Passing Bull 338 –Two newspapers – and pure bullshit

Rupert Murdoch and the Holy Father have something in common.  They can’t stand the ALP.  It goes further than that.  ‘Right-wing Catholic’ is a tautology – you won’t find one on the Left this side of the equator or the international dateline.

Yesterday in Victoria, one government office referred the Leader of the Opposition to another government office that deals with allegations of corruption.  Integrity is a big issue in the near state election.  The Opposition Leader Mr Guy stormed out of a press conference.  Accordingly, this story was the dominant headline on the front page of The Age.  The Australian relegated it to an even numbered page boxed in another anti-Andrews piece – which is their schtick.  It goes with the normal sycophantic tripe in the letters – this time applauding Peta Credlin for yet another hit job on Andrews.

Oh well, the sun also rises. 

There is a procedural hiccup in the Lehrmann rape case.  If there is a retrial, the victim can be spared the injury of undergoing cross-examination twice if the evidence is given by a protected process outside court.  This is very common.  It happened in Pell.  But by an anomaly in the ACT, it does not apply there to evidence given in court.  So, the government will move to close off this exclusion.  If they move in time, the amendment will allow the victim to elect to have the evidence replayed.

The Age reports this on an even numbered page (14).  It was front page headline news in The Australian.  ‘Exclusive’.  The caption refers to the article by Janet Albrechtsen.  ‘We’re losing our minds if we do not recognise that this move in the ACT undermines the rule of law.  And dangerously so.’ 

Shriek!  If you don’t agree with me, you are bloody crackers.  

Two quotes will show the intellectual calibre.  ‘Legal sources believe the abrupt law change is intended to assist the DPP in Mr Lehrmann’s retrial…’  Brittany Higgins made a statement outside court.  ‘Many lawyers told The Australian they understood the tenor of her statement to mean Higgins would not be returning to the witness stand for a retrial.’

The conclusion?  ‘This astounding change strikes at the heart of the criminal justice system’s foundational principle: the rule of law.’

The Age concluded its report: ‘Mr Drumgold [counsel for the Crown] noted that the court would maintain the discretion to refuse to admit the recorded evidence to ensure procedural fairness for the accused.’  In other words, the judge will not follow this procedure if he or she thinks that would be unfair to the accused.  End of story. 

But not in the other paper.

What we can we say?

The report in The Australian lacks any sense of moderation or restraint.  It is obviously loaded and partial.  It is the kind of stuff that looks like it was put there just to sell.  The writer either believes this stuff – or she does not.  You can decide which is worse.

Crusading and journalism don’t mix well.  The crusader is partial.  Journalists are supposed to be impartial.

Our press is sadly notorious for getting forensic issues plain wrong.  Those reporters with law degrees are the worst offenders.  In one sad sense, Janet Albrechtsen and Louise Milligan deserve each other.

The press complain that the judges give them a hard time.  After fifty odd years acting for and against them, and losing every contempt case I fought, including getting a journalist six weeks in the slammer for telling the truth on a matter of public interest, I understand that.  But what do they expect if they act like this?

Finally, this is a generational clash between two women.  Older women tend to have different views on this sort of issue.  Put that to one side.  What sort of person relishes the prospect of a complainant in a criminal prosecution having to endure again the ordeal – that is what it is – of being cross-examined in public for hours and hours over shockingly personal issues – because her first ordeal has been put to nothing by an accident outside her control?

More than thirty years ago, Neil McPhee, QC and I were representing directors of Elders in proceedings before the NCA.  That looked to me to be a political pogrom against the late John Elliott, but you have to play the cards you have been dealt.  One of our directors was as frail as he was respectable.  I got a report from his heart specialist – who had been in practice while I was at school – saying that the client was very unwell and that giving evidence could cause him very serious injury.  That evidence was both kosher and undisputed.  But the Crown was desperate.  Counsel – Michael Rozenes – said they could have a specialist on standby outside the hearing room.  When Neil McPhee, with that terse disdain of his, said through gritted teeth: ‘Does my learned friend also enjoy pulling wings off butterflies?’

The press – Age and Australian – Higgins – Lehrmann – Albrechtsen – Milligan.

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