Brown Study

Brown study

5 June 2021

9:00 AM

5 June 2021

9:00 AM

The settlement of the defamation action between Christian Porter and the ABC was clearly a win for Porter. I know, because I am the hero of a thousand mediations. Had I lived in ancient Greece they would have called me ‘the face that launched a thousand writs’. So, I can tell you that when a grudging statement is issued by one of the parties after the deal and they slip in words like ‘regret’, it means they lost. When the ABC says it paid only part of Porter’s costs, you know they really lost and know it. When it says it ‘did not intend to suggest’ that Porter was guilty, you know it intended to suggest exactly that, but thought it best to slip in a face-saver. When it says ‘some readers misinterpreted the article’, you know that people interpreted it correctly and that is why they were hell-bent to get out of the case before they had to prove their allegations in court. Finally, they throw in the cringe-worthy line that convinces nobody, that ‘the ABC stands by our investigative and public interest journalism’. So, all of this adds up to the fact that the ABC lost, it lost badly and it knows that it lost.

But that it is not the end of the matter, and The Spectator Australia will always tell you the real significance of events and what goes on behind the news.

First, take that remark that the ABC ‘stands by our investigative and public interest journalism’. Is it investigative when nothing was investigated and the entire story was based on gossip that no one would swear up to in court and all the ABC had to do was write it down?

And where was the public interest in raking over the ash heap of what sounds like the fumbles of a couple of teenagers from decades ago. The only public interest involved in this tawdry exercise was that a public institution was allowed to spend a large sum of public money to denigrate a public figure whose principal sin was that he was on the wrong side of politics.

And this is not a one-off incident. The ABC is now a continuing and very expensive liability for the government and will remain so even if there is a change of government and until some new principles are laid down. We, the taxpayers, pay for the ABC and all their adventures like the Porter exercise; we pay for when they do their so-called investigative journalism; we pay for the frequent litigation; we pay for the damages and the costs and we pay for the running of the courts. We keep on paying, even when they go to water at the door of the court and plead for a settlement. It is time we had some relief.  Even a profligate spender like federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg should realise this cannot go on.

At the very least there should be a clear edict that, from now on, all of the damages and costs incurred by the ABC in its increasingly frequent defamation actions (always as a defendant) will come straight out of whatever section of the ABC created the liability. I would even look for an inquiry after each case to see if the individuals involved should contribute to the financial burden they are putting on the rest of us. We are all mad keen these days on making directors personally liable for company debts. Why not ABC directors, executives and staff?

Talking of inquiries, now that the ALP and the Greens have been denied the pleasure of seeing Porter in court, they have started baying again for a public inquiry.

I have a minority opinion  on this issue. I strongly support an inquiry. I will even conduct it for the government at no expense. But the Porter hearings will be very short because it will be a standing and permanent inquiry into the behaviour of all MPs and senators going back thirty years, even before they were elected. Is that not the indignity to which they wanted to subject Porter, and on no evidence? And what a noble and uplifting public duty it will be to investigate the ups and downs of the after-party at the jolly old Young Socialists Debating Society of 30 years ago when…. Well, that will have to wait, but I can tell you it will make the Rape of the Sabine Women look like a Sunday school picnic.

Next, the Porter case shows the foolishness of so-called reform of the defamation laws. As you know, all reform of the law is a backwards step because it only makes things more complicated. There is enough labyrinthine gobbledygook in defamation law already, but ‘reforming’ it will only make it harder for people to protect and defend their reputation. New and complicated defences will mean that every case will go on appeal, cases will take years and cost millions and, as usual, only the lawyers will benefit.

Finally, the most sinister aspect of all. As the Romans used to say when investigating the latest assassination of an emperor: ‘Cui bono?’ Who benefits from trying to remove Porter from contention as a possible heir apparent to the Morrison throne. Obviously, one of the other heirs apparent. They are at it already, although the ink is scarcely dry on the mediated settlement, as the Australian newspaper was able to report that ‘Coalition figures’ believe Porter may resign at the next election. Now, I wonder who those Coalition figures might be. Obviously, Coalition figures who leak and fancy themselves as a future leader and do not want Porter hanging around and cluttering up the field.

I hope that anyone who knows him will cheer him up and urge him to stay and work to re-establish himself. He is well worth promoting, even although he seems to believe in some bizarre notions now so alien to the modern Liberal party like free enterprise, small government and self-reliance.

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