A newspaper apology may have resolved one of the great mysteries of the federal election campaign: Sophie Mirabella did not “push” Cathy McGowan.
The Benalla Ensign says it made a mistake when it reported that Sophie Mirabella “pushed” Cathy McGowan out of the way at a the opening of a nursing home.
The newspaper’s April 20 edition featured the story ‘‘Awkward encounter’’and referred to Mrs Mirabella pushing Ms McGowan out of the way in order to obstruct a photo being taken.
On Thursday the newspaper’s website carried the “apology to Mrs Mirabella”.
“There was no physical contact that occurred at the time and Ms McGowan was not pushed,” it says.
“We take this opportunity to clarify that this reference was a mistake.
“We apologise to Mrs Mirabella for the mistake and for any hurt or embarrassment this may have caused.”
Mrs Mirabella denied any truth to the story all along and sent a legal letter to the newspaper over its report.
Liberal Party Indi Federal Electorate Conference chair Tony Schneider said the Ensign refused to retract or apologise until six months after the story, when threatened with defamation.
“Sophie was and is understandably highly distressed about this lie – this lame and late apology is small comfort,” he said.
“The Benalla Ensign published that story without seeking comment from Mrs Mirabella and the editor rudely dismissed eyewitness accounts.
“Worse still, Cathy McGowan, in the knowledge that the story was untrue, effectively lied by omission until pressed by an ABC interviewer, her silence allowing the story to stand.
“Ms McGowan clearly used her refusal to correct what she knew to be untrue to political advantage in the middle of an election campaign.”
“That one woman, a public figure, could be party to a false allegation of physical violence by another woman, is to be condemned in the strongest terms.
“Ms McGowan's evasion of the truth on national television in response to this issue was a truly low point in that election campaign.”
Mrs Mirabella denied the offence at the time and confronted Ms McGowan live on Sky News.
“Can you imagine the impact on a candidate, someone’s who’s high profile, a mother, someone’s who’s supported campaigns on violence against women to have an accusation that you committed assault – it just gutted me,” she said.
NO ANSWERS FROM MCGOWAN
Indi MP Cathy McGowan was asked four times by The Border Mail to tell her side of the story during the election campaign, but said she did not want to make the allegations a bigger focus than policy.
“An incident happened and it’s now recorded by the journalist in Benalla and it’s now moved into a ‘he said, she said’ matter”, she said at the time.
But even with the matter resolved with an apology, the Indi MP refused to end speculation on Thursday by revealing what happened.
“I’ve noted the information in the Benalla Ensign, and I don’t wish to make any further comment,” she said in a statement.
LISTEN: Border Mail journalist Anthony Bunn presses Cathy McGowan in April on whether she was pushed by Sophie Mirabella