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May 01st 2011 print

Michael Connor

Andrew Bolt on Trial

In an ABC interview in 2006, retiring Federal Court judge Ron Merkel, QC, said, “I found cases that would come before me where the actual outcome was something no one ever intended.” Eatock v Bolt may come to illustrate his point. Everyone agrees that it is a very important case and already, at the time of writing and despite the matter being sub judice, there has been widespread commentary published about it. But, in a case which the prosecution argued was about Aboriginal identity while the defence maintained it was about free speech, just why it is important may not become clear until the judge’s decision is handed down. Some of the plaintiffs have not held back from giving their points of view to the media and it seems everyone has commented except Andrew Bolt, who has been gagged by his legal advisers. Even Michael Lavarch wrote an article in the Weekend Australian defending the legislation the case rests on, the Racial Discrimination Act, which he had introduced as Attorney-General in the Keating government in 1995. Interestingly, his comments referred only to free speech.

The case against Andrew Bolt started its journey towards a trial in September 2010. It was based on two of Bolt’s opinion articles published in the Herald Sun in April and August 2009. The essays, reprinted on his blog, dealt with a number of prominent light-skinned Aborigines whose choosing of Aboriginality, Bolt said, was self-serving and divisive. In his April article he wrote: “In fact, let’s go beyond racial pride. Beyond black and white. Let’s be proud only of being human beings set on this land together, determined to find what unites us and not to invent such racist and trivial excuses to divide. Deal?” And in August: “Yet I do object, and not just because I refuse to surrender my reason and pretend white really is black, just to aid some artist’s self-actualisation therapy. That way lies madness, where truth is just a whim and words mean nothing.” The complainants have asked that these articles be removed from the internet, not republished by the Herald Sun, and that the newspaper be banned from publishing any material with “substantially similar content”.

The law firm Holding Redlich accepted the case pro bono and in September 2010 lawyer Joel Zyngier gave a newspaper interview in which he was quite clear on its aims: 

We see this as a really important case. We see it as clarifying the issue of identity—who gets to say who is and who is not Aboriginal. Essentially, the articles by Bolt have challenged people’s identity. He’s basically arguing that the people he identified are white people pretending they’re black so they can access public benefits … We’re not seeking to make this a case about freedom of speech, because it’s not. The issue is essentially about whether or not other people can define identity, and in particular Aboriginal identity, based on how you look. 

Set down for a four-day trial in December 2010, to be heard by Justice Finkelstein, the matter was held over until March 2011 and a new judge appointed—Justice Mordecai “Mordy” Bromberg. What became an eight-day trial began in Courtroom 1 of the Federal Court in Melbourne on Monday March 28. The action against Andrew Bolt and the Herald and Weekly Times for supposed offences against Articles 18C and 18D of the Racial Discrimination Act was brought by Pat Eatock, one of the women mentioned in the articles, and by the time it began eight other prominent Aborigines had become associated with the class action: Geoff Clark, Bindi Cole, Larissa Behrendt, Anita Heiss, Leeanne Enoch, Graham Atkinson, Wayne Atkinson and Mark McMillan.

In the 2006 radio interview which discussed his desire to pursue “strategic litigation”, Ron Merkel said that he was interested in “picking up public interest cases or cases in indigenous Australia” that would help to move Australian law along the progressive lines he admired in other countries. Merkel, who was engaged to head the prosecution, may have seemed a wise choice for arguing the case Zyngier envisaged. He was the judge in a 1997–98 trial which dealt with the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre’s challenge to the eligibility of eleven ATSIC voters. That the hearing lasted two years, cost $1.2 million, and assembled 1000 pages of affidavits may also have operated in his favour. 

The morning the case began in Courtroom 1 the junior lawyers for the prosecution and the defence wheeled in trolleys of white ring binders of papers which they began placing on two tables at the front of the court. Then they worried whether they were at the right tables and rearranged themselves. An elderly lawyer entered and looked disapprovingly at the new seating arrangements. It was a good look for a prosecutor. This was Herman Borenstein, SC, a barrister with an interest in human rights and experienced in industrial and discrimination cases. He had been chosen to lend his support to Merkel. When Andrew Bolt came into the courtroom he received a cold stare from his adversary. Bolt and the Herald and Weekly Times were represented by Neil Young, QC, a barrister with wide experience in commercial law who for two years had been a Federal Court judge. He was assisted by Dr Matthew Collins, who has published on defamation and the internet. Judge Bromberg had been a St Kilda football player and had previously stood, unsuccessfully, for pre-selection as an ALP candidate.

From the start, and until the end, the prosecution and the defence appeared to be taking part in different dramas. The prosecutors wanted to argue about Aboriginality, and not freedom of speech; the defence wanted to argue freedom of speech, and not Aboriginality. In the defence case the individual’s claims to be Aboriginal were not disputed. At one point, after Neil Young had again insisted the case was not about Aboriginality the judge asked, “Is this not a debate about who is an Aboriginal?” Young reiterated that it was about the “consequences” of so identifying. Someone had picked up the wrong script, and it won’t be until judgment is given that it is clear who was wrong.

Merkel’s opening for the prosecution began with a sweeping view of Australian history which was not disputed by the defence: “So there was this huge eugenic focus on biological descent as somehow an identifier or a signifier of a person’s capacities. That movement occurred in Australia, and it led to the removal of Aboriginal children.”

After loading Australia with a eugenics past Merkel associated Andrew Bolt with the same disreputable association: “Mr Bolt, in his articles, has taken us back to that eugenic approach to Aboriginality.” From eugenics Merkel sought to associate Bolt with the Holocaust: “The Holocaust in the 1940s started with words and finished with violence.” The dramatic charges in his opening presentation made newspaper headlines around the country the following morning.

Bolt wrote of Australians of mixed heritage who identified themselves as Aborigines and have been accepted in the community as such. Those he discussed acknowledge their mixed heritage and he spoke of them as “part Aboriginals”. Merkel called this usage “an insulting term” and “very insulting”. His assertions were not disputed by the defence. Strangely, it was the prosecution who insisted on noticing a skin colour distinction between other Aborigines and their clients. On day six, after a working weekend, the prosecution introduced a racial formula to describe the class of people they were representing: 

We’ve given a lot of thought to this, your Honour, of what would be the broader group based on the material before your Honour, and it’s Aboriginal persons of mixed descent who have a fairer rather than darker skin, who identified as Aboriginal persons in accordance with the popular meaning of those words and have done so since their formative years. 

Though they began the trial by insisting their clients were simply Aborigines, and the defence did not dispute this claim, Merkel introduced a racial formula which was repeated throughout the remainder of their closing submissions which insisted on a categorisation of Australians based on skin colour.

Merkel said, “time and again, your Honour will see lies in his articles”. The evidence he cited to support this claim concerned Bolt’s use of inverted commas. He had placed them around the words “Austrian Aborigines” in this sentence about academic Anita Heiss: “As it happens, her decision to identify as Aboriginal, joining four other ‘Austrian Aborigines’ she knows, was lucky, given how it’s helped her career.”

The two words came from an Age profile of Heiss by Martin Flanagan, and Bolt put them between inverted commas when he quoted them. Though Merkel placed the inverted commas as a central allegation of the prosecution case he said Bolt would not be cross-examined about them, and he wasn’t. They reappeared in the prosecution’s closing submission and were dealt with there as a major element of their case. Merkel’s criticism of the inverted commas was put in the following way:

Mr Bolt, and this is a part of his style, part of his modus operandi in these articles, he lifts those words, puts them in quotation marks in the section dealing with Anita Heiss. The only relevance of the quotation marks that could possibly be is that they are a term attributed to her out of her mouth. Now, that’s the sort of—she, in her statement, said, “I have not used those words.” And when you look at the article you can see, your Honour, it isn’t one of Mr Bolt’s most noble gestures to have done what he did, to take those words in quotation marks. 

When Merkel later returned to the quotation marks in his closing summation he didn’t describe them as being used for the purposes of lying, as he had previously done: “Why is it in quotation marks? Because he was quoting Martin Flanagan, an Age journalist. Your Honour, any reader would attribute those words in quotation marks to her.” The final charge seemed to be that what Bolt has done is wrong because it is “derisory” of Heiss, not that it is a lie. It may be the first time in our history that a writer has found himself in court because of his inverted commas.

The term “white Koori”, also in one of the Bolt articles, also in inverted commas, also taken from the Age, was not mentioned during the trial. 

From quotation marks the prosecutor moved on to consider a slip Bolt made when talking about Leeanne Enoch. Merkel accused Bolt of confusing Welcome to Country and acknowledgment of traditional owners ceremonies. The lawyer linked this to anti-Semitism, Holocaust denial, and eugenics. The spelling is that of the official court transcript, the language is Merkel’s: 

Now, as Leanne [Enoch] points out in her witness statement, nothing can be more insulting to an Aboriginal person than saying, you are welcome to someone else’s country. She never said anything of the sort. He twists in the public mind, the subtle difference may be not understood but he uses a very ordinary and nothing special type of statement and he makes it welcome to her country as if she’s an elder on someone else’s country. First of all, she says elders welcome to country, second of all she says that it wasn’t her country. But, again, when your Honour sees it, it is part of this scenario to say, look, she’s not real, what’s going on here. Now, these gratuitous, misleading, selective references which we have picked out and we have itemised them in the further and better particulars by reference to the relevant paragraphs of the witness statements, they are critical to an understanding of this case. In Toben v Jones [the trial of a Holocaust denier for distributing anti-Semitic literature], before Branson J and the Full Court, there was a whole bundle of anti-sematic literature, said to be anti-sematic by the applicants, but its main theme was something along the lines of the Holocaust didn’t really happen as the Jewish people think it did, much fewer people were killed, so forth and so on; a bit like the eugenics debate, a properly framed argument about saying the Holocaust and the slaughter of Jews was not as represented, it was a different figure and you can put some figures up. 

From there it was but a short walk to the gas chambers: 

as I said before in the Toben case, if someone wanted to question the extent to which the Nazis exterminated people in gas camps [sic], that’s fine, that’s a permissible area of debate and Mr Bolt’s view, which he sets out in paragraphs 87 and 88 of his defence, that’s a view he is entitled to have. I said that earlier. We have no quarrel with him expressing his view, but that’s not what he did in these articles. 

Bolt had used the words “part Aboriginal” and Merkel linked this to “quadroon”—with its overtones of eugenics: 

If you walk up to an Aboriginal person in Melbourne and call them a quadroon, you are likely to be involved in a pretty quick fight. Call them part-Aboriginal; that is very insulting. So, it doesn’t mean you can’t use the terms but you have to be a bit sensitive to the response because these are highly offensive concepts and highly offensive terms. 

Bolt was further associated with Nazism when Merkel evoked what he called his “eugenics approach” and said, “It is interesting, your Honour, this kind of thinking led to the Nuremberg race laws in, I think it was, 1935.”

The judge asked where the term “white Aborigine” came from and Merkel replied, “I think it’s his term.” During the trial there was evidence used which suggested it has been around for at least twenty-eight years. It appeared often during the trial and at one point Young described it as “terminology in common usage”.

Merkel had difficulty specifying where the defamation and race hatred he was complaining of actually lay. It was a difficulty the prosecution continually encountered and which they attempted to evade with generalities such as this: “The articles have got to be read in their entirety, but hopefully I’ve given your Honour the kind of flavour we see that flows from these articles, and the offence they’re likely to cause, and how gratuitous and untempered they really are.” That admission appeared at odds with his conclusion: “I really want to emphasise that this case is not about free speech … The question really is not a challenge to Mr Bolt’s, we say, flat Earth thinking, but he can have it, but it is the challenge to what he has actually written.”

With nine claimants the defence chose to cross-examine only three—Pat Eatock, Bindi Cole and Larissa Behrendt. Merkel obtained permission to read out their witness statements in court, they spent short times at the witness stand and were generally lightly questioned by Young. None of them had their Aboriginality questioned. Pat Eatock presented as a fragile older woman. Rather than having profited from her Aboriginality she referred to hardship and long years of unemployment. At times there seemed something more than a fragile old lady in the box as a sharp mind familiar with debate emerged and one was left wondering just what exactly her past political activism had encompassed. Asked when she and her sister (who had different views of their genealogy) had started researching their family history Eatock replied: “That’s two questions.”

Artist Bindi Cole, who has Jewish ancestry on her mother’s side, was asked if she could choose to develop the Jewish aspect of her heritage. She replied: “If I wanted to I could.” When asked about the artist Imants Tillers she said she had never heard of him. The prosecution was presumably wanting to ask her about Tillers’s 1983 painting White Aborigines.

Bolt’s articles criticised privileged people receiving benefits which could have been directed towards more needy Aborigines. Professor Larissa Behrendt gave the impression of having come to Melbourne for the shopping rather than a trial. She arrived at the court wearing fashionable black dress, extravagantly tapered black stilettos and carried a large, black Prada handbag. The law professor had to be reminded at the start of her interrogatory that she should face and direct her replies to the judge. During cross-examination she said that she was not familiar with a Parliamentary Library text on Aboriginality and had not heard of the historian Cassandra Pybus.

After their brief appearances Neil Young stated that the defence case was about free speech and he referred to the comments that Merkel had previously made about Andrew Bolt as “extreme and offensive”. Then came the turn of Andrew Bolt to take his place on the witness stand where he spent over a day and a half, beginning late on Tuesday morning and continuing until the court rose on Wednesday afternoon. 

Dressed in a dark suit Andrew Bolt chose to swear an affirmation. He was asked by Young if the statements in his articles were correct and if he held the views they expressed. He replied firmly, “They are and I do.” That morning Merkel’s comments about him had made predictable headlines nationally. Surely, more people read Merkel on Bolt than had read the Bolt articles he was on trial for writing. Before taking questions from the prosecution Bolt requested through his lawyer permission to make a statement about what he considered as insults in Merkel’s opening submission. Merkel objected that the court was not a forum for making a speech and there were sniggers in the audience. Only when specific remarks Bolt found objectionable were referred to was it discovered that neither the defence nor Judge Bromberg had received copies of the trial transcript from the previous day. A ten-minute recess was called while this was rectified.

When the trial resumed Merkel, seated at Young’s left, stretched an arm across the top of his chair tensely positioning himself ready to leap up to protest as Young continued with his discussion of the terminology the lawyer had directed at his client. Choosing his moment he shot upwards into a standing position and objected that he had been misrepresented and that his words had been taken out of context by the media. Bolt looked away shaking his head as Merkel said: “This court is the occasion of giving evidence.” When Young addressed another question to him Bolt replied, “Mr Merkel crossed the line.” The audience found this amusing.

When Young finished his brief and friendly questioning, Herman Borenstein took his place at the centre of the court and began his long and unfriendly inquisition. Reading the trial transcript in no way conveys the antagonistic atmosphere of the court room. In this place a cutting remark from Borenstein received audible approval from the gallery and a word from the judge was listened to in respectful silence or awarded sycophantic laughter. Bolt’s responses were greeted with cold disdain. If you discern intelligence and wit in Bolt’s words you must realise that they were delivered under the hating eyes of the gallery audience who had come to see him hurt. There is considerable irony here for though the spectators may have thought they were taking part in a remake of To Kill a Mockingbird it may turn out that they were crowd scene extras for a local adaptation of The Crucible.

An Age video made at the time of the trial began with a description of Bolt as “the commentator Melbourne loves to hate”. Bolt is a much liked and respected journalist and broadcaster but it was this type of shared elitist media mentality, which began with a marked dislike of Bolt, which dictated the generally slanted coverage the trial received in the press and on the internet.

In the following transcript excerpt the word homily, used by Borenstein, gained a supportive laugh from the audience. But on paper, it may not be the lawyer who emerges as the victor in the exchange: 

Bolt: But the critical issue in the Aboriginal community is not racism. It is poverty and particularly, the lack of opportunity of a proper education, of a proper life at home, and all that for so many Aboriginal children out in the communities. I have been there. I don’t know whether you have, and I think it is a critical, critical issue, and we all lift our gaze from it and chase around this racism ball not focusing on what really counts.

Borenstein: And now that we have heard that homily, can we go back to the articles?

Bolt: It’s not a homily, it is very, very serious. 

Bolt caused consternation when he indicated Geoff Clark, seated in the gallery, and said: “I am sorry to keep picking on you, Geoff, but someone like Geoff Clark, I think, is a racist. He is not a victim of racism, he is a racist.” He also said of Clark, “he divides us”.

During his cross-examination Bolt maintained stringent criticisms of his accusers Geoff Clark and Larissa Behrendt: 

Can I just, without going to Mr Clark specifically then, suggest that it has been put to me in the statements handed to you, and in the cross-examination it is implied, that I am a racist, eugenics, the Nazi stuff, when as my articles insist, I am attacking racism. That is my point of view. I have been anti-racist all along. Mr Clark is relevant in this regard: that I have criticised him not only in this article but in a series of articles in the past for pursuing an agenda that is a division of the country on racist grounds quite explicitly. He is an office holder in the Aboriginal Provisional Government, for example, and he has recommended using taxpayers’ funds for the division of Australia, black and white, where the law of the white man, I think you put it, does not run. I consider that a racist agenda and I think it is fair enough to say that in my defence when it is me being accused by him of being racist in opposing his point of view … If I may just excuse myself, I only mentioned Geoff because I actually like him. We have had a drink together. I didn’t want him to think I was picking on him. 

Asked what effect he thought his articles would have on those he had written about he said: “I hoped, remorseful, but clearly not.” He also said that the idea the people in the courtroom were racially divided was an “invented difference” and that these were “pixels in a bigger picture”. The reality of their Aboriginality was not questioned and Bolt emphasised, “I’m criticising the choice they make, not the person. The choice they make.” 

Bolt’s article referred to Behrendt as a “professional Aboriginal”. Asked to explain what this meant he said “her career has developed in a consequence or dependent upon that Aboriginality. Or that assertion of Aboriginality.” Bolt explored the problem: “But the whole trend of insisting on racial differences so significant are so—and in forms so divisive is madness. It will lead—it will lead to trouble … They are pixels in a picture of madness, yes.”

Rather than a recantation the trial offered Bolt an opportunity to hone his criticisms. To illustrate his thesis Bolt pointed to what he saw as the falsity of Behrendt’s position: 

That is to acknowledge that one of her parents is not Aboriginal, and that when Larissa Behrendt demands, say, a treaty, where non-Aborigines are to make treaty with Aborigines, she is on one side of that, making a treaty with another side that includes, in fact, her mother. And I think that strikes me as rather bizarre. 

When Borenstein asked why it was necessary to refer to colour Bolt replied, “Because these are rights demanded on a race basis … Ms Behrendt is asking for laws that divide us on the basis of race.” Although Bolt did not mention it, Larissa Behrendt, like Geoff Clark, has been a member of the racist Aboriginal Provisional Government which urges Aboriginal people to form “a nation exercising total jurisdiction over its communities to the exclusion of all others”.

Under cross-examination, the previous witnesses had been allowed considerable latitude in framing their responses and Andrew Bolt did so as well. The Bolt-antagonistic gallery encouraged Borenstein towards theatrics. As Bolt framed a response to a question the lawyer turned his head away and gazed towards the windows. The gallery liked it, the media picked it up and it went straight into their reports. But read the court transcript, without the theatrics, and Bolt made a valid point. The head turn began at about the point where Bolt mentions the Second World War: 

Bolt: So when you get ATSIC, as it did under Mr Clark, advocating a treaty for—between Aboriginals and non-Aboriginals, it forces you to adopt the racial identity, almost, that you resist. And there’s a perfect example of that very phenomena that I read recently. The—Victor Klemperer—I don’t know whether you know him—wrote diaries throughout World War II. He was the son of the rabbi of Bromberg, actually, and of Berlin, and he adopted Germanic—a German identity. He converted, as was common among a certain class of Jews in Germany, at that time, before Hitler. And it was only by the insistence on Hitler of these race laws, and the persecution—you trace this through his diaries, from 1933 onwards—that his identity as a German was being assaulted, and he had this terrible conflict of whether he was a Jew or not. And it is so fascinating to see that result through the pressure of these race laws, and this insistence on race, race, race, race, race. So he, then, reverted to an identity that he thought he had chosen not to have, and that’s what I am talking about.

Borenstein: Well, that’s not what I’m talking about, Mr Bolt. 

Bolt’s use of “Austrian Aborigines” was questioned by Borenstein but without reference to Merkel’s accusation of lying or reference to the offending inverted commas. Bolt referred to its original usage and said, “because the Age uses it, and you assume an approbation. They are not sitting here in the dock, with me, for using it. I use it, but don’t agree, and I am in the dock.”

When questioned over his confusion of Welcome to Country and acknowledgment of traditional owners ceremonies he voiced an argument against them: 

The whole concept of traditional owners, welcome to country, acknowledgment, is again one of these race-based definitions—distinctions—differences that I have long opposed. And this is one of them. And you may say, “Oh, look, I got the form of the ceremony wrong,” but it is still entrenching a division on race-based grounds that I think is ludicrous when there seems—this picture of two perfectly nice people, public-spirited people, sharing the same country. Look at them. Are you really trying to tell me that there’s a racial difference there that should be acknowledged with—whether you call it an apology or an acknowledgment or a traditional welcome, or an acknowledgment of country—that I oppose. And that is what this is about. Now, you say, “Oh, look, you got the form of the words wrong.” The argument remains the same. 

It might not have been the wisest defence. At Justice Bromberg’s swearing in as a Federal Court judge this was part of the ceremony: “I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, and I honour their elders past and present.”

At one point Borenstein asked about hidden meanings in Bolt’s writing in language which evoked an incredulous response from Bolt and caused his lawyer to interject, “Is there a vibe, there, too, is there, that we should know about, that goes beyond the words?” After the defence objection the questioning changed track, slightly. 

Lawyer Mark McMillan’s gaining of an award that Bolt maintained should have been reserved for less privileged black applicants wandered around an interminable discussion of giving a Black Women’s Education—Action in Education Foundation award to a white-skinned man. 

Bolt: No, my intention was to remark on something intrinsically funny—until you get to a lawyer in court cross-examining you on it—intrinsically funny to mark a change in the culture. 

When Borenstein charged him with setting out to denigrate McMillan, Bolt’s response was realistic: 

You know, when you’re sitting there, at a typewriter, right, five—two hours before deadline, writing a piece this long, with this many facts in it, it’s such a different thing when you’re in a courtroom, trying to say, “Well, look, I really thought about this one word, and I weighed it carefully,” honestly, a month would go by before you submitted your copy. I don’t know that you can do it like that. It’s like taking a steamroller to satire. I put in a satirical paragraph right there. It sounded like something that I want to draw attention to. I was promoted [sic] to this by, maybe, the example of Mr McMillan, but whether I sat there and said, “Right, I’m going to get Mr McMillan,” you know, it doesn’t work that way. I don’t know whether you’ve written creatively or for newspapers, but, boy, it’s not quite as forensic as you suggest. 

Challenged about his intentions when he wrote “Hark! Is that a man’s voice now bellowing, ‘And I’m an Aboriginal woman,’” Bolt said: 

I watched too much Monty Python. I thought it was a funny scene, and it’s satirical, and in a courtroom satire it never works, but I thought it was a funny comment to make … I didn’t know satire was a crime, yet. 

When Borenstein asked why he had repeated McMillan’s own acknowledgment of being gay Bolt asked: “Why do you consider ‘gay’ to be an insult?” The lawyer said that adding the comment was “a gratuitous insult”. Bolt replied, “Sorry, I don’t understand why you think calling someone gay is an insult.”

Taking this questioning as an allegation of homophobia Bolt responded with an unexpected and impassioned response: 

Mr Borenstein, there is no way that I use the word “gay” as an insult. I will give you two reasons why. The godfather of my children, if I am knocked down on the way home, is gay, and I will entrust my children to him to raise. Secondly, the gay Aboriginal I knew as a friend, John Uthon, is the man that I gave a job as a column writer at the Herald to. For you to now, first, smear me with the Holocaust, and now as some sort of gay bigot, I think is an unforgivable travesty. 

The judge intervened and told Bolt to reply:

I apologise, your Honour. I woke up on Tuesday with almost every newspaper in this country describing me as some sort of neo-Nazi, planning a Holocaust, and if I wasn’t stopped there would be people dead. I have not seen this man apologise for that slur … And several of those papers who carried that allegation have not reported my response … This trial is being used to smear me. 

Asked if he wanted a break he refused: “I will calm down, sir, but if you had woken up to those headlines about yourself, you would be incandescent with rage. I am surprised I have kept my cool until now.”

The cross-examination continued: “I don’t share your implied assumption that being gay is an insult, okay. I don’t. Maybe I am a different generation. It’s about identity politics. And people familiar with my blog would have seen it as such.”

Mention of Bolt’s blog in this context led Borenstein to suggest that some Herald Sun and blog readers might be homophobic.

As this part of his ordeal made its way towards the end Bolt summed up what was happening to him: “You have picked out four articles. I am being tried for my bad opinions on those.” And: “I find astonishing that you should think that a plea against racism is, in itself, racist, and that it should be declared illegal and my articles burned.” 

After Bolt the trial was taken possession of by the lawyers. For five more days it went on getting more and more complex, and stranger and stranger.

When his closing submission continued on Monday, after a busy weekend, Merkel outlined changes to his case and Justice Bromberg said with a slight smile, “So I have nine cases, not one?”

“As I will seek to explain, eleven,” said Merkel. He did, and no one seemed the wiser.

The judge asked, “But what evidence do I have beyond the nine?”

Merkel replied, “You don’t.”

At one point during Ron Merkel’s closing summation the judge asked where in a sentence Bolt had offended. Merkel replied that you have to read all the paragraph to understand it: “everything connects”. He also said, “Every time I read these articles something else pops out of the words.”

Until the matter is decided, discussion of this case is necessarily constrained. 


Michael Connor is the editor of Quadrant Online.