At 9am yesterday morning, following a cricket drop-off, I headed to a cafe in East Malvern to meet Amber Harrison, the whistleblower at the centre of the storm engulfing Seven West Media and its embattled CEO, Tim Worner.
After talking things through for 90 minutes, I left with the impression that Seven West still hasn’t learnt any lessons and consequentially will have a messy year that could ultimately play out at the AGM in November.
There is nothing stopping Amber Harrison from running for the Seven West board on a platform of accountability and cultural change at Seven West Media. Don’t be surprised if it happens.
She’s an impressive individual, having kept herself together after a mammoth legal onslaught by a powerful corporate machine. She’s got the documents, she understands the governance issues, she’s tactically shrewd and determined to succeed.
And how has Seven West Media responded so far? They are trying to demonise her as a mentally unstable thief. She is nothing of the sort.
Seven’s legal boss, Bruce McWilliam, is the Prime Minister’s best mate. He’s also a past master, often urged on by his boss, Kerry Stokes, at waging expensive litigation. Look no further than the estimated $30 million Seven spent when successfully sued for defamation by lawyer John Marsden in the mid-1990s. Then there was the $200 million lost on the mammoth C7 case. If the PM is serious about gender equality he probably needs to give Bruce a call and politely suggest a change in strategy in relation to Amber Harrison.
[Is Seven boss Tim Worner a dead man walking?]
How on earth can Seven West announce an inquiry into the matter and then not require the blue-blood law firm Allens to actually interview the prime witness?
My conversation with her was illuminating. She was credible, impressive and utterly believable. If she does ever decide to talk to 60 Minutes or A Current Affair, she will resonate very well with the audience.
And why wouldn’t she, if Seven’s supposedly arm’s-length independent legal investigators won’t give her a hearing? The court of public opinion is going pretty well for Harrison, and she’s got plenty more ammunition to fire. Simply put, her greatest asset is the truth, which I and many others believe she is committed to telling.
We discussed at length the claims about the four other female Seven staff members and media identities who she alleges have caught Tim Worner’s wandering eye. Harrison knows some of them personally and has discussed the claims with various Seven insiders, including some of the direct players. She didn’t name them lightly and believes she is on very solid ground.
Yet Bruce McWilliam is bombarding the media with legal threats if they report these claims, which were first made by Harrison in her complaint to the Human Rights Commission.
McWilliam’s hypocrisy was on full display this week when he defended Tim Worner’s credit card spending on the following grounds in The Australian:
“People who are heads of departments such as Tim Worner for production or the executive producer of a program would have a whole host of departmental expenditure on their card.”
How can McWilliam say that when it was widely known that Amber Harrison had 10 people use her card at Pacific Publications because it was the master card used for all major events in Seven West’s magazine business?
McWilliam threw the book at Harrison but is taking a completely different view with Seven’s CEO, presumably because that suits the position being taken by executive chairman and billionaire controlling shareholder Kerry Stokes.
In terms of communicating with shareholders, Seven West Media has still only lodged this cursory five-paragraph statement with the ASX on December 22.
Sunlight is the best disinfectant in these situations and if Kerry Stokes won’t release relevant documents, then Amber Harrison will do it for him. A Deloitte report into credit card spending by Seven’s top brass was widely reported by the media this week.
Stand by for plenty more of this sort of material as an unemployed woman in Melbourne runs rings around a group of aggressive and seasoned corporate executives at Australia’s No. 1 news network.
Seven journalists are still yet to report a word on this situation, but they have carried stories on the Harrison family before. Amber’s dad, Gary, was paralysed after falling off a roof during his career as a project manager. He’s also a one-man campaigning machine as is demonstrated by this Brendan Donohue piece on Seven News about his push for more level-access tram stops in Melbourne.
Who knows, the man in the wheelchair might also come along to the next Seven West Media AGM to support his daughter if this issue isn’t finally put to bed after burning so much time, money and goodwill at the company.