The Press Council has lashed Fairfax over an election campaign story claiming that Greens leader Richard Di Natale’s three au pairs could be paid as little as $3.75 per hour.

The story reported “Di Natale has paid three au pairs to help with his family as little as $150 a week after tax, or $3.75 an hour — based on a standard 40-hour week — as well as room and board worth $300 a week.”

The total payment per week was $487 for 25 hours of work, but Fairfax told the Press Council it had averaged out the pay over the regular 40-hour working week because Di Natale provided no proof to support his claim that the three au pairs were only working 25 hours a week. Di Natale claimed he would release documents proving his case, but eventually conceded that no timesheets existed.

The Press Council ruled — following a complaint from someone other than Di Natale himself — that it was likely that due to the informal nature of an au pair role, proper timesheets and records were not kept, and that their work could not be compared to other regular 40-hour-per-week work. It noted that although it took Di Natale five days to respond to repeated requests for documents, when the article was published there was no evidence to contradict Di Natale’s claim that the au pairs only worked 25 hours per week, and Fairfax made no attempt to contact the au pairs themselves to check.

“The Council concludes that the publication failed to take reasonable steps to ensure the article was accurate and not misleading, and was fair and balanced,” the Press Council stated.

The APC said no evidence had been provided to suggest the au pairs had been paid minimum wage, but that did not affect the conclusion.

The adjudication appeared in Fairfax papers and online today. — Josh Taylor

Peter Fray

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