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"Corruption of democracy": Weatherill turns his bank attack on the media

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Premier Jay Weatherill has accused the media of engaging in a "subversion of democracy" by "cooperating" with the banks in their campaign against the State Government's major banks levy.

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Weatherill yesterday described the banks as “money-launderers to organised crime and terrorist groups“, in response to the sector’s ongoing campaign against his Government’s proposed major bank levy.

Today, The Advertiser reported alleged conflict between Labor figures and bank staff at last Friday’s Press Gallery Mid Winter Charity Ball at Adelaide Oval – an event organised by the media and attended by many of South Australia’s most senior journalists, business people and politicians, including the Premier, Opposition Leader Steven Marshall and Treasurer Tom Koutsantonis.

The report included an allegation that Koutsantonis described Bank SA boss Nick Reade using extremely crude language in front of a bank staff member – an allegation denied by the Treasurer.

Koutsantonis said today that he had sought legal advice about the article “and will initially be requesting an apology”.

Former Labor Treasurer Kevin Foley has confirmed that he had conflict with two bank employees at the ball, whom he claimed were trying to recruit him to lobby against the bank tax (a claim denied by BankSA).

Many attendees at the event – which did not include any journalists from InDaily – witnessed Foley’s altercation with the bank staff, which was apparently obvious to anyone nearby.

Koutsantonis accused BankSA of using “a charity event as part of their campaign to protect their super profits”.

“I strongly deny this unsourced accusation,” he said in a statement.

Weatherill today was even stronger, accusing the media and banks of a “corruption of democracy”.

“Remember it’s all of the banks that at the moment that are running this dishonest campaign against South Australia by trying to destroy our reputation in the nation by publishing full page ads for which the papers are achieving a very handsome sum of advertising dollars every day,” Weatherill told FIVEaa.

“And then what we see today is the extraordinary situation, a new low in journalism, where an unattributed allegation, which is completely denied, is given front page airing in the daily newspaper – the same daily newspaper that’s collecting $20,000 a throw when the banks put their full page ads in. It is a corruption of democracy the way in which this bank thinks it can overbear the will of a democratically elected government to do something which we are entitled to do and which the Federal Government chose to do…”

He said the media was cooperating with the banks’ “hysterical reaction” to the Government’s budget measure, which faces defeat in Parliament’s Legislative Council.

“The extent that the media are cooperating with this – it represents a subversion of our democracy.”

When challenged about what he meant, the Premier said: “To have a front page where an unattributed allegation is made concerning my Treasurer, to have that as a screaming front page is a new low in journalism”.

InDaily has sought a response from the journalist who wrote the story, respected Advertiser business editor Cameron England.

A spokesperson for BankSA’s Nick Reade said the furore was a distraction from the real issue.

“The discussion should be about the bank tax and its negative impact on investment and jobs in our state,” the spokesperson said.

BankSA denied having approached Foley to ask him to lobby against the levy. Foley said today that he was angered because he felt he was being asked to “rat” on his former colleagues and friends.

The bank did not comment about the allegation against Koutsantonis.

A spokesperson confirmed that Reade did not attend the Mid-Winter Ball. BankSA is one of the ball’s corporate sponsors, and bank staff were in attendance.

The black tie event is meant to be an off-the-record opportunity for journalists, politicians and business people to let down their hair and speak without fear of being reported, but it seems likely that the ball will be approached by politicians with great caution in the future.

This year’s event raised funds for the The Zahra Foundation and Kickstart For Kids.

InDaily has sought a response to Weatherill’s comments from the Australian Bankers’ Association.

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