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Media Week: Unravelling the Gillman spin


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Today, Media Week attempts to unravel the State Government’s spin and inconsistencies in its response to the ICAC’s Gillman report.

ICAC spin

The swearing cloak

Commissioner Bruce Lander inadvertently gave the Government a huge PR gift by focusing so heavily on the poor language of Treasurer Tom Koutsantonis. This ensured that the water cooler talk was not about the maladministration of the deal by Renewal SA, but the combative minister’s potty mouth.

For at least some of the local media, the swearing story was also an easier tale to tell, rather than the complex web of actions and interests involved in the Gillman saga.

Early notice

The State Government had the chance to read the ICAC report into the Gillman land deal several hours before it was published on the ICAC website.

It was effectively given time to prepare for the report’s release before the media got its hands on it.

Weatherill says he had the report at 9.30am – it was published online about 11am.

We asked the ICAC about the early notice and a spokesperson said a copy was given to “individuals whom the Commissioner thought might be adversely effected by its findings, two hours prior to its publishing (not just the State Government)”.

Warning! Warning!

The State Government appears to be getting away with massive inconsistencies in its response to the Gillman report.

This is a breathtaking example: Treasurer Tom Koutsantonis was asked by David Penberthy on FIVEaa about the Premier’s discussions with him about his foul-mouthed approach to his workplace.

Penberthy: Has he put you on a warning?

Koutsantonis: No. This goes down to how you conduct yourself in meetings, how you conduct yourself with the public sector and it’s entirely appropriate for people to expect high standards of their ministers and to expect their ministers don’t do anything that may be misinterpreted by anyone.

In Parliament yesterday, Opposition Leader Steven Marshall fired some questions at Weatherill about his Treasurer’s breach of the “spirit” of the ministerial code of conduct.

Marshall: Did the Premier, on being aware of this breach, provide the Treasurer with a formal warning?

Weatherill: Yes. He was brought into my office and we had a meeting that went for something of the order of an hour and we discussed the implications of his conduct, and the whole nature of the tenor of the communication was about the fact that this was unacceptable conduct and would not continue in the future, and, of course, you have seen his public apology.

Who is telling the truth? Or was Koutsantonis merely continuing the “indirect” approach to answering questions that he displayed during the ICAC inquiry?

Ministerial responsibility

The ICAC found two Renewal SA executives – Michael Buchan and Fred Hansen (now ensconced back the USA) – were guilty of “maladministration” in the Gillman deal.

While the ministers responsible for the deal – Koutsantonis and Weatherill – were exonerated of the specific charge of “maladministration”, the breach occurred in an agency for which they had oversight.

When questioned in Parliament about whether he would take responsibility for Renewal SA’s maladministration of the Gillman land deal, Weatherill said he had done so.

“I have to take responsibility as leader of the government, and individual ministers need to take responsibility for the behaviour of the agencies that sit within their portfolios,” he said.

The Premier has been down this path before, insisting that he took responsibility for the state’s child protection failures.

The question is – how?

He doesn’t appear to have paid any price – political or otherwise – for the Gillman debacle.

The “ombudsman”

Weatherill has insisted this week on calling the ICAC report – the “ombudsman’s report” – because in a formal, complicated way, the Commissioner was exercising those powers in his investigation of the Gillman debacle.

Technically, it was an inquiry into “maladministration”, not “corruption”.

Of course, it also sounds a lot better for the Premier to say that he was the subject of an ombudsman’s inquiry, rather than a grilling from the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption.

It was a tellingly sensitive addition to the Government’s furious spin on Gillman this week.

Why Kouts swore?

If the following public service-speak was anything like the advice provided to Tom Koutsantonis by Renewal SA, then perhaps I can understand his “conversational swearing” during the Gillman debacle.

This piece of communication was sent to staff in the Department of State Development this week by Gillian Standen-Thomas, the agency’s “Head of People and Culture”:

Over the past 8 weeks People and Culture have redesigned their service delivery model from a consulting to a business partnership model and using a centralised Centre of Excellence team of Subject Matter Experts (SME’s).

The HR Business Partners (HRBP) will be the first point of contact for each of our Divisions, Directorates and business units for general HR advice, solutions, counsel, workplace and industrial relations inputs and conversations.

The WHS Business Partners (WHSBP), similar to the HRBPs, will be the first point of contact for work health and safety, return to work and injury management advice, solutions, counsel, inputs and conversations.

The Centre of Excellence team includes SME’s in organisational development, learning and development, workforce planning, staffing and executive contracts. This team designs and develops fit-for-purpose, contemporary, department-wide programs which are often implemented by the HRBPs for their businesses.

Once you work out whether you need to be dealing with a “HRBP” or a “WHSBP” or even the “Centre for Excellence team of Subject Matter Experts”, you’ll probably need the full gamut of advice, solutions, counsel and inputs – not to mention conversations.

Where it all began

It’s worth reminding ourselves where the Gillman debacle began, in media terms.

The first story, in The Advertiser back in December 2013, was a “drop” – in other words, a story gifted to a particular news outlet at the expense of all others.

Below is the guts of the story, which was published under the heading: “6000-job plan for former multi-function polis site at Gillman”.

The story didn’t mention how much ACP would pay for the site.

Screen Shot 2015-10-16 at 9.14.04 am

Naughty corner

This space is normally reserved for the media, but the State Government deserves the gong this week for its own media performance on Gillman: its lack of transparency from day one, its obfuscation of key facts, and its willingness to shoot the messenger rather than face up to the now well-documented deficiencies in the process.

Top of the class

Media Week loves a young journalist getting their hands on a scoop.

This week, reporter Georgia Mantle, from the University of Sydney’s student newspaper Honi Soit, scooped the nation’s voracious football media with the first post-retirement interview with Sydney Swans champion Adam Goodes.

It’s a candid and extensive piece. Read it here.

We value local independent journalism. We hope you do too.

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