Well, as Crikey predicted, there was a Thursday slam for the Greens in Batman, with a top-of-the-website (for about three hours this morning) story in The Age by Noel Towell, and headlined “The rage inside the Greens machine“. A news drop, too! Towell claims a Greens staffer snarled down the phone at him:
“You’re fucking finished … I’m going to tear you to fucking pieces.”
Which, yeah, um, OK. That was it for news. The rest was rehash and less than fully accurate. Towell argues:
The fault lines in Batman are familiar: Bhathal’s foes are long-term party stalwarts, fellow members of the Darebin branch, aghast at some of the people surrounding the candidate, who they say are newcomers to the party with a ‘whatever-it-takes’ approach to their politics.
No, this is simply wrong. There are “old Greens” and “new Greens” on both sides. Bhathal and her supporters are left-shifted members, the core of whom have been in the Greens for 20 years, and built the party in Victoria. The newer members are those they’ve recruited in that process. The leakers and saboteurs group have a handful of long-standing members, but they are principally newer recruits from the lumpen knowledge class, without a left political background.
Nor does Towell’s claim of a means-v-ends, whatever-it-takes-approach split stack up. The Northcote campaign was run against a right-wing factional candidate, aligned to the dissident-SDA-derived Adem Somyurek group. The campaign simply pointed out her association with anti-abortion, anti-same-sex marriage, etc, forces. Forthright politics, but no smear.
And the Batman campaign has been run with an emphasis on the positive pro-Greens message, and no slating of Labor candidate Ged Kearney’s personal political record at all. It’s Labor’s overall policy on Adani and refugees that’s being targeted. Indeed, Bhathal’s media adviser has expressed reservations about the methods in the Northcote campaign.
This is not the first time Towell has been tangled up in a bad Thursday splash. In 2012, we reported that, while at The Canberra Times, he had run with a big story alleging that a last-minute poll showed Labor would retain power. They were shellacked, and psephologist Antony Green criticised the lack of scrutiny the paper had applied to the poll’s sample, and the manner in which it was written up.
To be fair, there’s nothing that says such a misinterpretation helps Labor (indeed the poll missed the Greens’ shellacking there, too). But more recently, Towell had a reckless splash in the Northcote byelection, running a story about Wills Labor MP Peter Khalil, who claimed he couldn’t afford a house in Brunswick on his $200,000 p.a. salary. The story was a month out from the November Northcote poll, in which Labor was running on housing affordability.
What wasn’t mentioned at all in the story was that Khalil owned a house in Murrumbeena, Victoria, which is listed on his register of interests. It is currently worth as much as $1.23 million, according to Domain. These Labor folks; so unfussed by wealth, they cry poor from million-dollar homes!
Given the manifold familial connections between Labor and the Age newsroom, one would have thought a little more caution was in order. I would reckon a fair chunk of the 70,000-80,000 people who still buy a paper copy are old lefties turned Green voters in the socialist republic of Northcote. Is this part of the paper’s decades-long cunning plan to alienate 100% of its old base?
Or is it just that sometimes you go out to make a splash, and it turns into a bomb?
Disclaimer: This writer … oh, see previous disclaimers.
Correction: Crikey yesterday stated that the house owned by Wills MP Peter Khalil in Murrumbeena is vested in a holding company, owned by his wife. In fact the holding company merely has its registered office there. The article also neglected to mention that the Murrumbeena property was listed on his parliamentary register of interests, and wrongly implied that Khalil had “forgotten” the property existed.