Diary

Gadfly
Quill shafts for Judd

Kerri Judd, QC, the Victorian DPP, defender of the faith and protector of the courts, has possibly up to 100 media organisations and reptiles in her sights for alleged contempt.

In her possession is a bristling letter from Justin Quill, whose firm, Macpherson Kelley, is acting for 53 potential media parties. This correspondence is a fallout from the Pell trial suppression orders and headlines after the cardinal’s secret conviction for “historic sexual abuse crimes”.

“Censored,” said the Hun. “It’s the nation’s biggest story,” said The Smellograph. “Secret Scandal,” said The Bowen Hills Bugle.

The DPP says these all breached Chief Judge Peter Kidd’s order, which prohibited “any report of the whole or any part of these trials …”

Quill took up his quill and wrote to the prosecutor that her intention to proceed with contempt charges against his clients is “inappropriate and disturbing” and that the letter she wrote to them raises “serious questions about the propriety of the conduct” of her office.

Quill’s clients include the Nine newspapers and TV, Macquarie Media, News Corp, the Herald and Weekly Times, Nationwide News, Queensland Newspapers, Advertiser Newspapers and 39 of their employees.

He claimed Judd had expressed “concluded views” in her letters, namely that his clients had breached the court’s orders. Further, he said her letters are virtually identical in substance and constitute a “scattergun and formulaic volley of correspondence”.

The media lawyer went on to say the DPP does “not specify with any precision the particulars said to justify making serious accusations of contempt and related offences”.

Then there was the issue of whether all those who received the DPP’s letter had anything to do with the publication of the allegedly offending material. Quill said:

“Some were on extended personal leave at the time of publication, including maternity leave. Some are employed in roles such as answering phone calls, which could not possibly justify contempt charges. At least two individuals were no longer employed by the relevant publishers at the time of publication.”

It’s going to be a right old slugfest as the courts and the media fight over their respective turfs.

Collaery mining

Another important courtroom contest continues in the ACT – the case of Bernard Collaery and Witness K.

Proceedings are still at the procedural stage, even though Collaery – the Canberra lawyer and former ACT attorney-general – and his former client Witness K were charged in the middle of last year with conspiracy to breach the Intelligence Services Act.

By November, the accused still had not received a brief of evidence from the Commonwealth DPP. The whole enterprise has been an extenuated overreach of government power, stretching back to 2013 when the spooks and Constable Plod raided Collaery’s chambers and Witness K’s home.

The case had Christian Porter, the government’s chief awarder of plums to his pals, warning everyone to keep shtum about the case.

Here we are in March and still no decision on whether the trial will be open to the world or a secret court affair. It is understood Collaery’s defence lawyers will be excluded from seeing evidence unless they sign bits of government paper insisting they’ll have to garrotte themselves if they tell anyone what’s going on.

Of course, all this has nothing to do with terrorism but more to do with blowing the whistle on the Howard government’s conduct in spying on Timor-Leste during the negotiations for the Greater Sunrise natural gas deposits.

The case is back before the magistrate on August 6, 7 and 8, with more argument about whether the trial should be open or shut.

Meanwhile, Collaery has finished volume one of his book on Timor-Leste. Volume two, dealing with the government spying operation, will appear after his trial is over. The government has also been issuing threatening letters to Collaery about what may or may not appear in his book.

Many observers are hoping one-time foreign minister, Lord Fishnets Downer, might do a turn in the witness box, preferably not in costume. He’s the man responsible for the overseas spying organisation that bugged the Timor-Leste ministerial offices, who later became an adviser to Woodside, the very oil and gas company that stood to benefit from the seabed negotiations. 

Nothing to say here

“The matter is before the courts,” is one of the rescue phrases trotted out by those ducking for cover who would prefer the impertinent media just go away.

Head of the George Pell-inspired Melbourne Response, Peter O’Callaghan, QC, when asked by The Age about other possible investigations into Pell, said that because the cardinal is before the courts, “I must not and will not make any comments on the matters you raised.”

Little Winston Howard was among others who said much the same: “… he has lodged an appeal and in those circumstances it is not appropriate for me to make any comment at all and I do not intend to do so”.

That was after his character reference about Pell being a “lively conversationalist” was made public.

In truth, there is no formal restriction on the ability of people to comment about a prisoner whose verdict is on appeal – unless of course they are scandalising the court, as was the case of the government frontbench dimwits Sukkar, Tudge and Hunt.

The jury has packed up and gone home and the case is now before tough-minded appeal judges who, apparently, are much less prone to prejudice than soft-headed jurors.

Amid the ocean of commentary about Pell, it would not make a jot of difference if the O’Callaghans and Howards of life contributed something more “inappropriate” than Greg Craven or Father Frank Brennan’s contributions.

Political football

The great searing issue of the New South Wales election is whether the Sydney Football Stadium should be torn down and rebuilt with larger corporate boxes, up-to-date facilities for Lord Moloch’s sports broadcasting and new toilets.

Most members of the trust that administers the SFS and the neighbouring Sydney Cricket Ground are old codgers who are well past their use-by date. The Labor Party has pledged to sack them all and find fresh old blood to run the show. Consideration might also be given to changing the corporate branding so the edifice is no longer called Allianz Stadium.

The German giant Allianz is one of the world largest insurance outfits and had a colourful history during the Nazi era, when many Jewish people were wanting payouts after their premises were smashed and their property stolen.

This was all too much for the Allianz chiefs at the time, who told Hermann Göring that if it had to meet all those claims the insurance industry would be in a state of shock and some companies might fail.

Any defaults would be bad for the whole insurance caper, so Hermann came up with a plan for Allianz to pay out the Jewish policyholders and then the Nazi regime would pass a law that fined the Jewish claimants the amounts they received in compensation, which would then be returned to all the insurers, including Allianz.

This is described as a “Mitläufer” – giving succour to the Nazi cause without actually being involved in war crimes or crimes against humanity.

Banking royal commissioner Ken Hayne discovered the company was up to other more recent tricks, such as misleading people over their pet and travel insurance policies. Quite so. Months after lodging a claim Gadfly is still waiting for his miserable payout from the Germans after Air Vanuatu left him stranded in the tropics with no escape.

There are those who are aghast at the thought Alan Jones will lose his gig on the trust, yet we only have to remember that in 2014 the then premier Fatty O’Barrell asked retired Labor MP Rodney Cavalier to leave his post after 13 years as chairman of the Sydney Cricket Ground Trust. In 2016 Mr O’Barrell himself became a trustee.

Duty of caring

The ABC’s Australian Story turned on a distressing show about the plight of thalidomide victims, with the revelation that the Australian government knew about the detrimental effects of the drug Distaval Forte in 1961 but didn’t want to warn anyone for fear of frightening the citizenry.

This was the Menzies era’s notion of duty of care. Using an unfortunate expression, one of the lawyers involved with the victims told the program, “the government sat on its hands”.

Campaigner Lisa McManus is pressing for the government now to come to the party, acknowledge its failure and apologise. It might even shell out some money to those whose lives were changed by a drug it failed to pull off the market in a timely fashion. She said that in her campaigning flurries she sent letters to 222 politicians. Only 16 replied.

What a banker

The modestly named biography David Morgan: An Extraordinary Life is racing off the shelves. Readers can’t get enough of the tome in an effort to work out how a banker and former treasury bureaucrat can have such monumental sex appeal.

Morgan had been the CEO of the large money shop Westpac and the book launch was done at the bank’s HQ in Sydney. The volume was sent down the slipway of success by Brian Hartzer, the bank’s current CEO, who gave an insight into how Morgan weaves his charm.

There was Hartzer in London struggling to stay in the saddle of a frisky horse when Organ Morgan – resplendent in knee-length riding boots and channelling Lester Piggott – trotted into view at one of the city’s snootier horsey establishments.

Hartzer, an American import and head of Westpac since 2015, then observed Morgan “chatting up” his new female acquaintance, who was also the inspiration behind Hartzer’s sudden middle-age infatuation with horses.

Morgan had already boned up on his horseriding skills over many years at his Southern Highlands pile, about 100 clicks south-west of Sydney, so there was a significant risk there might be far too much charm on offer. But all’s well that ends well. Morgan gave his assurance that the woman in question was a person of sound emotional liquidity – proverbially speaking, of course. This was the blessing that a banker needs from another banker before taking the plunge at the altar.

 

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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Mar 16, 2019 as "Gadfly: Quill shafts for Judd". Subscribe here.

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