The case in which The Australian newspaper is seeking to suppress a report critical of its conduct was due to begin in the Federal Court this morning, but at the time of writing had been stood down until 2pm amid what were said to be “useful discussions”.

The case was repeatedly delayed this morning. Due to begin at 10.15am, it was delayed first for 20 minutes, then for two more periods of half an hour, while QCs milled, leafed through documents and grinned awkwardly at your Crikey reporter.

The Australian is seeking to have declared invalid and permanently suppressed an investigation by the Victorian Office of Police Integrity into reporter Cameron Stewart’s scoop of last year, in which he broke news of an anti terrorism operation on the very day that raids were conducted and arrests made.

But it now seems that some sort of agreement might have been reached between the newspaper and the OPI, which raises the possibility that some version of the original OPI report may be released.

The conflict has turned in to a high stakes legal case, reported on previously by Crikey here and here in which the reputation of the OPI, The Australian and Stewart are all in play.

All this in the wake of the announcement that Victoria’s anti corruption watchdogs are to be reconfigured in a new body. It is a crucial time for the OPI and its Director, Michael Strong.

Negotiations between the Australian and the OPI have already caused the case to be adjourned once. Meanwhile, observers have noticed that the vitriolic campaign The Australian was conducting against the OPI, in which reporter Hedley Thomas wrote front page story after front page story, usually without declaring the fact that the paper was also suing the OPI, seems to have entered a ceasefire over the last few weeks.

So far, The Australian has succeeded in gaining orders preventing the OPI from releasing the report of its investigation, and from briefing Commonwealth and State prosecutors on serious criminal offences allegedly committed during the lead up to Stewart’s scoop.

I understand that these alleged offences include the suspected source of the leak to Stewart, but also involve someone else.

The Victorian Attorney General Rob Hulls has intervened in the case, joining with the Director of the OPI, Michael Strong in arguing that the Federal Court does not have the power to stand between him and the Victorian Parliament.

So what, if anything, will happen today? If the parties reach an agreement, it is possible that some version of the OPI report will be released sooner, rather than later.

I will stick around the court, and unless prevented will be live tweeting under the hashtag #ozleaks.

Peter Fray

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