In 1984 Justice Hunt in the NSW Supreme Court said Malcolm Turnbull had “managed effectively to poison the fountain of justice” in relation to defamatory statements Mr Turnbull had made in the media while representing Kerry Packer during the Costigan Royal Commission. Some say it probably also helped end Turnbull’s career in law.
Malcolm Turnbull likes to portray that he was a young super barrister who won a huge case (Spycatcher) and then moved on to business with his career but the reality seems to be different and it is worth reviewing his short legal career.
The real story is that in 1984 Malcolm Turnbull and his corrupt mate Bruce McWilliam instituted frivolous and vexatious defamation proceedings on behalf of Kerry Packer against Douglas Meagher who was counsel assisting the Royal Commission. They used the media and lied, deceived, ducked and weaved and trashed the reputation of Mr Meagher to help legendary tax cheat Packer dodge prosecution during the Costigan Royal Commission.
The proceedings were so frivolous and vexatious they only lasted a couple of days and it backfired badly as the Judge hearing the case unloaded with both barrels mostly directed at Malcolm Turnbull.
It’s worth noting that Malcolm Turnbull has a glass jaw when it comes to criticism of himself. He is well known to threaten journalists with defamation proceedings and he sued Fairfax Media in 1981 which I wrote about in an article last year. Turnbull’s partner in crime Bruce McWilliam also gets a fair mention in the article. (Click here to read the article)
The Costigan Royal Commission
The Costigan Commission (officially titled the Royal Commission on the Activities of the Federated Ship Painters and Dockers Union) was an Australian royal commission held in the 1980s.
Headed by Frank Costigan QC, the Commission was established by the Australian government in 1980 to investigate criminal activities, including violence, associated with the Painters and Dockers Union. The Commission was seen by many as politically motivated in keeping with a long running anti-union agenda by the governing party of the day.
However, its enquiries led away from union activities towards investigation of so-called “bottom of the harbour” tax evasion schemes. This involved the asset-stripping of companies to avoid tax liabilities and was facilitated by criminals among the Painters and Dockers but benefited wealthy individuals. (Click here to read more)
Malcolm Turnbull and Bruce McWilliam
Turnbull worked for Packer at Australian Consolidated Press Holdings Group from 1983 to 1985. McWilliam also worked with Turnbull when they defended Packer during the Royal Commission.
Not long after in 1986 they set up their own law firm Turnbull McWilliam which Turnbull left in 1987 and established an investment banking firm, Whitlam Turnbull & Co Ltd. (Click here to read more)
Kerry Packer and the Royal Commission
Packer was investigated by the Royal Commission but they hid his identity and gave him the name “The Squirrel”. It was leaked to the media and they changed the name to The Goanna.
In September 1984, the now defunct National Times reported an amazing story sourced from a Royal Commission set up to investigate possible corruption in the Federated Ship Painters and Dockers Union. There’s no doubt the union had some questions to answer, since some of its members had ended up being shot dead at close range or otherwise disposed of, but the investigation had not gone according to plan. Kerry Packer was the publisher of the Bulletin magazine, which had first raised the corruption issue. But when the investigation expanded to follow up the union’s links to drug trafficking, money laundering, tax evasion, murder and pornography, Packer’s name bobbed up; it appeared he had been mixing in bad company. The Bulletin story had boomeranged on its own proprietor.
Aware of the extreme sensitivity of the information it was gathering, the Royal Commission – headed by QC Frank Costigan, noted for his fairness and fearlessness – disguised Packer’s identity, calling him “The Squirrel” instead. The National Times replaced this with the reptilian name “The Goanna”, but otherwise published the Royal Commission documents in full.
The Frivolous and Vexatious defamation proceedings on behalf of Kerry Packer
Several days after the National Times story appeared, anyone driving into the city from what was then the increasingly gentrified suburb of Balmain in Sydney’s inner west could see a big painted sign. “The Goanna = Kerry Packer”, it said in metre-high white lettering. It wasn’t long before Packer’s lawyer, the brilliant and often unpredictable Malcolm Turnbull, was threatening legal action – not against the obvious target, the National Times and its publisher Fairfax, but against Douglas Meagher, counsel assisting the Royal Commission. Turnbull claimed defamation on the grounds that
Meagher and Costigan have conducted themselves most reprehensively in failing to stop an unauthorised and illegal leak of information which was inevitably going to do immense or irreparable damage to the reputation of Kerry Packer.
It was a novel approach, but Justice Hunt in the NSW Supreme Court wasn’t impressed. His court wasn’t going to be party to an attempt to bully a Royal Commission, and Justice Hunt was scathing about Turnbull’s conduct. (Click here to read more)
In one of the most aggressive performances seen in Australia, Turnbull taunted Costigan to sue him – according to Justice David Hunt in the NSW Supreme Court, Turnbull accused Douglas Meagher QC and Costigan of being unjust, capricious, dishonest and malicious.
Turnbull’s scorched-earth use of the media made him unpopular with elements in the NSW Bar and was a factor in his leaving. He later moved full-time into merchant banking. (Click here to read more)
Below is the front page of The Sydney Morning Herald on Tuesday the 18th December 1984 which gives Malcolm Turnbull a hiding for the defamation case (Click here to see the full paper)
(Click on the above news articles to make them larger)
Malcolm Turnbull lied, deceived and defamed others to defend a guilty man
Much of the Goanna material was, as Packer described it in an 8000-word statement crafted by Turnbull and issued in 1984, “grotesque, ludicrous and malicious”. But the tax findings were not lightly based, nor easily dismissed. Even though the then attorney-general Lionel Bowen declared that Packer had been cleared of all allegations against him, Meagher later revealed that briefs for prosecution were prepared against Packer in relation to tax evasion after the commission was wound up. Costigan had told him three “very senior counsel” based in Sydney “each looked at them independently and recommended prosecution”, but it didn’t occur.
“Packer was a man of great influence,” Meagher said. “He wasn’t cleared. Not at all.” (Click here to read more)
While Kerry Packer might have got away with tax fraud his son James isn’t so lucky. The Australian Tax Office has recently taken James to court for $362 million in taxes he has tried to avoid paying into the public purse. (Click here to read more)
Malcolm Turnbull was never scrutinised before he became Prime Minister so it is time to have a good look at his past and who he is now. Turnbull has represented tax cheats and in doing so he defamed people, lied, deceived and trashed the rule of law. Knowing some of his history it is no surprise he hasn’t achieved much as PM and many Liberal supporters don’t like him. Is that the sort of person Australia needs or wants as Prime Minister?
Declaration: Bruce McWilliam who is mentioned above is running frivolous and vexatious defamation proceedings against me on behalf of Kerry and Ryan Stokes and their lawyer Justine Munsie which is being funded by Channel 7. That has had no influence on what I have written above.
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