A little bit of nostalgia as I reminisce about our strong negotiator and the day I was told not to broadcast Bob KERNOHAN's interview- with a special request for our legally minded friends
8am call that put Julia Gillard's old news on front page (or in a docket)
- BY:INSIDE STORY EWIN HANNAN
- From:The Australian
- September 03, 2011 12:00AM
APPROACHING 8am last Monday, John Hartigan was walking into his office after a session of boxing, stairs and weights at a park in Sydney's inner-city Glebe when his mobile phone rang. It was Julia Gillard.
"I presume you know why I'm calling," the Prime Minister said.
Hartigan, chairman and chief executive of News Limited, had no idea. He soon did, as the Prime Minister voiced her displeasure at the publication that morning in The Australian of a column by Glenn Milne, which revived 16-year-old allegations about Gillard's one-time relationship with former unionist Bruce Wilson.
According to Hartigan, Gillard put a series of demands that she wanted addressed in 15 minutes. The deadline was later pushed back to 9am.
As well as a public apology and the Milne article being taken offline, she wanted a commitment that the allegations never be repeated again in The Australian. This demand was later extended to all News Limited newspapers and their websites.
"She said they were very damaging accusations," Hartigan said. "She wanted some action and she wanted it quickly."
Hartigan told Gillard he would speak to Chris Mitchell, The Australian's editor-in chief.
Mitchell was at his Manly property on Sydney's northern beaches reading the morning newspapers and drinking tea when Hartigan called and asked him to ring Gillard.
When Mitchell rang and spoke to the Prime Minister, he said, she was "apoplectic". He had been on the end of verbal sprays from Paul Keating, he said, but "they were nothing compared to this".
Asked yesterday for comment regarding the accounts given by Hartigan and Mitchell, a spokesman for the Prime Minister released a one-paragraph statement last night that read: "Those accounts of the conversations are false and inaccurate. Considering what The Australian has already published this week, that's hardly surprising."
According to Hartigan and Mitchell, for an hour on Monday morning there was a flurry of phone calls, emails and texts between them, Gillard and lawyers, including News Limited's chief general counsel, Ian Philip.
Hartigan said he had six conversations with Gillard during this period, as well as exchanges of text messages and emails.
Gillard had telephoned Hartigan two days earlier after being alerted to a blog post by Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt headlined, "A tip on something that may force Gillard to resign".
"On Monday, I'm tipping, a witness with a statutory declaration will come forward and implicate Julia Gillard directly in another scandal involving the misuse of union funds," he wrote.
While not detailing the statutory declaration, he said: "I suspect a friend of mine in the media will be authorised to release it first."
Gillard apparently believed Bolt's "friend" was Steve Price, as they work together at Melbourne radio station MTR.
In fact, the reference was to Mike Smith from Fairfax Media, who was intending to broadcast an interview with the author of the statutory declaration last Monday.
"She brought to my notice that she had information that Andrew Bolt or Steve Price or both were likely to publish assertions that were first made public in 2007 and she was very concerned by this because she said, when they were raised at that time, they were wrong and inaccurate and damaging," Hartigan said. He reported back to Gillard later that day that Price and Bolt were not planning to publish the allegations.
"I gave her an assurance that, were something to be published, we would give her an opportunity to respond before it was published," he said.
Hartigan had made inquiries at the Herald Sun and Daily Telegraph. He made no inquiries to The Australian because he said Gillard had not nominated the newspaper.
According to Hartigan, Gillard said on Monday: "This has broken the deal we had."
Hartigan rejected the claim, insisting The Australian did not cover his original undertaking.
On Friday, Milne had been contacted by 2UE's Smith to "check the veracity of the material" in the statutory declaration written by Bob Kernohan, a former president of the Australian Workers Union.
On Sunday, after Bolt raised the Kernohan allegations on his TV show, Milne decided to file a column that argued that Gillard's problems with the Craig Thomson credit card scandal were about to get worse as union elements demonstrated she was "implicated albeit unknowingly in a major union fraud of her own before she entered parliament".
The unproven allegations, in political terms, are ancient, and have been rehashed numerous times by critics of Labor and Gillard over the past 16 years.
In 1995, Jeff Kennett's former deputy, Phil Gude, used privilege to air the allegations in the Victorian parliament when Gillard was an ALP Senate candidate.
In 2001, then state Liberal MP Geoff Leigh quoted from a statutory declaration signed by Mr Kernohan on the previous day to again use parliamentary privilege to attack Gillard.
In March 2006, The Australian published a story stating that senior ALP figures critical of Gillard's perceived attacks on then Labor leader Kim Beazley had dredged up the allegations.
A Victoria Police spokesman said a "thorough police investigation" was conducted into the alleged misappropriation of union funds when it was raised during 1995 and 1996. It was decided no further police action be taken.
The current version of Mr Kernohan's statutory declaration - which essentially repeats the claims Gude and Leigh aired - is circulating on a raft of anti-Gillard websites. It is dated August 11, 2010, days before the last federal election.
In the Monday column, Milne, who interviewed Gillard about her relationship with Wilson during the 2007 election campaign, repeated his old news story that said: "As a solicitor acting on instructions, she set up an association later used by her lover to defraud the AWU. But she has strenuously denied ever knowing what the association's bank accounts were used for."
Describing the 2007 article as the "most heavily lawyered article" he had been involved in writing, he added a paragraph beginning: "What the lawyers would not allow to be reported . . ."
Mitchell, who was not working on the Sunday, said the column was not sent to lawyers before publication.
He said the column should have been legalled, particularly given it contained the above-mentioned paragraph. According to Mitchell, a furious Gillard told him she believed Bolt and Milne had worked together to circumvent her understanding with Hartigan and get the allegations back in the public arena.
"She believed Milne was in league with Bolt and we had published this because Bolt and Milne had cooked it up between themselves to get it in the paper," Mitchell said. "The irony is that it was Fairfax (through 2UE's Smith) that started it all."
Bolt said yesterday he had "zero contact with Glenn Milne". "There is no vast right-wing conspiracy against the Prime Minister," he said.
By 9am on Monday, Mitchell had emailed a suggested form of apology to the Prime Minister, which Gillard agreed upon. Her demand that the allegations never be repeated in any News Limited publication was rejected.
Milne's column was removed from The Australian's website and replaced with an apology.
"The Australian published today an opinion piece by Glenn Milne which includes assertions about the conduct of the Prime Minister," it read.
"The Australian acknowledges these assertions are untrue. The Australian also acknowledges no attempt was made by anyone employed by, or associated with, The Australian to contact the Prime Minister in relation to this matter. The Australian unreservedly apologises to the Prime Minister and to its readers for the publication of these claims."
The combination of these events ensured the issue burst into the daily media news cycle.
The Fairfax-owned The Age in Melbourne published a front-page article by Tony Wright that included repeating what Milne had written in his column about Gillard and Wilson. It got attention on TV, radio and blogs.
For a moment, it even overshadowed the Thomson affair, as Gillard's attempts to douse an old story served to inflame a new one.
Now, back to me. I'll be tied up for the rest of the day, but I have a request of our legally minded friends. What do the following things mean when put together? Angry intimidating phone calls, mixed with demands. Just from a theoretical perspective, what if threats were made unless those demands were met?