More on the Fitzgibbon affair, Bolt, and other trivia

The weekend papers have furnished us with yet another episode in the Joel Fitzgibbon affair.   On March 26 the Sydney Morning Herald splashed the headline Defence leaks dirt file on own minister’  The Age and The Canberra Times did similarly.  The story, by Philip Dorling, Nick McKenzie, and Richard Baker, alleged that an officer from the Defence Signals Directorate had accessed Fitzgibbon’s IT system, a move that was said to have arisen from concerns about ‘possible security implications’  of Fitzgibbon’s friendship with a ‘Chinese-born businesswoman’ Helen Liu, a long-time friend of the Fitzgibbon family.  The concerns were said to have been passed on to top Defence officials but had been ignored.  The saga was commented upon on The Political Sword first in The China intrigue on March 28 and followed up with What has become of the Fitzgibbon affair? on April 27. [more]

On May 29 Defence Secretary Nick Warner reported that a Defence Department investigation that had involved more than 1700 people across the department, and had included 1300 statutory declarations and more than 600 interviews had shown that claims his officials spied on Fitzgibbon were "pure fiction" and that “...an exhaustive review of the claims, which were run in Fairfax newspapers, found no evidence to suggest anyone in Defence held any concerns about the minister's friendship with Chinese-Australian businesswoman Helen Liu.”  Moreover Warner said “...Defence, intelligence and security databases revealed no reference to Ms Helen Liu.”  He went on to say “It's extraordinary, actually, that spurious and unsubstantiated allegations of this sort could, for two months, be reported as fact."  As indeed he’s entitled to do.

The Warner report was run in the SMH by Jonathan Pearlman in Defence staff cleared of spying on boss and in The Age by Brendan Nicholson in Fitzgibbon allegations 'without foundation'.   The original authors were not used.  Both stories seemed to be accurate and included reference to the fact that Fitzgibbon had been forced to reveal two undeclared trips to China sponsored by Liu, as if that revelation justified the papers’ actions.  There was no apology.  The story was also run in The Weekend Australian by Paul Maley Defence 'did not spy on Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon' together with the original SMH banner headline – News Limited papers never pass up an opportunity to sideswipe Fairfax outlets.

So this investigation by the Defence Department, on top of the original one and the statement from the Foreign Minister about Helen Liu not being a security risk, has still not turned up anything that supports the original allegations.

Can you imagine how much time has been expended on a process involving 1700 people, on 600 interviews, on the writing of 1300 statutory declarations, the time taken to prepare the report, the disruption this caused the Defence Department; and the anxiety it inflicted on its staff, leaving aside the embarrassment and stress suffered by Helen Liu, and the problem it created for Fitzgibbon himself, exposed as he was to Opposition attacks that questioned his competence and demanded his resignation?  All because some journalists wrote a story that Fairfax papers ran, that so far has turned out to be false.  And so far no apology has been forthcoming, or any redress.  How can this be?

Is this simply incompetent journalism in that those involved did not check sufficiently the veracity of the supposed departmental ‘leak’?  Or is it a flagging newspaper empire trying desperately to get a ‘scoop’, no matter how dodgy, to boost sales?   Whatever it is, the journalists should get an editorial rap over the knuckles and the paper ought to apologize for all the unnecessary grief it has caused.  But don’t hold your breath – Fairfax is probably hoping that the final inquiry by the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security will turn up something the others have missed.  We’ll see.

But in the meantime, in a piece in the SMH yesterday, Fitzgibbon faces new claims over China trip two of our original  intrepid reporters, Richard Baker and Philip Dorling, are at it again.  They tell a story, derived from those ubiquitous ‘sources’, about a 1993 trip to China by Fitzgibbon in which the ‘sources’ allege Chinese intelligence services asked Helen Liu to cultivate a relationship with Joel Fitzgibbon and his father, Eric Fitzgibbon, and that Chinese agents had electronically monitored the pair during their visit.  In 1993, 16 years ago, Joel Fitzgibbon was not even in parliament.  Click the link if you’ve got the stomach to read this tortured beat-up from these journalists whose egos seem to be seriously getting in the way of commonsense.  Hell has no fury like a journalist (or perhaps a newspaper) proved to be making baseless claims – or as Warner puts it, perpetuating ‘pure fiction’.  Being wrong simply evokes more venom.

The irony of Bolt

Did you see Andrew Bolt on Insiders this morning accusing Laurie Oakes of being partisan after Oakes’ encounter with Malcolm Turnbull over his appearance on the BRW Rich List?  Oakes was indignant at the unwanted intrusion of Bill Heffernan, whose penchant for hijacking press interviews with others is legendary, because he challenged Oakes’ approach in confronting Turnbull with his wealth.

What was delectably ironic though was that Bolt felt entitled to chastise Oakes for bias, when Bolt runs neck and neck with Piers Akerman as Australia’s most partisan, biased journalist in print today.  Poor old Laurie would be left gasping as Bolt streaked miles ahead in the ‘one-sided journalist stakes’.

But the paradoxical side of this piece of trivia is that Bolt thinks he’s not biased!

Turnbull can’t say 'billions' either

Asked today on Insiders by Barrie Cassidy what the debt would be under the Coalition given that the downturn has reduced revenue by over $200 billion, Turnbull was unable or unwilling to utter any number that had billions after it.  He’s been consistent in refusing to say what the Coalition deficit would be, but today insisted it would be ‘less’, and after being confronted by Cassidy with Joe Hockey’s statement that it would be $25 billion less, he denied Hockey had said this, insisting instead that he said ‘to start with it would be $25 billion less’, and that the Coalition deficit would be ‘much less’.  How much less is left to our imagination. 

The media might as well give up asking the question as Turnbull will never answer it except in banal generalities.  It serves his political purpose to be vague about his deficit while insisting that the Government be quite specific, even with projections a decade hence.  He needs the Government deficit and debt story to boost his sorry approval ratings.

But don’t expect the media to pillory him about being unable to utter the deficit figure as they did the Government over its aversion to saying the words: recession, debt, deficit and billion.  Instead there will be a defence of Turnbull, arguing that he should not be expected to state specifically how the GFC would be managed by a Coalition government because he’s in opposition, and that he doesn’t have the resources to do so anyway.

So it’s OK for the media to hammer the Government, which of course it is, and to allow unfettered criticism of its actions, but equally OK to spare the alternative government any reasonable scrutiny of its approach and any precision in its projections.  Turnbull is hoping the deficit and debt line will give him traction, but may find that the ‘we won’t tell you what we would do except we’d be much better’ approach won’t cut much ice and will leave him spinning his melodramatic wheels.  It sounds too much like “Interest rates will always be lower under a Coalition government.” 

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Sir Ian Crisp

31/05/2009PHEW! Now that you've got that off your chest I hope you can relax. Watch that blood pressure Ad Astra. With me and on my count....1,2,3...inhale, pause, exhale...inhale, pause, exhale.

Ad astra reply

31/05/2009Sir Ian, I do feel much better now. I hope you do too.

Bilko

1/06/2009The coalition and the media have been in denial since Nov 2007, as in war the truth is the first casuality. At the moment all this leads me to believe is that Turnbull et al exist in another "reality" to the rest of us. I hope the Government goes on the offensive not just in QT which is only watched by a small % of the population but in the media as well.

Ad astra reply

1/06/2009Bilko, Turnbull, Hockey and the rest of the Turnbull team is working on the principle that most punters will not examine in detail their outrageous claims about debt. Today they have upped the ante to $1 trillion in liabilities. What next? They are relying on many people taking their disingenuous assertions at face value, and if one can judge from recent opinion polls, they are having some success.

Bilko

2/06/2009AA As you can see from the polls the "big Lie" is gaining traction i.e. under the Coalition our dept is always lower, when oh when will labor get its media act together. When the economy/recession dissipates the Coalition will use the line "it would have been over sooner under us.oop's hope i have not given them a headline to hit labor with Bilko

Ad astra reply

2/06/2009Bilko, The Goebbels principle applies – “A lie, if audacious enough and repeated enough times, will be believed by the masses.” Today’s Newspoll suggests the ‘debt and deficit’ lie may be working for Malcolm Turnbull; at least his satisfaction/dissatisfaction rating has emerged from negative territory, although having as many (40%) dissatisfied as satisfied doesn’t seem a great improvement. His preferred PM status is stationary on 24%, while Kevin Rudd has dropped one point to 57%, still more than twice as popular. And the TPP at 55/45 is the same as in early May, and a little down on the last Newspoll, but within the margin of error. So Turnbull has gained a little, but his party’s ratings are virtually unchanged. Galaxy and Essential Research also showed a 55/45 TPP. I too have been waiting for the Government to hit back in the media. If today’s Question Time in Parliament were to be reported it would show the Government hitting back very hard. The Coalition’s questions were classic instances of ‘leading with one’s chin’, and the PM and his ministers did not miss an opportunity to hit the Coalition hard, labelling them as opportunistically hoping for bad economic news to bolster their standing, and ‘talking the economy down’. Look for the latter phrase in Labor ads. Frankly, the Opposition looked stunned, flabbergasted, impotent and angry. Its questions were poor, they interrupted the answers repeatedly with spurious points of order – they clearly didn’t want to hear them. The divisions in the Coalition about the ETS and alcopops were highlighted, their unwillingness to commit to a position underscored, and the disarray in which they find themselves exposed for all to see. How anyone, except rusted-on supporters, who witnessed QT today could countenance the Coalition as a plausible alternative government is beyond me.

Bilko

2/06/2009AA Too true one consolation the poll figures give labor a bigger majority than they currently have, I would be pleased to see a senate change figure on the basis of these results unfortunately Antony Greens site only covers the Reps too many other variables for a senate outcome.

Bilko

2/06/2009AA I normally copy both QT's via Transact/ABC so will watch Reps later this evening rgds

Bilko

4/06/2009Well Fitz is gone he certainly left himself open to criticism from too many quarters my cousin is in his electorate and says he was a nice person. Now what can the coalition talk about, seems they have abandoned the economy, a PB view is that Hockey's latest diatribe is almost a shadow leadership bid, he made less sense than MT. AA they may have to find a new lie any ideas.

Ad astra reply

13/07/2009Bilko, Possum has a nice piece on Pollytics this morning [i]The Coalition Anxiety Thermometer [/i] http://blogs.crikey.com.au/pollytics/2009/07/13/the-coalition-anxiety-thermom/ but it is about Reps seats only. Life insurance, Barry, Welcome to [i]The Political Sword[/i], which I hope you will enjoy. and thank you for your kind remarks.
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