The Australian newspaper has succeeded in persuading the Federal Court to prevent state and federal directors of public prosecutions from being briefed on a “serious criminal offence” allegedly committed during the research for reporter Cameron Stewart’s scoop on an anti-terrorism raid last August.
In a judgement released just minutes ago, Justice Michelle Gordon said that continued suppression of the Victorian Office of Police Integrity’s report on the matter is necessary because The Australian is arguing that the whole investigation was invalid, and the evidence gathered “tainted”.
The evidence the OPI wants to use – the key element of which is a transcript of an interview with Stewart – is the very subject matter The Australian says was improperly gathered, Justice Gordon says.
Without deciding the issue of whether or not the OPI investigation was invalid, Justice Gordon said it was essential that the subject matter be “preserved…pending the hearing and determination of the proceeding” – which is expected to begin on 7 May.
Justice Gordon rejected the OPI’s arguments that Parliament should be informed by a report from its Director, rather than through reading Crikey’s reporting on the matter. Referring to Crikey’s coverage as “press reports from online news agencies” , Justice Gordon said that the OPI had already issued a media release announcing the fact of the investigation.
“The Parliament is well aware of the existence and current state of the investigation.”
The Office of Police Integrity said a few moments ago that it had no comment on Justice Gordon’s judgement.
Justice Gordon’s decision means that it will be at least another three weeks, and probably much longer, before we know the full story of what occurred between Stewart, his source and the OPI. News Ltd has made it clear it will appeal against any judgement that would allow the OPI report to be released.
As previously reported on Crikey, the report the OPI wants to release was compiled with the federal government anti-corruption agency, the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity. But a few weeks ago, ACLEI “tapped the mat”, as Justice Gordon put it, and cut a deal with The Australian in which ACLEI agreed not to publish any of the information obtained about the newspaper during the investigation. ACLEI has also agreed to allow The Australian to review any future report it writes that refers to the paper or its employees.
ACLEI has said it intends to start a new investigation and write a new report, but has given no indication as to when this might be done, and whether the report will be made public.
A number of questions remain unanswered. First, why is The Australian so keen to suppress this material? What does the OPI report say? And why not allow it to be said, then contest the worth of the evidence in open? There may be good reasons, but we don’t know what they are.
The management of News Limited must surely be aware of the irony of paying lawyers to argue against suppression orders in one court, over the Carl Williams matter, and seeking to impose suppression in another court.
The OPI has described the subject matter of the report it wants to make public as being of “very high” public interest. But that did not cut ice with Justice Gordon, who stated that all that was being requested was enough of a delay to prevent the whole legal action from becoming irrelevant. There was no urgency to the OPI being allowed to make its report, she said.
Justice Gordon’s judgement this afternoon decribes the material that is being suppressed as relating to:
the proposed publication of a report by [the OPI] about a leak of information in relation to Operation Neath – a terror investigation. The application also sought an interlocutory injunction restraining [the OPI] from reporting on the investigation of a corruption issue.
Are the leak and the corruption issue one and the same, or is there more to this than we know?
The “online press agency” will attempt to stay on the issue.
The Twitter tag for my reporting of this case is #ozleak.