Has the West Australian’s coverage of the predicament of a disgraced former lobbyist got something to do with its own circumstances?
Despite posting several pictures this week of Julian Grill looking like an undertaker, the West Australian has been remarkably sympathetic in its reportage of the controversial MP-turned-lobbyist.
The paper seems to have gone out of its way to present Grill’s side of the story and even championed his rights to be heard over a charge of contempt of parliament.
Grill was found guilty by the parliamentary privileges committee of leaking a draft government report to a client and was ordered to make a humiliating apology to the Legislative Assembly on Tuesday. The confidential report, into the Windimurra vanadium mine, was given to the mining boss Roderick Smith after it was leaked to Grill by the former Labor minister John Bowler.
The West Australian likened Grill to a martyr and compared the order compelling him to apologise to the long walk by Charles I to his execution in 1649. In his political sketch yesterday, The West’s Robert Taylor wrote, “Unlike that King of England… Grill did not stand mute when called upon to apologise for his actions.”
The paper encouraged comment by the WA Bar Association president, Ken Martin, who described the process as a “kangaroo court” and claimed parliament was acting capriciously in order to “wreak retribution.”
Grill was denied the opportunity to make his case before parliament when the speaker, Fred Riebeling ordered him to say sorry and nothing else. But the paper gave him ample scope outside. Grill claimed he was “denied fundamental natural justice” and that he and his associate, Brian Burke, were acting in the public interest – and not for financial gain – over the Windimurra mine.
It’s certainly true that all of this makes for great copy, but it’s also tempting to conclude that the West’s sympathy for Grill has something to do with its own troubles over contempt.
Since January the West has been fighting a Supreme Court charge of contempt of court following the aborting of a manslaughter trial in December after the West Australian published a letter about the case. The West has been arguing that the court should have been more robust and that it should give jurors greater credit than to believe everything they read in its newspaper.
As has been reported, The West – and its editor Paul Armstrong – have priors when it comes to contempt. Could their rather contrary attitudes on contempt have engendered a sense of misguided sympathy for Grill? If so that would show contempt for their audience.