Failed crack at Press Club committee

By Stephen Mayne
January 14, 2008

Even the Melbourne Press Club Committee rejected Stephen Mayne's nomination in 2002, as was explained in this Crikey edition from June 28, 2002.

Crikey was spectacularly unsuccessful in his tilt at the Melbourne Press Club committee today as Neil Mitchell and his old media committee rounded up about 120 proxies and voted them all against the two outside candidates, myself and Age online editor Hamish Fitzsimmons.

Rather than voting for 15 of the 17 candidates, the meeting resolved that members would simply vote against the two people (or more) they didn't want on.

I was the only candidate to speak and recommended everyone vote against the two Corrs Chambers Westgarth candidates, and, on the basis that Corrs have the worst reputation for attacking free speech of any legal firm in Australia.

This is the firm that represented former Victorian Workcover boss Michael Roux for 69 days in the Victorian Supreme Court against the ABC - costing taxpayers well over $1 million.

More topical is the fact that Corrs are currently trying to force three Sydney journalists, Anne Lampe and Kate Askew from the SMH and Belinda Tasker from AAP, to disclose their sources to Nick Whitlam's NRMA.

As we all know, Corrs racked up $170,000 in expenses for Steve Price dragging Crikey into court 15 times in 15 months and pursuing defamation, contempt of court and then seeking an injunction over the sale proceeds of our family home. They they have the hide to use a $5000 sponsorship of the Press Club to push their free speech credentials each year.

And Corrs have also happy to act over the years for colourful people such as the following:

Intergraph vs The Age

Lloyd Williams vs Melbourne university academic Miles Lewis

Greenchip vs The Age

Steve Price vs Richmond legend Kevin Bartlett

Steve Price vs Dr Turf

Steve Price versus the general manager of Triple M Paul Pirrie.

Labor MP Bob Sercombe against Crikey

Southern Cross Broadcasting CEO Tony Bell vs Derryn Hinch

Neil Mitchell vs Peter Couchman

Wesley Minister vs The Age

In fact, no firm has sued The Age more than Corrs Chambers Westgarth. But the committee of the Melbourne Press Club don't seem to give a toss about this, or the fact that Corrs are currently taking three journalists down the path of contempt and possible jail in Sydney.

This is how the committee members lined up with their proxy votes.

Neil Mitchell: Press Club chairman and 3AW presenter: 42 votes, only voted against Crikey and Hamish Fitzsimmons. It would be very interesting to know who did Mitchell's soliciting as this would have taken several hours work.

Marco "Rocky" Bass: head of ABC news and current affairs in Victoria and committee member: 16 votes, only cast against Crikey and Hamish Fitzsimmons.

Herald Sun faction on the committee, Keith Moor, John Trevorrow and Geoff Wilkinson: 23 votes, only voted against Crikey and Hamish Fitzsimmons.

Mike Smith: former Age editor, Mitchell mate and committee member turned spindoctor who gloats about having clients such as Brian Quinn, crooked Mexican banker Carlos Cabal, Japanese whalers and the Governor General. 10 votes, only cast against Crikey and Hamish Fitzsimmons.

Corrs Chambers Westgarth faction of Adrian Anderson, Richard Leder and Justin Quill, 16 votes only cast against Crikey and Hamish Fitzsimmons

Hamish Fitzsimmons cast his 10 proxies against the two Corrs lawyers Richard Leder and Adrian Anderson.

Gayle Austen: Channel 7 uses Corrs Chambers Westgarth so it was no surprise their rep voted her 4 votes only against Crikey and Hamish Fitzsimmons.

I voted my three votes against the Corrs lawyers and Keith Moor and John Trevorrow from the Herald Sun for their ridiculous public grovelling to thin-skinned Herald Sun editor Peter Blunden. Mike Smith also got a no vote because you can't endorse having spinners who represent dodgy clients on the Press Club. As promised, I also voted against myself as there would have been too many conflicts being a media critic sitting on the Press Club committee.

This is how the no votes finished up.

Stephen Mayne: 131 Hamish Fitzsimmons: 126 Adrian Anderson: 16 Richard Leder: 14 Keith Moor, Mike Smith, John Trevorrow: 3 John Rees (RACV): 1

It was understandable that Crikey got flogged but what about poor old Hamish Fitzsimmons. He copped it the neck because he was the only other outside candidate and the committee clearly colluded and decided to vote themselves back on to keep the two outsiders off.

Rather than picking on greedy lawyers or dodgy spindoctors, the committee decided to vote out two online journalists meaning the medium has no representation amongst the 20 Press Club office bearers.

It would be interesting to know if Marco Bass told the 16 proxies he collected at Aunty that he'd be voting against a former ABC staffer and for a controversial spindoctor and a legal firm that has cost Aunty millions in writs.

And what an irony that the meeting was held at the headquarters of the RACV, the sister road service mutual of the NRMA, that shocking organisation which is currently using Corrs Chambers Westgarth to sue journalists to force disclosure of sources.

There was very little discussion during general business. I got up and said the Press Club should stop taking cash from that insidious poker machine outfit Tattersall's, which lifted its contribution from $22,000 to $40,000 this year.

The Quills still lost the club $46,000 so they really should take up Crikey's suggestion and abandon the cash prizes for winners and make the night more affordable for members.

The voting system was very odd. You couldn't cast your vote by proxy but they disclosed exactly who held the individual proxies after I asked for it.

I'd be interested to hear some feedback on all of this as I was more than happy to not get on the committee, but the way this club acted like a cartel to keep Hamish Fitzsimmons, a Walkley Award winning online journalist, off the committee was pathetic.

Neil Mitchell was gloating about how the Quills judging system had been improved this year and it was Hamish Fitzsimmons who initiated the debate and reform process at last year's AGM. Thanks for nothing Hamish.