Who is Michael Smith?
This is a guest article by one of our regular commenters, Blackswan. Among other things, it demonstrates the new reality that if the mainstream media allows itself to be muzzled by politicians, or chooses to only represent views it finds itself in agreement with, then those views can nowadays find an alternative platform in the wide open plains of the internet and the blogosphere. This is a great success story showing yet again that one determined person can make a difference. Given a moribund mainstream media which is increasingly detached from the ordinary person and which is hesitant to do investigative reporting of powerful interests, I think it’s the shape of things to come.
From time to time there arises in the affairs of men (and nations) extraordinary circumstances beyond the experience of most mere mortals. In 2007, Australia elected a Labor government following eleven years of conservative Liberal rule and Kevin Rudd became our Prime Minister with Julia Gillard as his Deputy, the first woman to hold that office.
Few Australians knew of Gillard’s background and a number of profile pieces emerged in the press telling us that she began her career as an industrial lawyer in 1987 following a nine year university career including a period as part-time employee and member of the steering committee of the Socialist Forum which evolved after the Australian Communist Party was disbanded. The young ingénue was made partner in the major law firm Slater & Gordon (S&G) at the age of twenty nine after only three years in the Industrial Unit under the guiding hand of her boss and mentor Bernard Murphy.
It also emerged that Gillard’s name had been mentioned in the Victorian State Parliament in 1995 regarding an alleged fraud perpetrated against the Australian Workers Union (AWU) by Gillard’s then lover who happened to be an official of the AWU, her firm’s major union client, and that she had received benefits from that crime including extensive home renovations. At the time she dismissed the matter as scurrilous politicking and was adamant that she had done “nothing wrong”.
Meanwhile the Rudd/Gillard government lurched from one financial crisis to the next, with Rudd’s popularity in the polls plunging into the 30s zone. In 2009 Gillard, with the backing of the faceless Union puppet-masters of the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and an election due the following year, made her move in a late night strike at Rudd’s leadership, ousting him from Office with herself duly installed as Prime Minister by the Labor Caucus. Her term in office was even more disastrous than Rudd’s with the Parliament at times sounding more like a fish market than a sober chamber of debate in the nation’s administration.
The Liberals won a slim majority in the 2010 election but in a last-minute bid to avoid the Opposition benches, Gillard signed a post-election deal with the Greens and three so-called Independent MPs thereby forming a coalition wresting control from the Liberals and forming a minority ALP government with a margin of one single vote. Our democracy teetered on a knife-edge.
In August 2011 Glen Milne, a senior mainstream journalist, revisited his earlier profile article on Gillard and expanded it to examine those old ‘rumours’ about her involvement in the AWU matter and her defence of the alleged corrupt behaviour of one of her ALP MPs Craig Thomson, whose conviction on any criminal offence would see him expelled from the Parliament and Gillard’s minuscule majority lost. Milne’s retracted article can be found here.
It was reported that Gillard’s reaction to Milne’s article was “ballistic” and she demanded a retraction and apology from the publisher. The CEO complied and Milne was fired. Not satisfied with that, Gillard also demanded that Milne’s appearances on our taxpayer-funded national broadcaster, the ABC, cease forthwith and he lost his regular spot on a weekly political commentary program.
Gillard wasn’t finished yet.
In the offending article Milne had mentioned one Michael Smith, a Sydney talkback radio broadcaster/journalist who had been pivotal in extracting vital admissions from the allegedly crooked Thomson. Smith’s radio station began promoting a forthcoming interview with a one-time President of the AWU, Bob Kernohan, who intended to discuss the long history of corruption, fraud and theft in the Union movement and its extensive cover-up over decades. For Smith, what took Kernohan’s story out of the realm of rumour, gossip and innuendo was the fact that he had extensive documentation from old court proceedings to validate his concerns.
Gillard went for the jugular. Ten minutes before the pre-recorded interview was due to be broadcast, station management called Smith in and ordered him to ‘pull’ the interview. Although Smith had extensive legal advice to clear the interview of any likelihood of litigious consequences, the management was adamant and Smith was suspended from the airwaves.
He was told that unless he signed a legally binding agreement to cease and desist from any story on Union corruption or the Prime Minister’s close historic connection to it, he would not be returned to his desk. He refused to sign the document and resigned forthwith.
And now the most extraordinary chapter in this story begins.
The Press Gallery, the majority of whom knew nothing of the detail in Gillard’s pre-political background, were caught flat-footed and although the older hands knew about it, most had long since chosen to keep a lid on its possible implications. Several internet blog sites began to detail her activities as a lawyer in the 1990s. She called impromptu press conferences, denigrated the allegations on the blogs as vicious “smears” by “internet nutjobs” – nothing to see here, move along.
That is when Gillard and her Communications Minister Conroy, a long-time crony from the bad old days, decided that a far-reaching “inquiry” into the mainstream media was due and the Finkelstein Report was commissioned with terms of reference that included controlling blogs and internet news communications.
Meanwhile, with Gillard on the warpath and MSM CEOs cringing at the prospect of a Finkelstein axe hanging over their corporate heads, nobody would touch Michael Smith with a barge pole and his promising broadcasting career came to a shuddering halt.
Smith had an interesting and varied career – he had been a soldier, a police officer, managed a state symphony orchestra, been CEO of a telco in Indonesia, and had spent several years as a very popular and charismatic radio broadcaster and journalist in Queensland. He had been head-hunted to Sydney, the mecca of talkback radio, much of it syndicated to regional areas. He had a deceptively relaxed, easygoing style which often lulled his political interviewees into a false sense of security. He was not intimidated by the usual political double-speak and doggedly pursued probing questions which made him popular with his listeners, long fed up with being sidelined by the arrogance of the political classes.
At the core of Smith’s distress in being banished from the airwaves was a promise he had made to Bob Kernohan, the one-time AWU President who had been pursuing the theft of a million dollars from AWU funds for 17 years. Nobody would listen to him – he had been bashed in the street and left for dead, he had found bullets in his mailbox and it had taken 9 long years for the AWU to pay him his wage entitlements when he had left his job on medical grounds following the bashing. Bob was a broken man until … Michael Smith heard him and promised to do all in his power to get to the truth of the matter.
Events escalated when the seemingly impossible happened; Harry Nowicki, a lawyer researching a book on the AWU, located Ralph Blewitt and persuaded the one-time AWU official to return to Australia from his current home in south-east Asia to make a sworn statement to police confessing his role in the 1990s exploits of Gillard and her lover, Bruce Wilson. He was described as Wilson’s “bag man” and his role was pivotal in the siphoning of hundreds of thousands of dollars into spurious accounts and laundering the cash.
Blewitt had watched from afar as Gillard rose to power and he became increasingly troubled by his past. As a veteran of Vietnam war service getting older and seeking some redemption in his latter years, Blewitt resolved to “puts things right” and see justice finally take its course. He was refused immunity from prosecution for his confessed crimes but returned anyway, making full statements to police, waiving any client privilege in legal documentation involved and prepared to let the chips fall where they may.
With no funds and little experience in the blogosphere michaelsmithnews.com (MSNews) was born. It is a website that has become a phenomenon, unprecedented in its scope and popularity in Australia and probably unique in the world. Drawing on his creative flair and a fearless ‘anything is worth a try’ attitude, Smith has devised a very innovative format and style.
He began with the hundreds of documents Kernohan brought to him, even going so far as to consult a forensic handwriting specialist to determine that Gillard’s own handwriting and signature were on various incriminating documents. He digitally scanned every one of those documents and all were posted on MSNews. His policing background gave him a unique perspective on these matters and he carefully explained every one of his conclusions and concerns, asking increasingly probing questions as to the implications of what those documents revealed.
Beginning with his devoted radio audience, people began to login to MSNews in increasing numbers. Few people outside of Brisbane or Sydney had previously heard of Michael Smith but gradually hundreds from around the country climbed on board. This was amazing, unique – instead of our news being pre-digested by a journalist hack who generally put a left-wing bias into every news item, here we could see documents for ourselves – lay people with no previous knowledge of the union movement or the legal profession could read the material, see for themselves the relevant pieces of legislation involved and have it explained to them either by Smith or other bloggers, professionals themselves.
Suddenly there was a pool of expertise working in tandem on the website – lawyers (some retired, some not), paralegals, accountants, conveyancing specialists, banking staff, skilled researchers and most of all … journalists and political staffers … monitoring every word on the blog.
As the evidence mounted, Gillard became even more strident in an effort to distract, deter, and denigrate Smith and his blog. She saved her most vitriolic attack for Blewitt describing him as “an idiot, an imbecile, rotten to the core and a stooge.” Her famous ‘misogyny speech’ erupted in her increasing attempt to adopt ‘victim status’, to become a martyr who was only being criticised because of her gender not her incompetence or highly questionable moral, ethical or legal practices. She stood in the Parliament and shrieked “Who is Michael Smith?” dismissing him as just another shockjock who had been “sacked for his lies and smears” against her. That question became a catch phrase on the blog – ‘who is Michael Smith?’ It became farcical as most of the MSM continued the cover-up and refused to challenge her shrieking denials.
Meanwhile MSNews moved on – relentlessly.
A huge area of political conflict had been the Gillard/Rudd border control policies which had induced over 50,000 illegal immigrants to jump the queues of the UNHCR and climb aboard flimsy Indonesian fishing boats to make the perilous crossing to Australia. Over 1,500 men women and children had perished in the attempt.
A regular MSN blogger came up with website images of coastal patrol vessels and navy ships as they plied the Timor sea and, directed by the Labor government to be nothing more than water taxis, were sent to carry human cargo off fishing boats in Indonesian waters after phony distress calls summoned them. As the illegals began to be transported around between detention centres, aircraft movements were also tracked by our intrepid blogger. All of this was possible by mandatory transponder tracking, a safety measure used by all such vessels and aircraft. The Gillard government ordered the transponders in that region to be turned off.
Another regular blogger is a very proficient photographer and had been photographing the illegals coming ashore, becoming increasingly concerned at the type and demeanour of those brought into the country. She had offered these pictures to the MSM for several years and had been ignored. Smith saw their significance and publishes them on a regular basis.
He developed an Audioboo format whereby he greets readers with his cheerful voice most days, chatting about everything and nothing – his fishing expeditions or road trips with his delightful children – or explaining various legal aspects of his latest blog posts. These short audio spots often include interviews with persons-of-interest or segments of his radio archives with revealing past interviews.
And all the while the audience has grown, taking MSNews into uncharted territory for an Australian blog site. In 15 months he has had over 15 million page views, moderated and posted several hundred thousand comments, scanned and published hundreds of documents and all as a one-man operation. Regular bloggers, appreciative of Smith’s work on their behalf, post donations to his nominated bank account, his only source of income to maintain the site and its resources.
Recent weeks have seen several prosecutions end up in court hearings in Melbourne – one being the allegedly corrupt Health Services Union (HSU) Secretary/MP Thomson who used his union credit card for thousands of dollars worth of hookers, pornography, family airline tickets and $100,000 worth of ATM cash withdrawals. Such prosecution was only taken after Michael Smith extracted certain admissions during a past radio interview. That investigation led to the revelation that the head of the HSU and a former national president of the Labor Party, Michael Williamson, had stolen $20 million from the Union over a long period. He took a guilty plea on only $1 million and currently awaits sentencing. Very convenient – no witnesses called, no further investigation of other parties involved and $19 million vanishes into the ether as though it never existed.
In another courtroom appeared Gillard’s old boyfriend Wilson who is busily pleading legal professional privilege over documents seized in a police raid on her old law firm. That action was only taken after Michael Smith lodged a formal complaint with the Victoria Police Fraud and Extortion Squad over an alleged ‘false instrument’ Gillard signed to further her lover’s money laundering operation. Smith also lodged a formal complaint with the Victorian Law Society over the false entry in her law firm’s Trust Account which further concealed the source of stolen money.
MSNews has some more ground-breaking innovations. Several regular bloggers, known only by their tags, turned up in courtrooms to hear the proceedings for themselves. One of them took detailed notes and they were posted on the blog, along with an Audioboo report, and several of these citizen reporters even sent photos of themselves in the court precincts – some very cheerful faces including our cyberpal Bob Kernohan.
This week Smith came up with something new. He invited readers to send him their phone numbers, he’d call them back, delete the number, and have a few minutes chat on Audioboo. It was a great novelty to hear the voices and humour of regular blog posters. Curiously, many regulars have met up over a coffee or lunch, or have established email contact with each other discussing aspects of the case against Gillard and it’s become a very tight community within the blogosphere, much appreciated by all.
There are other highly talented contributors who produce fabulous spoof parodies posted on the blog with clever montages of images, music and lyrics that can be hilarious or sobering, with wry humour or bitter irony in the faces of many of the Rogues Gallery who sit in our Halls of Power in our Parliament. Just a sample …
Not all agree with each other, and a range of views are held, but the one constant running through MSNews is that all have utmost respect for Michael Smith, his honesty, integrity and pursuit of the truth. The hours he devotes to the site are well understood and appreciated by all.
Most significantly, it is journalists themselves who have used his website and his research. Political staffers and politicians keep tabs on his latest news posts. Even Julia Gillard, now out of politics, has demonstrated in several of her speeches that she too lurks on the threads of MSNews and readers often address their comments to her directly. She has been working tirelessly to shore up a fan base of followers, busily networking with her local and international contacts in seeking to cloak herself in protective layers of insulation from any possible repercussions from her past behaviour and the choices she made as an ambitious and driven woman whose constant mantra appears to have been “Whatever it takes”. It’s now seemingly become “Too big to fail.”
Whatever the outcome for Gillard and others of her ilk, a new benchmark has been set for public communications. Michael Smith has conceived a new and dynamic platform that combines the elements of other media, has broad appeal across the spectrum and continues to gather pace in its scope.
Happily for Smith and his family, after two years in the broadcasting wilderness, the leading Sydney talkback radio station 2GB has given him a weekly afternoon spot for political commentary and this Christmas will see him hosting a full program when the current popular host is on holiday. It’s a step in the right direction for Smith. The owners of that radio network are not entirely altruistic in their choice; they are masters in the advertising world and read the winds of change in the broadcasting industry. They know that Smith will bring with him a devoted base of discerning listeners from across the country who will tune in on the internet and broaden 2GB’s reach way beyond its current licensed broadcasting footprint.
Meanwhile MSNews remains unique; a new genre in communications that combines politics, the law, anti-corruption whistle-blowing, humour, entertainment, interactive participation in published comment or by the phone, interaction between commenters themselves, and most importantly, a new optimism within the community that they actually have a voice, they will be heard and that the tentacles of corruption that have blighted our nation can be weeded out.
Justice will prevail.
UPDATE: On 9th December 2013, Melbourne Chief Magistrate Lauristen upheld the claim of the Victoria Police Fraud and Extortion Squad that all documents seized under search warrant from the offices of Slater & Gordon, and claimed by Bruce Wilson to be subject to ‘legal professional privilege’, were in fact created “in furtherance of a Fraud”, thereby allowing Police to continue their investigations.
Those investigations are in response to Michael Smith’s formal complaint that Julia Eileen Gillard had created a ‘false instrument’, namely a Power of Attorney (PoA) which was pivotal in Wilson’s money-laundering operation. In 1992, Wilson and Gillard attended a house auction and that PoA was used in the purchase of a property in Blewitt’s name. The PoA was used to raise a $150,000 mortgage with Gillard’s law firm on that property, again in Blewitt’s name and without his knowledge. Also, the entry in the S&G Trust Account was false and further concealed the source of the funds used in the purchase.
Finally, after almost 20 years of obfuscation and cover-up, these matters will be resolved and ‘persons of interest’ will be held accountable.
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