Two weeks ago, a respected Canberra political reporter did something bizarre, unusual and brave. He wrote a story about the truth behind sleaze in Australian politics. This is how Jason Koutsoukis started his column in The Sunday Age:
The phone rang one evening last week and a familiar voice at the other end said: “I’ve got something for you. It’s hot.” So hot, I thought I could hear it sizzling. Come down for a “chat”, the man suggested. All very hush-hush and strictly on the QT.
Walking through the corridors of power to meet my trusted source, dreaming of Watergate, I half wished we were meeting in a dingy car park and not the plush ministerial suite where I was headed.
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Into the meeting room I waltzed and there was my source beaming behind two glasses of red and a fat manila folder with the most misunderstood noun in the Coalition lexicon scrawled across the front: Gillard.
So this was the rumoured dirt file on Labor’s deputy leader Julia Gillard that was being hawked around the press gallery, and that I’d heard so much about.
My heart sank. I had a vague idea of its contents and believed there wasn’t enough to sustain two paragraphs, let alone a whole story.
Koutsoukis’s story about the peddling of political dirt was in stark contrast to the wink-wink-nudge-nudge dirt peddling stories that proliferate in the Australian media. Like the one by Paul Sheehan in today’s Sydney Morning Herald about how Julia Gillard has allegedly “air-brushed her past” by excluding from her Who’s Who entry the fact that between 1984 and 1986 she worked full-time for Socialist Forum — “a group that formed after another schism in the Communist Party of Australia, with the aim of advancing the socialist agenda in Australia.” Or the story by Glenn Milne in yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph about a “fact” sheet on a married Federal Government minister “which alleges he has s-xually harassed other men in political circles” and says: “Witness has seen him go to a bath house in Sydney on several occasions. Rumored that he is sleeping with one of his staff members in Canberra.”
Sleaze and dirt are component parts of the fabric of Australian political reportage, as Christian Kerr points out today in Crikey. But if a few more journalists had the guts to reveal the dirt behind the dirt, as Jason Koutsoukis did two weeks ago, rather than acting as the conduit for smear and innuendo, as Paul Sheehan and Glenn Milne did over the past two days, a lot more politicians would be a lot more reticent to spread the muck.