Last Sunday, an article by Steven Wardill, in Brisbane’s Murdoch-owned Sunday Mail supposedly revealed why the husband of state Liberal National Party leader Deb Frecklington, Jason, had closed his ‘fledgling’ Gloria Jeans franchise in the Kingaroy shopping centre. Mr Frecklington stated that the shop was popular with locals despite being a start-up business and still in the process of building up a client base. It employed 9 staff but was apparently the target of a “vicious” boycott organised by the Electrical Trades Union (ETU) in 2012 during the tenure of the one-term Newman government. Frecklington stated that the boycott drove him to the brink of a nervous breakdown. Union officials apparently ordered workers at the nearby Tarong power station to shun the shop as payback for the State Government-owned company’s decision to offer its staff voluntary redundancies. Frecklington stated that some of the wives of union members said their husbands “would kill them” if they knew they were patronising the shop. Initially, he said, those in hi-vis shirts disappeared and then their partners followed. Despite this, he said that most locals were too polite to mention the boycott1. However, the ETU has stated that there was no boycott, and that the only involvement the ETU had was to advise the government that Tarong Power Station was a major employer and that the amount of money going back to the community would decrease. As ETU state secretary Peter Ong stated, they had much “bigger things to do than to look at a coffee shop”2.
It is funny how all these terrible tribulations are not mentioned in the article (from February 2017) by Michael Nolan in the Murdoch-owned South Burnett Times, the local Kingaroy newspaper, when the Gloria Jeans franchise actually closed down. In that article Frecklington is reported to have said that the decision not to renew his lease followed a desire to focus on his first passion, which was farming, after seven years in the franchise. In addition, he stated that the franchise agreement “ran out and it was in line with my lease and [I] made an economic decision not to renew [the] franchise agreement with Gloria Jeans”. He said his “girls” were doing a fantastic job and noted that they “basically ran it” for him for a couple of years, as he worked full time running agricultural training programs at the Shaftesbury School in Cherbourg. It was also noted in that same article that in December 2016, spending in the shopping centre was up by 4.7%3.
The fact that this is most likely a ‘reimagining’ of history is suggested by the timeline. Frecklington took on the franchise in 2010 or thereabouts. The supposed boycott happened in 2012, but it was not until late 2016 or early 2017 that the Kingaroy Gloria Jeans closed down. So Frecklington was either too thick to realise that his business was failing in 2012, and it took him 4 or 5 years to work it out, or he actually did want to go farming1,3. The differences between these two stories is a sign of the desperation of the Coalition and their chief supporter in the media, Murdoch’s NewsCorp. There is a co-ordinated campaign to plug the ‘union thuggery’ story and to associate that with Bill Shorten, as demonstrated by Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s “union-bred, union-fed and union-led” attempt at a smear of Shorten4. All this is part of the “kill Bill” strategy of Murdoch and the Coalition5. This strategy is now in overdrive as there is only about 8 months to go until a federal election is required. However, with the debacle in Wagga Wagg last weekend, and the Wentworth by-election looming next month, there could be an election much sooner than the Coalition would like.