The Australian’s chief reporter in Queensland, Tony Koch, sent Crikey this response to two leaked letters from Courier-Mail editor David Fagan which we published on Friday (item 23).
The letter to staff of The Courier-Mail by Editor David Fagan published by Crikey on Friday, August 25 was wrong. He referred to an article under my name in The Australian which revealed that MPs who were retiring or were defeated at the September 9 election would not have to refund their unexpended electoral allowances. That refers to the allowances of up to to $66,770 paid to all 89 members of the Qld Parliament for “electorate expenses”. Speaker Tony McGrady advised retiring members, and those who might be defeated, that they would not have to refund unexpended electorate allowances, which had been paid in advance to December 31. McGrady is one of the retiring MLAs, and his electorate attracted the top rate of $66,770. The Australian thought that worthy of Page 1 coverage. Premier Peter Beattie immediately ordered all Labor MPs to refund the unexpended expenses. He said if he retained government he would introduce retrospective legislation if necessary to recoup the taxpayer funds. Crown Law advised that MPs were not entitled to payment for work or service which they did not perform. Mr Fagan told his staff the expenses story was ho-hum stuff hardly worth following. Every other media in Qld thought differently. Perhaps the news judgment of every other editor in Queensland is less keen than that of Mr Fagan. Or perhaps, like The Australian, those news editors have the courage to accept the responsibility they have to be a true watchdog on the public purse. Mr Fagan also failed to point out to his staff — who are well aware of it anyway — that the agenda-setting stories of the election campaign, as distinct from press-release reliance, have emanated from The Australian. They included: 12-08-06 when it was predicted in a column that Dr Flegg, a week in office, was too green to last and would be an embarrassment; 17-08-06 — Looking south for water instead of a 1,200 km pipeline from the north; 18-08-06 Michael McKenna — Libs make Health policy on the run; 21-08-06 Exiting MPs to get expenses; and 25-08-06 — Conflict of interest fears over Lib leader’s empire.