The Weekend Australian newspaper has published a front page story this morning accusing New Matilda of being part of a plot to damage the Prime Minister, via his daughter, Frances Abbott.
The story reports that police are “close to completing a criminal investigation into computer hacking that led to confidential student records about a $60,000 scholarship granted to Tony Abbott's daughter being leaked to the left-leaning, online magazine New Matilda”.
It relates to a series of articles published by New Matilda in May, which revealed that the Prime Minister’s daughter received a secret $60,000 scholarship to attend Sydney’s Whitehouse Institute of Design.
The story from The Weekend Australian comes as New Matilda prepares to publish fresh revelations about Whitehouse Institute’s scholarship process next week.
Mr Abbott and the Whitehouse Institute have maintained that the scholarship was awarded on the basis of merit, however documents and information obtained by New Matilda reveal it was kept secret from senior staff at the Institute, and was awarded after the Chairman of Whitehouse, Les Taylor – a prominent member of the Liberal party and a close personal friend of the Abbott family – pursued Frances to lure her away from studying at Billy Blue, a competing design school.
Mr Abbott’s parliamentary interests register records repeated gifts to the Prime Minister from Mr Taylor, although it makes no mention of the secret scholarship.
The scholarship was not made available to other students, and is believed to have been awarded on only one other occasion in the college’s 25-year history – to Billie Whitehouse, the daughter of owner Leanne Whitehouse.
The Australian reports: “The computer-hacking incident has since become a criminal investigation that is nearing completion, following a complaint to police from management of the Whitehouse Institute about a major security breach involving the alleged illegal accessing and distribution of confidential student records.
“So far, two former staff from the Whitehouse Institute have resigned, and Sydney police are understood to have followed the trail of how confidential student information ended up in the hands of [New Matilda Editor Chris] Graham and [New Matilda contributing editor Wendy] Bacon.”
The Weekend Australian claims to have emails between two former Whitehouse staff which detail efforts to obtain information about the circumstances around Frances Abbott’s attendance at the college.
The Weekend Australia reports: “one of the staff writes, ‘got em. Might go meet Chris now to talk tactics. see you tomorrow.”
“New Matilda published its first article on the issue the next day, May 21, claiming a scholarship awarded to Ms Abbott on the basis of merit was ‘contradicted by testimony and documents obtained by New Matilda’. New Matilda said Ms Abbott was offered the "managing director's scholarship" at her first and only meeting with institute owner Leanne Whitehouse, rather than undergoing an exhaustive application process.”
Documents obtained by New Matilda, do indeed reveal that – Frances Abbott was repeatedly pursued by Whitehouse staff to meet about a scholarship, and it was awarded after a short meeting with owner Leanne Whitehouse.
The Weekend Australian reported that this writer would not confirm whether the “‘Chris’ referred to” in the email was this writer, and declined to comment on any matters related to sources.
“…. Asked whether he had any concerns that the student records of Ms Abbott and more than 500 others might have been improperly obtained, Graham said: ‘I can't comment, but I'm not concerned about the coverage. I'm not concerned about any aspect of the coverage.’
“Asked whether he was concerned the records of others might have been accessed by illegal means, he said: ‘I don't have any knowledge of [that].’”
The Australian reports that Detective Sergeant Paul Grace from Surry Hills police confirmed “an investigation was under way following a complaint by the institute. He said it was close to completion”.
“Ms Whitehouse, the institute's founder and managing director, wrote to all students yesterday to express regret after evidence had been uncovered of ‘an unauthorised access of confidential computer records from our computer system by a member of staff’.”
The Weekend Australian’s story falsely reports that Wendy Bacon did not respond to written questions. In fact, Bacon responded within minutes of receiving an email from The Australian. She reiterated that she would not discuss anything related to sources.
The Weekend Australian’s article also falsely infers that Bacon had said the New Matilda articles were “in the public interest” when asked about the possible access to up to 500 student records.
The comment “in the public interest” in fact comes from a tweet Bacon send in May, when the stories first broke.
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