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Alan Austin does himself a disservice

By Calum Thwaites - posted Tuesday, 5 September 2017

In a piece in Independent Australia Alan Austin makes some serious allegations regarding the coverage of the QUT Section 18C case by Murdoch-owned media outlets.

His article – interspersed with seemingly random embedded tweets – states that in reporting the QUT case, 'Murdoch media outlets have falsified the facts, taken advantage of the vulnerable students, distorted the court judgments and impugned the AHRC'. But is this the case?

The only 'vulnerable students' of whom any 'advantage' was taken are the ones who were blackmailed into paying 'hush money' – at the rate of $5,000 per head – to Ms Prior. The three students who successfully resisted Ms Prior's demands are more than grateful for the backing which they received from their legal teams, from the wider Australian community, and especially from the only media outlets which offered them any form of moral support.


Despite asserting that facts were falsified, Austin does not identify a single example of falsification. He offers no comparison of the facts as reported by The Australian and other Murdoch media outlets with what Austin apparently believes to be the true facts.

If Austin is keen to do a 'Media Watch' review of reporting on the QUT case, he would do well to refresh his memory of the ABC's and Fairfax media's coverage. Having consistently ignored the story for a full 6 months, the ABC and Fairfax entered the fray only when the case was nearing its conclusion, and it had become apparent that they had failed in their ongoing attempts to shield the AHRC and its President from richly-deserved scrutiny. What coverage they belatedly produced was riddled with glaring factual inaccuracies, and patently skewed to paint the AHRC, and especially Gillian Triggs, in the most favourable light possible. On the one occasion that students were offered a 'right of reply', to an interview in which Triggs had misrepresented the facts with conspicuous creativity, the reply was never broadcast.

But Austin's approach is different. He uses a so-called 'case study'. This shows that the actual intent of his piece is to advance an argument he was having on Facebook – an argument between Austin and a 'prominent citizen with strategic influence' who, as he contends, has been duped by the campaign of the dastardly Murdoch media outlets.

A number of Austin's statements are in desperate need of correction. In responding to the 'assertions' of Mr Geoff Kelly, Austin himself makes these assertions:

1. 'The AHRC has no power to start or stop litigation. The AHRC had terminated all involvement with Ms Prior on 25 August 2015. She commenced Federal Circuit Court proceedings in October 2015. This is clear from court records and the AHRC's detailed chronology.'

2. 'All the evidence is to the contrary' of Kelly's 'assertion' that Cindy Prior 'was actively encouraged and groomed to make and proceed with that complaint' under Section 18C by the AHRC'.


3. 'It was never the role or responsibility of the AHRC to inform or involve the students in the legal action. QUT insisted, correctly, this was its role.'

4. 'In none of the three judgments by two judges was any criticism made of the AHRC in any way, shape or form.'

Each of these assertions is either a falsification or a distortion of the facts – or is simply wrong.

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This article is a response to one in Independent Australia, but it refused to publish this response, and we have a keen interest in free speech matters.

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About the Author

Calum Thwaites is a law student. He was one of the seven students sued by Ms Cindy Prior under section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth).

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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