The Australian's Chris Mitchell (Image: AAP)

Put yourself within the sights of the Murdoch perpetual war machine and prepare to be shot at.

Fortunately its aim is not very good.

My turn came yesterday in the form of a classic hit job by the loyal soldier Chris Mitchell in The Australian titled “Reporters should give thought to how they are used by activist lawyers”.

I’m an activist lawyer, whatever that means.

Mitchell opens with a hilarious lawyer joke from the evergreen humorist Paddy McGuinness (deceased), then the first of many baseless assertions: that there has been an outbreak of “activist lawyers recruit[ing] journalists to their causes, usually involving calls for judicial inquiries. All with enormous billing opportunities for lawyers.” Greedy, tricksy lawyers.

Next, an excursion into an irrelevant debate about the social value of a truth-telling commission on colonisation, strangled into this killer argument: “In a world where victimhood is a status symbol [yeah I had to read that twice too] commissions of inquiry may give the powerless power to proclaim their disadvantage. They certainly give activists, especially activist lawyers, a platform for publicity, plus large fees.”

There it is again. The avarice.

So it is, Mitchell goes on, with calls for an inquiry into the historical rape allegation against Christian Porter — which he strenuously denies. A claim which the complainant “withdrew” before ending her life. (She didn’t withdraw it, by the way. The day before taking her life she told the NSW Police she wouldn’t be pursuing it further.)

“Activist lawyers and legal academics claim rape victims are discriminated against by traditional concepts such as the ‘burden of proof’ and ‘guilty beyond reasonable doubt’. They say women, like victims of child sexual assault, must be believed.”

Wrong, wrong and wrong. No lawyer I know of, certainly not me, has claimed any of those things. What we have said is that the allegation against Porter is serious, and holding an inquiry is essential to preserve the integrity of the office of public trust that he holds.

Nobody has suggested the allegation must be believed. It should not, however, be dismissed on Porter’s denial alone.

But we continue: “This is a decades-long campaign. At its heart is lawyer Michael Bradley.” Aha. Although, decades? Not sure where that came from. Anyway, Mitchell reports that I represented Kate, who made the allegation against Porter (yes I did), and Brittany Higgins (no I did not).

Time to introduce a tantalising subplot: ABC reporter Louise Milligan, who “says she met Bradley the day after the woman’s suicide”. She didn’t, and she’s never said she did. Mitchell goes on, discussing how Milligan got hold of the letter about Kate’s allegation that someone sent to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, about which she then reported and is now being sued by Porter.

Relevance to me? None, but the implication is hard to miss. Although I’m not sure if I’ve been manipulating Milligan or she’s been manipulating me.

We move on to a benign canvassing of my involvement in a legal dispute between “feminist campaigner and journalist” Nina Funnell and Bettina Arndt, and my firm Marque Lawyers’ partnering with Funnell, End Rape On Campus and, um, Mitchell’s employer News Corp, on the very public Let Her Speak law reform campaign. In other words, legal work that a lawyer might do.

Then, randomly: “Marque also has a formal financial relationship with GetUp, a strong supporter of the Labor Party.” Well, that is a smoking gun, I admit, if you ignore the fact that we haven’t had any interaction with GetUp for over five years and never had a “formal financial relationship”, whatever that means, unless he means we did legal work for it and it paid us for it, which did actually happen.

The point to all these excursions, apparently, is that although it is “fair enough, and all a legitimate part of political lobbying”, most journalists and politicians “don’t know all this”. And voters “may have a different view”.

So now I’m a lobbyist? Ew. That’s almost as insulting as calling me a politician. Or a News Corp hack columnist.

I am not entirely sure what I’ve been accused of — something about failing to disclose my relationships with clients I don’t act for or my status as a secret agent of the Labor Party — but I guess the real clue is in the headline. I’ve been “using” journalists to further my activist agenda, which itself is really just a stratagem for making lots of money.

Defamatory? Yeah, I’d say so. To be honest though, I’m more offended by the terrible writing, non-existent fact-checking, incoherent logic and the sheer inept laziness of the whole thing.

He gets paid to do this? I mean seriously, if you’re going to try to do me over, at least get out of your pyjamas and write something that doesn’t read like a random collation of the bits the editor cut from someone else’s column.

Actually, maybe that’s what this was.

The headline should have read: “Calls grow for inquiry into lawyers caught red-handed engaging in legal practice. Sometimes even for fees.”

PS: we acted for Kate pro bono. If you were wondering.

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault or violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au.

Peter Fray

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