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Wednesday, 15 February 2017
Page: 969


Senator McKENZIE (Victoria) (13:47): I rise to place on the record my concerns about a pattern of activity around the office of the member for Melbourne Ports, Michael Danby. This involves claims spanning a decade that he has housed a taxpayer-funded 'dirt unit' in his electorate office.

On 25 November last year, journalist Brad Norington with Rosie Lewis published a story in The Australian revealing that a blogger by the name of Peter Wicks, who runs a website called Wixxyleaks, is actually a taxpayer-funded staffer working for the Member for Melbourne Ports. Mr Wicks' Wixxyleaks website claims to be independent, but it often smears members of the Labor Party, the Greens, coalition parties and others, while promoting certain Labor factional players, like Senator Kitching.

According to the story, Wicks is close to new Labor senator and Danby ally, and now senator, Kimberley Kitching, as well as being close to Ms Kitching's husband, Andrew Landeryou, the backroom operator, former blogger and friend of Labor leader, Bill Shorten. According to The Australian:

Mr Wicks has not disclosed his role as a paid political staffer on his Wixxyleaks website—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Reynolds ): Senator McKenzie, there is a point of order.

Senator McAllister: I ask that the senator refer to senators and members of the House of Representatives by their correct title.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: I would remind speakers to use the appropriate salutations.

Senator McKENZIE: So that would be Labor leader Mr Shorten.

that often makes defamatory and factually incorrect claims in attacks on the Coalition and many others.

Nor has he revealed his personal ties to Senator Kitching and Mr Landeryou, both firm backers of Mr Shorten's dominance of the ALP Right faction in Victoria.

Senior ALP and union readers of Mr Wicks's blogsite say it has become more clearly identifiable lately as propaganda for Mr Shorten's side in politics.

They suggest it could serve as a front for Mr Landeryou, who closed down his own 'poison pen' Vexnews website in 2013 at Mr Shorten's request—but could be back in business if he was using Wixxyleaks as a new outlet.

Vexnews talked up Mr Shorten while publishing allegations against people regarded as critics or opponents. "You can see the hand of Landeryou in some of the latest posts," one reader claimed.

Melbourne ABC radio broadcaster Jon Faine said during one of Ms Kitching's earlier bids for a prize Labor seat in 2013 that she brought "baggage" with her husband.

"There are many people intimidated by Andrew Landeryou and the way he uses Vexnews to bully and undermine and ruin people's reputations," Faine said.

The Australian sought comment from Mr Wicks about his dual roles as a blogger and political staffer and whether he was receiving assistance with his blog. A fellow staffer in Mr Danby's Melbourne office said Mr Wicks was in a meeting and not available, possibly for hours. Mr Wicks did not return later calls.

Mr Danby defended the blog and praised Mr Wicks's communications skills in his role as an electoral officer.

"As a zealous champion of free speech, I, of course, will do nothing to interfere with his highly regarded blog-writing, although, of course, expect this would only ever be done in his own time, not while at work," Mr Danby said.

Mr Danby subsequently wrote a letter to the editor, stating that, since joining his staff in October, Wicks had only blogged three times and not during work hours.

Mr Danby's letter to the editor does not conclusively refute the claims that Mr Wicks' blogs are simply a private activity. If one looks at Wicks' posts since his employment by Mr Danby, three out of five are devoted to defending Kimberley Kitching and the HSU's Diana Asmar from media criticism or attacking Kathy Jackson—hardly causes removed from the factional interests of his employer, Mr Danby.

Before commenting on the Member for Melbourne Ports' history of hosting such operators in his office I wish to examine the relationship between Mr Danby and Kimberley Kitching's errant husband, Andrew Landeryou.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator McAllister, a point of order?

Senator McAllister: Again, Senator Kitching is entitled to be referred to by her correct title.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: I would remind Senator McKenzie to use correct titles.

Senator McKENZIE: My apologies—Senator Kitching. He is notorious for his Vexnews blog which operated from 2008 to 2013. Vexnews claimed to be 'First with the worst'. It was an amalgam of defamation, vendetta, rumour and fiction, often aimed at opponents of the Shorten faction, who by contrast were promoted. There is no doubt that the Member for Melbourne Ports is a political ally of the Landeryous. Indeed, Mr Danby acknowledged Landeryou's help in his maiden speech to parliament in 1998. After the recent federal election Andrew Landeryou and David Asmar, along with two other men, were arrested for allegedly vandalising Greens and Liberal polling material at multiple polling stations from Elwood to Port Melbourne and allegedly driving at volunteers who tried to stop them. Fairfax Media reported at the time that the men had been released without charge but were still being investigated. I understand this matter is presently before the court so I will not comment further. According to Fairfax:

Mr Landeryou is understood to be a personal and political confidant of Mr Shorten—

the Leader of the Opposition—

All four men were heavily involved in the election campaign of Michael Danby, the Labor MP for Melbourne Ports who fought a close three-way contest to eventually declare victory, in a campaign he described as "ugly".

So it is clear that there are strong links not only between the member for Melbourne Ports and the Landeryous but also between the Landeryous and the opposition leader, Bill Shorten.

The member for Melbourne Ports has been an unashamed booster of Senator Kitching's ambitions to attain a Senate seat, regaling ABC viewers with a tale of her using Argo-like sleuthing abilities to clean up the HSU, which has subsequently been debunked. Everyone knows that Senator Kitching's Senate candidacy was supported behind the scenes by Mr Shorten. One might be tempted to dismiss the member for Melbourne Ports' association with both Peter Wicks and Andrew Landeryou as just poor judgment about staff and associates were it not for the fact that Peter Wicks' exposure as a part of a dirt operation centred around Mr Danby's office is actually a case of history repeating itself.

In 2006 another taxpayer-funded adviser to Mr Danby was accused of blackening the names of MPs and compiling dirt files on them. Specifically, Dr Adam Carr, who worked for Mr Danby, was accused of doctoring the online biographical entries of dozens of Labor MPs and Liberals, including then Treasurer Peter Costello and Foreign Minister Alexander Downer. Two Labor MPs, Julia Irwin and Jennie George, complained to then Opposition Whip, Roger Price, that Dr Carr had placed unpleasant biographical material about them on Wikipedia.

According to an article in the SundayHerald Sun, Mrs Irwin, the then member for Fowler, said she believed Dr Carr was 'getting dirt on people'. The article went on to say:

"People who are ALP staffers should not be doing that type of thing," she said.

Ms George, the member for Throsby and a former ACTU president, is believed to have complained that Dr Carr wrote she was a member of the Communist Party in the 1970s.

The entry was later changed to describe her as an "alleged" former member.

The Whip would not comment, but it is believed he warned Mr Danby to rein in his staffer.

At the time, the member for Melbourne Ports denied the allegation, and Mr Carr claimed that, while he had edited the Wikipedia entries of many MPs, Mrs Irwin's Wikipedia entry had been changed by an anonymous user. Despite his denials about Adam Carr's activities, Mr Danby has shown himself more than eager and willing to use his material when it suits him.

In 2011 Mr Danby became involved in a war over edits to Senator Lee Rhiannon's Wikipedia page, with user 'Intelligent Mr Toad' duelling with NSW Greens staffer Chris Maltby over Maltby's attempts to expunge details of Senator Rhiannon's communist past. In parliament, Mr Danby denounced both Maltby and Senator Rhiannon but did not refer to 'Intelligent Mr Toad', who was editing Senator Rhiannon's Wikipedia page to include the references being expunged. The thing is that 'Intelligent Mr Toad' was an alias used by Adam Carr, although he had at this time moved from Mr Danby's payroll onto David Feeney's.

If one were so inclined, one could trace an unbroken line of defamation linked to the member for Melbourne Ports, starting with Adam Carr and continuing up to today with Peter Wicks. The unfortunate thing about the activities of Mr Carr, Mr Landeryou and Mr Wicks is that truth is often dispensed in favour of smear. To call it muckraking is rating it too highly. And the thing is that, when such online operations are being deployed not so much against the coalition but against the internal opponents of the Shorten faction, as well as Labor's Green rivals, they are not being used to promote friends of that faction, such as Senator Kitching. It is no wonder Labor has been on the brink of exploding over such shenanigans.