The Australian has gone way out on a limb with its coverage of the Jayant “Dr Death” Patel “deal” – and the limb is cracking loudly underneath it.

The story is big news in the national daily, but virtually ignored elsewhere. Yesterday the paper reported that Attorney-General Linda Lavarch misled Parliament over details of the deal. She almost certainly did not, and local journalists yesterday were scoffing at that line which was not reported by any outlet (apart from Crikey, item 8).

Today The Oz reports that “Peter Beattie refused yesterday to publicly defend his Attorney-General Linda Lavarch”. Ah, no he didn’t. Today’s Courier-Mail reports that “Beattie has slapped down calls for Attorney-General Linda Lavarch to be sacked over claims she misled Parliament”.

And that is only the start of the problems for the paper. The saga began with Hedley Thomas reporting that a “deal” for Patel to come back was blocked for fear it would be political poison ahead of the 9 September election.

That political conspiracy theory has failed to gain traction anywhere, given that returning Queensland’s most wanted was likely to be a political plus. And let’s kill off another canard – there never was a “deal” to bring Patel back. A deal requires acceptance by both parties and the Sate of Queensland never agreed to the one-sided proposal that Patel’s lawyers had put for his return.

According to The Oz, this proposal was the legal bargain of a lifetime, but most legal and political commentators have said the government was right to refuse it. In any case, if it was such a great offer, but politically risky, why not stall for time – a few months – and then do the deal, election out of the way? Win-win for Beattie.

Now, this situation could suddenly turn if some revelation comes to light, and the paper is on slightly firmer ground with its questioning today of how the independence of the Director of Public Prosecutions, who favoured a deal, sits in all of this.

But failing something new, substantial and accurate, The Australian might do well to heed the old advice about holes and digging. When other journalists are laughing at, and ignoring your reports, credibility is taking a hit.

Peter Fray

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