The 1MDB scandal has been described as the worse case of kleptocracy the world has ever seen by none other than the former US Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
The theft would probably never have come to light had it not been for the work of journalists, and in particular Clare Rewcastle-Brown of the UK. It is just as well that Rewcastle-Brown was publishing out of the UK and not Australia for had she been based in Australia her work would have been readily halted by an Australian judge, had the perpetrators chosen to sue for defamation in Australia.
There seems to have developed over the past two decades since the landmark decision in Carlovers & Ors v Sahathevan (in which this writer was the defendant) a desire among members of the Australian judiciary to punish journalists, or worse silence them.
Deborah Snow of the SMH reports that Richard Ackland, editor of the Gazette of Law and Journalism, goes so far as to suggest that Australian courts have developed a “tribal hostility to journalists”.
Ackland's observation was witnessed recently by this writer when very senior members of the NSW judicial system, including the Chief Justice Of NSW Tom Bathurst determined that writer's work on the 1MDB affair had generally defamed many unnamed "eminent persons".
The judges involved went as far as to approve of the Najib regime's blocking one of this writer's blogs; they claimed the blog had been blocked as a result of this writer's defamatory publications.
The judges concerned did not provide any reasons for their judgement.In fact they justified their findings by accepting as true an account published on the Internet about this writer being an agent of the present Mahathir government who had been paid USD 1 Million to spread falsehoods about Najib Razak; and that part of that scheme involved bribing reporters from ABC 4 Corners to put to air a false story about Najib's involvement in the 1MDB affair.
The judges findings were reported by Ben Butler in The Australian early this year, but no one from the judiciary or the Government has provided any explanation for those false findings.
Worse, the judges concerned went so far as to rewrite the facts of the landmark decision in Carlovers & Ors v Sahathevan, which was later applied in Bond v Barry, to further discredit this writer's work, which has spanned some 25 years.
The rewriting and re-interpretation of the Calovers decision is intriguing for one of the plaintiffs was Malaysian businessman Vincent Tan Chee Yioun. Tan has a history of interfering in the affairs of the judiciary in Malaysia . In the Carlovers matter in 2001 the Supreme Court NSW found against him, and ordered him to pay costs. Now it seems the Chief Justice and others have determined that Tan was wronged.
All of the above is distressing to this writer and others who have in the past looked to Australia as a safe haven from which to investigate and write about high level corruption and misdeeds. As the Chinese journalist and academic Louisa Lim puts it:
Then I moved to Australia. To my surprise, writing about China from Melbourne proved no simpler. But there, I was hobbled by different forces, namely Australia’s oppressive and notoriously complex defamation laws.
The problem it seems is not in the laws but in the judges whose job it is to interpret and apply those laws. Malaysia faced a similar problem with its judges more than 20 years ago, caused by among others Vincent Tan Chee Yioun. Fortunately pressure from the people, led by journalists including this writer, led to the removal of a number of rogue judges and lawyers. Australians must not pretend that the same is not needed here.