October 24th 2015

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Labor proposes expanded role for infrastructure fund

CANBERRA OBSERVED Crossbench unity plugs Coalition water spill

EDITORIAL Deplorable attack on Sir Peter Lawler

LITIGATION Appeal to freedoms will not avail for Archbishop

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS Europe generous in face of Middle-Eastern influx

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS Europe's refugee crisis was much worse last time

CULTURE WARS The PC left is saving us from ... Tintin and Twain

SCIENCE AND CERTAINTY No safety in numbers as variable as these

EUTHANASIA Belgium, Netherlands in the grip of the small laws

FAMILY AND SOCIETY Marriage redefinition will feed government business

PUBLIC POLICY A wake-up call from land of rocky highs and lows

CINEMA Respectfully intended to make you laugh: The Intern

BOOK REVIEW Clearing the head


Books promotion page

Deplorable attack on Sir Peter Lawler

by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, October 24, 2015

On October 13, The Australian published a lengthy front page article, headed “The Queen, the former PM and the Fair Work vice-president’s parents”, which sought to link former prime minister Tony Abbott to the vice-president of Fair Work Australia, Michael Lawler, because Mr Abbott had suggested that Sir Peter Lawler and his wife be invited to a reception for Queen Elizabeth II in Canberra in 2011.

Michael Lawler and Kathy Jackson.

The article was written by Pamela Williams, a senior writer with The Australian.

The tenor of the article was contained in its first paragraph: “The parents of controversial Fair Work Commission vice-president Michael Lawler were invited to a parliamentary reception to meet the Queen in October 2011 as the personal guests of then opposition leader Tony Abbott.”

Readers are left to conclude that the invitation was extended because of Mr Abbott’s links with Michael Lawler.

In fact, the invitation was extended to Sir Peter Lawler and his wife, Lady Mary, because of Sir Peter’s distinguished service to Australia. He retired many years ago.

Even the most cursory research shows that Sir Peter Lawler was one of Australia’s most distinguished public servants. He served in the Prime Minister’s Department from the 1950s to the 1980s, becoming deputy secretary of the Prime Minister’s Department in 1964. His importance is shown in the fact that he wrote the 1966 Cabinet submission that led to the abolition of the White Australia policy.

He held senior posts under six successive prime ministers, from Menzies to Hawke, serving as secretary of the Department of the Special Minister of State during the years of the Whitlam Labor government, then secretary of the Department of Administrative Services during the Fraser years. His responsibilities included organising the programs of leaders of other nations visiting Australia, and visits by the royal family.

Sir Peter’s presence at the reception organised by then prime minister Julia Gillard for the Queen in 2011 was therefore particularly appropriate.


The prominence given to The Australian article, however, left this reader with the impression that the invitation to Sir Peter Lawler was linked to Mr Abbott’s relationship with Michael Lawler.

The article said: “Sir Peter and Lady Lawler’s names were included in a shortlist of Mr Abbott’s special invitees emailed by his chief of staff, Peta Credlin, to then prime minister Julia Gillard’s office … Mr Abbott has for months declined to criticise Mr Lawler over his behaviour, including working on his partner Kathy Jackson’s legal cases while on sick leave.”

The implication is contradicted elsewhere in the article, though much less prominently. The article said that Michael Lawler and Kathy Jackson were present at the same function, and that “Ms Jackson was invited as a then ACTU vice-president”, with Mr Lawler attending as her partner. No implication was made of the inappropriateness of an invitation being arranged through the union movement!

Pamela Williams quotes extracts from Hansard leaving the impression that Mr Abbott was protecting Mr Lawler in his position as vice-present of the Fair Work Commission. Yet it is common knowledge that neither the prime minister nor the Fair Work Commission has the power to remove Mr Lawler from his position.

Ms Williams then goes on to make further gratuitous references to Sir Peter Lawler, employing guilt by association.

She wrote: “Sir Peter and Lady Lawler have known Mr Abbott since his younger days, through the Catholic Church, where Sir Peter has been a senior figure.”

And later, she wrote: “Sir Peter was appointed in 2008 as a patron of the pro-life Australian Family Association”; as if being a patron of an association which defends the family in the public arena is in some way improper.

She added that the AFA was founded by the late B.A. Santamaria, “the staunch Catholic anti-communist who founded the conservative National Civic Council and was instrumental in the Australian Labor Party split in 1955 that gave rise to the DLP.”

To further implicate the former PM, she said: “Santamaria was a close mentor to the young Tony Abbott, who this year described him as having been for some years ‘almost a father’ to him.” Interestingly, the author of this piece does not cite any primary sources for the information in the article.

But one revealing paragraph gives a clue. She refers to “an internal list of invitees [to the Queen’s reception] from the Prime Minister’s Department, obtained by The Australian”. It is hard to believe that the prime minister or anyone in his office would stoop so low as to supply such information to a journalist.

Before joining The Australian, Pamela Williams was a long-serving journalist with Fairfax Media. At the time she left The Australian Financial Review in 2014, an article appeared in The Australian that quoted her saying that she felt the time was now right for her to write fiction.

Peter Westmore is national president of the National Civic Council.

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