by Tina Perinotto

15 JuneThe Australian newspaper called out its heavy guns on the weekend to bitterly attack websites The Fifth Estate and Crikey over articles that claimed the newspaper had misinterpreted comments by leading environmental scientist, Peter Newman, and was on an anti-government, anti-climate change campaign.

In the Weekend Australian, editor-in-chief Chris Mitchell and WA editor Tony Barrass attacked both TFE, which broke the story of Professor Newman’s response to The Australian article late on Thursday, and Crikey over its coverage of the issue on Friday.

The attack follows a page one story on Thursday 11 June in The Australian, headlined “Adviser slams school cash”.

It said: “One of Kevin Rudd’s hand-picked Infrastructure Australia board members has slammed the federal government’s $14.7 billion education revolution program, claiming it has missed a generational opportunity to build environmentally sustainable schools across the nation.”

Professor Newman, who is one of the country’s most respected voices on urban development issues and climate change in Australia, told TFE late Thursday that he had “no problem” with the accuracy of the quotes, but with the interpretation that The Australian placed on them.

He had not “slammed” the federal government, he said.

“It’s great, what they [the federal government] are doing. It’s the states that are the problem,” Professor Newman told TFE.

“For years they have been going down a certain way of assessing schools and what they need and the green agenda has not been part of that and suddenly they get money and apply the frameworks that have been set for some time.”

“The Australian is running a campaign against the government and it’s not a campaign I want to be part of. They are trying to parody everything the government wants to do including the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme,” he said.

Crikey included reference to the TFE story in its Friday coverage,  “Dishonesty, hypocrisy, stimulus and The Australian”.

The Australian’s editor-in-chief Chris Mitchell waded into the debate on Saturday, saying that Crikey lacked a  “real” editor and that such a “real” editor, would have “killed their so-called story”.

Mr Barrass said TFE had failed to contact The Australian for comment on the story. And that: “More than 2 1/2 days after The Australian first spoke to Professor Newman – and almost a day and a half after the story was published – the newspaper had not received any complaint from the professor over the issue.”

Crikey, in its balanced coverage of the story did obtain a response from The Australian.

However, TFE was unaware it needed to check the accuracy of The Australian’s own published story and quotes and believed the professor was correct in saying that his  “slamming” of the federal government was not evidenced by his quoted remarks.

Professor Newman told TFE late Friday that he had earlier that day spoken to The Australian and complained strongly about the coverage. He said he had not earlier ignored calls from The Australian, (claims made by Mr Barrass in an email to TFE).

In part, his quotes in the original article are:

“Recessions are where you draw breath and change directions in the use of technology in the kind of innovative processes you’re using, and fundamentally we must use this to de-carbonise our economy.”

“It’s a missed opportunity unless you give a chance for innovation to come in. If you just say, ‘Get it out the door as soon as possible’, with a template that’s based on what you did before, then you will miss out on certain things.

“It is a missed opportunity and it will be regretted because this should really last a generation … this kind of funding opportunity that comes along doesn’t happen that frequently.”

He conceded in the article that a slower rollout of the program might have been more advantageous. But he told TFE that this was to be seen in context of the Global Financial Crisis in which urgency was key.

The Australian said the federal government slamming was supported by Australian Education Union president Angelo Gavrielatos.

But its original article quoted Mr Gavrielatos only as saying: “standard templates for school projects to create economies of scale could also be varied to enhance sustainability.”

And: “There should be common sense.

“Let’s look at sensible flexibility in terms of achieving the best possible outcome, underpinned by, as far as possible, principles of environmental sustainability.”

It seems quite the only slamming is coming from The Australian.