From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

Freedom boy on the freedom to defame. “A room full of journalists and lawyers talking about defamation — what could possibly go wrong?” asked ABC breakfast host and Melbourne Press Club president Michael Rowland as he opened “The Defamation Threat” event yesterday. Depends what your definition of “going wrong” is. Freedom Boy Tim Wilson was on the panel of speakers, and admitted that there was a hypocrisy among the political class around freedom of speech, saying he and other Liberal party members argued for a broader approach to issues around freedom of speech during he party discussions around reforming the Racial Discrimination Act, but change was unlikely. 

He argued that the chance of reform to defamation law was “somewhere between zero and non-existent” due to a lack of political will and the need for agreement across all states and territories. saying it would take a “really bad case” akin to the QUT case — which was among the ostensible drivers for an inquiry into section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act — to get the conversation moving in the direction of reform.

The other speakers were Herald Sun crime journo Andrew Rule and QCs Georgina Schoff and Matt Collins, who faced an awkward moment when a recent adversary, defamation case winner Damian Sheales, stood up to contribute a comment about his own experience, which sparked a fiery exchange with another audience member. When moderator Michael Bachelard asked if the panel had any comments in response, Collins, who had represented The Age during the Sheales case, kept pointedly silent.

King Island renounces the Apple Isle. King Island longs to be Tasmanian no more with a group of residents drafting a petition to secede from Tasmania and become part of Victoria, and another calling for the suspension of the local council and the appointment of an administrator. The tiny island (which sits roughly halfway between the north western peak of Tasmania and the Victorian coast) has a population of 1700 and is famous for its golf courses and beef and dairy industries. This allowed reports to describe the residents as “cheesed off” (although no one said they had “beef” with the local government, which seems like a waste). The attempt (which seems like more a transfer than a secession, if we want to be picky) follows the unsuccessful attempt of Lamb Island in Queensland to become the “Independent Republic of Nguduroodistan” in 2014.

More volume for terror talk. Watch the political debate turn to national security next week — on Monday night Four Corners will screen the first of a two part program on the Lindt Cafe siege in December 2014. Then on Wednesday the New South Wales Coroner is due to release his report on the siege. Then the following Monday night Four Corners will screen the second part of its examination of the siege. Do not expect anyone to be spared, especially federal Attorney-General George Brandis, his department and reporting agencies, ASIO and the Australian Federal Police. There are areas of the report that may be redacted, or held back for national security reasons. These will need to be explained fully.

The office of former prime minister Tony Abbott is likely to be mentioned in despatches in the report. But the toughest comments from the coroner are likely to be aimed at the NSW police, former commissioner Andrew Scipione and senior officers still with the force. Four Corners will talk to the families of siege victims Tori Johnson and Katrina Dawson on Monday night and then, the week after, to get their response.

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Peter Fray

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