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SPIRO: The ARU-Beale crisis 3 - Cheika-mate is the winner

Kurtley Beale could be headed off-shore. (AFP / Juan Mabromata)
Expert
26th October, 2014
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5695 Reads

There are many losers and only one winner, Michael Cheika, from the ARU-Beale crisis.

Di Patston, the former business manager of the Wallabies, is a loser because she felt compelled to resign from her position.

Ewen McKenzie is a loser, too, because he has resigned his job as the coach of the Wallabies after one of their most impressive, if losing, performances against the All Blacks at Suncorp Stadium.

Greg Growden has detailed a moving account of McKenzie, “visibly shaking,” telling the players in the dressing room, “in a quivering voice,” that it was “time to move on.” His address lasted a couple of minutes. “I wish you the best,” he told the players, “because you do have huge potential.”

The players gave him a round of applause. Several hugged him, and then he left the room.

McKenzie’s two assistant coaches, Nick Scrivener and Jim McKay, are losers, too, because Cheika has scrubbed them from his coaching panel. As readers of The Roar will know from Scott Allen’s brilliant analysis of the Wallabies’ back play at Suncorp Stadium, McKay, the attack coach, seemed to be hitting his straps in giving the Wallabies penetration and effectiveness with their ball-in-hand game.

Kurtley Beale is a loser-winner. He has avoided being sacked from Australian rugby on trumped up harassment and discrimination charges. But he has been fined $45,000 for an offence that was dealt with and forgiven months ago by the victim, Di Patston.

Bill Pulver, the CEO of the ARU, and a number of members of the ARU Board, including the chairman Michael Hawker, who has demonstrated no leadership throughout this matter, need to consider their positions with a view to resigning on the grounds that they have been in some degree responsible for bringing Australian rugby into disrepute.

Right to the end, for instance, by deciding that Beale’s fine will go “to a suitable organisation that promotes the empowerment of women,” Pulver has maintained the fiction that the whole affair is essentially about the harassment and discrimination of a female ARU employee when the Tribunal he set up found nothing of the sort.

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It had created “unpleasant consequences” for Di Patston and Beale was the Tribunal’s finding.

On Friday night at 11:02, after the Code of Conduct Tribunal had taken evidence from Beale and reviewed 70 pages of documents, the ARU issued a brief statement from the Tribunal noting that Beale had been “found guilty of a serious violation of the ARU Code of Conduct, and handed down a $45,000 fine, for sending an offensive photograph to an ARU employee.”

The Tribunal “also found evidence did not establish that a second more offensive text and photograph had been sent by Beale.”

This second finding involves the crux of the matter. It is the second text and photograph that, if sent by Beale, created the case for harassment and discrimination in the eyes of Pulver and, presumably, the ARU Board that sanctioned the Code of Conduct Tribunal.

It is this text and photograph that some commentators, even after the Tribunal’s finding that Beale was not involved with them, accused Beale of publishing.

Let’s be very clear about this, Beale did not publish the ‘second more offensive text and photograph.’ The Tribunal, possibly to justify its extravagant financial punishment of Beale, had the curious wording that it ‘found evidence did not establish’ Beale’s involvement with this particular text and photograph.

The Tribunal had Beale’s phone. They found an ‘offensive photograph,’ in fact a fat woman (not Patston) with the word Di underneath, on it. There was no evidence of the ‘second more offensive text and photograph’ on Beale’s phone. If the evidence did not establish Beale’s involvement, whose involvement did it establish?

Greg Harris, the CEO of the Rugby Union Players’ Association, made this point directly (and in a way the Tribunal should have expressed the matter, too): “It was a positive outcome that the Tribunal found the more offensive text and photograph had not been sent by Kurtley.”

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There were other factors, too, beyond the Tribunal’s excessive reaction to Beale’s  offensive, smutty, school yard photograph, that give rise to concern about the Tribunal’s handling of the hearing, and by extension Pulver’s and the ARU Board’s endorsement of the process.

Why was Beale asked to give evidence and answer questions and the complainant, Di Patston, not required to appear?

Why, when the issue of when and what coach Ewen McKenzie knew about the first photograph was crucial to establishing how offensive the first photograph was, was he not asked to present evidence?

Did McKenzie know about the first photograph not long after Di Patston had resolved the matter in June, as Beale (who told Cheika this was the case, which Cheika confirms) has insisted? If he had known, why was no further action taken?

Di Patston came to Pulver with the complaints about the photographs and insisted on an investigation after a slanging match between the two on a plane travelling to Argentina. Why wasn’t her telephone forensically examined, as Beale’s was?

Finally, if Beale’s photograph was as ‘offensive’ as the Tribunal and Pulver claim it is, why wasn’t he terminated in rugby, or suspended until some time next year? Why is he, in actual fact, available to play for the Wallabies immediately, if required.

You can’t help feeling that Pulver, in setting up the Tribunal and allowing it go ahead, with its obvious limitations as far as natural justice to Beale is concerned, created a rugby equivalent of a kangaroo court, the ARU’s Wallaby court, perhaps.

Now before readers start attacking old Spiro for being a sexist rat bag, consider the reaction of two experienced female journalists, Miranda Devine and Rebecca Wilson, on the ARU – Beale crisis.

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Devine’s article, published in The Sunday Telegraph is headed: ARU Should Hang Its Head.

The opening sentences are: “It is bad enough the ARU nearly destroyed the career of Kurtley Beale over false allegations that exaggerated the offensiveness of a text message he sent in June.

“ARU boss Bill Pulver unquestioningly took the side of former coach Ewen McKenzie and troubled former business manager Di Patston.

“Even when a forensic examination of Beale’s telephone discredited many of the allegations against him.”

The point here is that Pulver knew before the Tribunal met that Beale’s phone had cleared him of the second offensive and unacceptable text and photo message. Why was the Tribunal not stopped? Who insisted that it go ahead? Was it Pulver or was it members of the ARU Board?

Devine goes on to make the further point that even though Di Patston had forgiven Beale and accepted his apology for the first photograph, “four months later, an exaggerated version of the story was used to attempt to destroy him.”

One of the problems with the Tribunal is that its hearings were closed (which is due to an agreement with RUPA) and that it apparently does not give full reasons for its findings. We do not know, for instance, what Beale’s defence was.

Well, this is only technically correct. Enter Rebecca Wilson. Wilson, with her bully pulpit of The Daily Telegraph, has been used by the Beale camp (it seems to me) to put forward the evidence and the case that he presented to the Tribunal.

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On Sunday there was the old Telegraph standby of a fetching photograph of Beale and his girl friend Maddi Blomberg and a story by Wilson with the headline: Truth Won Out.

Not long after the Tribunal hearing concluded around midnight on Friday evening, Wilson posted an online story which I read on The New Zealand Herald website.

The heading of this remarkable and detailed article was: Rugby: Bad look for ARU as Beale saga laid bare.

Wilson made a series of detailed accusations against the ARU.

They knew ‘several weeks ago’ that Di Patston’s version of the text message exchange with Beale was ‘not correct.’

“…Three crucial text messages had been omitted from Patston’s evidence… Pulver (insisted) he would not be acquiescing to Beale’s request for forensic checks… Although Pulver actually denied this, he has since admitted that Patston’s qualifications did not fully match her CV…

“Pulver accepted Patston’s story that Beale had sent two photos texts with lewd references. He also believed her when she claimed there were only six messages exchanged between the pair when there were in fact nine. The ARU subsequently leaked those six messages, again without matching them to Beale’s phone records.

“Pulver was also led to believe that Ewen McKenzie was not made aware of the incident in June when there is strong evidence the coach was told.”

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Wilson also asserts that Beale’s lawyers were told by Thursday last week, before the Tribunal hearing, that “he would potentially settle the matter without going to the Tribunal if Beale’s phone showed he did not send a second lewd text message to Patston… But an hour after the email was sent, Pulver instead insisted Beale front a Tribunal with neither Patston nor McKenzie present…”

As for Beale’s statement that the June photograph matter had been settled then and that McKenzie knew about this, Wilson quotes this statement from Cheika: “Kurtley told me he had a personal drama with McKenzie’s personal assistant, Di. He said he had sorted it with the woman and that he had also had a discussion with Ewen McKenzie and he did not know if it had affected his selection in the team.”

Wilson concluded: “Last Saturday morning McKenzie resigned from the Wallabies top job, knowing the events of recent months had finally caught up with him. Neither he nor Patston has responded to media inquiries this week…”

“This is not the end of it. It is just the beginning.”

I’ve quoted Devine and Wilson extensively for two reasons.

First to combat what was clearly an ARU tactic to make this crisis into a harassment and discrimination case.

Second to expose the inept handling of the matter by Pulver and the ARU Board which created a crisis that never should have erupted, cost the ARU a fortune and has tarnished the Wallaby brand at a time when the ARU is trying to negotiate television rights to the game.

The material revealed by Wilson is so compelling that Pulver and the ARU Board have to give a detailed response to justify how they have acted.

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If they cannot do this, there needs to be resignations from the major ARU figures involved starting with the chief executive, the chairman of the ARU Board and other Board members who dictated the way the ARU handled this matter.

I can find only one good thing to emerge from this ARU – Beale crisis. Michael Cheika is now the Wallaby coach.