Labor leader Bill Shorten has rebuffed a standing offer of dinner with Rupert Murdoch in New York, in a sign he plans to adopt an arm’s length relationship with the media mogul.
Abandoning the decades-long tradition of Australian political leaders paying homage to Mr Murdoch when in New York, Mr Shorten has confirmed he was invited to visit whenever in New York, but declined.
“I will deal with the Australian representatives of every media company,” Mr Shorten told 7.30.
“News Limited and Mr Murdoch shouldn’t take that as any view on him in particular.
“I’ll deal with their local management just as I deal with the local management of the ABC.
“But my real conversation is not with the rich and powerful in this country.”
A cancer on democracy
To the untrained observer, it may sound like a trifling matter, but the Labor leader’s rebuff signals a big shift since the Kevin Rudd years when the former PM relentlessly courted the media mogul, before bitterly turning on him claiming News Corp is a “cancer on democracy”.
One former Labor minister told The New Daily his reaction to the news was “whoah!”.
“I was gobsmacked. Bill Shorten has definitely put a mark in the ground,” he said.
“He’s is the Prime Minister to be …”
Labor insiders have long warned that the News Corp empire can expect a frostier relationship if Mr Shorten wins the next election, after surviving blistering front-page attacks on his economic agenda in two consecutive elections.
It’s a template embraced by the Victorian state government under Premier Dan Andrews, who is also regarded as having survived hostile front pages and campaigns by the Herald Sun.
Like the Andrews government, they assert that “Bill Shorten will owe News Corp nothing” – but that’s only if he wins.
“A distinguished Australian”
Tony Abbott and his chief of staff Peta Credlin set the gold standard for tete-a-tetes with Rupert Murdoch. But he was simply following in the footsteps of Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard.
No trip to New York was complete without a visit to the News Corp founder’s Central Park pad.
In 2014, after describing him as “a distinguished Australian”, Mr Abbott spent nearly three hours dining with him.
But the dinner failed to impress then Greens leader Christine Milne, who tweeted, “Tony Abbott set for dinner and getting his latest instructions from Rupert Murdoch”.
The Steam Room
The former editor of The Australian newspaper Chris Mitchell details a bizarre meeting in his memoir when he claims he held talks with an ambitious Mr Rudd – in a sauna – as he courted favour with the News Corp empire.
“Incredibly,” Mitchell writes. “The then Australia foreign minister and I, both in business suits and ties, were to be served in the sauna room, which was to be off-limits to all apart from us and the waiters who would look after us at the silver service table they had set up inside. Steam off, of course.”
Julia Gillard blasts “biased” Murdoch
While relations were publicly cordial during her tenure as prime minister, Julia Gillard was notorious for calling up News Corp executives, including former CEO Kim Williams, to complain about political coverage.
After she left politics she claimed when promoting her book My Story that facts were distorted.
“Some of the things that got published as facts were just so ridiculous it distorted the public discussion,” she said.
One of Mr Williams’ last acts as CEO in 2013 was to adjudicate over a brawl over a decision to publish photographs of Ms Gillard’s new family home in Adelaide. The former PM had called Mr Williams, furious over the invasion of her privacy and what she believed was a risk to her safety.
Mr Williams has long argued he was pushed out of the role after he clashed with editors, who, he believed, went behind his back to undermine him.
“Feudal implies a notion of there being a lord and then a hierarchy and bunch of serfs. It’s a pretty traditional description. I don’t think I’m reinventing language here,” he said.
“I had no illusion about who was really in charge, and that would clearly always be Rupert,” he said.
“At times he can be swayed by representations and ones that are taken in isolation from your own participation, which is clearly a fairly unusual way to run something.”
After Ms Gillard lost the leadership and Kevin Rudd returned to the top job, The Daily Telegraph published the front page encouraging voters to, Kick This Mob Out.
Malcolm Turnbull’s Murdoch Agony
In a new essay on the downfall of the former prime minister, investigative journalist Pamela Williams has also detailed Malcolm Turnbull’s agony after he became convinced the media mogul was backing regime change in the Liberal Party.
She details a confrontation between Malcom Turnbull and Rupert Murdoch at the height of the leadership contest where he told the media mogul: “You and your company are trying to bring down the government”.
The Monthly also outlines Mr Turnbull’s desperate attempts to seek a meeting with Rupert Murdoch at the height of his leadership crisis because he feared News Corp had turned on him and the close, ongoing relationship between the Murdochs and Tony Abbott would have fuelled Mr Turnbull’s paranoia.
However, Lachlan Murdoch has denied his father ever called for regime change at the top of the Turnbull government.
“I was the only other person in the meeting and KRM [Rupert] definitely never said ‘Malcolm’s got to go’ or mused on how business would be better under a Labor government,” Lachlan Murdoch told The Monthly.