Joe Hockey arrives at the Federal Court on Thursday with his wife Melissa Babbage. Photo: Dan Himbrechts’Nailed to cross’ did not mean ‘crucify’Fairfax dismisses ‘conspiracy theory’Treasurer watches dissection of his own ‘crucifixion’
Fairfax Media editor Darren Goodsir has dismissed as “ridiculous” the suggestion he wanted to “crucify” Joe Hockey because The Sydney Morning Herald had to print an apology and correction to an earlier article about the Treasurer.
But Goodsir, who is editor-in-chief of the Herald, has conceded a text message that said “f–k him” sent to him by Andrew Holden, his counterpart at The Age, was not an appropriate way to speak about the Treasurer.
Mr Hockey is suing Fairfax Media for defamation over a series of articles, posters and tweets, under the headline “Treasurer for sale” published by the Herald, Age and The Canberra Times on May 5, 2014.
The Treasurer’s case is that the investigation into Liberal party fundraising body the North Sydney Forum (NSF) was motivated by Fairfax editors’ and reporters’ anger at the apology. Fairfax denies the claim.
On day four of the defamation trial in the Federal Court, Goodsir said the purpose of the investigation was to shine a light on the system of political donations, particularly in light of contemporary revelations in the Independent Commission Against Corruption.
Under cross-examination by Mr Hockey’s barrister, Bruce McClintock, SC, Goodsir said he thought the Treasurer’s response to a March 21 article written by Canberra-based chief political correspondent Mark Kenny was an “over-reaction”.
The court heard Mr Hockey’s office contacted the paper about an inaccuracy in the story shortly after midnight and Goodsir, Holden and Kenny had conversations in the early hours of the morning about a correction.
In a series of text messages, Goodsir told Holden that he was angry at being contacted at 2.15am.
“They have a f—ing hide,” he said. “I feel pissed off they called me so early.”
Holden replied: “The simplest approach is to dig into NSF… in that story you can run Hockey’s claim he knew nothing … beyond that, f— him.
“Amazing they freeze us out and then think they have the relationship that allows them to call in the middle of the night.”
Later that morning, Mr Hockey rang Fairfax Media chief executive Greg Hywood seeking an apology.
Goodsir told the court he did not think the story, initially suggesting Mr Hockey repaid money to Australian Water Holdings, but changed after Mr Hockey’s intervention to “Libs forced to repay more tainted cash from AWH,” suggested the Treasurer was corrupt.
“If the Treasurer believed the article contained that he was corrupt then he had a right to feel aggrieved but my view was that these articles did not convey that so his reaction was out of kilter,” Goodsir said.
On March 27, Goodsir wrote: “F—ing Brilliant … given what Andrew and I endured last week with Hockey, I want to have this nailed to the cross in more ways than one … keep digging Sean… I have long dreamed (well, only since last Friday), of a headline that screams: Sloppy Joe! I think we are not far off, but perhaps even more serious than that.”
When asked what “nailed to the cross” meant, Goodsir said he wanted his reporters to undertake a detailed, professional investigation of the NSF, including giving Mr Hockey sufficient time to respond.
“You are referring to crucifixion aren’t you,” Mr McClintock said.
“That’s ridiculous,” Goodsir said.
“The person to be nailed to the cross was to be Joseph Benedict Hockey,” Mr McClintock said.
“If I had meant that I would have said I wanted Mr Hockey nailed to the cross.”
Goodsir said he stood by the headline “Treasurer for sale”, which also featured on posters placed outside newsagents and other retailers.
“It is an accurate reflection of the story,” he said. “I think it is a truthful headline.”
Mr McClintock put to him: “Mr Goodsir, you were saying that Mr Hockey could be bought.”
After first disagreeing, Goodsir replied: “You’re right. He can be bought.”
McClintock said: “And in Australia that means corrupt.”
Goodsir replied “No, and there is a big difference… the word bought was not in the poster. There was no intention to convey that.”
McClintock said: ” ‘Treasurer for sale’ means Treasurer can be bought.”
Goodsir: “I do not agree with that.
“I would have put the word corrupt on the poster if that’s what I meant.”
Mr McClintock said the principal reason for the investigation “was to get back at Mr Hockey” and as a “punishment” for the earlier apology and “the lack of access he was giving your newspaper”.
“Totally incorrect,” Goodsir said. Mr McClintock asked Goodsir would it have been fair for the headline “Treasurer for sale” to be run past Mr Hockey before publication.
“I don’t disclose the headlines of the SMH with anyone prior to publication,” Goodsir said. He also said it did not occur to him to put the specific allegation to him.
“That would have been a fair thing to do,” Mr McClintock said.
Goodsir replied: “I think we had been very fair to your client in sending him a detailed list of questions 60 hours before publication.”
On May 6 Fairfax published an article about exclusive access to Opposition Leader Bill Shorten being provided for a price.
Asked if he could give an explanation as to why Mr Shorten was not described as being for sale, Goodsir said: “No I can’t.”
The hearing continues.
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