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Monday, 13 April 2020 04:25

Reporting Pell - Whither Investigative Journalism in Australia?

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While many are delighted by the High Court's decision in the Pell case, unease and questions remain, especially about the operations of the justice system in Victoria.  One core question is - why weren't these questions asked by Australia's media?

The High Court’s decision to correct five years of injustice for Cardinal George Pell not only freed a man who patently did not commit crimes for which he was wrongfully arrested, convicted and imprisoned in the highly disturbed state of Victoria. The decision also began the process of resurrecting the Cardinal’s tattered public reputation, in this season of resurrection. The Cardinal’s Catholic and non-Catholic supporters – and there are many, though hidden from view – will now have something to work with other than faith alone, in the face of endless Pell-bashing, violence and name calling.

The High Court’s decision did something else, too. It provided emphatic evidence that traditional legal protections for accused persons remain in place, in spite of the tireless efforts over the last decade and a half on the part of Victorian politicians, justice bureaucrats, law enforcement officers and the courts themselves, to embed #MeToo justice in the system in place of the presumption of innocence of the accused. Now Catholic priests and those who work with children, among others, can breathe just a little more easily, knowing that anonymous accusers of any stripe cannot assume that they can just turn up and be believed automatically, absent any sort of evidence.

The subject is fraught, to be sure. Paraphrasing Cardinal Pell, there is more than enough anger and hurt already, all round.

There are almost too many issues from the Pell case covered in the media this week to record. One ringing in the ears of many observers, both those committed to the Pell cause and those more neutral, is – how on earth did this vicious, all-but-successful five year-plus relentless pursuit of an innocent man actually happen? In our country?

Looking back, with the benefit of hindsight now, many in the media have suddenly seen how crazy it all was. Far fewer saw the awful craziness as it was actually happening, and as Pell pointed out, those who did were often made to suffer for it. I know.

The sea change this week has been astonishing. Yes, there had been a shift in the mood, following Justice Mark Weinberg’s dissent at the Victorian Court of Appeal. But now many more have come on board. Calling for inquiries into how it happened. Excoriating the Victorian police, the prosecutors, the Government, the Court of Appeal judges who found the Pell jury verdict was quite ok. Recognising the travesty of justice that has occurred.

About time too.

Some of the Cardinal’s defenders deserve special mention here. One is the indefatigable Andrew Bolt, like the Cardinal himself a figure who deeply divides opinion, for having the courage of his convictions and for mixing it fearlessly with his many opponents. Another is Australian Catholic University Vice Chancellor Greg Craven, himself an academic lawyer of esteem, who eviscerated a poor ABC girlie on air for the ABC’s shameful involvement in the Pell witch hunt. Frank Brennan has been right on the money. His manifest lawyerly skill set and an eye for legal detail has been an inspiration . This has been augmented by his leftist Catholic street cred and by his genuine grieving for the victims of clerical abuse. In short, Brennan is believed by many. He has been particularly harsh on the Victorian legal system, which he correctly believes has hounded the innocent without comforting the victims. Unlike many commentators, too, he has been an ongoing source of new information. He has been doing the media’s job while Australian investigative journalism has been asleep at the wheel. More on that later.

In the USA, the American Catholic writer George Weigel has run a firm, consistent line from the get-go and has missed nothing. First Things has been firm as well, led by associate editor Julia Yost, who memorably described Louise Milligan’s pulp fiction as “semi-literate police talking points”.

At home, Pell support groups have provided marvellous sustenance to the true believers. Many of us - “rich Catholic friends” – have provided the proverbial widow’s mite or more to defray the Cardinal’s legal costs. No one has done more in Australia than John Macaulay to advance the cause of Cardinal Pell’s defence. He is still very much alive to opportunities to hold media organisations in particular to account for possible defamation.

There is no doubt, therefore, that an Easter celebration is warranted.

And yet there is lingering unease among us. The relentless hatred of Pell and of the Catholic Church for sins real, imagined, wrongly attributed and exaggerated is only just now revving up afresh, it seems. There is talk of new charges, fresh allegations, civil suits, a Vatican canonical investigation, all to keep the Cardinal’s critics engaged and publicly active and victims’ priest chasing lawyers in clover. George Weigel has dismissed any coming Rome investigation as fanciful, presumably not merely from wishful thinking, while other international Catholic observers have suggested a short, sharp quiet investigation that will lead to total exoneration. The so-called “new” allegations helpfully aired by the ABC with unerring, strategic timing are merely old, already dismissed allegations which didn’t even make it to the VicPol starting gate. As for anyone contemplating an OJ Simpson style civil suit, like the late MR’s appalling father, I hope he and his cheer squads realise that witness J, up until now protected in his anonymity, would be required to show himself publicly and be exposed to sharper and more direct cross examination in any potential civil case. All for the victim dollar.

That instruments of the State are involved in this wicked show of Deadwood justice is simply unspeakable in a democracy like Australia. The reactions of those with skin in the game, like the despicable Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, are shameful though unsurprising. Andrews’ sheer lack of class is well known – remember his vituperative, spittle flecked attack on Tony Abbott for daring even to visit Pell in prison – and his safe space that is the Victorian bureaucracy, police force, media and leftist academic cocoon protects him and gives him cover to be outrageous.

Both the Andrews Government and its predecessor ALP administrations have, since the 2000s, set out radically and systematically to transform the Victorian justice system insofar as it relates to allegations of historical sex abuse. Perceiving the old system to have provided insufficient support to complainants, Victoria set out to upend the traditional presumption of innocence for the accused in these cases, to embed MeToo principles in the legislation, and to appoint tame, on-board people in the system who would ensure that the new principles were enforced at law. For example, as recently as 2015, as Piers Ackerman has noted:

In 2015, the Andrews government passed the Jury Directions Act which in Section 39, paragraphs 1-3, is not only contradictory but falls over backwards to give the testimony of accusers greater weight than that of their ¬accused. The High Court Justices ¬referred to this flaw in their 44-page unanimous 7-0 judgment. Under the Act the judge is instruc¬ted not to suggest to the jury that the “victim’s evidence … be scrutinised with great care”.

This legislation, described as “bizarre” by Akerman, merely reinforces those other legislative actions enacted by Andrews’ predecessors Bracks and Brumby and their legal henchman, then Attorney general Rob Hulls. Hulls is now located, unsurprisingly, at RMIT University in a unit dedicated to “innovative justice”.

Very appropriate too.

I have previously detailed the history and the personalities involved in the MeToo-isation of the Victorian sex abuse justice system here.

(In the interests of bi-partisanship, it should be noted here that the Liberal Prime Minister Scott Morrison himself contributed to the crucifixion of Pell, perhaps unintentionally but certainly strategically, with his inane, virtue signalling parliamentary shouting from the rooftops, “We believe you”, a matter of weeks before Pell’s second, lethal trial).

The active State instruments of the Pell campaign are still all in place, absent the old Robert Richter enemy Doug Smith of the Sano Taskforce who retired, perhaps strategically, to a life of tweeting with others linked to victim cheer squad also known to the twitterati as “Lyndsay Farlow”.

The lugubrious Graham “we don’t run vendettas against people” Ashton, now hopefully in his dying days as Police Commissioner of the State of Victoria, heads an organisation – that I have described elsewhere as Ashton’s Circus – which still believes, apparently, that those involved in the pursuit of George Pell were acting correctly, from proper motives, and, presumably, would do it all over again. (By the way, one might reasonably ask former detective Paul Dale if VicPol “doesn’t run vendettas against people”).

One of Ashton’s Deputy Commissioners, Shane Patton, apparently a likely applicant for the top job, actually flew himself to Rome in October 2016 to assist in the “interview” of Cardinal Pell over the Witness J allegations. All of those involved in the VicPol witch hunt, officers Sheridan and Reed in particular, should be quietly sacked, and not be allowed to continue to brazen out what, one hopes, are the early days of a fresh, forensic investigation into VicPol methods, especially the disgraced trawling methods imported directly from the UK and deployed in the now infamous Operation Tethering. The promotion of Patton would only confirm the already deep suspicion among many of us, strengthened by the placement of Andrews’ own former chief of staff in Ashton’s office, that the various instruments of the State are in lockstep in relation to the pursuit of the innocent, in the service of #MeToo feminism and of what is now a well-connected, intimately networked survivor industry.

Victoria, of course, is Ground Zero for this active, ongoing network.

The drum beat of the victims’ support group mantras – “we believe you”, “stop the hurt”, “Pell’s release was on a “technicality””, “Pell rot in hell”, and so on – resounds endlessly, without proportion, forgiveness, sense or meaning. How the pursuit of the innocent helps resolve the pain for the victims of the guilty is never, ever explained. Yet, again, the survivors groups have skin in the game, and their hatred of the Church runs ever so deep. Is it likely their hatred of Catholicism will ever be assuaged?

What of the other members of Team Get Pell?

Elements of the popular press have been, and continue to be, disgraceful. None more so than the Sydney Sunday Telegraph, a strangely popular rag that continues to sell copies despite (or, perhaps, because of) being full of low brow, celebrity focused pap and soft core porn, a bit like its sister publication, the Daily Telegraph, and their online versions.

As recently as Easter Sunday itself, the newspaper opined:

George Pell has not been declared “innocent” and nor has the Catholic Church.

Next to the appalling editorial is a headline, “Cardinal admits he is ashamed of past”. This is all fodder for those of us who will now be examining quite closely what could be considered examples of defamatory media reporting of Cardinal Pell. The Sunday Telegraph and its editor - one Mick Carroll, formerly of the Townsville Bulletin – have form, as their excoriation of Israel Folau for his Pell-like muscular Christianity attests. That this paper also runs articles by the respected and reasonable Piers Akerman (quoted above) is of limited comfort.

More than most, the ABC has performed sterling service in the name of The Cause. All the while proclaiming its innocence, the ABC, funded by long suffering Australian taxpayers, has simply forsaken it core task of reporting the news and investigating the news.

Once upon a time, the ABC was the home of investigative journalism, with a commitment to excellence, the highest of journalistic standards and an appetite for weeding out injustice. Those of a certain age will recall the spirit of ABC investigative journalism nurtured in the 1960s and 1970s under the watchful gaze of Bill Peach at This Day Tonight. Such young guns as Mike Willesee, Stuart Littlemore, Peter Luck, Richard Carleton, George Negus, and, yes, even the younger version of ageing leftie Mike Carlton, endeavoured to speak “truth to power”, and to uncover the hidden things behind the news. They were pathbreakers, they created a template for investigative journalism and they led a generation of inquiring minds who dug deep for the truth.

Now, their successors are mere cheer squadders for every trendy cause going. They have no sense of their own subservience to the elites and the powerbrokers. They are climate crisis central. They ooze post modernism and relativism from every pore. They scream “diversity” without themselves exhibiting any, other than by employing feminists and faces of colour. They line up opponents and gun them down in the manner of firing squads. They fail to employ anyone other than left of centre graduates of the School of Woke.

They have ideological skin in the Pell game, and this is the problem. Their ideological commitments have prevented them from realising that “getting Pell” has been an issue of epic injustice that should itself have been the trigger for a massive effort of investigative journalism. They have been missing in action and this should be the ABC’s core business.

Part of the problem has been the rabid anti-Catholicism of some of the ABC’s key journalists, whose names are well known and need no more promotion. Ex-Catholic feminists are notorious, in the universities, the public service and the media. They carry a special, enduring hatred for man’s-man prelates who are smart and who fight back, who defend Catholic moral teachings in season and out, and who stand firm during crises real, imagined and exaggerated. That so few Catholic prelates in Australia provide such convenient targets (by vigorously defending the faith) should shame us all. George never stood a chance, for there is never such an enemy as an ex-Catholic feminist scorned.

The absence of an investigative journalist culture in Australia generally, not just the ABC, has become quite clear in the aftermath of the Pell case. So many media organs have become merely arms of the State, including the private sector media. The recent path breaking and news making investigation by Hedley Thomas into the long-forgotten disappearance of Lyn Dawson is the exception to the rule, alas.

Three examples of an almost total absence of interest in exposing injustice, corruption and, above all, the lies and propaganda of governments, tell the story. These are the climate change scam, the covid scare, and the Pell fiasco. The Pell case I have detailed here above, but it should also be noted that it seemed never to occur to those who report the news at the ABC and elsewhere that there was a story in the Victorian justice system’s pursuit of Pell.

Witness the following facts of the case, all unreported, indeed studiously ignored, by the 21st century’s version of Australian investigative journalists:

  • When Julia Gillard called the Royal Commission which grew into an anti-Catholic witch hunt, she was in doing so delivering a rich seam of clients to the woman lawyer (from Emily’s List) who effectively got Gillard into parliament;
  • The second alleged victim, now sadly deceased from a drug overdose, denied he was ever sexually abused, by George Pell or by anybody else;
  • The Victorian justice system has systematically upended the presumption of innocence in sex abuse cases and these legislative changes of themselves contributed massively to Pell’s miscarriage of justice;
  • VicPol leaked its investigation of its pursuit of Pell to a Herald Sun journalist;
  • VicPol advertised in the media for complainants against Pell to come forward in order to create the impression of a serial paedophile, ahead of the case it knew at the time it would be bringing against Pell;
  • It has been suggested that VicPol pursued the second trial despite evidence that the complainant wished not to proceed beyond the first trial;
  • It has been suggested that VicPol undertook to the victims’ group Broken Rites that it would get Pell if BR could bring forward a plausible complainant;
  • The alleged victim’s story bore an uncanny resemblance to a similar, fabricated case in the USA (“Billy Doe”), a story which was known to various Get Pell team members just prior to Witness J approaching VicPol in June 2015;
  • There are aspects of the complainant’s history and lifestyle that suggest he may have simply been used by VicPol to get an arrest then conviction, things to which Pell’s defence team were denied access;
  • Has there been ANY reporting of the notorious Carl Beech case in Australia?
  • The trawling methods used by VicPol in Operation Tethering have been discredited by a Parliamentary inquiry in the UK.

Each and every one of these things might be considered worthy of some investigation by real investigative journalists. Why were they not? Clearly, there is a potent element of virtue signalling to the ABC’s audience and to the anti-Catholic zeitgeist that is going on. There is also an element of the overpaid, celebrity journalist who now, sadly, inhabits the ABC. One of them has a pecuniary interest in Pell’s guilt. Does she ever acknowledge this on air? Then there is the embedded ideology of the ABC’s neo Marxist culture. All of these things are well known, if never admitted by the ABC. Such critics as Gerard Henderson have spent what almost seems to have been a lifetime banging on about it.

What needs also to be emphasised here, though, is that there is no longer any shred of commitment to investigative journalism left among mainstream reporters at the ABC and in the media more generally. Andrew Bolt is not a reporter. He has shamed those who are. Frank Brennan isn’t a reporter. I am not a reporter. Yet we have been doing the work of so-called “working” journalists for them, these past years. Seeking the truth. The ABC has simply not turned up for work.

The climate scam and the covid scare provide similarly stark evidence that the pursuit of truth formerly at the core of media reporting has now given way to ideology, alignment with the secular State and the endless regurgitation of tedious infotainment.

In relation to the climate scam, the ABC and its ideological brethren have simply ignored the following:

  • People like Al Gore have become billionaires on the back of lies;
  • Greta Thunberg is backed by powerful interests who have a vested interest in promoting lies;
  • The Climategate emails, sadly under-reported in Australia, prove academic malfeasance behind the universities’ payola that comes from climate grants;
  • The same modelling that has given us covid mania is also responsible for the ongoing climate scare;
  • Climate warriors themselves have admitted that they set out to scare people;
  • Climate policies endorsed by both the major parties cost billions of dollars every year, for nil impact on the climate;
  • Climate change mania is routinely taught in our schools, as part of the sustainability ideology;
  • The ABC’s climate scare is funded by the Australian taxpayer.

These things are scandalous, and scandalously brushed under the carpet by media who should be doing their day jobs.

In relation to covid, the “celebrity virus” as Michael Matt has termed it:

  • Sceptical voices are routinely in the minority in the Australian media;
  • The media simply goes along with government propaganda;
  • Deaths due to covid are massively over-emphasised and mis-attributed;
  • You have to search very hard to find the truth behind the big Pharma inspired profit seeking aligned to the covid scare;
  • The general population in Australia has little idea that covid is relatively harmless to most people, that those at risk form a tiny minority, that seasonal flu in bad flu seasons causes greater deaths than covid, that most Australian hospitals are now virtually empty, that people are likely to die at home alone because they live in mortal fear of going outside and their relatives risk fines for breaching social isolation rules if they visit them;
  • There is mortal danger to our freedoms from government decisions which lack the consent of the governed, but instead attract supine responses from a deluded population;
  • Pro-abortion, pro-contraception globalists like Bill Gates, a close friend of Anthony Fauci’s, are urging up to 18 months of lockdown, or until Big Pharma develops a vaccine, consistent with the deceptive, pro-Chinese, anti-life World Health Organisation (WHO);
  • Governments and politicians everywhere are routinely inflating the number of likely infections and deaths, absent relevant, factual information, and on the basis of this extending the lockdown period with its ludicrous and ineffective restrictions and helping to maintain mass hysteria;
  • There is great unease among medical professionals and economists about the over-use of flawed modelling to justify “unprecedented” policies of lockdown.

The investigative instincts of Australian journalists have simply gone AWOL during this made-up, Wag the Dog style crisis. Lock down and do NOT question the State!

Back to the Pell saga. The late, great Mike Willesee, I believe, would be horrified by the activities of his ABC successors, in particular by Louise Milligan. I say this not only because Mike, thankfully and latish in life, found his way back to the faith of his fathers and of his youth, but rather because he cherished and practised the kind of outstanding, truth-to-power investigative journalism of which today’s version is a sad, faded facsimile.

Milligan might have her twitter feeds and her publicist and her Harper’s Bazaar fashion photoshoots, but journalistic credibility she has not. No more do her chums at the ABC, or at the Sunday Telegraph, or the other organs of the Australian media who have missed an astonishing, in-their-face example of the illicit use of State power to crush an innocent man. What a story they missed.

Mind you, the Australian media got Lindy Chamberlain wrong too.

Paul Collits

Paul Collits is a freelance writer and independent researcher who lives in Lismore New South Wales.  
He has worked in government, industry and the university sector, and has taught at tertiary level in three different disciplines - politics, geography and planning and business studies.  He spent over 25 years working in economic development and has published widely in Australian and international peer reviewed and other journals.  He has been a keynote speaker internationally on topics such as rural development, regional policy, entrepreneurship and innovation.  Much of his academic writing is available at
His recent writings on ideology, conservatism, politics, religion, culture, education and police corruption have been published in such journals as Quadrant, News Weekly and The Spectator Australia.
He has BA Hons and MA degrees in political science from the Australian National University and a PhD in geography and planning from the University of New England.  He currently has an adjunct Associate Professor position at a New Zealand Polytechnic.