The Australian apologises to Commissioner of Ruby Princess Inquiry and withdraws criticism

News Corp’s The Australian has issued an unreserved apology to the Special Commission of Inquiry into the Ruby Princess, and its Commissioner Bret Walker, over an article penned by David Penberthy.

The article said the NSW Government’s Inquiry into the cruise ship which docked in NSW with various COVID-19 cases on board was a “sham” with scenes that were “harrowing and disgraceful” as well as being “state-sponsored bastardry”.

“It’s a taxpayer-funded show trial aimed at achieving a political end,” the comment piece proclaimed.

The piece appeared in The Australian on 7 May.

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On 8 May, Richard Beasley, senior counsel assisting, drew attention to the article at the Inquiry, and argued it contained various omissions. He also countered claims the Inquiry was a sham or built with the purpose of finding a particular outcome.

“I know, for a fact, as does every other person engaged in this Commission, that its terms of reference are not directed at any particular outcome, but to a broad inquiry including into NSW agencies, and the decision-making processes of relevant people in those agencies. I know for a fact that no person within the NSW Government, much less the Cabinet, or Health Minister, has in any way attempted to interfere with this Commission’s independence. It is completely independent of government.”

Beasley suggested the article might constitute contempt.

In response, lawyers acting on behalf of News Corp’s Nationwide News, the publisher of The Australian, wrote to Walker on 13 May, apologising for the article.

“The article intended to be a discussion of political matters and in particular the NSW State Government. The article was not intended to be critical of the Inquiry itself, the Commissioner or the Commission’s staff,” the letter from Justin Quill, principal lawyer at Macpherson Kelley, said.

“The Australian unreservedly apologises and withdraws any criticism of the Commissioner or the Inquiry. The Australian did not intend to call into question the Commissioner’s integrity and accepts it is beyond reproach.”

At the time of this story’s publication, the article remains online with the offending phrases, and does not include the apology or any reference to the clarification.


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