An extraordinary article by Bob Bottom in The Australian on Saturday (not online) seemed
to come close to revealing one of the best kept secrets from the torrid, flawed
but vital investigative journalism of 1980s – who leaked the “goanna” material
from the Costigan Royal Commission. It has also exposed a bitter rivalry
between two of the most important journalists of that period – Bottom and Brian
Toohey

Bottom claimed that there was not one, but two leaks from the Costigan Royal Commission – one to Toohey of The National Times and another more extensive one to Bottom and The Age Insight team. Bottom asserts that the source was the same person, who was “working for the commission”.

Brian Toohey was livid about Bottom’s article when contacted by Crikey
yesterday. “If Bob is saying he had a source within the commission then
that is very foolish and irresponsible of him,” says Toohey. “The
material was given to Government, and was quite widely distributed.”

So is Toohey suggesting the leak was from within the Attorney General’s
department, as some within the Commission thought at the time? Toohey
says: “I am not saying who my source was, and I don’t know if it was
the same person as Bottom. No responsible journalist should say any
more.”

Toohey also claims Bottom is wrong to
assert that his leak was the more extensive of the two. “We had all the
material, and I find it hard to believe that Bob had it and showed it to The Age but didn’t publish it.” Toohey
said.

Bottom ruled out as the source Doug Meagher QC, who was
counsel assisting the commission. Meagher at the time was accused by Packer,
who sued him for defamation – an action later struck out as an abuse of
process.

Bottom asserts that The Age had doubts about the Packer material and didn’t publish any
of it, but got lots of stories from other leaked reports. Bottom also makes the
jaw dropping claim to have had “greater access to police intelligence files
than anybody else at the time”.

Meanwhile Toohey argues that publishing the
Costigan case summaries was not irresponsible, but rather analogous to
publishing reports of High Court proceedings. It was important, he says, because
of what was revealed about tax avoidance schemes. Some of these allegations
resulted in successful prosecutions. “Is Bottom suggesting that wasn’t
important?” says Toohey.

Frank Costigan has surely been right in defending
himself
against attacks
from the Packer family and their friends.
As a Royal Commissioner he was
obliged to investigate allegations when they arose. If all the Royal
Commissioners of the ‘80s had failed to investigate allegations against the
rich and powerful, then Australia would be a very different and very much worse country than it is
today. But the Packer material was secret for a good reason. They were untested
allegations.

Any journalist worth their salt both seeks
and uses leaks – but that doesn’t dispose of the fact that sources always have
motives and connections, which should be examined. What ever the motive in this
case the result of the leak was a disaster for Packer and also for the Royal
Commission, undermining its credibility.

Meanwhile, Bottom’s purpose seems to be to
clear Packer of any wrongdoing. Has he, in the process, identified, or come
close to identifying, the source? And if so why?

Quite a few people are now waiting for the
other boot to fall.