Cheryl Kernot Gareth Evans
(Images: AAP/Julian Smith and AAP/YONHAP NEWS)

This week, Crikey is celebrating its 20th anniversary, so we’ve taken a look through the archives to bring you some of our biggest and most controversial scoops. Today, the 2002 email sent to subscribers scooping Laurie Oakes with the revelation that Australian Democrat defector Cheryl Kernot and Labor’s Gareth Evans had an affair.

Wednesday, July 3, 2002, 10.13am

Dear Sole Subscribers,

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Well, well, well, the Packers should have Buckley’s chance of insisting on privacy over the breakdown of the James and Jodhi marriage now that Laurie Oakes has chosen to draw the public’s attention to the rumors of an affair between Cheryl Kernot and Gareth Evans.

The Bulletin will sell off the shelf today and the Packers will profit from some of these lines from Oakes which are only available on the mag’s website to subscribers. This is the first third of Laurie’s column:

Secrets and lies

By Laurie Oakes

“In the long whinge that Cheryl Kernot has produced to explain why she bears no responsibility for the collapse of her once brilliant political career, a constant theme is media intrusion. And there is no doubt that she has grounds for complaint over some incidents. The dredging up of aspects of her private life from many years before she went into politics is an example. So is the behaviour of a few journalists and photographers who tried to breach her hospital security when she was ill at the end of 1999.

But, while it is unlikely that she would admit it, Kernot has been protected by journalists, too.

For a long time now, some members of the Fourth Estate have been aware of the biggest secret in Kernot’s life. If made public, it would cause a lot of people to view her defection from the Australian Democrats to the Labor Party in a different light. It helps to explain some of her erratic behaviour. It was a key factor in the erosion of her emotional and physical health that contributed to her political disintegration. It even caused a lie to be told to the Parliament — not by Kernot, but by a colleague. But it was also personal, so as far as the media was concerned it was treated as out of bounds.

While it is one thing for journalists to stay away from such a matter, however, it is quite another for Kernot herself to pretend it does not exist when she pens what purports to be the true story of her ill-fated change of party allegiance. An honest book would have included it. If Kernot felt the subject was too private to be broached, there should have been no book, because the secret was pivotal to what happened to her. Had Kim Beazley, John Faulkner and other ALP leading lights been aware of it when then-deputy leader Gareth Evans proposed bringing Kernot into the Labor fold, they would have thought twice about the idea and probably said “no”. Without the distraction and distress it caused Kernot at crucial times, she would certainly have been a less flaky and more effective shadow minister. To white out such a major element resulted in serious distortion.”

Etc etc etc

Crikey’s Response

The reaction this morning has been as follows: Cheryl laughed and said there is no big secret when asked about it on Channel Seven. Jenny Macklin refused to be drawn when door-stopped on the issue at a Melbourne school this morning. Joan Kirner said Laurie Oakes should “lift his game or get out” and said journalism is now in the gutter. Neil Mitchell ran big on the Oakes story but refused to run the rumour because he didn’t know it to be fact. His callers were split. Some said he was a gutter-dwelling rumour-monger and others said Cheryl deserved everything she got.

Mitchell is right to say that the issue will not go away now that Oakes has chosen to put it in the public arena.

The actual rumor is not as bad as the concept of “Cheryl’s big secret” and will now inevitably get around on email and chat rooms before the mainstream run with it. The genie is out of the bottle and Cheryl will now have to deal with it. She has no choice because Australia’s most powerful and respected political commentator has treated it as fact, not rumour. And Oakes has no doubt checked with several Labor heavyweights before taking this highly controversial step. Crikey only regarded it as unsubstantiated rumor but Oakes has come out and effectively said “Gareth and Cheryl had an affair which was pivotal to her defection and subsequent political failure — this is fact”.

So, what do we know about this rumored affair with Gareth Evans? It is speculated that the affair started around the time of the Mabo debate.

Cheryl’s husband, Gavin, certainly knew about it and is said to have taken it very badly. It contributed to the breakdown of their marriage which in turn contributed to Cheryl’s own ill-health.

Clearly Gareth Evans’ family is the biggest victim in this story becoming public because their marriage is still together. The rumor is that Cheryl is said to have regularly rung Gareth and it was he who ended the affair to save his marriage.

We’ll probably get an almighty bucketing from some people for running this but believe me, it is out. Inevitably, the parties will now have to deal with it after The Bulletin chose to reveal that Cheryl had “a big secret” in the first place.

Oakes should have gone all the way and actually spelled out what it was. And the timing of it — right in the middle of her interview circuit — was designed to cause maximum damage. Ironically, it will cause Cheryl’s book to sell better. Clearly Oakes is incensed at what he sees as the hypocrisy in Kernot’s attacks on the media.

Okay, I’m turning off the phone and going to yoga for a few hours. Just email [email protected] if you want to cancel your subscription but if Crikey is serious about “disclose, disclose, disclose” and claims to fearlessly report political gossip, then we would not be doing our job if we ignored this issue.

Do ya best,

Stephen Mayne

After the affair: where are Cheryl Kernot and Gareth Evans now?

Back on the 15th anniversary of Crikey, founder Stephen Mayne nominated the revelation of the affair between former Democrats leader Cheryl Kernot and Labor’s Gareth Evans as his favourite scoop. The story was written in 2002 (taken out from under the mainstream’s nose), after Laurie Oakes teased the “big secret” he was planning to reveal about Kernot.

Kernot became the centre of a media storm and has since described the way that coverage “cancels out [her] professional worth”. Nevertheless, she was good enough to talk to Crikey about the ordeal in last year’s Media Roadkill series. She is now the Social Business Fellow at the Centre for Social Impact.

Post-politics, Evans went on to write a memoir that kept almost entirely schtum on the subject of Kernot, before becoming ANU chancellor and having to wrestle with the whole Ramsay Centre debacle.

Laurie Oakes continued in the press pallery for another 15 years, retiring in 2017 after nearly 50 years covering politics in Canberra. He’s still tweeting about politics, his time at Nine, and books. Last week he made a rare public appearance to launch the Sydney Media Club.

Since selling Crikey in 2005, Mayne has continued as a regular contributor while pursuing shareholder activism, and campaigning on transparency, governance and accountability, as well as against the gambling industry.

— Charlie Lewis

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Peter Fray
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