Tall Man pulls up short

It looks like it will be a happy Christmas for former Queensland copper Chris “Tall Man” Hurley of Palm Island death-in-custody infamy. 

In 2004 Hurley arrested Palm Island resident Cameron Doomadgee, who apparently swore at him. One hour later Doomadgee was dead in a cell with broken ribs, ruptured liver and spleen. One of the autopsy reports said the cause of death might have been due to Doomadgee falling off a concrete step or by Hurley falling on him. 

Hurley was later acquitted by a jury on a charge of manslaughter. 

It seems this cop hates people swearing. In 2013 he chased and pulled over a car from which he thought he heard someone yelling out the word “cunt” as it raced past him. 

The ensuing incident resulted in Hurley being charged with four offences of unlawful assault against Luke Cole, who was a passenger in the car. 

Hurley was convicted and sentenced in the Southport Magistrates Court on two of the charges. It was not an issue at the trial that he placed his hands around Cole’s throat, but he denied punching him in the face and kicking him. He was fined $900 and had the convictions recorded. 

Hurley appealed. Judge Catherine Muir in the District Court did not disturb the convictions but found that the magistrate erred in the exercise of sentencing discretions by giving too much weight to “general deterrence and denunciation”. 

She also kindly took into account medical reports that said Hurley was suffering post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the Palm Island death and decided that his assault convictions should not be recorded. We’re doing our small bit by recording them here. 

Consultant psychiatrist Dr James Dodd said that because of his treatment so far, Hurley “was unlikely to offend in the future”. 

That’s a relief.

Fairfax farewells

The farewells from Fairfax continue, 18 months or so after one of the great bloodlettings in Australian journalism, with the departure of about 80 of the best from the old media outfit. Two great survivors and fine hands, Damien Murphy and Lindsay Murdoch, are about to write “Ends” to remarkable careers.

With Michael Gordon, a recent Walkley lifetime award recipient, they are the last of The Age intakes from 1977, when Murdoch came from the then David Syme-owned Dandenong News. Such continuous employment will give this triple Walkley winner a small mountain of super as he contemplates his time based variously in Singapore, Jakarta and Darwin, including the bloody East Timorese war of independence in 1999 and the Iraq war in 2003. 

Murphy left The Age after 12 years in 1989, for Lord Moloch’s futile attempt at quality, Melbourne’s Sunday Herald, then worked for Time and the old Bully, where he did an astonishing job covering the Port Arthur massacre. 

At age 70, he’s clocked more than 20 years at the SMH and for about eight years has filled the Christmas holiday editions with the latest unveilings from federal cabinet papers. Libel lawyer Richard Coleman has also been farewelled from Fairfax HQ, having handled an astonishing amount of pre-publication work and in the process pushed journalism into corners rarely reported.

Missing from Fairfax tissues recently has been the United States-based former Herald editor, the silver-tongued Paul McGeough, who, although unwell, clings on with just three other foreign correspondents. Of all these hotshots, the plain-talking economist Ross Gittins remains the Great Survivor, having signed on in the early ’70s. 

Even with this depletion those who remain onboard manage to break an amazing number of genuine “exclusives”.

Kick go the shears

Last week High Court justice Mary Gaudron gave a frank talk to a bunch of Labor lawyers in which she started by saying they had invited “a very grumpy old woman to speak to you tonight. There is much of modern life that I resent and resist.” 

Top of her list is the decline and demonisation of trade unions and her main point was that the time has come for unions to sever their formal links with the ALP, so that they no longer have any formal or institutional role within the party. 

The relationship is harming both, with unions probably suffering most of the damage. Gaudron added that unless a Labor government uses its constitutional power to ensure industrial justice then the words “Fair Work”, which are littered throughout the industrial legislation, “will be the greatest oxymoron of all time”. 

She also gave a little backhander to one of Labor’s heroes, who had a role in the 1956 shearers’ strike, brought on because the squatters served a log of claims on the union and successfully applied to the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission to reduce shearers’ rates by “30/- in the hundred”, or about £7/10/0 per week at a time when average male earnings were £16 a week. At that point the award applied equally to shearers who were members as well as non-members of the union. 

Union secretary Charlie Oliver said he had a bright young lawyer who would apply to the High Court to have the new rates declared unconstitutional, on the grounds that employers could not create a dispute in this way by serving a log of claims. 

The argument was partly successful. The High Court held that the pastoralists could create a dispute as to union members, but not for non-unionists. The upshot was that the non-members had their pay restored but the members remained worse off: “Not the AWU’s finest hour.” 

The bright young lawyer was Lionel Keith Murphy.

Radio rational

Poor Judith Whelan, head of the ABC’s “spoken content” department, was sent out to hose down dismay about Aunty’s tireless efforts to dumb down. 

All the well-worn rallying points were in her op-ed in Fairfax papers: “Audiences are more empowered than at any other time in history ... These changes are audience driven ... Our commitment to Radio National remains resolute.” 

Current affairs programs The World Today and PM will be chopped in half so that audiences will be left “wanting more”. Into one of the gaps comes a light entertainment show on local radio hosted by ex-Triple J presenter Myf Warhurst

Radio National, the quality jewel in the wireless crown, now falls into the grasp of different “content divisions” dispersed in a variety of spots around the ABC. Over recent years, RN’s budget has been halved to $11 million. Whelan has reportedly asked the network’s staff to attract a younger audience and for programs to be more “relevant”, shorthand for more stupid.

Funeral Pell

Tony Abbott has been awfully quiet lately. Maybe it’s partly explained by the recent death of his father, Dick Abbott

There was a rumour sweeping the city that George Pell would conduct the funeral mass for the recently departed. But since the court has made Pell’s name barely mentionable and even pathetically and disgracefully banned reporting of his committal proceedings, it would be a bit rich for Big George to show up and splash holy water and wave smoke for the Abbotts. 

Another priest was dispatched to lay the old fellow to rest.

Trumpette #52

What can the Lord Jesus have been thinking? Allowing Alabama voters to send a Democrat to the senate instead of a gun-toting, God-fearing alleged child molester endorsed by the Pussy-Grabber-in-Chief himself. 

It was Roy Moore’s attempt to ride a horse to the polling station that finally did him in, as it was evident the horse detested him. 

Alabama has been the birthplace of many good things, so it’s a worry that it has run off the tracks with the election of Doug Jones, a lawyer who prosecuted the good-ol’ boys from the Ku Klux Klan. 

One of the state’s proud sons was the source of a great leap forward for press freedom – the result of the noble efforts of the Montgomery police chief L. B. Sullivan in 1960, who put his head in the lion’s mouth and sued The New York Times over a civil rights advertisement. The result was that the Supreme Court decided in 1964 that public figures needed to prove malice in the false reporting of a story. 

In other words, publishers and media people could make mistakes, as long as they were not deliberate mistakes, and not be liable for libel – a development that has been completely missing from the thinking of the finest judicial minds in this country. 


Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Dec 16, 2017 as "Gadfly: Tall Man pulls up short". Subscribe here.

Richard Ackland
is the publisher of Justinian. He is The Saturday Paper’s diarist-at-large and legal affairs editor.

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