Nationals Richmond MP Matthew Fraser falsely accused sitting member Justine Elliot of controlling local media at last night’s Richmond candidates forum, to the disgust of many in the audience.
The comments came in an otherwise set-piece question time, where candidates trotted out well-rehearsed answers to a largely predictable series of questions for the forum, hosted by the Byron Shire Echo and MCd by Mungo MacCallum at the Byron Bay Community Centre..
But Mr Fraser went off-message while responding to a question from the floor about the Murdoch press’s campaign against the ALP, and Kevin Rudd in particular.
Despite his party having overwhelmingly benefited from the media magnate’s unrelenting campaign against his opponents, Mr Fraser painted himself as the underdog.
‘The local media are basically run by the Labor Party,’ he told an incredulous audience, including shareholders of The Echo, who loudly corrected him.
He went on to condemn his opponent’s use of advertising that attacked his position on CSG, among other things, describing the advertisements as ‘shameful’.
But Ms Elliot was not about to let the matter slide, describing his comments as ‘outrageous and bizarre’, and adding, ‘The Byron Echo ain’t controlled by anybody,’ to loud applause.
Ms Elliot said that she ‘put those information pages in papers, because they provide jobs for people in the papers, unlike the Nationals who have their election material printed out of the electorate’.
After the forum, Mr Fraser told Echonetdaily his comments were not referring to Echo Publications but the APN stable and its Daily News website in particular.
‘An acquaintance of mine works for the Daily News and she wrote an article that was not entirely flattering of Justine. Her people called up and threatened the paper with a lawsuit if it wasn’t taken down,’ he said.
Ms Elliot has a different memory of the event.
‘The Daily News at the time was not moderating comments on its articles. Some comments had been posted on an article about me that accused me of corruption, among other crimes too disgusting to repeat. Naturally I asked to have the comments taken down, and they agreed,’ she told Echonetdaily.
But Mr Fraser and Ms Elliot were not the only ones to take a swing at the media at last night’s meeting.
Palmer Uniting Party’s Phil Allen accused Fairfax of also supporting the ALP.
‘Our leader has been the only person to take on Murdoch. There’s a duopoly in the press and in politics. Murdoch has given us a hard time, lampooning us. Fairfax have also been bad, supporting Labor more than anyone else. It’s Coles and Woolworths. Major news outlets won’t tell you about what other options are available,’ he told the meeting.
And independent candidate Kevin Skinner went so far as to accuse the ABC of bias.
‘The ABC invited the ALP, Nats and Greens to an election forum – but no invitation was sent to the independents. The ABC didn’t do the right thing democratically. It later rang up and asked me if I wanted to make a comment but I declined as I said I should have been on the panel. The country shouldn’t be run by two parties but by a democratically elected group of people,’ he told the meeting.
Ms Elliot said she had been ‘quite offended by the Murdoch papers, how they’ve campaigned so directly. I think we should look at media laws as to how they could change. I’m also unhappy that the GetUp ad was refused screening on every TV station. I would like to see further action on this issue.’
It fell to the Greens’ Dawn Walker to make a lonely defence of at least one media outlet.
‘One institution we need to preserve is the ABC. And it is well supported by Greens policy, ensuring they are there and giving some sort of balance,’ she told the meeting.