Calling All Ambulance-Chasers!

fairfax mastheadsAttention, personal-injury lawyers of Australia! Are you aware of the great new opportunities being offered by Fairfax Media, whose dire financial straits have led it to accept  what are presumably unpaid contributions to its opinion pages – contributions from those with barrows to push, cases to promote and settlements to bank.

This is your opportunity to sway the jury of public opinion long before your trials begin, to present your arguments unsullied by the troublesome business of respondents’ evidence and cross-examination. For guidance on how to make maximum use of this unique, unlikely-to-be-repeated opportunity, look to today’s Age, where Maurice Blackburn associate Katie Robertson demonstrates just how easy it is to make Fairfax work for you and your clients. And best of all, it won’t cost a cent (unless someone at Fairfax has the wit to go beyond consultant Bain & Co., suggestion that its papers cut costs by soliciting unpaid columns and actually begins renting space on opinion pages and elsewhere)!

First off, notice how Robertson lards her column with plenty of those wonderful, heart-rending adjectives, neatly obscuring the fact that her client’s general background would seem something of a barrier too a full measure of sympathy: While he might, as she insists, have played no part in the Manus riot, he would not have been in detention had he not attempted to enter Australia illegally, a consequence of which is that he has remained a burden on taxpayers, who did not ask him to come.

Moreover, Robertson’s client sustained his injury in a riot whose catalyst, while moot and very much the subject of ongoing investigation, has been attributed in part to inmates’ threats to rape the locals’ mothers and the racial abuse  said to have been directed at guards. The fact that some inmates might have gone so far as to provoke the often large-ish and well-muscled male residents of PNG, not generally renowned for their pacific temperaments, perhaps attests to mental infirmity. If so, there is room for further actions on the grounds that Australia’s inhumanity drove some inmates to outbursts of suicidal provocation. But that is another matter and need not be addressed until The Age is ready to publish as journalism yet more plaintiffs’ briefs.

Of more pressing concern is the need to display only your client’s side of the story, and notice how Fairfax Media allows the astute Ms Robertson to do just that. When framing a case it can also be useful to intimate that the respondent, the Australian government in this instance, is both prepared to facilitate gross barbarism and, indeed, perpetrate such acts itself. Once again Ms. Robertson is pitch perfect, with lines like

“In recent months the government has boasted about stopping the boats. Given the official secrecy it is difficult to assess the boast. But the fragments we pick up – images of orange lifeboats washed up on Indonesian beaches, stories of Tamil refugees handed back to the government from which they have fled – suggest that if the boats haven’t stopped, the government will stoop very low to prevent them landing in Australia.”

Is it any wonder that Fran Kelly, while interviewing Senator Eric Abetz on last weekend’s Insiders, felt free to assert that the government has “disappeared” asylum seekers. You know, just like those Argentinian generals who flew dissidents far out over the Atlantic and dumped them from a great height.

Yes, it is hard to imagine those and many other slurs being taken seriously in Australia, but they really will work to a client’s advantage if repeated often enough. And factor in the ABC, of course, which can always be counted on to lend a helping left hand, as evidenced by the typical boat person’s travel kit: no passport and no documents, just a toothbrush and satellite phone with the numbers of ABC reporters and “refugee advocates” pre-entered on speed dial. Those phones also make it easy to relay assertions of torture-by-hot-muffler.

Colleagues and fellow members of the bar, this is your chance. Fairfax Media will not survive much longer, so don’t delay. Make use of its opinion pages before The Age and Sydney Morning Herald vanish forever or, worse from our point of view, before they are purchased by an aspiring press lord or lady whose first bold step –perish the thought — might well be the hiring of competent, intelligent, professional editors.

Such people might notice that we are not only lawyers but that our lips are moving.

Roger Franklin is the editor of Quadrant Online.

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