Updated – Favours and Maates: what’s the scam with Jim Chalmers giving the Fin Review a back rub?

by Michael West | Mar 17, 2024 | What's the scam?

Government ministers mollycoddling mainstream media is age-old, but dudding independent media and small business in favour of mates at the Big End of Town goes too far. What’s the scam with Treasurer Jim Chalmers and the AFR?

This just came through post the publication of this article: Neither the Treasurer nor the Treasurer’s office alerted the AFR to the publication of the FOI. We also did not have a role in the timing of its publication on Treasury’s FOI disclosure log.

We accept that the Treasurer’s office may not have leaked this information but the office was given 24 hours via email yesterday to clarify this and did not. The public interest in having logs disclosed immediately is that no journalist would bother doing the work FOIing if this were the case. Ergo, information would be suppressed.

We apologise if the leak did not come from the Treasurer’s office and accept that it may have come from other sources.

ORIGINAL STORY

Jim Chalmers and his minders have played dirty pool. And this is a self-interested What’s the Scam item but it does serve to illustrate something which is in the public interest, too.

Journalism is about gathering information, and FOI is about public interest and disclosure … it’s about fairness. Yet our MWM star columnist, the former submariner and senator, and prolific maestro of the Freedom of Information (FOI) request, Rex Patrick, lodged an FOI with the Treasurer’s office last year, voluntarily and respectfully consenting to a 21-day extension for Treasury to respond. “Mindful of Christmas,” as Rex puts it.

Yet, within 3 hours of Jimbo’s office officially disclosing Rex’s FOI, the Australian Financial Review AFR published a story on it. It was a good story, and the journo John Kehoe (who looks a bit like Jimbo in physical appearance) did a good job with Rex’s FOI, but Jimbo’s office has once again preferred the interests of the Big End of Town to ‘outsiders’ shining a light on government.

Why do they do this sort of thing, play dirty pool? To curry favour with people who will rewrite their press releases faithfully. FOI involves a lot of work. Government agencies and departments have ten days to release the FOI on their disclosure logs – and in this case, and this is speculation, what has very likely happened is that Treasury has tipped off the AFR journo that the information that Rex has sourced is about to be released and here, take it on a platter before Rex gets the Paul Keating scoop.

What is the quid pro quo? We don’t know that but in the information trade it’s a bit like buying a journalist lunch and tickets to the Grand Final. The AFR is yet to go full press on nuclear energy like the Murdoch press. They may be struck between the reality of commercial viability and kowtowing to the Liberal Party.

Who knows, but it’s dirty pool Jimbo. And giving the Oz and AFR free opeds is tacky, especially as you are subsidising Nine (AFR’s owner) and Murdoch press via the Digital Media Bargaining Code. Literally forcing Google and Facebook to splash them with cash.

Rex Patrick’s Transparency and Opaqueness Awards 2023

Michael West established Michael West Media in 2016 to focus on journalism of high public interest, particularly the rising power of corporations over democracy. West was formerly a journalist and editor with Fairfax newspapers, a columnist for News Corp and even, once, a stockbroker.

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