Why does Australia promote secrecy by restricting free speech?

Anyone who watched The Law Report on the ABC on Monday night would have seen Crikey’s good hearted lawyer Nick Pullen, a partner at Holding Redlich, sounding eleoquent when interviewed. The other talent they had on was Dr Matt Collins who is a friend of Paula’s and a world expert on internet defamation having done his PHD on the very subject.

Both made the excellent points that Australia has eight sets of defo laws which restrict free speech. The program strongly suggested that the laws are used by the rich and famous to restrict criticism.

It is about time we had a debate about all this because Australia has the most restrictive defamation laws of any English speaking country after Singapore. This is why Joe Gutnick wants his case against Dow Jones heard in Victoria and why the giant American publisher will probably take it to the High Court in an attempt to get it heard in New Jersey which enjoys the constitutional right to press speech which has contributed to America being the world’s most open society.

Whatever happens, Justice Hedigan will be making law because the arguments about where to sue over internet defamation has never come up before in Australia.

Free Speech Victoria hosted a talk by Four Corners legend Chris Masters on Tuesday night and it is not often you see 80 people give someone an extended standing ovation in a Richmond church hall but that is what happened.

Masters has been in and out of court fighting defamation battles for 13 years surrounding his famous Moonlight State report in 1987 that brought on the Fitzgerald Inquiry and got the Nationals out of power in Queensland. It also smashed a $100 million sin industry of gambling, drugs and prostitution around Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley.

Even though the ABC won, at a cost of about $1 million to taxpayers, Four Corners refuse to this day release the transcript on their website for fear of further action taken.

Chris Masters is the best walking example of why Australia’s defamation laws suck. He’s asked me to clear his comments with him by email before publishing so I won’t say much more.

I finally got to meet police corruption fighter Raymond Hoser for the first time at the Masters speech. Hoser is facing contempt of court charges from Victorian Attorney General Rob Hulls next month and is likely to go to jail for allegedly scandalising the courts by accusing various judges and magistrates of a whole raft of things that Crikey would never support. It is back before Justice Barry Beach next month which is an interesting issue in itself because judges presumably won’t look too kindly on people who accuse other judges of corruptions.

It was a Hoser press release published on Crikey that sparked Steve Price’s writ and subsequent contempt action against me which is back in court on June 18.

Chris Masters, FSV chairman Terry Lane and some others at the talk commented that there is no push for defamation law reform in Australia. Rather than the media campaigning for law reform you have some moguls and high profile journalists themselves instead preferring to use the laws to sue and silence others.

Chris Masters lamented that Australia is a very secret society and the defamation laws are a big contributor to this culture. Self-censorship is all about self-preservation and it is everywhere. When Kerry Packer had Australian Business, they left him off their rich list one year. And look at the way the Murdoch press are covering One.Tel at the moment. Lachlan doesn’t have to tell anyone what to do because self-censorship is just part of the culture now.

The comment was made that the union has a benevolent fund for its drunks but provides no support people caught up in the defamation net.

Terry Lane lamented the new Racial and Religious Discrimination Act which passed through the Victorian Lower House last night. It means that anyone mounting a feminist argument against the restriction of female liberties imposed by Islam could now be accused of breaking the law.

Terry spoke very well about the issues and said that keeping the bigots and the racists in the open is far better than gagging everyone and letting the bigots still do their thing in dark corners.

A good example is the fact that new censorship laws introduced a while ago were aimed at pornographers but the only people prosecuted so far was the Latrobe Uni student magazine for publishing a how to guide on shoplifting. And guess who the polly was who drove that exercise? None other than Simon Crean. It’s a bit like Carmen Lawrence being the kind and caring Labor Premier who gave WA a version of Denis Burke’s mandatory sentencing.


The www.peoplepower.org.au site is now properly designed and up and running. The matrix explaining “neither left or right” is interesting and we’ve revealed details of the senate candidate who will be running in Tasmania.

For what it is worth, we’ll be contesting the Senate at the next election on a clear free speech platform calling for Australia to have constitutional protection for free speech just like the American’s have thanks to the first amendment.

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.

Bollino brothers: Colorful Fortitude Valley family sued Chris Masters and Four Corners for 13 years over his landmark Four Corners program The Moonlight State. They lost but still the ABC won’t release the transcript for fear of further writs.

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 but settled last year for a payout and a big apology.

Nick 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.

Joan Coxsedge: high profile Victorian ALP upper house member sued the Toorak Times in the 80s over a story that labelled her a traitor for revealing the home address of the ASIO boss.

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.

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: Has sued most outlets over the years and received truckloads in payouts which built various pools, tennis courts and new wings in his homes.

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

Jeff Kennett: Issued dozens of writs including against The Age, The Australian and Packer’s Nine Network which yielded a $400,000 settlement.

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 recently settled with 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. He’s also suing an internet chatroom.

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

Neil Ohlsson: A former business partner of Kerry Packer and Malcolm Edwards who sued over Paul Barry’s Packer book but settled when slight changes were agreed.

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.

Dr Kerryn Phelps: Suing redwine lover Michael Wooldridge for refusing to apologise after suggesting she had no medical qualifications.

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 failed is his writ against 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. He is also suing Seven’s Witness program over a Caroline Byrne story and is suing The Australian over a story after ASIC slapped enforcible undertakings on him for doing the opposite of his share tips.

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.

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.

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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