Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan has launched a blistering attack on members of the federal press gallery who followed Anthony Albanese’s election campaign, accusing them of reporting “lies” and “bullying” the new prime minister at press conferences.
McGowan, who joined Albanese for several media events in Perth during the six-week campaign, said he was “shocked and appalled” by some in the Canberra-based media pack, which attracted ongoing criticism from Labor supporters and veteran journalists for interjections and combative questioning.
“Screaming and interrupting, and rude, and insulting, intimidating and bullying,” McGowan said at his press conference in Perth on Monday.
“The sort of thing you’d get sacked for in a workplace. They need to reflect on their behavior. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
The WA premier also aimed at former defense minister and potential new Liberal leader Peter Dutton, calling him an “extremist” regarding his conservatism and saying, “I don’t think he’s that smart”.
Albanese, sworn in as Australia’s 31st prime minister on Monday morning, complained about media coverage and the behavior of certain journalists at several points during the campaign.
Labor and its supporters were critical of what they called “gotcha” questions to Albanese about the unemployment rate and Labor’s NDIS policy. This led to well-documented stumbles as the then-opposition leader failed to answer correctly immediately.
Albanese was critical of some coverage in an interview on ABC’s 7.30 program on Friday, the day before the election.
“Some of the nonsense that’s gone on from some journalists, thinking that the campaign was about them and gotcha moments, is one of the things that puts people off politics,” he said.
In an ABC Melbourne interview that same day, Albanese said, “some of the campaigns, frankly, has been for some of the journalists, dare I say it, more about them than about information and policies”.
McGowan joined Albanese for one particularly robust media opportunity at a factory in Perth on the last weekend of the campaign. The Labor leader came under repeated and loud questioning over his party’s election costings.
Feeling Albanese was avoiding questions, journalists constantly interjected before the then-opposition leader ended the press conference after only a handful of questions.
Several reporters followed Albanese out of the area, voicing further questions. McGowan left at the podium and called the media behavior “madness”.
On Monday, he reflected further on that encounter.
“Anthony’s trying to answer a question, and they’re talking over him and being rude and then muttering and insulting,” McGowan said.
He also hit out at subsequent reporting that Albanese had “fled” the press conference, calling it “lies” and “lying”.
News Corp newspapers splashed the incident on their front pages, under large headlines including “Flee Circus”.
Toward the end of the campaign, Albanese adopted a new press conference “rule” of ignoring questions from the louder journalists, which irritated some reporters.
McGowan’s Monday press conference also blasted Dutton, who is widely tipped to stand for – and win – a Liberal leadership ballot in the wake of Scott Morrison’s election loss and resignation as leader.
“He’s an extremist, and I don’t think he fits with modern Australia at all,” McGowan said.
“He doesn’t seem to listen; he’s extremely conservative. I don’t think he’s that smart. I’ve seen him present on things; I don’t pick up that there’s much there.
“Unlike Scott Morrison, who’s a clever guy, I don’t think Peter Dutton is fit to be prime minister.”
Guardian Australia has contacted Dutton’s office for comment.
At one of his press conferences with Albanese in Perth last week, McGowan lashed Dutton for his rhetoric about a Chinese spy ship off the coast of WA, calling the then-defence minister “the biggest threat to national security”.
“Peter Dutton was the principal one out there talking about war and war footing and conflict, and so forth; that’s crazy,” McGowan said on Monday.
“We’re a country of 25 million people; China’s a country of 1.4 billion people with nuclear weapons. Why would a mainstream political party be talking about that?
He called for a “reset” of Australia’s diplomatic relationship with China.