Why Steve Jackson hiring matters


Well, wasn’t that totally predictable? Less than a fortnight after the appointment of a controversial Seven Network producer to an executive role at NSW Police, the hire has now been reversed. Equally predictable was the cynical manner in which NSW Police Commissioner Karen Webb made her backdown public: right on the eve of the Easter long weekend.

Webb’s decision to recruit Steve Jackson for the vacant role of executive director of public affairs went down like a lead balloon within the force and most Sydney media outlets. Jackson, a media veteran who most recently worked on Seven’s grubby Spotlight program, was hired for a six-month contract and no one else was interviewed. The position pays somewhere between $300,000 and $350,000 a year.

Police Minister Yasmin Catley and Police Commissioner Karen Webb

Police Minister Yasmin Catley and Police Commissioner Karen Webb Credit: Sydney Morning Herald

One of the many reasons the appointment raised eyebrows was because a personal acquaintance recommended him for the gig. That personal acquaintance just happened to be Ross Neilson, the chief-of-staff for Police Minister Yasmin Catley.

It takes a special kind of incompetence to drag your government into another “jobs for the boys” scandal (readers will surely remember the saga surrounding Transport Minister Jo Haylen last year) but Neilson, Catley and Webb have managed to mangle the handling of this key appointment at every step of the process.

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Jackson was a senior producer on Spotlight and was intimately involved in the program’s interview with former political staffer Bruce Lehrmann. The program repeatedly claimed Lehrmann was not paid for the interview, but it later emerged in court that Seven was paying his rent for a year at a total value of more than $100,000. It also emerged last week that nearly $3000 was charged to a Seven corporate card for the services of two Thai masseuses as Spotlight attempted to secure the exclusive interview with Lehrmann. Lehrmann has denied using the services. Jackson, who was not present on the night, reportedly suggested the employee who incurred the charges, who has since left Seven, ask the masseuse to reverse the transactions and take cash instead.

Jackson’s NSW Police appointment has also triggered the distribution of photographs of him with a naked woman he had just interviewed at her apartment on Christmas Eve, 2019. In one photograph, Jackson is sitting on a beige lounge nursing a beer and the woman is next to him with no clothes on. In another, Jackson is aiming his phone camera towards her face while she is naked. The Herald has opted not to name the woman, but she has since said the pictures were taken at her “lowest ebb”.

Finally, the appointment has shone a light on a bitter behind-the-scenes dispute between Jackson and his former Spotlight colleague, Taylor Auerbach. Auerbach lost his job at Sky News Australia amid the fallout from Jackson’s hiring.

The whole fortnight has been a total mess. How could Jackson possibly represent NSW Police and the commissioner, given the response to his employment? The answer – which was obvious from day one – was that he could not. Yet for days Catley, Webb and even Premier Chris Minns effectively told everyone it was a non-issue and we should all look the other way.



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