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Nick Whitlam and Anne Keating have joined the growing list of prominent Australians who sue for defamation as the NRMA brawl gets really ugly.

Australia has the most anti-free speech defamation laws of any English speaking country and they are being employed by the parties involved as defamation writs fly thick and fast.

To start with, Anne Keating, who is a director of John Singleton’s listed company and the NRMA Insurance Group Ltd, has sued Daily Telegraph columnist Piers Akerman in the NSW Supreme Court.

Akerman is no friend of Singleton’s. In fact they were involved in a physical altercation after a boozy lunch in Sydney at Catalina’s which was also attended by Telegraph editor in chief Col Allan and fellow Singleton employee Graham Richardson.

Anyway, Akerman has criticised Anne Keating in the Telegraph and a supreme court jury last week found that four of the 14 defamatory implications she alleged were true.

Channel Nine is owned by John Singleton’s great mate Kerry Packer. They weighed in to the NRMA brawl in a hard-hitting Sunday cover story last week put together by John Lyons. Based on what was put to air, Crikey reckons that Anne Keating was probably a prime source for the story as Nick Whitlam was certainly the major victim.

Whitlam has now said he will be suing Channel Nine for defamation. Packer’s defence lawyer will no doubt be one Mark O’Brien from Gilbert & Tobin. That’s the same Mark O’Brien that John Singleton’s boss at 2GB, George Buschman, is using to sue ousted presenter Mike Jeffreys for defamation.

Another ousted 2GB presenter is the Demtel man Tim Shaw who is firmly in the Nick Whitlam camp on the NRMA road service board. Coincidentally, Shaw was sacked a year ago from Singleton’s station within hours of voting in favour Saatchi & Saatchi winning the NRMA demutualisation contract ahead of Singleton Ogilvy & Mather.

While Jeffreys is suing Singleton for $530,000 for unfair dismissal, the lawyers do not appear to have become involved in the Demtel man’s dispute with Singleton.

News Ltd’s Terry McCrann came down firmly in the Anne Keating camp after watching Business Sunday’s Michael Pascoe (another Packer employee) go to town on Nick Whitlam at the annual results press conference.

McCrann’s attack on Nick Whitlam sparked an attack in print by Akerman who believed McCrann had been got at by the Keating forces. McCrann was not going to take this lying down and hit back in print last week with lines about Akerman such as the following:

“He really shouldn’t wander into business matters he doesn’t understand.”

“It leads him to back a loser (Whitlam). And a thoroughly deserved loser, at that.”

Will Whitlam now become one of the very few people to ever sue McCrann for defamation.

Keating’s defamation action against Akerman could be helped by this line from McCrann:

“Although clearly she has behaved with courage and in the appropriate way right throughout the whole murky affair – both before and after demutualisation.”

Maybe McCrann will be called as a character witness for Keating but we don’t think she is so squeaky clean. To start with, she gets demerit points for suing for defamation in the first place. Secondly, she has been blatantly doing the bidding of John Singleton in the NRMA board room. When Whitlam was away overseas, it was Keating who drove the board to go for a $3 million advertising campaign for the NRMA based around the Salvos. And guess who got that contract. Yep, John Singleton.

It is interesting to see how many of these NRMA players are on our list of prominent Australians who sue for defamation. We reckon Nick Whitlam and Anne Keating should both be sacked. The political party we are establishing will be standing candidates against them at the next AGM. We hope that Whitlam and Keating won’t sue us for defamation. Ironically, one of the party’s platforms is free speech and the need for major defamation law reform in Australia. All the people listed below should take note of that.

Australia has eight difference sets of defamation laws and no constitutional right to free speech as the Americans enjoy. This might explain whilst numerous colorful and controversial figures in the past have gone rushing off to court so readily when criticised.

Crikey’s register of defamation battles

Tony Abbott: successfully sued over Bob Ellis’s Goodbye Jerusalem which suggested he and Peter Costello had slept with each other’s wives.

Sir Peter Abeles: Notorious for issuing various stopper writs against critics in the 1970s and 80s.

Piers Akerman: Rupert Murdoch’s best friend in Australia sued Fairfax over various articles during his disastrous stewardship of the Herald Sun in the early 90s. He has emailed to point out that nothing ever got to court.

Col Allan: The Daily Telegraph’s editor settled “to my satisfaction” a defamation case against Austereo’s Andrew Denton who suggested a crime story was only on the front page because the accused was Korean.

Chris Anderson: The Optus CEO and former journalist sued The Australian’s columnist Mark Westfield in the ACT Supreme Court in 1999. The Oz settled with a grovelling apology without telling Westfield.

Tony Bell: The CEO of 3AW’s parent Southern Cross Broadcasting is suing Derryn Hinch for comments on 3AK suggesting they have exercised too much power in the Melbourne talk radio market.

Joh Bjelke-Petersen: sued the ABC over allegations of corruption and rorts in his government. Sued Channel Nine and collected a $400,000 settlement which the dodgy entrepreneur said was to help him do business in Queensland. He also sued then opposition leader Tom Burns on numerous occasions and always used Ebsworths for his various other defo writs.

Neil Blewett: The former Labor Health Minister successfully sued when a magazine said he was gay. Years later he came out and now lives with his gay lover in the Blue Mountains. Will he pay back the money?

Peter Blunden: The Herald Sun editor took out a Supreme Court writ against ABC Radio’s Jon Faine in 1999 but it was quickly withdrawn.

Alan Bond: Successfully sued the Sydney Morning Herald in the 1980s, setting back investigative pieces on him for many years until Paul Barry and Four Corners came along.

George Buschman: John Singleton’s 2GB chief executive is suing sacked Drive Time presenter Mike Jeffreys for daring to criticise him publicly about a $530,000 unfair dismissal claim against the station.

Jim Byrnes: Alan Bond’s bankruptcy mate is currently suing the Sydney Morning Herald over a Kate Askew article column item in CBD.

Jim Cairns (Treasurer in the Whitlam government) and Junie Morosi (his personal secretary and assistant) sued The National Times over an article alleging they were each involved in an improper sexual relationship.

Arthur Calwell (leader of the ALP in the 1960s) sued The Sunday Review over an article that Calwell was really a traditional conservative conducting a rearguard action against progressive socialist policies favoured by Whitlam.

Richard Carlton: The head-kicking 60 Minutes Reporter is suing Media Watch over claims made last year that he pinched some footage.

Jim Carey: Sued PMP over an article in one of their Aussie trash sheets which settled last year with a big apology and we presume a big pay out too.

John Carson: This legal partner at Allen Allen & Hemsley collected $500,000 in a settlement plus $310,000 in costs after a long battle against SMH editorial writer John Slee. The court had ordered $1.3 million in damages for claims the article suggested Carson engaged in professional misconduct and a criminal conspiracy.

Rodney Cavalier: The Moree Champion paid out $150,000 to the former NSW Labor Minister in 1989 for suggesting he committed sexual offences on children.

Evonne Cawley/Goolagong sued The Bulletin over a letter to the editor.

Greg Chappell sued A Current Affair over threatening to repeat allegations in The Truth that he was having an affair and engaging in unusual sexual intercourse.

Anne Charleston and Ian Smith (who played Madge and Harold Bishop in Neighbours) sued The News of the World in the UK after it published a photo of a naked couple apparently engaged in sodomy, with the actors’ faces pasted onto it.

John Coates: A chap called Dempster criticised the Olympics supremo twice in 1983 to two separate people suggesting he was unfit to be an Olympic rowing official because he gave priority to personal interest and ambition. The first publication was worth $58,000 and the second $62,000, then Coates got $35,173 in interest on top.

Peter Collins: The NSW Liberal lightweight sued a southern NSW doctor for comments when he was Health Minister.

Laurie Connell: Dodgiest merchant banker in history. Issued about 300 defo writs against various journalists but all failed becaues he was a crook who went broke.

Peter Costello: Successfully sued over Bob Ellis’s Goodbye Jerusalem.

Tanya Costello: Successfully sued over Bob Ellis’s Goodbye Jerusalem.

John dela Bosca: Labor’s Special Minister of State in NSW received about $20,000 recently after suing that wild paedophilia conspiracist Franca Arena.

Frank de Stefano: the jailed former Geelong mayor who defrauded $8 million sued some critics of Barwon Water and won a $10,000 settlement for some bumper stickers.

Jason Donovon: Sued London’s The Face magazine for suggesting he was gay.

John Elliott: sued the ABC and former Victorian Labor Minister Steve Crabb over claims the NCA was investigating him shortly before the 1990 federal election.

Andrew Ettinghausen: The rugby league player sued Packer’s magazine HQ for imputing he’d deliberately permitted a photograph to be taken of his genitals. Was awarded $350,000 at first then reduced to $100,000 on appeal.

Murray Farquhar: The former NSW legal heavyweight sued Four Corners over the same program that so upset Neville Wran.

Syd Fischer: The yachtsman and Sydney hotel owner got $200,000 in 1987 against Fairfax for suggesting he was incompetent and dishonourable regarding aspects of the America’s Cup challenge.

Kel Glare: former Victorian Police Commissioner Kel Glare successfully sued Piers Akerman’s Herald Sun in the early 1990s.

John Gorton (former Prime Minister) sued the ABC over a This Day Tonight interview by Richard Carleton in which it was implied that Gorton had instructed Malcolm Fraser to issue a false denial of a story which he knew to be true.

Bill Gurry: The highly respected Melbourne investment banker sued former Victorian Treasurer Alan Stockdale when he incorrectly alleged Gurry was mates with John Cain and should not serve on the Tricontinental Royal Commission.

Joe Gutnick: Is currently suing the US Magazine Barons in the Victorian Supreme Court over an article suggesting he had links with convicted tax scheme merchant Nachum Goldberg.

Bob Hawke: Folk lore has it that he sued most outlets over the years and received truckloads in payouts which built various pools, tennis courts and new wings in his homes. But can anyone name a journalist who lost a defo battle with Hawkie?

Alan Jones: Very litigious over the years and currently running various actions against The Sydney Morning Herald.

Anne Keating: Paul’s sister is suing the Daily Telegraph’s Piers Akerman and a jury has just found 4 of her 14 complaints defamatory.

Jeff Kennett: Issued numerous writs including against The Age, The Australian and Packer’s Nine Network which yielded a $400,000 settlement. However, his failed action against The Australian appears to have stopped pollies of all persuasions from suing.

David Lange: The former NZ prime Minister sued the ABC which led to a slight watering down of the political comment precedent established in Theophanous.

John Laws: the 2UE cash for commenter collected $210,000 from Fairfax from a jury in 1983 which agreed the article suggested that he fraudulently benefited from land deals.

Solomon Lew: Sued the Herald Sun over a front page article detailing an alleged inside job where someone broke into the so-called “Yannon room” at ASIC. Settled with nominal payout after a couple of years.

Clive Lloyd: The former West Indian captain collected $100,000 from The Age in 1984 after a stringer wrote a column under the headline “C’mon Dollar C’mon” suggesting World Series Cricket games were fixed. All his team mates lined up for big settlement after the jury decision was upheld by the Privy Council in London.

John Marsden: former head of the NSW Bar Association is suing Seven over a Witness report about alleged encounters with teenage boys.

Demi Moore and Bruce Willis sued New Idea over allegations of trouble in their relationship. The matter promptly settled with an apology.

Chris Murphy: The Sydney criminal lawyer turned stockmarket punter is suing The Daily Telegraph over a gossip column item carrying Stephen Mayne’s by-line that compared him with his namesake who owns 2SM and used to manage INXS.

Eddie Obeid: The NSW Labor Minister has sued various partners and critics for defamation and other things over the years.

Kerry Packer: Sued truckloads of people over the years and is currently running actions against Four Corners and Fairfax.

David Parker: The former NRMA director collected $135,000 from 2UE in 1983 when they suggested he was a disastrously unsuitable candidate for election to the board.

Charles Perkins: Successfully sued the Aboriginal Land Council for almost $1 million after they suggested he had tried to destroy them.

Steve Price: Suing Crikey and Stephen Mayne personally over a press release by Raymond Hoser that was read by less than 200 people and downloaded by 340 different people.

Brian Quinn: The disgraced former Coles Myer boss sued The Age over a Katherine Teh article that suggested he sold some shares shortly before announcing a big profit slump at the 1991 AGM. The slump was announced a few weeks earlier at the profit result so Quinn got a big payout that helped pay for his renovations.

Rene Rivkin: The colorful Sydney stockbroker is suing the Sydney Morning Herald and the Fin Review over the Christmas Eve fire and $50 million insurance claim involving Offset Alpine and the death of the girlfriend of Rivkin’s former driver Gordon Woods. The case starts in April.

Roger Rogerson: The corrupt NSW detective got $30,000 out of Channel Nine after suing over the famous Sally-anne Huckstep interview on 60 Minutes when she accused him of murdering her drug dealing boyfriend Warren Lafranchi.

Abe Saffron: the famous Kings Cross strongman sued the Daily Mirror in the 80s.

Ian Smith (former Victorian Minister for Finance) sued Cheryl Harris (a staffer who became pregnant to him) and Slater & Gordon over a wide range of allegations, including allegations by Harris that Smith had bashed her and tried to force her to have an abortion.

Marie Tehan: The former Victorian Health Minister sued The Age when the Kennett forces were trying to maximise the pressure on then editor Bruce Guthrie. The flurry of writs worked as Guthrie was soon sacked.

Andrew Theophanous: Sued the Herald Sun over a Bruce Ruxton which became the basis of the political comment defence when Murdoch won in the High Court.

Tom Uren, a senior member of the ALP in the 1960s and 1970s, sued the Sun-Herald over allegations he was duped into assisting Soviet spies in the early 1960s.

Ron Walker: Has sued various people over the years including the head of the Historic Buildings Council and journalists such as Julianne Davies on The Age.

The Waterhouse family (Bill, Robbie and Gai) have variously sued the ABC, 2GB and The Sunday Herald Sun.

Kathy Watt sued The Herald Sun and The Advertiser over allegations that she deliberately shafted Lucy Tyler-Sharman for a place in the 1996 Australian Olympics team.

Tony Webster: Owner of Webster Publishing is suing Stephen Mayne, David Ireland and Crikey Media over an article downloaded 178 times. Infosentials bought the business but has since gone broke with creditors likely to lose about $7 million.

Nick Whitlam: planning to sue Kerry Packer’s Sunday program over its recent NRMA cover story.

Lloyd Williams: Another regular litigant who sued Melbourne University Architecture academic Miles Lewis, former Labor Minister David White, The Age and various other parties.

Neville Wran: Sued the ABC in the early 80s over allegations he attempted to interfere with the natural course of justice.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-In-Chief of Crikey

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