Editor who replied: “Salo? Search me, Guv – but it’s hilarious if that’s the case. Salo’s got even more grotesque coincidences than Lolita. The film, you see, features the perverse exploitation of the young by deeply unpleasant political types for their own evil gratification”.

Could Draper and the Libs have handled this any worse?

First Sealed section – Monday May 24

Talk about a small issue getting way out of control. The Trish Draper fiasco has been appallingly handled by all concerned and now looks like doing some serious damage to the credibility of the Howard Government.

Draper finally faced her demons this morning and fronted an interview with John Laws on 2UE which didn’t go as badly as it might have. She also spoke to the ABC in Adelaide. Check out The Age report of this morning’s events here.

And all of this has happened before Today Tonight even got their story to air. Tune in tonight at 6.30pm to see TT deliver on what they promise is a truckload of documents and some revealing interviews. A TT crew dropped into the Crikey bunker at 4pm two Fridays ago to shoot some “independent reaction” for their story.

We had no idea what the issue was before they arrived and on hearing some of the details verbally and seeing a couple of documents, we gave some strong comments, even calling the situation “unprecedented”.

However, word reaches Crikey that a certain controversial Labor senator took a female who wasn’t his wife or spouse to Rome to meet the Pope a few years back. He apparently passed her off as his wife to the Pope. Oh dear. Let’s hope taxpayers didn’t pick up that bill.

The Liberals are already warning about a “thermo-nuclear” response if Labor dares raise the Draper issue and it was very interesting Latham’s front benchers largely left it alone today. However, Latham did use question number 5 this afternoon to ask whether the Government would adopt Labor’s plan to have an independent tribunal administer parliamentary entitlements so that we wouldn’t have “politicians overseeing politicians”.

Latham did not mention Draper by name or even the specific issue of travel entitlements but the PM got straight on the front-foot against Latham for “kicking the issue along”, then defended Draper as the hardest working backbencher he knew, claimed she acted “completely in accordance with the rules” and then challenged any Labor MPs in the same position to go right ahead and pay back the money.

It was quite an aggressive shot across the bowels as Hugo Kelly explains in item two.

Meanwhile, wasn’t it ironic that South Australian Liberal moderate heavy Amanda Vanstone defended the much-travelled Makin MHR on Sunday Sunrise yesterday, saying “She has followed the rules – you’re not suggesting she hasn’t? That’s the advice that I’ve got, I’ve read a lot of the newspapers about this. These were rules that were established as I’m advised in 1993 and she’s a good hard-working member who has followed the rules.”

(Gee, if only those spluttering towards these shores in boats encountered such flexible rules.)

Ian Evans, however, the hard right wannabe leader of the sad band of failures and misfits that passes for a Liberal opposition in South Australian, was supposedly pouring bile all over his factional friend at a party shindig on Friday night.

You’ve got to wonder what on earth the government was doing trotting Vanstone and Nick Minchin out to defend the indefensible and then announcing later in the day that the rules would be reviewed.

Crikey has seen the rules and they specifically say that a partner must be a live-in spouse, not some casual partner of a few months. Given that Draper is now offering to pay for the expenses of her favourite News Ltd photographer, isn’t she and the government admitting that they did the wrong thing?

If Draper had her time again she would have paid back the money as soon as TT got onto the story, apologised and accepted a reprimand from the PM or Senator Abetz.

There is another lovely irony about all this trouble caused by TT. Did anyone notice that Seven Network executive chairman and controlling shareholder Kerry Stokes was seated between John and Janette Howard at the great 30-year anniversary gig in Sydney last Sunday night?

Did either of them have a word in the ear of the 4-times married Stokes about the impending Today Tonight story on Draper?

Stokes learnt the hard way back in 1996 about the problems associated with interfering with a political investigation by Today Tonight. He tried to pull a story on Jeff Kennett’s dodgy share dealings and ended up with his presenter Jill Singer collapsing on air and then 4 Corners doing a story on the fiasco.

All of the reporters and producers involved in the story were eventually sacked but Stokes hopefully learnt that it is safer not to intervene in the political process. If either of the Howards raised it last Thursday, Stokes hopefully replied, “I’m just the owner, you’ll need to talk to the EP of Today Tonight about that and I’m not expressing a view either way”.

We’ll be putting out a second edition tonight taking in reaction to the TT story.

What we said after seeing Today Tonight

Check it all out here:

Peter Fray

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