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Wednesday, 25 October 2017
Page: 12045

Mr ALEXANDER (Bennelong) (19:55): Tonight I tell a story, a scandalous tale of untruths—perhaps unintentional ones; ones that may perhaps be newsworthy. Were they true? They were not.

Opposition members interjecting

Mr ALEXANDER: Fear not; I'm not talking about you guys. There is a trend amongst gossip columnists and, of more concern, also amongst genuine journalists to write that I am thinking of retiring. This is not true. I am thinking about our housing affordability crisis. I'm thinking about high-speed rail and how to unburden our overloaded cities. I'm thinking about how to curb our obesity levels and get our young kids moving again—maybe even playing tennis. But I'm not thinking about retiring. It has never entered my mind.

The issue at heart here is the circular nature of unchecked sources. The latest reference to this untruth was a frankly bewildering article, if we could call it such, from The Daily Telegraph last weekend. Amongst some baffling, random warbling, it suggested that I was going to hang up my racquet. I can only presume its source was a different Tele article which had appeared two weeks earlier. Its source might have been The Sydney Morning Herald, where it had appeared before that, or it could have been the Australian opinion column in the Financial Review. In fact, this rumour has appeared numerous times in each of these publications, often just referring to the statements of the other papers as 'sources'.

With enough searching, you can find the source of all these stories. It all started at the beginning of the year in that bastion of journalistic integrity, BuzzFeed. An article appeared on their website devoted to the fictitious topic of my retirement, quoting 'sources'. I'd never heard of BuzzFeed—it was a better world then—but my staff noticed this and asked them to correct the article. When this didn't happen, they called again and again; they're a persistent little group. Eventually a change was made to the article—in the final, 14th, paragraph. They acknowledged that I am not going anywhere and that all previous paragraphs were incorrect. The remainder of the article's assertions remained online.

Now I don't necessarily expect much from online purveyors of listicles or the unidentified sources they quote, particularly sources who clearly have no knowledge of the facts, but it is sad that reporters from mainstream, respectable newspapers have taken their assertions as truth without checking their veracity. I am fully aware that as this is an adjournment debate on a Wednesday night, occupying the same timeslot as The Bachelor, no-one is listening to me right now, save the poor Hansard reporter, who's being paid to listen, and some of my friends across the way. So I'm going to name a few people whose attention I would like, in the hope that this pops up on their alerts: Paul Whittaker and John Lehmann of The Australian, Chris Dore at The Daily Telegraph, Lisa Davies of The Sydney Morning Herald, and Michael Stutchbury of the Financial Review. I have a favour to ask: as editors of major newspapers, please stop your journalists and columnists from peddling this untruth. As gossip goes, it's hardly going to set the world on fire. As fact-based reporting goes, it's an abject failure.

And to all aspiring journalists out there: please take a leaf out of the newspaper which employs Steven Deare—the top-shelf Northern District Times. When Steven heard these rumours, he thought he might have a story here, so he did something that was, so far, unprecedented in the national media: he called me and asked me—and I was able to furnish him with the truth. Steven has journalistic integrity. Be like Steven.

I pride myself on being a most approachable person. If any journalists would like to know my intentions in the seat of Bennelong, please ask before assuming. Please don't print rumours; it debases your fine reputations. As to the rumours themselves, anyone who has watched my career over a number of years knows that I'm best over five sets. I am no quitter; I am here to compete.

House adjourned at 20:00