We love a scandal at Crikey — the original breaking story that sweeps across front pages and the top of TV bulletins, and then the follow-ups that piece together the whole picture. And it often turns out worse than first thought. We also love a slow-burning scandal, where just one or two journalists work hard over time, until the story gradually builds up to an outrage that can’t be ignored.

Most high-flying scandal. It’s the stuff that scandal dreams are made of, involving a helicopter, public money and a political fundraiser. Bronwyn Bishop’s use of a chartered helicopter to get from Melbourne to Geelong has managed to be the scandal of the year, for the implications it had for the speaker and then the government. The story was originally broken by Annika Smethurst at the Herald Sun. 

Bronwyn Bishop defended her use of public funds to pay for the infamous helicopter, and although she paid back the money, it took weeks for Bishop to apologise in an interview with Alan Jones. It was not long after the apology that Bishop fell on her sword, after sustained pressure from the media, the opposition, and eventually some members of her own party. The whole saga had further implications for Tony Abbott, with his support for Bishop another black mark against his name in the eyes of the public and restless Liberal backbenchers.

Jobs lost: 2

The best confected scandal. 

Should the appearance of Zaky Mallah on Q&A count in our list of scandals? It was an exchange that was over in minutes and led to reams and reams of newspaper coverage and front pages that equated the national broadcaster with terrorists. While News Corp and the government fanned the flames, Zaky Mallah himself didn’t shy away from the attention. After Mallah told government MP Steve Ciobo that MPs like him contributed to people joining Islamic State, the ABC was raked over the coals after his history and series of tweets to prominent female journalists were revealed. It led to government MPs boycotting Q&A until the ABC agreed for it to be moved to the news and current affairs division. Mallah is still trying to live off the notoriety of the whole furore, selling the “weed hat” he wore on the program on eBay.

Jobs lost: none

Trees killed: many

Best storm in a Twitter cup. SBS sports reporter Scott McIntyre was not a household name before Anzac Day this year, when, in a series of tweets, he labelled people who commemorate the day as “poorly-read, largely white, nationalist drinkers and gamblers” and also criticised Australian soldiers. Within 24 hours, McIntyre didn’t have a job at SBS any more, after then-communications minister Malcolm Turnbull sent SBS boss Michael Ebeid a text message to alert him to the tweets. The saga isn’t over, with McIntyre taking SBS to the Federal Court, where the broadcaster said McIntyre wasn’t sacked for his views, but because the tweets breached SBS’ social media policy and code of conduct.

Jobs lost: 1 (so far)

Best backfired scandal. The government set up the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption hoping for a scandal, but the one they got wasn’t what they expected. It was revealed by Fairfax’s Latika Bourke in August that Commissioner Dyson Heydon had accepted an invitation to be the guest speaker at a Liberal Party fundraiser (these seem to attract scandals). Heydon said he had declined the offer once he found out it was a political fundraiser. In the ensuing weeks, we learnt that Heydon didn’t know how to use email, and waited while he decided whether he was still fit to lead the royal commission — unsurprisingly, he found that he was.

Jobs lost: none

Best Abbott-ism. It’s possible that a whole article could be dedicated to gaffes and comments by Tony Abbott this year, but the one that cut particularly deep for the indigenous community was the former PM’s comment that Aboriginal people who live in communities in Western Australia were making “lifestyle choices”. Protests around the country over the closure of the communities showed the depth of feeling on the issue, and showed just another way that Abbott was out of touch with the people he claimed to represent.

Best business bastardry scandal. The revelation that convenience store chain 7-Eleven was systematically underpaying its workers brought to light the way young workers were taken advantage of by big business and the difficulties they faced in getting justice. An investigation by Fairfax showed that workers were systematically paid half of what they were entitled to, and at least 50 stores were raided last week as part of an investigation to seize documents including work rosters.

The ‘no one wins’ scandal. The rorts and rip-offs in the private vocational education sector has been a slow-burning scandal. Journalists at Fairfax and the ABC, and then The Australian, revealed that the deregulation of the vocational education sector has left thousands of people, often unemployed, disadvantaged and mentally disabled, with thousands of dollars of debt for courses they haven’t been able to complete. The government has spent $7.7 billion on subsidising these courses but has not frozen funds to the industry. While the idea of sales agents preying on people offering free laptops, iPads and the promise of a better future is enough to make the blood boil, the fact that the taxpayer has funded this practice is the icing on the scandal cake.

Best sports scandal. At a local level, the award for best scandal goes to the Four Corners and Animals Australia investigation into the greyhound racing industry, which discovered illegal live-baiting is rife — and led to multiple arrests.

At an international level, it’s hard to choose between the FIFA debacle and the Russian athletics doping revelations. While the Russian athletics team has been shown to be systematically doping and accepted a ban from the sport, FIFA president Sepp Blatter has refused to accept responsibility throughout accusations of bribery, corruption and rigging of bids for the World Cup. After authorities arrested 14 people in September on vote rigging, Blatter said he would resign as president, and Swiss investigators announced they were opening criminal proceedings into his dealings on “suspicion of criminal mismanagement and misappropriation”. This week Blatter was banned from the sport for eight years, along with Michael Platini, the president of the European governing body for soccer. The list of high-profile officials banned by FIFA’s ethics committee is so long, it needs a full article to explain it.

Despite calls from sponsors to leave, and overwhelming evidence against him, Blatter is still in denial about his role in the scandals that have plagued the people’s game for years. He told a press conference this week “I regret that I am the punching ball for this organisation,” and that he is “not ashamed” of his conduct.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey