When I think about what you might be interested in towards the end of the week, I try to identify any themes that have emerged. There’s no obvious theme I can settle on this week, but there were big stories that resonated beyond the 24-hour news cycle.
The Age has a focus on integrity in politics because it’s central to how a messy democracy can work in the interests of citizens. We put energy into integrity issues during the federal election because it was clear that standards of accountability and transparency had slipped, which meant that trust in our political system was declining. We concentrate on it in state politics for the same reasons.
The exclusive story by our state political editor Annika Smethurst and state political reporter Paul Sakkal was at heart about what standards should be expected in our political system. The Age revealed that Opposition Leader Matthew Guy’s chief of staff had asked a wealthy Liberal donor to make more than $100,000 in payments to his private marketing business.
Mitch Catlin and, inset, Matthew Guy.Credit:The Age
There remain many unanswered questions about this, but the proposed payments would have been on top of Mitch Catlin’s publicly funded position, would be paid only if he remained in Guy’s employ, and may have breached Victoria’s political donation laws. The donor dismissed the approach, and it was never implemented. Catlin resigned the day the story was published, and the government has referred the issue to IBAC and other authorities for investigation.
The political ramifications of the story are significant. Guy was included in the email chain, so when was he aware of this suggestion to the donor? Critically, why was Catlin not removed from his job or disciplined at the time it was suggested? Why did Guy act on “integrity” grounds only when The Age revealed the scheme?
Annika’s analysis was incisive. There were two big problems with Guy’s explanations, she wrote.
“First, he insisted nothing happened. Nothing was signed. He also insisted nothing was agreed to – if that’s the case, why did he accept the resignation of his chief of staff in the first place?
“Second, in the leaked email from September, Catlin suggested Guy was aware of the proposed contract when he said ‘as per the original email agreement between you and me’. If Guy first learnt about the proposal 10 months ago, why did it take him until Tuesday to act?”
The November election should be a contest because after eight years, the government has considerable baggage, and because Victorians deserve alternative policies about the significant challenges we face – creating new jobs, the serious problems in our health system and the future of the CBD. It is in nobody’s interest for the Opposition to be weak and in disarray.
I would say this, but it’s true: our state political team – Annika, Paul, Sumeyya Ilanbey and Rachel Eddie – is by far the best in the state. You know why? Because they are independent, which is The Age’s pledge. Unlike some other media organisations, we are not partisan, we owe no political party any favours and expect none. Our only interest is journalism in the public interest. Simple, but hard.
The other big local story was broken by our Indigenous affairs journalist Jack Latimore.
He reported exclusively on revelations in AFL champion Eddie Betts’ autobiography, The Boy from Boomerang Crescent. (Jack did a “cultural edit” on the book, which means he reviewed chapters written by researcher Annie Clarke for cultural accuracy and sensitivity.)
Betts wrote about a long-running saga surrounding a controversial leadership training camp he attended as an Adelaide Crows player in the 2018 pre-season. He revealed for the first time the trauma he felt after a “weird” and “completely disrespectful” camp, including that confidential information he had given in a private counselling session had been misused during the camp and that the camp co-opted sensitive Aboriginal cultural rituals.
(The Age reported on the Adelaide Crows’ camp in 2020, in a story which included a number of similar allegations to those in Eddie Betts’ autobiography, and other allegations. Collective Mind sued for defamation. In December 2021, The Age and Nine made a business decision to settle the case and issue an apology without admitting that the story was inaccurate.)
Latimore’s story reverberated in the footy world and beyond. At last, the Crows apologised, as did the AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan, who labelled some activities at the 2018 camp “a disgrace”.
As chief football writer Jake Niall wrote: “While these events took place four-and-a-half years ago, it is perplexing that the AFL did not take firmer action, or take a stronger stance – including in the language deployed – in dealing with the club’s failure to protect Betts and other teammates from bizarre and humiliating exercises from the camp that followed a grand final defeat.”
There were other big stories this week. Labor’s climate change legislation, which would create a legally binding target for the first time in Australia to cut greenhouse emissions by 43 per cent by 2030, passed the lower house. Debate over the proposed Indigenous Voice to parliament and the executive is in full swing.
So, it’s a bit of a grab bag of topics this week, but it’s been that kind of week.
Finally, our weekend magazines, Good Weekend and Sunday Life, have a new look online. Each week, you can find the magazines’ stories packaged up together in one place.
Watch our tutorial for Good Weekend here and for Sunday Life here.
Gay Alcorn sends a newsletter to subscribers each week. Sign up to receive her Note from the Editor.
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