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LABOR IS in deep trouble in Franklin, where it is unlikely to hold on to its current three seats. With both the Liberals and Greens polling well, Labor has opted for the tactic of peddling unsubstantiated claims about Nick McKim’s political future.

Last week, the Mercury’s chief political reporter, Sue Neales, cranked out out a 350-plus word article which led with the claim that “senior Labor figures believe Mr McKim has done a deal with Australian Greens senator Bob Brown to replace him when he announces his retirement mid-term in one or two years.”

While Neales was quick to subsequently detail McKim’s dismissal of the claim, the centerpiece of the story was that “senior Labor Party figures, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Mr McKim told prospective Greens candidates in Franklin that the candidate on the ticket alongside him would end up in State Parliament once Mr McKim jumped to the Senate.” The teaser to the story—which is not written by the reporter —stated that “Labor says it has evidence Greens leader Nick McKim is planning to quit state politics early for a seat in the Senate.”

Old news

It was little more than a rewarmed version of a rumour first floated by David Bartlett in the House of Assembly in early October 2009. Back then, Bartlett said that “‘I will be here to see these [education] reforms through, unlike Mr McKim who, I understand, has been whispering around about his trip to the Senate in 2013.”

Daniel Hulme, the sitting Labor member in Franklin most likely to lose his seat in the election, popped up up later in the day asking, when McKim wasn’t in the chamber,“has he done a deal to take over Bob Brown’s Senate seat in 2013?”. McKim’s colleague, Tim Morris, interjected stating “no”.

The following day, Hulme issued a media release stating “he was interested in finding out what deal Mr McKim had done to take over Bob Brown’s Senate seat in 2013.” Hulme went on to claim that McKim “was given two opportunities to correct the record yesterday and all we got was silence.” However, Hansard records McKim interjected immediately after Bartlett’s claim stating “you are a dishonest person.” As noted above, Greens MP Tim Morris rejected the claim when Hulme raised it in the house later on that day.

Why grant anonymity?

One can understand why “senior Labor Party figures” would want to peddle unsubstantiated claims as fact, but should their request for anonymity have been granted?

The Media Entertainment Arts Alliance, the journalists union states that journalists should “aim to attribute information to its source. Where a source seeks anonymity, do not agree without first considering the source’s motives and any alternative attributable source. Where confidences are accepted, respect them in all circumstances.” Fairfax newspapers extend the MEAA wording a little further by adding that staff “will seek to avoid being compromised by a source and to use multiple sources wherever possible.”

While Neales article extensively quoted McKim’s statements rejecting the claim, there was nothing in the story that supported the teaser claim that Labor had “evidence” that McKim planned to jump to the Senate. Nor was there any independent confirmation of the claim that McKim informed Greens candidates in Franklin of his supposed plan.

The best ‘evidence’ that was marshalled in the story was that the campaign poster pictured the Greens number 2 candidate, Adam Burling, “pictured standing alongside Mr McKim” which was described as “an unusual move for the Greens.” Not so says Burling, who wasn’t contacted about the claim. “We are doing the same in Denison with Helen Burnett pictured alongside Cassy O’Connor,” he said. “With the Greens performing so well in Denison and Franklin we thought we’d take the opportunity to introduce another candidate, as we hope to win two seats in those electorates at this or a subsequent election.”

Had Burling been told by McKim that he should expect to be in State parliament following a switch to the Senate by the Greens leader? “No,” Burling said emphatically.

In the end, all there was were unverified rumours peddled by anonymous Labor sources. They got their story up with a splash and they remained out of limelight. Mission accomplished for Labor’s spinners. But there is no obvious reason why the Labor sources should have been granted anonymity for an election campaign beat-up.