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Aug 29, 2011

Milne debacle: how a 16 year old story was spiked by The Oz

Glenn Milne has egg all over his face after the re-hired columnist filed an error-filled op-ed reviving discredited allegations that Prime Minister Julia Gillard had somehow been an accomplice to her one-time partner Bruce Wilson's alleged fraud.

Glenn Milne has egg all over his face after the re-hired columnist filed an error-filled op-ed reviving discredited allegations that Prime Minister Julia Gillard had somehow been an accomplice to her one-time partner Bruce Wilson’s alleged fraud.

The piece rehashed 16-year-old claims — vociferously denied by the Prime Minister whenever they are dredged up — suggesting Gillard had lived in a house with Wilson bought using illegal cash.

Milne had previously written about the saga in 2007. But this morning the Walkleys brawler went further, stating that “Gillard shared a home in Fitzroy bought by Wilson using the embezzled funds.”

Crikey understands that this sentence, removed by News Limited lawyers four years ago, is false.

Now, the entire piece has been deleted from The Australian‘s website, with the newspaper forced to issue a grovelling apology acknowledging that the “assertions are untrue”. Damningly, Milne had failed to ring the PM’s office for comment.

The Australian’s editor, Clive Mathieson, issued the following statement to Crikey this morning: “We’re investigating the Prime Minister’s claim of inaccuracies in the story. As the correction points out, we regret that the PM was not given any chance to respond to the allegations.”

Asked whether Milne would be sacked, Mathieson said “he remains a contributor to The Australian.”

But while the article has been removed, the line continues to fester on fellow News Limited columnist Andrew Bolt’s blog. Interestingly, Bolt has written the following disclaimer directly after it:

“I am not sure that Gillard did share a home with Wilson. My own understanding is that she maintained her own house.”

Late this morning, the Ten Network talk show host issued an “update”, acknowledging The Oz had pulled the story.

While a popular topic in the right wing blogosphere, the allegations are rarely taken seriously by professional journalists.

The fresh outbreak was three days in the making. Bolt had first blogged about the saga on Saturday, publishing part of a statutory declaration by embittered ex- Australian Workers Union Victorian vice president Bob Kernohan that was quoted by Milne. “It could be the last straw for Gillard’s leadership,” Bolt hypothesised.

The yarn had gathered steam a day earlier when 2UE afternoons jock Michael Smith said on air that he had been contacted by “a number of listeners” who had dredged up the Kernohan claims — first aired under privilege by Phil Gude in the Victorian parliament in 1995 and then again in 2001 by Liberal MP turned lobbyist Geoff Leigh.

Leigh told parliament that former AWU state secretary (and future jet-setting MP) Bob Smith had told Kernohan that Wilson had “spent $17,000 of women’s clothing for Gillian (sic) Gillard out of union funds” while Gillard was John Brumby’s chief-of-staff.

Kernohan’s story goes that during her time as a partner at Slater & Gordon, Gillard set up the association Wilson used as WA state secretary to allegedly funnel cash from employers. In a new statutory declaration made last year, he says two houses — one owned by Wilson in Fitzroy and another by the PM — had been bought or renovated using dirty funds.

Despite the usual legal disclaimers, 2UE’s Smith lapped it up to opine that “much of this comes to the heart of the judgement of the lady who runs the country.”

The factional motivation for the leaks has gone mostly unnoticed.

Bob Kernohan was in office when elements of the left took control of the old Victorian AWU in 1989. He has been at war with his internal AWU enemies ever since, alleging financial fraud in 1992 and in 1995 lobbed a kamikaze bid to unseat Bill Ludwig as the union’s national president.

Bruce Wilson was a former ally of Ludwig and former national secretary Ian Cambridge, but was dumped after the financial irregularities emerged. National Crime Authority and fraud squad investigations were initiated but there were never any adverse findings and Wilson never returned any money. On 2UE this afternoon, Kernohan said he was offered a seat in parliament — presumably by forces loyal to Ludwig — if he stayed silent.

The weak Gillard link has been doing the rounds among the PM’s enemies for years. In 2006, Kim Beazley supporters revived them when they thought she was hatching a deal to knife him as opposition leader.

And in 2007, The Age‘s Jason Koutsoukis wrote that he had been summoned to a meeting with a figure who had presented him with a disappointing file that included a “well-worn tirade aired in the Victorian parliament last century.”

It’s worth quoting these lines:

“The one skeleton in Gillard’s closet is the allegation — first raised under parliamentary privilege in 1995 by former Kennett minister Phil Gude — that Gillard’s one-time partner Bruce Wilson, a former secretary of the Australian Workers’ Union, was under investigation by the National Crime Authority and Victoria Police over the misappropriation of union funds.

“According to Gude, the union funds were used to renovate Gillard’s house and buy her some personal items.

“Gillard has repeatedly dismissed the allegations as being totally untrue and those who repeat them as ‘lying cowards’.

On Friday, 2UE’s Smith said one of the reasons for the rehash was that Gillard had said (to Milne in 2007) that she was “young and naive”. In fact, the PM has consistently shot down the suggestions with supreme force each time they get trotted out.

On Australian Story in 2006, she stated point blank that the suggestions were “absolutely untrue…of course I was angry and anybody whose subject to those sort of allegations under the privilege of Parliament, you are going to be angry and you don’t get a fair go in responding…so once the allegations are out there they are going to be reported and that might lead some people even though you have denied them to think that there’s something in them, so I was yeah you know angry but nothing you can do about it except sort of just issue the denials and move on.”

There were a number of other factual howlers in Milne’s article. He referred to the Health Services Union as the “Hospital Services Union”, made a hash of the HSU’s Victorian factional dynamic (Jeff and Kathy Jackson were hardly friendly with Craig Thomson) and got hopelessly confused over the separation between the national office and the HSU’s former No. 1 Victorian branch.

On 2UE early this afternoon, the key portions of a promised pre-recorded interview with Kernohan failed to proceed on legal grounds. Hilariously, Michael Smith said that his talent had been moved to a “safe location”.

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34 thoughts on “Milne debacle: how a 16 year old story was spiked by The Oz

  1. SusieQ

    What a farce!!!! Does anyone in Sydney take 2UE seriously? (perhaps someone from Sydney can advise??) Moved to a safe location? Why?? Scared a proper journalist might come along and ask some proper questions?
    As for the OZ, well, who is running the show over there? Krusty the Clown? And this is the paper that wants to be taken seriously as the nations leading broadsheet!

  2. billie

    Sounds like The Oz is using Glenn Milne to continue their attack on the Prime Minister. Even though the story has been pulled from the online edition, for now, the damage has been done because the story has been re-aired

  3. ggm

    In the context of Thompson, it would be hard to press for a suit, but I find myself drawn to a sense that Gillard should be capable of beating the royal crap (legally speaking) out of Milne, 2ue and the OZ, and force at the very least a grovelling front page retraction, and hopefully a whapping big donate to charity.

    I would of course also say that choosing NOT to, doesn’t imply guilt. Thompson doesn’t re-define absence of suit as a proof of absence of innocence.


  4. GocomSys

    Posted Monday, 29 August 2011 at 6:15 pm
    Frustrating isn’t it?

    What is your opinion to the following?

    Essential to free enterprise and democracy is access to information free of distortion. Newspapers are free to say what they will in editorials and opinion pieces, of course. But news data must be untainted.

    As for News Corp publications have a look at this:

    May I also point out another related issue. The intrinsically destabilising effect the incessant “opinion poll peddling” has. Almost all news outlets (including the ABC and Crikey) faithfully report the latest polls, however dodgy and/or short lived they might be! News Corporation publications never fail to use the latest poll results to mount another offensive.

    When poll results favoured the government, one after another opposition leader tumbled.
    When results turned pear shaped for the government Rudd was toppled and at the same time allowed extremists in the opposition to gain a foothold. The avalanches of polls we are bombarded with now are pushing someone as unlikely as Abbott towards the lodge. A possible imminent disaster for the country waiting to happen, not decided by ballots but driven by “opinion poll peddlers”! What do you reckon?

  5. geomac

    What a strange world for reporters in the Murdoch camp. Milne instead of having clarity seems to have substituted claret. Bolt makes claims but discounts any validity or accuracy. A big scoop to embarrass the PM that was scratched on the same day it is published. Does the Oz have any editors or even a copy boy to check stories before going to print ? Has law and order Bolt nicked himself and his leaker for receiving commonwealth classified documents ?

  6. mari

    Thank you Andrew for this article a well researched article, shame main stream media, doesn’t do similar research

  7. joe2

    “As for the OZ, well, who is running the show over there?”

    Isn’t he part of The Quality Journalism Project on Crikey that has had all comments about him, by readers, deleted, without explanation?

  8. Charles Richardson

    They just can’t help themselves: Mathieson says to you “As the correction points out, we regret that the PM was not given any chance to respond to the allegations.” But the correction doesn’t say that at all. It says “The Australian also acknowledges no attempt was made by anyone employed by, or associated with, The Australian to contact the Prime Minister in relation to this matter.” No regret expressed for that.

  9. man on a bondi tram

    The Murdoch media empire does not sell facts, it sells entertainment.

  10. Rich Uncle Skeleton

    So much for that vaunted Code Of Conduct. Milne should really read it sometime.

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