Erase rewind: Rewriting Jacksonville and HSU history with The Australian

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What The Australian's recent piece on Kimberley Kitching lacks in facts, it makes up for in spin, writes Peter Wicks.

“There’s nothing like self-promotion.”

So begins the Brad Norington opinion piece on new Labor Senator Kimberley Kitching in The Australian last weekend. The piece itself shows that what Norington lacks in HSU knowledge he makes up for with his knowledge of self-promotion.

Yes this is the bloke who took a copy of his own book to court with him when Kathy Jackson had her court mention in September, one would assume just in case opportunity to self-promote arose. Unfortunately for Norington it didn’t, even after making a spectacle of himself in court when he decided he’d act as some sort of spokesman for the media when the Magistrate talked about the possible disclosure of an address. Seizing opportunity, Norington leapt to his feet to address the court while everyone else in the courtroom looked at each other smirking.

Even in the opinion piece in question Norington can’t help but take a non-too-subtle opportunity to try to plug his book, referring to 'Planet Kitching'. His book on the Jacksonville affair is, of course, called Planet Jackson.

Those who I’ve spoken to who have read the piece have all agreed that the piece is primarily about Norington having a personal attack on Kitching and it would seem the facts are secondary. Some have suggested that it is about Norington covering his arse, as he appears to have only used two major sources for his book and any other view of events that may conflict with what he has assumed as fact, even if the person involved has a far better understanding than his sources.

Norington on the self-promotion and book tour with Nick McKenzie from Fairfax

Norington's piece starts off talking about the mood in Victorian Parliament House on the evening of 25 October. It was a fantastic atmosphere, with over 100 people showing up to congratulate Kimberley Kitching, including numerous state and Federal Labor MP’s. There was a moment when she entered the Queen's Hall after the formalities, and everyone in attendance just stopped talking and gathered around Kitching and applauded in a show of respect. It was a spontaneous moment that Norington missed. Perhaps because, unlike myself, he wasn’t there.

Norington explains:

'On the surface, Kitching was endorsed by an overwhelming margin, winning a party ballot by 79 party votes to three. The result suggests she is very popular. She is not.'

On the surface?

The facts are right there in the numbers Norington ignores as an inconvenience. Oh, but wait, there are those that abstained we hear so much about from some in the delusional media camp. The simple fact they wilfully choose to disregard is if every one of those who abstained had voted against her, Kitching would have still secured approximately 80 per cent of the vote.

Geez, it must be tough being so unpopular?

Norington, in fact, talks a lot about Kitching's lack of popularity, the angst of Labor Party members and how this is a sign of an internal Labor Party war. So sure of this is Norington, he can name no sources, offer no evidence, and give us nothing but his repeated and unfounded assurances.

Meanwhile back on "Planet Earth", Labor members are glad to see that a senator has been appointed with the factions in agreement. Labor members are excited to see a popular former Party vice-president succeed after dedicating so much of her life to serving the Party in so many roles. Contrary to what some might like you to believe, Kitching has actually built bridges over factional divides, she even has the respect of many on the other side of politics, you don’t win so much support and make so many friends being unpopular.

Kimberley Kitching: unpopular in the media, though not amongst her colleagues (Image: supplied)

As for Kitchings former role at the Health Workers Union as general manager of the HSU branch left in a state of financial crisis by Kathy Jackson's right hand man Marco Bolano, Norington talks of Kitching supporters and their;

'…ridiculous myths about her roles in cleaning up corruption inside the troubled Health Services Union and helping to ­restore the financial position of one of its branches. Both claims are nonsense.'

Despite calling talk of her cleaning up corruption “nonsense”, Norington still credits Kitching with this in his own book.

With respect to the financial position of the union, Norington is right when he says

“The branch's financial reports do not lie.”

The branch financial records clearly show the union is in a vastly better position than it was left in by Bolano and Jackson. Norington talks of huge legal expenses that almost sent the branch bankrupt — and it is true the legal costs were enormous, however Norington ignores that these were also inherited as they were a result of claims made by previous management. He also ignores the fact when being called to a Royal Commission that it is prudent to seek legal guidance. Norington seeks to make Kitching wear the days where they were bleeding members and fighting legal battles initiated by the prior management, but doesn’t want to then acknowledge she had anything to do with the recovery.

Yes the branch is not located in a building worth as much money as it used to be, as Norington also points out, however it now owns the building it resides in, whereas it previously merely occupied a building that represented an enormous debt. It’s known as living within your means, something the former union management clearly didn’t understand.

Oddly enough, the branch Norington seeks to paint as the bad guys are actually outperforming all of the other Victorian branches financially and are watching their membership numbers skyrocket.

In regards to Kitching's efforts in exposing the corruption of the union under Kathy and Jeff Jackson, Norington has this to say:

'Kitching did spend hours taping bits of paper together — but almost all of it came from the No 1 branch where she worked, not Jackson’s No 3 branch. None of the material prompted the royal commission to start investigating Jackson.'

Those following the case closely would be aware that at the time the HSU’s Number 1 and 3 Branches shared an office. Norington may not know this, since he was based overseas at the time, but nevertheless it is an undisputable fact.

Some of the evidence pieced together by Kitching

Norington also misses the point that, prior to Marco Bolano running the Number 1 Branch, there was another fellow by the name of Jeff Jackson running it. A large portion of the evidence against Kathy has involved the finances of the Number 1 branch while under her former husband Jeff's control. While it may not suit Norington’s rewriting of history, Craig McGregor did not have access to any of that material.

Another thing Norington may have missed is that Jeff Jackson was also questioned by the Royal Commission. I wonder where the evidence relating to him might have come from? The fairies at the bottom of the garden, perhaps?

Maybe Norington was at a different Royal Commission to the rest of us, but my recollection is the only thing that led the Royal Commission to start investigating Kathy Jackson was her own answers on the witness stand. Most, except the loony fringe, were of the impression that the Royal Commission was ridiculously soft on Jackson.

I even remember a certain journalist comment in the elevator after we all witnessed the change in the tone of questioning when Craig McGregor was on the witness stand:

“The fix is in.”

For Norington to attempt to write Kitching's efforts to bring Jackson to justice is perhaps indicative of malicious intent on his part.

However, possibly the most telling comment made by Norington and possibly the most defamatory is this comment regarding Kitching and her husband Andrew Landeryou.

'Kitching and Landeryou’s ­involvement with the HSU No 1 branch has essentially been a ­rerun of powerplays involving Kathy Jackson and her former husband Jeff when they ran two of the HSU Victorian branches...'

This could not be any further from the truth.

Firstly, neither are involved with the Number 3 Branch now headed by Craig McGregor, who is a Green not a Labor member.

Kathy Jackson: leaving court facing 70 charges

Secondly, Landeryou as far as I'm aware has never been an employee of either of the two union branches and, thirdly, there are absolutely no allegations of theft of membership funds as we are currently seeing played out in court by Jackson. In my humble view, to try and paint the new Senator Kitching with the same brush as someone alleged to have used union funds to take overseas trips, pay for childcare, pay for a divorce settlement, give herself spending money at the shops and pay herself a big fat bonus is an utter disgrace.

Frankly, I am surprised that The Australian would have let a slanderous comment like that go to print.

It would appear to many that Norington takes the work of others covering the HSU as someone treading on his turf, this is despite him being a relative late-comer to the story.

After I corrected the record after false claims were made on the ABC about Norington being involved in the investigation from the start, Norington texted me this, typo and all:

I assumed he meant 'Authors Note', but I think it’s fair to say he took it personally. However, he had failed to correct the record on air when he given the chance and I thought it was important to do so. I guess Norington thought self-promotion was the order of the day then too.

In the lead up to the ABC Four Corners expose of Kathy Jackson and her disgraced husband Michael Lawler, Norington convinced his readers it was to be a puff piece on Jackson, he had me questioning it for a while. I know what he based this opinion on, I was offered the same information by the same source but instead I chose to give Four Corners the benefit of the doubt rather than jump to a conclusion off the subjective word of one source. I’m glad I did.

Unlike Norington, I don’t dismiss the work of others on the HSU story so quickly and, as I’ve said many times in the past, Norington has done some fine work in the sordid tale of Kathy Jackson, Michael Lawler and the HSU.

Saturday's piece, however, was not an example.

Peter Wicks is a former NSW ALP candidate. You can follow him on Twitter @madwixxy.

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