Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Star of the Show

Sometimes a story seems to have it's own life.  It starts off small, but before you know it people are drawn into it, and a minor story can suddenly become a very big deal for some very big people.

The scandal at The Star is just that kind of story.  A pretty uninteresting story about another executive whose power had gone to his head now has some of O'Farrell's closest staff suspended without pay, and the opposition calling for the resignation of a minister.

I thought it would be interesting to trace back the way that the story unfolded in the media.

2009: Peter Grimshaw leaves the Star where he was head of publicity and corporate affairs for 16 years.
Photo from the Tele, although I think they nicked it off his LinkedIn page
1 August 2011: Grimshaw forwards an email discussing ethics classes and a proposal for an inquiry into cyber bullying to his partner in breach, of the code of conduct for his office.

O'Farrell: "Pete. Welcome back. I reckon I should join the anti interest rate chorus. It will kill the State's economy. Barry."

Grimshaw: "Thanks! Sounds like China went well. Watching from outside it seems we just need to close off some of the ethics issue as quickly as we can . . . but I don't think the public actually care that much anyhow. Just Nicholls.

O'Farrell: "I agree on interest rates . . . it is a good one to campaign on. Not just for business but for all our voters buying homes. We should find the right forum to raise it.

Grimshaw: "Just another thought I had . . . I reckon it would be worth having a quick inquiry on cyber bullying. We would get families of kids who have been bullied along, maybe come up with some penalties, some guidelines for school kids etc. No downside but it puts us ahead of the pack on social media. Just a thought!"

O'Farrell: "Will talk about ethics. Nothing is going to change. Cyber bullying is a very good idea. Barry."

All the above was forwarded to Grimshaw's partner with the comment: "Barry loves my idea on cyber bullying!"

23 November 2011: Grimshaw has the following sms exchange with his partner:

Grimshaw: "Fuck me. I hope you get rid of Mr Nasty."

GF: "It rests with u. I hate this place. Pls fix it."

Grimshaw: "Only 23 days to go [til The Star licence review is completed].

GF: "I'm not positive."

Grimshaw: "Oh, I am. Say goodbye to Mr Nasty."

Mr Nasty is apparently The Star's managing director, Sid Vaikunta.

2 December 2011: The review of The Star's licence is completed and the report is published.

December 2011: An investigation into Sid Vaikunta, managing director of The Star, begins.

Late December 2011: More SMS's between Grimshaw and his partner about the Star. His partner says that what is needed is "a sexual harassment scandal" and that Grimshaw responds "Exactly. The best thing about these stories is they put in the mind of the papers that [the Star's] not so perfect at all." Another email or sms suggests that Grimshaw has canvassed options with someone called "Norm", believed to be Norm Lipson, George Souris' Media Advisor.

21 December 2011: SMS's between Grimshaw and his partner:

Grimshaw: "How about I tell george [souris?] about sid. That's my job. Then he will ring story."

GF: "I want to keep you clean."

5 January: Grimshaw's partner forwards an email marked "Private & Confidential" to Grimshaw.  The email collates Vaikunta's response to the allegations made against him. It included the following: "Sid was asked if he asked you if you were wearing a bra? He did not recall this. He said it might have been said in the spirit of what everyone else was talking about but he did not think he was inappropriate,"

6 January: Grimshaw SMS's the following to his partner: "Woke to a text from barry (who went to annie last nite) saying . . . heard some great goss about sid last night ... the fact he heard something at star is interesting."

9 January: Grimshaw emails partner to say "[Norm] reckons [the first woman to complain] should lay a police complaint. That would sew it up. She does not have to proceed with it but it's strong if the police are involved."

2 February: The Star announced that Vaikunta, has been dismissed over his ''behaviour in a social work setting''. The Star informs the Casino, Liquor and Gaming Control Authority.
Photo from SMH
2 February: Souris messages the following to Grimshaw: ""Don't worry I've told Barry about Sid but not mentioned [Grimshaw's partner] . . . You've been a friend for years and were supportive of me last year and you will never lose my loyalty. G.

2 February: Grimshaw also sends this SMS's to his partner

Grimshaw: "Norm said he has only said what (ILGA) have told his office but he is going to zip it. So sorry if this is causing u trouble . . ."

Grimshaw: "From george . . . I asked him to ensure u r not mentioned . . . Don't worry."

GF: "Do you believe him?"

Grimshaw: "Yep, he will do all he can to keep you out now." 

10 February: The Herald reported that Mark Brown, an American executive, has been "around" for four weeks, leading to speculation The Star had been planning to terminate Vaikunta for some time. 

15 February: The Tele reports that "Mr Vaikunta was sacked after attempting to kiss one staff member during a limousine ride and propositioning another at a staff function and that the two incidents were just a couple of days apart."

15 February: O'Farrell discovers that Grimshaw's partner is a complainant against Vaikunta.

16 February: The Herald reports that a "senior human resources manager" who had informally complained about Vaikunta was fired on her first day back after stress leave for "revealing confidential information about the circumstances of Mr Vaikunta's sacking" The "senior human resources manager" is Grimshaw's partner

16 February: The Tele reports that the CLGCA will launch a new investigation into The Star's reporting obligations and the new allegations.

18 February: O'Farrell's chief-of-staff Peter McConnell pleads with the Tele not to reveal the name of Grimshaw's partner. They agree.

19 February: The Tele reveals link between the woman who complained about Vaikunta and Grimshaw - they are partners. This is the first time that O'Farrell and the Liberal government have been linked to the story.

19 February: O'Farrell denies any knowledge of the Vaikunta allegations before Vaikunta was dismissed
From the Tele's story
2 March: The SMS messages between Grimshaw and his partner are leaked to the media. Robertson calls for Grimshaw and Norm Lipson to be stood aside.

2 March: O'Farrell admits having heard rumours about Vaikunta weeks before the company announced that he had been sacked after the message he sent about having heard "goss" about Vaikunta is released.

2 March: Robertson refers the matter of the emails and sms's to ICAC and calls for Grimshaw and Souris's media adviser, Norm Lipson, to be stood down.

4 March: News breaks that O'Farrell's chief of staff intervened in the Star scandal to prevent Grimshaw's partner's name being released.

5 March: O'Farrell stands down Grimshaw without pay (apparently after he volunteered to do so) pending an investigation.

6 March: Souris admits that he concealed from O'Farrell the identity of the complainant. Robertson calls on Souris to resign.

Will anyone lose their job over this?  Perhaps not. Surely Souris would not, given there doesn't appear to be a great deal he did wrong. Same goes for Lipson.

Grimshaw is another matter - he did forward confidential documents to his girlfriend, so it may well be that O'Farrell decides to cut him loose. The problem is that Grimshaw and O'Farrell apparently go back a very long way:
Amazing how some stories can change.

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