Legal talent wasted on speech cases

In the past few months staggering millions of dollars in costs have been run up in cases of people complaining about what publishers publish or twits Tweet.

The Roberts-Smith was costly enough, but the Lehrmann case metastatised into multiple defamation actions with lawyers on thousands of dollars a day applying complicated defamation law to the entrails of what was said or published on multiple platforms.

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Lehrmann: a sideshow in public discourse

A loud Phew! echoed yesterday afternoon across newsrooms, broadcast studios, and the lone desks of journalists who work at home.

I used to say that there is an almost irrebuttable presumption of law and fact in defamation: media loses. But with successful truth defences yesterday in Lehrmann (rape) closely following Roberts-Smith (murder), is the tide turning for public-interest journalism and freedom of speech?

We will come back to that. But more importantly in this five-year Lehrmann-Higgins “omnishambles” (to quote Justice Michael Lee), the true side show has been what everyone thought was the main event: did Bruce Lehrmann rape Brittany Higgins?

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It’s time to think more slowly

The disclosure last week of donation details for last October’s Indigenous referendum displayed again the weakness of electoral law, but also gave insights into political campaigning generally.

There is a whole lot more to this than the mere disclosure and recording of donations. And a whole lot more than the mere recording of spending on paid commercial advertising slots.

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Smoke and mirrors with refugees

It was kick-a-refugee week again in Australia last week. Whether the Coalition or Labor is in power, it is the same smoke-and-mirrors game. Get demonstrably tough on a few refugees to distract attention from the massive, unsustainable surge in overall immigration.

Belt up a few people who come in by boat and ignore the hundreds of thousands of people arriving by air with visas that they hope one day to turn into permanent residency.

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Scandalous maladministration

If you watch only one TV series in the next few months, make it Mr Bates vs The Post Office. On one level it is an engaging human story. On another it exemplifies much of what has gone wrong with public administration in Westminster-based liberal democracies in the past 45 years.

The saga began in 1999 and it is still going on.

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Make politicians pay for falsity

For me this is heresy, but here we go. I think the authors of the CSIRO report on the costs of electricity in Australia, GenCost, should sue Opposition Leader Peter Dutton for defamation.

In my decades of journalism, I have constantly railed against the defamation law as a damnable impediment to free speech; to the exposure of political malfeasance; and to democratic principle itself because without a well-informed electorate there can be no democracy.

But the boot is now well and truly on the other foot.

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Spare us policy thought bubbles

After being clobbered in the Dunkley by-election for delivering hysterical exaggerations amid an absence of policy and the non-appearance of senior Coalition figures at critical times, the Coalition is now turning to policy.

But if the thought bubbles popping out of the primordial sludge are any guide, especially on energy and housing, please spare us. 

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Dunkley: lessons out of the ordinary

The main lesson from the Dunkley by-election is not that with an average swing nothing much happened, but rather that there are a lot of lessons.

Let’s take the Coalition side first. The Liberal candidate got 6.6 percentage points more vote than last time. Sounds good, but . . . . Palmer’s UAP (5.5 percent last time); Hanson’s One Nation (2.8) and the Liberal Democrats (2.5) did not stand. 

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