Former Queensland government housing minister Bruce Flegg, who resigned under media pressure over dealings with his lobbyist son, has delivered a stunning salvo in Parliament against The Courier-Mail and its state political editor Steven Wardill.
The rambling speech by the member for Moggill, available here, claims the Courier relied on incomplete emails from his sacked media adviser Graeme Hallett to make its case for his dumping, which reached a crescendo with a memorable front page banner last November: “How does this man keep his job?”.
Flegg says he has met personally with News CEO Kim Williams to complain about the stories and also plans to confront News Queensland editorial director David Fagan.
Over several days of sustained coverage last year, Wardill alleged Flegg had tabled false documents, made inconsistent diary notes and moonlighted as a GP when he was meant to be attending to constituents. Flegg has sued Hallett, a former friend, for defamation and nearly $1 million in lost income.
At 11.29am yesterday, Flegg rose in the Legislative Assembly to claim Wardill had never contacted him over the yarns:
“Over a five-day period around 12 November 2012, the Courier-Mail ran a massive series of articles personally attacking me and my family totalling almost 10 pages of their paper. I intend to set the record straight today. Firstly, I make it clear that journalist Steve Wardill never once during that time contacted me to ensure a balanced report. A list of email subject lines alone — only the subject lines — was released by a disgruntled former staffer. The Courier-Mail, like me, had never, ever seen the content of most of those emails and just took public statements at face value.”
Flegg claims Wardill pumped his fist and backslapped and high-fived other colleagues during his resignation speech on November 14, which came just 20 minutes after he told Premier Campbell Newman of his plans to quit to avoid more distractions for the government.
The next day, a “Hey Dad” email emerged that appeared to show Flegg’s son, Rowland lobbyist Jonathon Flegg, had lobbied him inappropriately over a senior public service appointment. Flegg claimed the Courier “doctored the e-mail to give a false impression of access by my son”, which appeared in its original form on Fairfax’s rival Brisbane Times website. He sought the advice intervention of the Queensland Integrity Commissioner in relation to the lobbyist register, who cleared him of any wrongdoing.
He further suggests that Fagan’s wife, former ABC host Madonna King, was somehow involved in the saga. Fagan, he reckons, had tried to “attack a young person and force them out of their job just to protect a business associate of your wife and cover up her connection to the lobbying firm”.
“Beyond the attitude of Mr Wardill, it is important to note that the wife of the editor of the Courier-Mail [sic], Madonna King, was in fact a business associate of the lobbying firm and its principal. It is no surprise that the Courier-Mail hid the e-mail’s origin.”
Fagan slammed that interpretation this morning, telling Crikey he “completely rejected the accusations”. King has apparently MCed a few Rowland functions.
Among other allegations, Flegg suggests the paper deliberately ran a photo of him next to an unrelated “p-edophilia cover up” headline and used the global resources of News Limited to track down details of his offshore financial details in relation to the eviction of “Inala gran” Miriam Cope.
An April 2 story reporting Flegg had nominated his son’s business partner for an International Women’s Day award was wrong, Flegg claims, because the nomination occurred before Jonathon Flegg had consummated the business relationship.
Wardill has been contacted for comment and we will include his response when we receive it.