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Anatomy of the Adelaide Oval Hotel spin job

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Emails between the Stadium Management Authority’s PR operatives and the Premier’s media advisers provide an insight into the spin behind the news that Oval managers were being handed a $42 million loan to build the hotel.

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The emails, released to the Opposition under freedom of information laws, show Steven Marshall’s media team and the Oval’s PR man workshopping the best News Corp journalist to receive the story – apparently based on who was deemed to be more supportive of the Oval – and rehearsing the lines which eventually made it into print.

Days before the proposed four-star hotel was announced – along with the $42 million taxpayer-funded loan to pay for it – Michel Warrens PR managing director Phil Martin wrote to the Premier’s communications director Paul Armanas advising Adelaide Oval SMA chair Kevin Scarce’s preferred journalist to be handed the story.

The documents also reveal which rhetorical points that the SMA hoped to impress upon the journalist – whose name is redacted.

Four-star (hotel rating) is important in terms of access for the ‘everyman’.

In an email sent on the afternoon of 20 November last year – the Tuesday before the story was reported in the Sunday Mail – Martin tells Armanas:

“I spoke with AOSMA Chair Kevin Scarce about your preferred media strategy today; he asked me to pass on that the basis of AOSMA’s support for this strategy is that the story is (REDACTED) of his strong ongoing support of the Oval.”

“(I think you mentioned (REDACTED) was your preferred go-to in previous discussions.)

“Give me a yell if you want to speak about anything.”

 Armanas responds that afternoon, saying:

“(REDACTED) is my preferred option anyway.”

“Are you okay with me having a quick chat to him Thursday ahead of you speaking to him?”

Two days later, Martin outlines a detailed strategy for discussing the story with the journalist.

It reads:

“This is the extent of the information I intend providing (REDACTED) when he calls; your feedback appreciated.”

“Hard to hold detail back that doesn’t cause uncertainty.”

In the lengthy email, Martin provides a series dot points detailing what would be emphasised with the journalist, including:

Martin also outline the details to be provided to the journalist on the basis that they were “understood” by the Sunday Mail, rather than claims attributable to the SMA:

The Government and the SMA have been under sustained political pressure over the taxpayer-funded loan for the hotel since the establishment of a parliamentary committee, established late last year to scrutinise the deal.

In particular, critics have questioned why the loan did not go though the government’s rigorous unsolicited bid process, despite appearing to fall within the Government’s own criteria for an unsolicited bid, and why the State Government agreed to provide the loan despite the availability of a commercial loan (albeit at a less favourable interest rate, and in circumstances in which the SMA says the SANFL would not have been able to fund its half of a deposit for such a loan).

In addition, the Opposition has questioned the involvement of deputy SMA chair, former Liberal Premier and current SA Liberal Party president John Olsen in the deal.

It seems these meetings are cancelled on a regular basis!!

Parliamentary committee chair, Labor’s Ian Hunter last month quizzed Olsen one whether anyone had raised the possibility that his communications with the Government concerning the Oval hotel might constitute a conflict of interest.

Olsen strongly denied any such conflict.

“I think in that context you underestimate the Premier of this state who has a very firm, focussed mind about process, and who wouldn’t be at all influenced about the fact I might be president of the Liberal Party,” he said at the time.

“It’s not as if it’s a non-public position.”

Further freedom-of-information documents released to the Opposition show Premier Steven Marshall’s office negotiating times for Olsen to meet with him.

During the same November 2018 week that the Adelaide Oval hotel news drop was being negotiated, the Premier’s office wrote to Olsen, requesting a meeting with Marshall in early December.

In an email sent the previous month, Olsen complained that his meetings with the Premier kept getting cancelled.

“It seems these meetings are cancelled on a regular basis!!” he writes in response to an email from Marshall’s executive assistant, Jonathon Wotton, advising that a planned “Liberal Party Leadership Meeting” would have to be rescheduled.

He adds, in the September 11 email: “Whatever timing suits Steven is OK and I will change any meetings I have scheduled on those days that clash.”

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