News Limited’s flagship newspaper, The Australian, said in a September 2010 editorial that it wanted the Greens to be “destroyed”. The paper’s latest attacks on Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon, which include allegations she held secret meetings with a high-level KGB spy 40 years ago, confirm that its editorial bias hasn’t budged an inch.
Former Liberal Party staffer Christian Kerr wrote two pieces in the January 28 Australian that claimed declassified ASIO files put the 18-year-old Rhiannon in a “secret meeting” with a KGB spy in early 1970, before she boarded a Russian ship bound for England. Kerr said the meeting was “seen as a milestone in her ideological development”.
Rhiannon responded to the claims later that day on her blog, saying the ASIO files from which Kerr drew his story are full of inaccuracies.
She said: “[Kerr’s] article is about my trip to England when I was 18 years old. Like many young people just out of school I was travelling with friends before I went on to university.
“Kerr’s attempt to associate my departure on a Russian cruise ship to potential spy activities is ridiculous. I left on the MS Shota Rustaveli as at that time it was the cheapest way to get to England, and unfortunately quite boring as we were at sea for six weeks.
“I have never been a spy and no one ever attempted to recruit me …
“This latest Australian report reveals more about the bias of the News Limited style of journalism and their reliance on spies’ inaccurate reports to back up their stories than it does about my life in the 1970s.”
Rhiannon’s ASIO files contain many mistakes, including several basic factual errors about her overseas travel.
ASIO files are notoriously inaccurate. In a submission to the federal 2011 Independent Review of the Intelligence Community, Civil Liberties Australia said its “assessment is that about 25% of [ASIO’s] collected data was in error (ignoring that the errors gave the entirely wrong slant to an understanding of the person under watch, in most instances)”.
The daughter of prominent socialist activists, Rhiannon first appeared in an ASIO file when she was just seven years old.
Rhiannon also noted that her copy of the 1970 ASIO file, which was released in 2009, has sections blacked out. But Kerr’s report includes “details about the section that was censored in my ASIO report”.
“An important question that emerges from Kerr’s stories is why and how this Australian reporter receives censored ASIO material about a Greens MP. And is ASIO still wasting resources and breaching ethical codes by spying on committed peace activists such as myself?”
Despite this, Kerr repeated his allegations in the February 4 Australian. Rhiannon responded soon after, noting Kerr’s article had made several mistakes in relation to the Greens’ past electoral results.
She also asked: “And why is Kerr obsessed with what I was doing in 1970? For a man who accuses others of running conspiracy theories he is pretty good at that himself. He is up to his third story about an ASIO report of a possible meeting that I may have attended. I would like to assist in the forensic intelligence work Australian editor Chris Mitchell appears quite happy for Kerr to obsess with.
“On 19 January 1970 when I left Australia on the MS Shota Rustaveli and for the following six weeks of the voyage and indeed for my whole life to the best of my knowledge, I have never met a Russian spy. I spent that long voyage reading Lord of the Rings and socialising. I never attended a meeting on the ship.”