Flat White

Kimberley Kitching and The Age of unreason

17 October 2016

10:49 AM

17 October 2016

10:49 AM

KimbaIf you’re lucky enough to live in Melbourne, you may be unlucky enough to occasionally read The Age. While people of taste and sensibility usually try to avoid Melbourne’s answer to Pravda, occasionally – say, while finishing off a good St Kilda serve of fish & chips – bits of it may wander into an unsuspecting reader’s consciousness. Anyone unfortunate enough to have had this experience will have noticed that the Age no longer pretends to be objective or fair in its reporting; instead, it now runs a reliably anti-Labor, anti-Liberal, pro-left-progressive line that inevitably involves defiance of all the facts.

The Age has descended to from quality broadsheet to sensationalist tabloid in a new form; yellow journalism from a Green perspective.

The latest example of this was a hit-job on Kimberley Kitching, Labor’s nominee to fill the Senate vacancy created by Stephen Conroy’s departure. Kitching, a well-regarded lawyer at Cornwall Stodart, won the ballot to succeed Conroy 79 to 3, which about as good a result as you can get this side of Kim Jong-Il. But even that kind of internal democracy and that kind of result wasn’t enough for the Age and its intrepid reporter Ben Schneiders, who decided that a mainstream Labor candidate was unacceptable to his editors.

And so they published this: A Senate appointment that Shorten will regret.

It’s not the normal practice of this site to direct web traffic to the lesser media, even less so when it concerns biased and inaccurate reporting. But letting media bias go unchallenged simply enables the perpetrators. So in the interests of correcting the record, the Spectator presents the case for the defence.

To begin with Schneiders – without any supporting evidence – avers that there is an “amoral political culture that… dominates Labor’s Right faction”. This libellous assertion could be contradicted any number of ways, but it’s enough to observe that that which is claimed without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.

The article moves on to say that, “Many in Labor – fairly or not – judge Kitching by her husband”. Who are these people? What are their names? One of these people is obviously Ben Schneiders, but he prefers to outsource his misogyny to unnamed commentators because it’s easier that way.

Schneiders refers to the former Vexnews site, run by Kitching’s husband Andrew Landeryou. What he doesn’t mention is that far from being a blog “lurking in the nether regions of the internet”; Vexnews was one of Australia’s most-viewed political news sites. But worse, Schneiders also conspicuously omits from his report is the fact that Vexnews broke the story of he and two other Fairfax journalists breaking the law in accessing a Labor database, an episode that ended in Schneider and his colleagues admitted offences but avoiding a guilty plea in a legal fudge that invovled a highly public grovel.

Even the most flimsy pretence of objective journalism would have mentioned this fact so readers could work out for themselves whether his reportage was fuelled by rage and embarrassment at having his conduct revealed. But not the Age. The fact that the entire piece is driven by revenge and ideology is beside the point for the Spencer Street Soviet; transparency, for the Age, is something required of other people.

The Age cites as damning the fact that “Joan Kirner, former Labor premier and ardent feminist… opposed Kitching’s bid for a western suburban seat in 2013.” Leaving aside his odd assertion that a feminist must support every woman everywhere (Kirner, as it happens, endorsed another woman in that particular pre-selection), what Schneiders omits is that as a prominent figure in the opposing Left faction, Kirner would not have endorsed anyone at all from Kitching’s Right group – regardless of their merit, gender or husband. To suggest that this proves anything about Kitching at all is like saying that Tony Abbott is obviously unfit to be prime minister, because Malcolm Turnbull said so. Give us a break.

However the real disgrace of this article, its black and evil core, is the section dealing with the HSU and Kitching’s time as general manager there. Schneiders writes:

Kitching’s time as general manager at the disgraced Health Services Union No 1 branch in Victoria should disqualify her as a Labor candidate.

In just a few years at the HSU she came under scrutiny over her role in workplace permit forgery and for lying to the Fair Work Commission to cover it up. She was recommended for possible criminal charges by the Royal Commission into union corruption.

The union was also used for Labor branch stacking and run to the brink of insolvency…

Instead, the HSU No. 1 branch has been used, abused and fought over for decades by warring sub-factions of the Victorian Labor right, including the disgraced Kathy Jackson…

Nothing changed in Kitching’s time as general manager.

What Schneiders has written in these paragraphs is potentially defamatory. What the Age has done in printing a decade-old picture of Jackson and Kitching together at the races, to run with the hit-piece, is akin to running a photo of Yasser Arafat and Ehud Barak at Camp David, and then asserting they have the same commitment to the state of Israel.

The truth is that Kitching worked at the union in the aftermath of an election that swept the dodgy Kathy Jackson and her dubious allies and henchmen from power in the HSU. In her tenure there, the union regained a sound financial footing, grew its membership, negotiated decent pay deals for its members and was re-admitted to the ACTU – all in no small part due to her leadership.

To imply that the “disgraced” nature of the HSU is in any way due to Kitching – when in fact she was engaged in repairing the damage – is disgusting. To quote a royal commission report that was and is discredited by its obvious anti-Labor political bias (the allegations against Kitching were the accusations of a single, disgruntled ex-employee and were exploded under cross-examination, with no charges ever taken up by the DPP) as a bar to Labor preselection is simply laughable.

And to say of the HSU during Kitching’s tenure that “Nothing has changed” is wrong. Just wrong.

The Herald Sun’s report into the HSU turnaround last month said it very clearly;

A union branch previously linked to Kathy Jackson has posted a $2.1 million ­turnaround, latest financial records show.

It comes days after Ms Jackson was charged with 70 criminal counts over allegations she stole nearly $1 million from the Health Services Union in Victoria.

The HSU Victoria No. 1 branch, which was previously controlled by Ms Jackson’s former husband, Jeff Jackson, has nearly doubled its membership to 13,000 since her allies lost control of the branch in 2012.

Current branch secretary Diana Asmar said the union was now “back on its feet”.

“The union was a mess. On the first day on the job, I was greeted by a mountain of shredded documents,” Ms Asmar said.

“The union was left in bad shape. We had a $3 million debt that we were paying interest on. There were 450 expired or lapsed workplace agreements collecting dust. We’d shrunk to just 7000 financial members.

“In just under four years, we’ve completely turned it around. The union has cleared this $3 million debt. We own our offices outright. Our finances are back on track.”

The branch, which trades as the Health Workers Union, will post a surplus of $451,866 for 2015-16.”

“Nothing has changed”? Judge for yourself. And ask is Schneiders is a disinterested party.

History will likely vindicate this preselection decision, but it will forget Ben Schneiders. And for that he should be grateful.

Luke Walladge is a former senior Labor staffer

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