The word overnight of the sudden departure of Chris Walsh from his gig as senior political reporter at the NT News, came as shock for many up here particularly those of us who value fearless journalism. Walsh—without doubt the finest investigative journalist the NT has seen for many a long year—if not ever—moved to the NT in mid-2014 and hit the ground running hard and fast.
The CLP government under Adam Giles was a daily train wreck, leaked like a sieve and gave Walsh and his fellow NT News journos buckets of grist for the daily news mill that saw the publication a year ago of Crocs in the Cabinet, a glorious and bloody chronicle of government as flailing chaos co-written with NT News deputy editor Ben Smee.
But covering the CLP was easy compared to Michael Gunner’s new Labor government and since late August 2016 the daily drip feed of ready-made stories and leaks dried up as Gunner implemented a disciplined strategy of government as boredom writ large.
This made covering the grit and spice of government much harder but Gunner—like Clare Martin in 2001—appears to have made the mistake of not clearing out many of the senior public servants appointed by the CLP between 2012 and 2016, in particular a small group of well-connected—by blood, politics and marriage—senior administrators that has been described by some as a cabal wielding a disproportionate amount of not-so-soft power in the upper echelons of the Gunner administration.
But more on that mob later.
The reasons for Walsh’s departure are unclear at present and may never be revealed—though there is no shortage of rumour on the street. The NT News was approached for confirmation and comment but hasn’t responded at the time of publication. Walsh is keeping his head down. His colleagues at the NT News are said to be shocked by his departure but unsurprised given the perceived shift to the right among senior management and recent appointments at the News.
There’ll be many—particularly on the fifth floor of the NT Parliament and in senior ranks of the NT’s bloated bureaucracy—who will be glad to see Walsh scrubbed from the pages of the NT News. One example of the high regard that at least one member of the CLP government held Walsh in is this spray from then NT Treasurer Dave Tollner. Here is a sample of Tollner’s spray delivered under parliamentary privilege.
It is funny how these things get twisted, and you read that the little peddler of smut Chris Walsh, you would swear, you would swear that it was this Government that is on the nose, [Tollner] said. I heard him in some bizarre radio interview the other day on the ABC come out blatantly and say ‘oh we all know you can’t trust this Government, they don’t have any transparency’. The only question he says is whether we can trust the Labor Opposition … I know what his DNA is. I know he cannot be trusted. But he still writes stories about me irrespective of the fact that I don’t talk to the guy.
But there’ll be many more—frontline public servants, good cops, fellow journos and those of us for whom a Chris Walsh byline was a good reason to buy what passes, maybe now passed, as the journal of daily record in the NT—who’ll mourn his absence.
But all may not be lost. Word is that the local ABC in Darwin may have a desk and a phone in a back room for an investigative journalist to grind away on some long-form work.
Watch this space.
If you want to read Chris Walsh’s work a good start is Crocs in the Cabinet – Northern Territory politics: An instruction manual on how NOT to run a government, published by Hachette Australia. You can also hear him talk about his love for music, carnivals, all things Canadian and politics in this episode of Old New Borrowed Blue with ABC Darwin’s Rebecca McLaren.