If you want a true sounding of the depths to which the trade of journalism and the vocation of writing in our country have fallen I suggest you can do no better than listen to or read the recent interview and transcript of Louise Milligan, the much-feted anti-Pell fanatic, on a podcast called The Garrett.
The Garrett is produced in Melbourne by a lady named Astrid Edwards, who interviews “writers on writing”. However, if you examine her website you will notice that the writers are overwhelmingly women and the writing is overwhelmingly leftist stock-in trade. And if you subtracted from the podcast’s interview catalogue those which deal with either feminist, black- or Islamic-grievance or climate change, you would be left with, well… Richard Fidler. He is the author of a gem of a book about the Byzantines and his undogmatic and agreeable presence on Ms Edwward’s site is as anomalous as is his presence on the ABC’s airwaves. The explanation for the narrow range of the podcast’s pre-occupations is obvious enough. The website says it has “ongoing partnerships with the State Library of Victoria, Writers Victoria and RMIT University.” Alas, these days, what good thing ever comes out of an institution with “Victoria” or “Melbourne” in its name?
Remember, too, that most of The Garret‘s subjects have probably already been given their complimentary promotional tour at tax-payers’ expense by the ABC leviathan before they sat down to talk with her. In other words, The Garrett is just another of the vast number of state-funded or state-affiliated organs whose function is to sustain the Left’s stifling overlordship of every aspect of Australian cultural and political life. You know the ones I am referring to; the ones that get all of the government grants and award each other all of the prizes.
But don’t let that prevent you listening to the Milligan episode. You will learn much about Milligan and about her employer, our national broadcaster.
THE High Court judgment which set aside the Victorian Court of Appeal’s upholding (with Weinberg J in vigorous dissent) of Pell’s conviction and the unmistakable language of stern reproof in which that judgement was written don’t seem to have signified much of anything to Ms. Milligan. Rather, the High Court has taught her nothing about either the fundamental tenets of fair reporting or the criminal law. Both the woman and the ABC are unteachable. Why do I say that? Let me take you to the transcript. First, this bit (with my highlighting):
I mean, the bottom line is, whatever the High Court found, a five-year Royal Commission went through thousands of pages of documents, heard countless hours of evidence, and subjected that to forensic scrutiny, and it found that he knew about some of the worst paedophiles in Australian history.
Now, not just paedophile priests. He knew about some of the worst paedophiles in Australian history, who happened to be priests. And after his knowledge, those people went on to abuse many other children terribly, and I know the families of some of the people who took their lives, and pain that they go through. I know the children, now middle-aged adults, who cannot forget what happened to them, and live with it every single day of their lives. I don’t understand why, because the High Court ultimately found that there must have been a reasonable doubt in the jury, it decided in its wisdom, that it knew better than the jury who sat and watched every single day of evidence. I don’t understand why they can just push away everything else that has been exposed about this person, but it just tells you a lot about the way that some people in the community are really fixed in their views, and they just don’t want to know anything that might tear down people that align with them.
Note carefully how she slides from assertions about Cardinal pell’s putative knowledge of historical abuse by other priests to his alleged personal abuse of the altar boys, and then, astonishingly, she seeks somehow to link this alleged knowledge of the behaviour of others to the High Court’s consideration of the appeal against his conviction. She then asserts that the High Court’s decision was infected by its members — presumably all seven of them — pre-judging his appeal in a partisan way because Pell is someone with whom they “align” and because they are people who are “fixed” in their views.
It is difficult to know which is more astonishing — the sheer illogicality of Ms Milligan’s attempt to join up these wholly unrelated contentions or her willingness to impugn the character and the integrity of seven High Court judges in such a casual and incondite way. These are very serious things to say about men and women who preside over the constitutionally established highest court in our nation.
The editor of Quadrant Online, not a lawyer, was taken with the notion that Ms Milligan had placed herself in contempt of the court, but I don’t see her remarks as grounding such a charge. The judicial process came to an end with the appeal verdict. Abusing a judge or baselessly attacking his or her integrity can often lead to contempt charges being laid because, collaterally, they are an attack upon the judicial process itself. It is difficult to see how that is the case here. However, Ms Milligan may be at risk of other civil and professional penalties. She says in the transcript she has a law degree, but does not say if she has been admitted to practice. If she is a legal practitioner, then ordinarily the Law Society should be obliged to examine that kind of attack upon the Court. But, then, as I understand it, she lives in Victoria and so ……..… but I won’t repeat myself. The Justices may look to their personal remedies of course, but that is unlikely.
Nevertheless, these are the kind of utterances about which a person who purports to be a journalist (or maybe a lawyer) ought to be challenged publicly about. Can no one be found within the billion dollar enterprise that is the national broadcaster to speak up about it? Isn’t this the kind of departure from basic standards of conduct that is Media Watch‘s purported raison d’etre? Ms.Buttrose, in your conscience does it not behoove you to formally address with your employee her public statements, especially those of a journalist whose ouevre your organisation so stridently promotes?
The ABC didn’t publish her Pell book, but they have relentlessly lauded and spruiked it and its author’s pursuit of Pell. She is part of the Four Corners team. Her campaign against Pell was also their campaign against Pell. It still is. ABC broadcasts, remember, assisted in precipitating the launch of important Victoria Police investigations of Cardinal Pell.
But let me get back to the passage quoted above.
Observe how Milligan complains that the High Court substituted their own assessment of the evidence for that of the jury who “sat and watched” it . Credibility issues could only conceivably have arisen in relation to the witnesses Portelli, Potter, McGlone and of course, the complainant (these were the witnesses whose evidence the Court of Appeal chose to view). But Milligan can’t be talking here about the witnesses who were priests or sacristans or about other altar boys, for their evidence was not challenged on the appeal. She is talking about the complainant; the jury sat and watched him give his evidence, she is saying, and yet the High Court justices dared to have thought they “knew better” than the jury.
In my opinion this demonstrates that Ms Milligan has chosen not to read the High Court judgement or that she has set her mind against comprehending it. At -, of its judgment the High Court explain why it was unnecessary for the Court of Appeal to view the evidence of the complainant. This goes the very heart of the Court of Appeal’s error (I mean that of the plurality in that court, of course). Juries and appellate courts have entirely dissimilar roles. At  the High Court says (my emphasis):
The function of the court of criminal appeal in determining a ground that contends that the verdict of the jury is unreasonable or cannot be supported having regard to the evidence in a case such as the present, proceeds upon the assumption that the evidence of the complainant was assessed by the jury to be credible and reliable. The court examines the record to see whether, notwithstanding that assessment – either by reason of inconsistencies, discrepancies, or other inadequacy; or in light of other evidence – the court is satisfied that the jury, acting rationally, ought nonetheless to have entertained a reasonable doubt as to proof of guilt.
If a law graduate such as Milligan wants to challenge such an unexceptional exposition of the criminal jurisprudence as observed by the High Court she is, of course, entitled to do so, but might we not expect her to advance some kind of argument when taking on the highest court in the land, especially when it is sitting in banco? And if she can’t come up with any arguments, shouldn’t she be more circumspect before expressing such strong thoughts about it? Indeed, might this indicate the same intemperance that accounts for her claim that the Justices “just push away everything else that has been exposed” about Pell? What exactly is she contending here? What exactly is she saying the High Court ought to have taken into account in deciding the appeal? If she is referring, for example, to the question of what she alleges to be his knowledge of the notorious paedophile priest Gerard Ridsdale — and Pell’s “knowledge” is a complex and highly disputed topic in itself– how does she say evidence about that matter could possibly be relevant or admissible at Pell’s own trial on sexual assault charges? Her proposition is ridiculous on its face.
Has that same intemperance perhaps also been brought to bear in her evaluation of the stories of the many she interviewed in putting together her savage assault on Pell’s reputation in Cardinal: The Rise and Fall of George Pell?
I think it only reasonable to suggest Ms. Buttrose needs to reflect upon these matters before Milligan’s access to the extraordinary resources of the ABC in furthering her own agenda (whatever it might be) is permitted to continue. Whether or not the ABC’s chairwoman possesses the qualities necessary to generate a concern on her part, she should do it on behalf of the public who have picked up the bill for the reckless and spiteful journalistic adventurism her organisation has engaged in regard to Cardinal Pell.
Ms. Adler, the former Melbourne University Press director whom Milligan lauds in her conversation with The Garret, might want to think about such matters too. The decision by Melbourne University Press to advance the publication of Cardinal just as the Pell prosecutions were reaching their climax was surely inconsonant with any proper regard for the integrity of the legal process. In my opinion there is a significant risk that the publicity the book occasioned and the dissemination of claims it contained concernng various vigorously contested allegations, contaminated the trial’s integrity. We can never know one way or the other, but I wonder if it had been Adler’s husband or brother or father on trial in 2017 if the magnitude of that risk might have suddenly become apparent to MUP? People in important positions were once thought obliged to do the right thing reflexively. I don’t believe such a decision would have been made on Peter Ryan’s watch at MUP.
I suggest that the matters I raise above are not mere quibbles or unimportant questions for Ms. Milligan to answer if she wants to be taken seriously as a journalist or a writer. Actually, let me frame that contention more carefully: I mean such answers are important if she deserves to be taken seriously as a journalist. Some folk appear already to take her seriously but it is not for me to answer for what I take to be the lack of discretion or judgement in others. When her peers in what now passes for the profession of journalism gave her a Walkley award, in my opinion they thereby extinguished any remnant prestige that award might have then retained, in a manner analogous (but for the obvious difference in significance) to the way in which Barack Obama’s peace prize in 2008 or Harold Pinter’s literature award in 2005, say, have forever degraded the repute of the awards given by the Nobel Committee.
AND what shall we say about the following passage in the podcast’s transcript:
After I had gone through the ordeal of being a witness in the Pell committal proceeding, and I had released my first book, Cardinal, and all of that, and I had done some pretty intense stories for Four Corners, including Saxon Mullins’s story, my boss, Sally Neighbour said to me, ‘I’ve got another story for you’. And I thought, ‘Oh God, what is it?’ And she’s like, ‘You’re going to do the Royals’. The Royal family. She’s like, ‘You just need a break, Louise. You need to do something that’s not really grim for a change’. And so, I did this story. I went over to the UK, and it was all about the marketing of the Royals and the finances of the Royals…….
Sally Neighbour, of course, distinguished herself and Four Corners when she sent Sarah Ferguson to roam the world in 2017, collating interviews with Clinton backers and Democratic Party apparatchiks which her team subsequently had the insolence to present to an Australian audience as an objective analysis of the case that Donald Trump colluded with the Russians to win the 2016 presidential campaign. You will recall it was the case that a lengthy and very expensive special counsel investigation found those allegations to be wholly without foundation. Ms. Ferguson’s ridiculously undergraduate bit of work, garnished with breathless innuendo, did her career no harm at all. But that’s how it rolls at the ABC. So why would Ms Neighbour not in turn reward Ms. Milligan for her exertions in the persecution of a high-ranking prelate of the Catholic Church even though all of her labours had by that time, just as now, failed to result in a single sustainable conviction of her quarry?
It is not as if Milligan could add anything to the surfeit of unnecessary information we already know about the Windsors. What educative or cultural imperative could possibly be advanced in incurring the expense of sending Ms Milligan and a film crew to Britain to add to what a perusal of any edition of the Women’s Weekly might have told us at minimal cost?
I offer this explanation: the ABC was simply rewarding one of its own – this time an ingénue in need of encouragement — for the great service she had done in the corporation’s continuing war against the religious element in Australian life. The ABC’s visceral resentment of the persistence of any Christian religious tradition and impulse in our law and culture is manifest in every corner of its monolithic enterprise. Why would they not reward this employee with a nice, soft-news jaunt to London in gratitude for the blow she seemed to have struck against the Catholic Church and, in particular, against Cardinal Pell, a stout warrior in the defence of marriage and traditional sexual mores? Such is my proffered explanation. If I am right, then Ms. Milligan will have to be more circumspect in her interviews in future if she wants to stay on the up and up in such an organisation, but she may have already worked that out.
Anyway, it is not for me to give her any advice, except maybe this: Please show some respect for the law and its institutions. Their authority is too precious a commodity to be treated as collateral damage in the various wars the Left decides to wage upon the West’s cultural inheritance.
I haven’t read Ms Milligan’s latest book and I don’t intend to do so but I strongly suspect that it will yield very little assistance to the judges and prosecutors and defence counsel involved in the exquisitely difficult task of conducting criminal trials. The allegations against Cardinal Pell involved aspects of the criminal (and civil) law that are notoriously contentious. The rules of evidence pertaining to allegations of sexual misconduct in the criminal courts and the family courts have been the object of special attention from feminists and other ideologues in the four decades that I have been in the law. I have been counsel or judge in many such trials. In my experience, legislative intervention in such matters (save where it has merely codified the existing common law) have rarely been of assistance in getting at the truth. And the law has also had simultaneously to try keeping up with deteriorating norms of lawful sexual conduct in the community generally.
Truth ascertainment is most certainly not assisted by the media’s cultivation of the veneration of victimhood. This has led us to the utterance of such mindless mantras of “We see you, we believe you” — words used by both Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews when Pell’s conviction was quashed and also by Prime Minister Scott Morrison when delivering an unctuous “apology” after Gillard’s Royal Commission into institutional abuse (but only by certain prescribed institutions). These hollow and ridiculous words don’t help anyone, least of all authentic victims of such crimes.
There are plenty of inauthentic victims out there too, let me tell you. Every day there are people reporting crimes they know were never committed, and every day someone is in a witness box knowingly giving false evidence about themselves or someone else having been the victim of a crime, including sexual crimes. Unless we are frank about such matters, and unless the legal process remains rightfully vigilant about their incidence, innocent people will go to jail.
Furthermore, a failure to recognise the reality of false accusation, especially in relation to crimes allegedly disclosed by children to adults who are involved in family law litigation, or the development of a widespread belief in a particular part of the community that any account a putative victim gives of his or her experience must be true, will result in a generalised and pervasive scepticism about the truthfulness of all victims.
Inauthentic victims are obviously only a small minority of the putative victims who come before the courts. They are more likely to inhabit those areas of the law where there is an obvious monetary incentive to allege a victim status. This is especially the case where churches set up specific protocols for quickly dispensing monetary compensation following the completion of quasi-legal processes for those who have suffered or who contend they have suffered abuse at the hands of predatory priests and ministers.
I am reporting honestly on aspects of my experience in the law. Like any other experienced barrister or judicial officer I could give you startling accounts of specific instances of persons giving false accounts of having been subject to the most heinous criminal behaviour and persisting in those accounts up to and beyond the point at which credibility had been entirely extinguished.
How strange this “we hear you, we believe you” phenomenon is. It is no co-incidence, surely, that its manifestation has so quickly been followed by widespread suspension of the capacity to critically evaluate the risk presented by a relatively feeble virus or that both phenomena have been most floridly displayed in the State of Victoria. I said I have not read Witness, Ms. Milligan’s latest account of her own interactions with authentic and, for all I know, inauthentic, victims of crime. I hope at least that she recognises that both categories exist. Her book might possibly then have some value.
Whether credulity was the salient factor, though, in her participation in the persecution of George Pell is something I can never know, having no window on her soul. While I hope she has taken the time to reflect upon such matters I have to say there isn’t much evidence of that in The Garret interview we have just examined.
The ABC is an altogether different matter. We know exactly what it is was about in this matter and why. We need to do unto it what it tried to do unto George Pell. We need to take it down.
Stuart Lindsay is a retired Federal Circuit Court judge