The phrase “breathtaking hypocrisy” springs to mind. How else should one characterise The Australian giving space this morning to the out of court views of a Queensland judge, Clive Wall, about Griffith University accepting funding for its Islamic studies course from the Saudi Embassy.

This from the newspaper that has run a relentless campaign against what it calls “activist judges” who it accuses of entering the realm of politics and not sticking to judging the law. Ironically even today The Oz’s resident right wing bovver girl Janet Abrechtsen is fulminating for the umpteenth time about the “galloping imperial judiciary”.

Judge Wall’s extraordinary comments follow yesterday’s story about Griffith University “begging” for funds from the Saudi Embassy in Canberra to fund an Islamic Studies course. According to The Oz, the Saudi’s want to promote Wahabism, a brand of Islam favoured by Al-Qaeda.

That The Oz’s story was nothing more than a beat up was confirmed by Irfan Yusuf whose piece in Crikey forensically pulled apart the newspaper’s story.

So what does The Oz do to shore up its sinking ship, it finds a serving judge of a Queensland court who agrees with its view of Griffith. Importantly, Judge Wall’s comments appear not to be made in a court room or in the context of any case he was hearing — he is, he says, speaking out merely a concerned citizen.

“Like many people, I follow what’s out there around the world and I was just concerned in particular about the source of the funding being Saudi Arabia. I’m concerned that a university which is in my area is not being entirely frank about what it’s doing,” Judge Wall told The Australian today.

Judge Wall is doing exactly what The Australian says judges should not do — trying to be a political player. He has taken it upon himself to launch his own private inquiry into the relationship between Griffith and the Saudi Embassy, a point he acknowledges in The Oz this morning.

Judge Wall has been on the bench for 12 years and surely as a long term serving judge he must know the dangers of wading into public controversy outside of his courtroom. Let’s say Griffith University is a party in a case before Judge Wall in the future — will it ask the Judge to disqualify himself on the basis of his remarks in The Australian? And what about any future terrorism cases — will Judge Wall be able to preside over them now that he has jumped the barricades and joined the “war on terror”.

What is curious is whether or not The Oz, in order to give its story some badly needed credibility, contacted Judge Wall and offered him a chance to put his comments on the record? Or did this Judge turned activist ring The Oz? Either way The Oz has been prepared to use an “activist judge” for its own purposes — an act of breathtaking hypocrisy given the newspaper’s strident criticism of such conduct on the part of judges in the past.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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