January 31 Press Club review: There are many reasons why the Canberra Press Gallery is failing to fulfil its democratic role. A collapse in media revenues, 24 hour filing, no time to stay with a story and investigate it, an atmosphere which sees journos run from one ephemeral topic to another in waves, an exodus of experienced practitioners with a corporate memory, the removal of quality newspapers as the bedrock of serious journalism…
When an institution is in trouble, leadership is required.
I was proud of the gallery I once belonged to today. It was on trial, and it delivered a solid performance. I was moved to tears, though, by the leadership of two of its most experienced, rational, hard-working, intelligent members. I know both of them. They are strong, fearless, and dedicated to the core values of journalism.
They broke Abbott’s silence on Ashby, and Laura Tingle also called Abbott on his policy of turning his back on hard questions.
As a result, they have opened a crack in the Coalition’s strategy of refusing to address the implications of the smoking gun Federal Court judgement on Ashby. Then another experienced press gallery journo, Lyndal Curtis, got an answer from Abbott on Thomson that removed all his clothes regarding his backing for Mal Brough. It is now up to the journo colleagues of these three women to pick up the ball and run with it.
Several days ago I urged citizen journos to find great MSM journos and support their work:
I think in terms of collaboration between Social Media and committed MSM journos. Old media is fighting for survival and new media can’t thrive without quality journalism reaching a broad audience. Flux. Each of us is helping shape what is to come.
The media silence post Ashby is system failure. Many MSM journos feel it too. If a way is not found to get the truth a dangerous line will have been crossed in terms of democratic checks and balances.
The Court has done its job. Politicians feel they cannot press for official accountability because of MSM silence. Social Media has demanded MSM action for 5 weeks yet even Richard Ackland’s column and the Sunshine Coast Daily’s devastating interview with Brough, in which he lied about the Press Gallery, drew nothing in response.
So Social Media must think laterally. And we are. And we must give maximum support to MSM journos who see their work as a vocation and are prepared to fight for its values.
Here is Laura Tingle’s question and Abbott’s answer, Lenore Taylor’s follow-up and his answer to her and Lyndal Curtis’s inspired question on Thomson. Abbott lied on Brough’s transparency. He promised that Brough would now answer questions. He promised to reveal the statistics on his press gallery press conferences. He failed to answer other points. And by his own words about the PM’s position on Thomson he condemned Brough to dis-endorsement – if journos keep the pressure on.
Transcript and audio of Waleed Aly interview with Shadow Attorney General George Brandis:
Questions and Answers at Mr Abbott’s National Press Club address 31 Jan 2013
Laura Tingle from the Financial Review, Mr Abbott. An election promise that’s a bit closer to home I’m hoping for. Will you give a commitment today to stop walking away from press conferences, especially the ones that you’ve called and to regularly hold press conferences in Canberra between now and the election and if you’re elected as prime minister? Also, what steps have you taken to establish whether anyone who is closely associated with the federal Coalition and the LNP financed, or is continuing to finance, the legal and public relations costs of Mr James Ashby?
Well, Laura, what Mr Ashby’s doing is a matter for Mr Ashby. Absolutely a matter for him. I can say with my hand on my heart that as far as I’m aware, no member of the federal Coalition has had any involvement with the Ashby matter, none whatsoever. As I’ve said before, let me say it again, the Ashby matter raises two matters. It raises the question of whether or not sexual harassment took place – and I don’t think anyone should minimise sexual harassment, it’s a very, very serious matter, I don’t think anyone should be in a hurry to start bandying around accusations of malice against people who bring these claims – people have a right to bring a claim under law if they believe that laws have been broken. Second point I make is that in the end the whole Slipper imbroglio raises questions about prime ministerial judgment and these are going to be inevitably front and centre for the Australian people as we approach polling day.
First question about press conferences…
I’m sorry, Laura. I’m very happy to get my press office to pull out the records and to compare the number of media interviews, the number of press doorstops that I’ve done with those of my opponent. I’m very happy to have my record stack up against that of my opponent. I think you will be very surprised at just how many media interviews I do. But I don’t believe all political wisdom resides in the Canberra Press Gallery. Much political wisdom, Laura, resides in the Canberra Press Gallery, but there’s a lot of commonsense, a lot of decent Australian commonsense that resides in journalists who work outside the Press Gallery in Canberra.
Lenore Taylor from the Sydney Morning Herald. Can you please clarify for the Australian taxpayers who, as you say, are struggling with cost of living pressures, whether the personal tax cuts that you have provided will be in addition to the ones that they’ve already got as compensation for the carbon tax and whether they will feel them in their pockets in your first term? Just following on from Laura’s question about the Ashby case, can you tell us whether you think it was proper or correct or acceptable behaviour for Mr Brough to ask Mr Slipper’s staffers to take from his private diary?
Look, I will leave claims about what Mr Brough did or didn’t do to be answered by Mal. He’s been very upfront about this, he’s done lots of interviews about it and if you’ve got a question for him I think he’d be only too happy to take it from you.
On the first subject, the tax cuts associated with the carbon tax were carbon tax compensation, that’s what they were, they were carbon tax compensation and what we said prior to the introduction of those tax cuts was that there would be tax cuts without a carbon tax. Now, the quantum of the tax cut that you will keep and the savings, the quantum of the savings that we will need to fund them is something that we will make crystal clear to the Australian people in good time before the next election.
Lyndal Curtis from ABC News 24. Mr Abbott, I’ll break Steve Lewis’ rule because there’s some news just broken while we’ve been here that the ABC’s had confirmed from Craig Thomson’s lawyer that he’s been arrested by NSW Police. Does this mean the Coalition will now refrain from commenting on Mr Thomson given the possibility of impending court proceedings? A couple I was going to ask on the economy, just some specifics, what sort of growth rate do you need to have what you call a strong economy and what size surplus would you consider to be a strong budget surplus?
Lyndal, we have certainly respected or tried to respect the rule that you do not comment on the specifics of cases which are currently before the courts and we will respect that rule. George Brandis has been scrupulous and my other colleagues have tried to be scrupulous in observing that rule. But the Thomson matter isn’t just about what Craig Thomson may or may not have done, what he did or didn’t do, it’s always been about the judgment of the Prime Minister and I’m afraid the judgment of a Prime Minister who was running a protection racquet for Craig Thomson for months and years, long after it was obvious that there were issues, is something that remains very much in question. You certainly can’t expect that there won’t be questions raised about prime ministerial judgment by the Coalition. I mean let’s face it, this very day there are questions being raised all over Parliament about the Prime Minister’s judgment by members of the Labor Party and if members of the Labor Party are allowed to question the Prime Minister’s judgment surely we are too.
Margo comment: Tony, how about your protection racket for Mal Brough. There’s been an actual court judgement against him. And the Ashby appeal, if the Federal Court grants leave, does not touch on the Court’s finding that Brough helped steal Slipper’s diary.
Citizens questions for Tony Abbott at the Press Club tomorrow
- Mr Abbott, can you guarantee that none of your frontbenchers had prior knowledge or involvement in the Ashby Court case?
- Is it true that the first you heard of Ashby’s court plan was through press reports after its lodgement?
- Who else in the Coalition other than Mal Brough, Julie Bishop, Christopher Pyne, and Warren Entsch had contact with Mr Ashby?
- Have you apologised to the member for Fisher on behalf of the LNP and do you think he’s right to feel vindicated?
- Given the sexual harassment charges were thrown out, do you now regret your decision to move a no-confidence motion against the speaker on the basis of SMS conversations between friends before Mr Ashby began working for Mr Slipper?
- Is it appropriate for Mr Brough to contest the next election given the judge found him to have abused the court system?
- Do you have any knowledge about who is paying for Ashby’s legal costs, which could run into more than $1 million?
- Do you agree with Senator Sinodinos that Mal Brough has “got some questions to answer” re his involvement with Ashby?
- Do you stand by your claim that Brough has “been quite transparent & upfront about his involvement” in the Ashby case?
- As you have ‘flicked the switch to positive’, will you internally inquire & get rid of all wrongdoers in the Ashby case?
- Mr Abbott, what investigations have you made to satisfy yourself that no Liberal MP had prior knowledge of Ashby’s court action?
- Mr Abbott, when did you last speak to Mal Brough on his mobile? Did you ask why he was has blocked journo’s Ashby calls?
- Given the Rares findings in Ashby case, why does the LNP not disendorse Mel Brough?
- Mr Abbott which parts of the Ashby judgment do you disagree with?
- Did any member of your staff have general or specific knowledge of Ashby before the Murdoch scoop?
- When you became aware of Ashby’s plans in a general knowledge way, what exactly was the rumour you heard?
- When exactly did you become aware of a rumour of an Ashby court action & what action did you take?
- Mr Brough forgot about meeting Mr Ashby, Mr Hockey forgot about meeting Mr Brough and Mr Pyne forgot about meeting Mr In light of this forgetfulness, are you concerned about the integrity and competence of your front bench? Do you know what your front bench gets up to?
These questions were crowdsourced from a number of people on Twitter who contributed to a request by Margo Kingston. They were all collated in this Storify post. A great thank you to all for their combined efforts.
Mr Pyne refuses to explain what he means by “no specific knowledge”