Senate debates

Monday, 17 March 2014


Australian Greens

9:50 pm

Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Earlier today I had occasion to highlight the hypocrisy of the Greens political party in the way they chose to disregard the vote of the Tasmanian people at the election on Saturday. I was watching TV on Saturday night and saw the biggest landslide in Tasmanian history giving the Liberal Party the biggest vote it had ever received in that state. Then I saw the Leader of the Greens political party come on and say, 'Well, if Mr Hodgman carries out the promises he made in his policy commitments, we are going to bring Tasmania to a standstill.' That hypocrisy, that refusal of the Greens to understand democracy and what the voters of that state want, reminded me—

Photo of Christine MilneChristine Milne (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Acting Deputy President Edwards, I rise on a point of order. If the senator wishes to quote me, I would prefer it if he quoted me accurately and did not tell lies about what was said.

Photo of Sean EdwardsSean Edwards (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

There is no point of order.

Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is a surprise that, every time I get to my feet to talk about the Greens, they try to interrupt me with spurious points of order.

But I was saying that that incident this afternoon reminded me of another one of the Greens' great campaigns, and that was to get some tax-free funding for a newspaper that was going to be set up by the person who has made the biggest donation in Australia's political history to any political party, and that is, of course, Mr Graeme Wood. He donated—and do not quote me on the figure—something like $1½ million.

Photo of Christopher BackChristopher Back (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

$1.37 million.

Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

$1.37 million was it? Thank you, Senator Back. He donated $1.37 million to the Greens political party. Curiously, at about the same time, you might recall that the former leader of the Greens political party, then Senator Bob Brown, was trying to convince the parliament and the Labor government that it should give tax-free status to not-for-profit journalism. We did not know quite what that was all about until we saw Mr Wood pop up with his baby at the time, the online newspaper called The Global Mail.

My colleague Senator Bernardi brought to the Senate's attention back in January 2013 an article in Crikey which detailed the 'culture of bullying, nepotism and incompetence' at The Global Mail. Crikey subsequently published this apology:

Crikey now accepts that our report incorrectly asserted that the journalists’ union was liaising with Global Mail staff at the time of publication about taking a case to Fair Work Australia. Moreover, it was not Crikey’s intention to reflect adversely on the professionalism or qualifications of Global Mail management or staff members.

Crikey regrets the hurt and damage caused by our reports, and apologises to The Global Mail and its staff.

This apology was highly qualified, given Crikey's previous detailed disclosures of the toxic culture at The Global Mail. I therefore was not surprised to read the following in The Australian: 'Following the apology the journalist's union took to Twitter to declare: "For the record: Media Alliance did consult members from The Global Mail about possible action in Fair Work Australia."' The Australian understood that the union had 'no contact from either party before the apology was published. So apparently Crikey has apologised for something that was not wrong, while the more contentious parts of their report still stand.' That, according to The Australian was 'a curious affair', and curious indeed it was.

It would appear that The Global Mail's culture as a rogue employer extended to rogue corporate behaviour: standing over a competitor—namely, Crikey. Since its launch, The Global Mail had struggled to gain any presence with its technological bugs, and its readership halved within the first two months of operation. But you might recall, Mr President, that The Global Mail sought millions of dollars of subsidies from the Australian taxpayers, thanks to the Greens, by way of tax deductibility status, direct funding, seed funding and payroll tax concessions. Today this is all off the agenda. Gone, too, is former Greens leader Bob Brown, who supported tax deductibility for not-for-profit journalism.

As I mentioned, Mr Wood had made the single largest donation in Australian political history to the Greens. He also made a commitment to fund The Global Mail for, I think, five years. Mr Wood told Crikey in 2011 that he was happy to 'cop ongoing losses' and, in February 2013, he guaranteed ongoing funding to The Global Mail. When asked by Radio National's Fran Kelly, 'Will you continue to fund The Global Mail?' Mr Wood replied: 'Absolutely. I'm very optimistic about The Global Mail and its future, and this year we'll start kicking big goals.' Well, 11 months later, The Global Mail staff were informed that Mr Wood had prematurely terminated his funding of the media enterprise less than two years after its launch—that is, despite pledging $15 million over five years to fund the venture.

This is only relevant to what the Greens tried to do to get taxpayer support for that business enterprise, which clearly has gone under. I had a look at the website tonight, just to see what The Global Mail was doing, and I noticed a statement saying that, as of February 2014, it had ceased business. Mr Wood did not seem to have much regard for the jobs dependent on him honouring his commitment for funding. He was asked by Fran Kelly early in 2013 whether it was a mistake that journalists had been made redundant, and Mr Wood replied, 'That's life.' It looks like The Global Mail has now become The Global Fail.

According to one former broadcaster, Mr Stephen Feneley, 'the editors struggled to understand the online medium'. It was 'a retirement home for a privileged coterie of armchair socialists who can boost each other in the twilight of their careers'. I repeat: this is relevant because the Australian Greens would have had taxpayers' money prop up media enterprises such as this one—as I say, 'coincidentally' underwritten by the single biggest donor of the Australian Greens, only to have that funding prematurely terminated.

I understand that, according to media reports, this has not been Mr Wood's only failure in business in recent times: just before Christmas, shares in Wotif, which he still had, apparently, quite a substantial part in, fell 32 per cent, wiping $250 million off the value of the corporation, and Mr Wood suffered a paper loss of some $45 million. I might be able to assist Mr Wood by telling him why Wotif has lost so much money: I and a lot of people I know refuse to use Wotif these days because of the fact of this large political donation given to the Australian Greens, and for the fact that, at about the same time, the Greens were trying to get tax deductible status for this venture, The Global Mail. As I say, the botched experiment of The Global Mail is a cautionary tale, warning us against proposals to direct taxpayers' money toward underwriting such narrow partisan enterprises. And so I guess we can all say to The Global Mail farewell and goodbye. These sorts of business operations should be able to stand on their own two feet without the support of the Greens political party. It is interesting to note that when the Greens political party talk about other businesses that might get some government funding, all hell seems to break loose from the Greens political party. But here they are on another occasion trying to ensure support for that business enterprise launched by a guy who was the very significant donor to the Greens political party. Some lessons for us all there, and I highlight this tonight as a follow-up to the highlight I had earlier on today about the Greens— (Time expired)