Col­lat­eral dam­age for Wran as mud flies

Some of the claims made against Lionel Mur­phy 30 years ago are explosive

The Weekend Australian - - THE NATION - TROY BRAMSTON SE­NIOR WRITER Troy Bramston is editor of The Wran Era (The Fed­er­a­tion Press)

In his last in­ter­view, Neville Wran told me that when he died, some­body would ac­cuse him of be­ing cor­rupt and he wor­ried about not be­ing able to de­fend him­self.

“Af­ter I breathe my last, there will be ar­ti­cles and so-called learned dis­ser­ta­tions about how I was a crook,” he said in 2011. “You can de­fame the dead. I won’t read it or hear it but my fam­ily, my kids, my friends and my col­leagues will. But that’s pol­i­tics, and there is noth­ing I can do about that.”

Doc­u­ments from the par­lia­men­tary com­mis­sion of in­quiry into Lionel Mur­phy’s con­duct as a High Court judge in­cluded allegations that do not re­flect well on Wran, NSW premier in 1976-86.

It is claimed Mur­phy was urged by so­lic­i­tor Mor­gan Ryan to use his in­flu­ence with Wran to make sure the lease on Syd­ney’s Luna Park and a con­tract to re­model Cen­tral train sta­tion went to crime boss Abe Saf­fron. Wran was also al­legedly asked to in­ter­vene in a High Court case. Mur­phy told Ryan his “rep­re­sen­ta­tions had been suc­cess­ful”.

These allegations were based on il­le­gal po­lice record­ings of tele­phone calls pub­lished in The Age in 1984. Ian Temby QC, the di­rec­tor of pub­lic pros­e­cu­tions, con­cluded they could not be au­then­ti­cated. Staff memos from the par­lia­men­tary com­mis­sion re­veal they too could not sub­stan­ti­ate the claims about the Luna Park or Cen­tral sta­tion con­tracts. It is also al­leged Mur­phy leaned on Wran to ap­point Wadim Je­gorow to the Eth­nic Af­fairs Com­mis­sion. This is hardly a hang­ing of­fence: govern­ments of­ten ap­point friends, party mem­bers and donors to gov­ern­ment po­si­tions.

These allegations were not fully tested. The com­mis­sion did not make find­ings. And Wran, along with Mur­phy, was not given an op­por­tu­nity to re­spond. We must treat all of this scep­ti­cally. Some of the ev­i­dence in the com­mis­sion’s files, in­clud­ing Mur­phy’s re­la­tion­ship with Saf­fron, is con­tra­dicted by po­lice tes­ti­mony.

It is claimed Mur­phy was a part­ner in Saf­fron’s brothel, the Venus Room, and had “a long his­tory” of “re­ceiv­ing sex­ual favours from women sup­plied by Saf­fron” but an in­ter­view with the chief of staff to the po­lice com­mis­sioner, Ken Drew, re­vealed “no link be­tween Saf­fron and (Mur­phy) had come to light”.

Wran may have had a blind spot when it came to Mur­phy. They had been friends since univer­sity. Wran told me he loved Mur­phy and be­lieved he was tar­geted by “the es­tab­lish­ment”.

When Mur­phy was charged with per­vert­ing the course of jus­tice in 1985, Wran declared his friend “in­no­cent” and was slapped with a con­tempt-of-court con­vic­tion and a $25,000 fine.

Did Mur­phy ask Wran for favours? Wran was not stupid. He had been a lead­ing bar­ris­ter and was a shrewd politi­cian. He would not have done any­thing to jeop- ardise his gov­ern­ment. He could be bru­tally cold and prag­matic, even to­wards friends. It is pos­si­ble Mur­phy was us­ing Wran’s name to el­e­vate his own im­por­tance.

While these dis­clo­sures don’t look good, there is not enough ev­i­dence to con­clude Wran acted im­prop­erly. In­deed, his al­leged im­pro­pri­ety is men­tioned only by oth­ers in­di­rectly. In 1983, the ABC’s Four Cor­ners al­leged Wran had sought to in­flu­ence mag­is­trate Mur­ray Far­quhar to have charges against rugby league boss Kevin Humphreys — ac­cused of mis­ap­pro­pri­at­ing funds — dis­missed. Wran stood aside as premier while a royal com­mis­sion headed by Lau­rence Street ex­am­ined ev­i­dence. Sir Lau­rence ex­on­er­ated Wran.

Wran was one of Aus­tralia’s most pop­u­lar politi­cians. He won four elec­tions and showed La­bor how to run a pru­dent, prag­matic gov­ern­ment. He left a legacy in health, ed­u­ca­tion, con­ser­va­tion, cap­i­tal works and law re­form. But he knew his life would be put through the wringer and there was noth­ing he could do about it.

In the rar­efied set­ting of the High Court, Lionel Mur­phy’s pres­ence on the bench was bound to be a shock to the sys­tem from day one.

When he ar­rived in Fe­bru­ary 1975 to sit among his be­wigged and robed col­leagues, Mur­phy was not the first to have been ap­pointed di­rectly from pol­i­tics, but he was al­ready mired in con­tro­versy.

As Gough Whit­lam’s at­tor­ney­gen­eral, Mur­phy had not just over­seen the in­tro­duc­tion of La­bor gov­ern­ment re­forms such as no­fault di­vorce that were de­rided by some con­ser­va­tives and re­li­gious groups, and could now get ar­gued out in front of him as a judge. He had also been per­son­ally en­tan­gled in scan­dals that con­tin­ued to be­devil the Whit­lam gov­ern­ment, and con­trib­uted to its early de­struc­tion eight months later.

Be­fore be­com­ing a judge, Mur­phy was in the thick of it: or­der­ing a ham-fisted raid on ASIO’s Mel­bourne head­quar­ters, ne­go­ti­at­ing a po­lit­i­cal fix to push the Demo­cratic La­bor Party’s Vince Gair out of the Se­nate, help­ing ex­otic La­bor staffer Ju­nie Morosi score cheap hous­ing, and back­ing an un­ortho­dox, pos­si­bly un­con­sti­tu­tional scheme to bor­row $US4 bil­lion from Mid­dle Eastern money men for na­tional de­vel­op­ment projects.

To this day, Mur­phy’s sup­port­ers claim he was hounded for years af­ter­wards by op­po­nents whose real mo­ti­va­tion was to get rid of a ju­di­cial ac­tivist who posed a threat to the es­tab­lished so­cial or­der.

In­deed the Lib­eral Party did op­pose his ap­point­ment by Whit­lam, and Mur­phy did face a har­row­ing or­deal: two par­lia­men­tary in­quiries into his con­duct, two crim­i­nal tri­als on charges of at­tempt­ing to per­vert the course of jus­tice, and a fur­ther par­lia­men­tary com­mis­sion of in­quiry that was set up re­luc­tantly by the Hawke gov­ern­ment in May 1986 to ex­am­ine fur­ther allegations of Mur­phy’s mis­be­haviour that sur­faced af­ter his trial ac­quit­tals.

But al­most 6000 pages of doc­u­ments re­leased this week from the aborted fi­nal Mur­phy in­quiry present a very dis­turb­ing pic­ture of a man ac­knowl­edged even by those who loved him as no saint.

Kept se­cret for 30 years un­der the terms of a re­peal law that shut down the in­quiry mid­way in Au­gust 1986, af­ter news that Mur­phy was dy­ing, the now pub­lished “Class A” con­fi­den­tial files con­tain a flood of neg­a­tive ma­te­rial.

Un­der the terms of ref­er­ence handed to them, the three re­tired judges in charge were given a most se­ri­ous task: to ad­vise par­lia­ment whether Mur­phy’s con­duct amounted to “proved mis­be­hav- iour” un­der sec­tion 72 of the Con­sti­tu­tion.

Mur­phy died in Oc­to­ber 1986. If he had sur­vived and the panel of re­tired judges had com­pleted their work with a find­ing of mis­be­haviour, he would most surely have been dis­missed by a vote of par­lia­ment un­less he quit first. He pos­si­bly could have faced fur­ther crim­i­nal pro­ceed­ings.

Taken to­gether, the cen­tral allegations con­sid­ered by the com­mis­sion of in­quiry are breath­tak­ing in scope for a judge of the high­est court in the land: that he at­tempted to bribe po­lice of­fi­cers, en­cour­aged the in­tim­i­da­tion or harm­ing of sev­eral peo­ple, and im- prop­erly used his in­flu­ence to help Syd­ney or­gan­ised crime boss Abe Saf­fron win lu­cra­tive busi­ness con­tracts.

The doc­u­ments also con­tain claims that Mur­phy’s close­ness to the no­to­ri­ous Saf­fron ex­tended to be­ing a silent busi­ness part­ner in his King’s Cross night­club, the Venus Room, and that Mur­phy re­ceived “sex­ual favours from women” sup­plied by Saf­fron or one of his as­so­ciates.

The crim­i­nal charges against Mur­phy at his ear­lier two tri­als, in which he was found not guilty, re­lated to allegations that he un­law­fully tried to help out a mate, Syd­ney so­lic­i­tor Mor­gan Ryan, who was ac­cused of run­ning an il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion racket, by seek­ing to in­flu­ence NSW chief mag­is­trate Clar­rie Briese and District Court judge Paul Flan­nery.

Mor­gan’s name crops up re­peat­edly in the newly re­leased in­quiry allegations. While the com­mis­sion was pre­vented from rak­ing over the pre­vi­ous trial mat­ters, the fresh allegations it con­sid­ered were a re-run of sorts be­cause of the claim that Mur­phy had im­prop­erly tried to in­flu­ence a fur­ther judge in charge of the Ryan case, District Court chief judge Jim Staunton. It was claimed he also urged for­mer Whit­lam min­is­ter and the Land and En­vi­ron­ment Court’s NSW chief judge Jim McClel­land, to ap­proach Staunton.

Ryan’s name pops up yet again in an al­le­ga­tion to the ef­fect that Mur­phy agreed with him and Saf­fron that Saf­fron would ar­range for lawyer Danny Sankey to be “im­prop­erly and un­law­fully in­tim­i­dated” to pres­sure him to drop le­gal ac­tion in 1976 against Mur­phy, Whit­lam and Rex Con­nor over the in­fa­mous La­bor loans af­fair. And Mur­phy al­legedly “urged or en­cour­aged” Ryan in 1979 and 1980 to “cause harm” to David Rofe QC, a Syd­ney bar­ris­ter who had acted for Sankey. The al­leged pur­pose was “re­venge”.

Ryan was present at a Korean res­tau­rant lunch in 1979 when Mur­phy al­legedly tried to bribe a fed­eral po­lice of­fi­cer, Don Thomas, by sug­gest­ing he could ar­range his pro­mo­tion to as­sis­tant com­mis­sioner if Thomas pro­vided “covert in­for­ma­tion”. “We need some­body inside to tell us what is go­ing on,” Mur­phy is al­leged to have said.

In 1980, Mur­phy is al­leged to have agreed to a Ryan re­quest to in­ves­ti­gate the pos­si­bil­ity of brib­ing two fed­eral po­lice of­fi­cers, David Lew­ing­ton and Robert Jones. Ac­cord­ing to a tapped phone con­ver­sa­tion, Ryan is al­leged to have asked Mur­phy if “the two fel­lows” were “ap­proach­able”. Mur­phy is re­ported to have replied “the an­swer was def­i­nitely no; they were both very straight”.

Ac­cord­ing to another phone tap in 1980, Mur­phy al­legedly re­ceived a re­quest from Ryan to help Saf­fron se­cure the lease on Syd­ney’s Luna Park by speak­ing to NSW premier Neville Wran, Mur­phy’s clos­est friend. “Leave it with me,” Mur­phy said. He used the same phrase on the phone that year when Ryan al­legedly sought Mur­phy’s help to se­cure a Cen­tral rail­way sta­tion re­mod­elling con­tract for Saf­fron. In both in­stances, Mur­phy al­legedly told Ryan that he had been suc­cess­ful.

Ge­orge Williams says other in­quiries would typ­i­cally not re­lease allegations lack­ing in any cred­i­bil­ity, as has oc­curred here

Al­legedly urged on by Ryan, Mur­phy also con­tacted Wran in 1979 with a re­quest to ap­point Wadim Je­gorow to the NSW Eth­nic Af­fairs Com­mis­sion. Je­gorow was ap­pointed.

In a 1979 recorded phone con­ver­sa­tion, Mur­phy al­legedly told Ryan about prob­lems en­coun­tered by his Dar­ling Point neigh­bour Robert Yuen, who he said was pay­ing a se­nior NSW po­lice de­tec­tive and yet was still sub­ject to po­lice ac­tion over the il­le­gal casino he op­er­ated in Chi­na­town. “This is a dis­grace­ful turnout,” Mur­phy said, adding that he wanted to talk to “N” about it.

A big ques­tion, con­sid­er­ing the com­mis­sion of in­quiry was never com­pleted, is what weight to give any of these allegations.

The in­quiry’s chief, Ge­orge Lush, told par­lia­ment in writ­ing, ac­cord­ing to the re­leased doc­u­ments, that “no find­ings of fact” were made and there­fore the com­mis­sion “formed no con­clu­sions or opin­ions whether any of the con­duct of the judge has been such as to amount to proved mis­be­haviour”.

About half of the 41 allegations pre­sented to the re­tired judges in charge of the com­mis­sion were fairly quickly dis­missed as base­less, fab­ri­cated, lack­ing in suf­fi­cient ev­i­dence or not rel­e­vant to mis­be­haviour. These in­cluded that Mur­phy was a Soviet spy, helped Morosi with cheap hous­ing, scored free flights on Ethiopian Air­lines and wanted Syd­ney thug Stephen Ba­z­ley to “knock out” crime king­pin Ge­orge Free­man.

But there was an en­tirely dif­fer­ent cat­e­gory of allegations that the com­mis­sion was treat­ing very se­ri­ously. So se­ri­ously, in fact, that at the time of its shut­down the in­quiry had served Mur­phy’s lawyers with 14 de­tailed allegations that in­cluded af­ter each a sum­mary of how they amounted to ju­di­cial mis­be­haviour.

Most were de­scribed as “con­duct con­trary to the stan­dards of ju­di­cial be­hav­iour”. The rest, the com­mis­sion told Mur­phy’s lawyers, brought him and the High Court into dis­re­pute and put his own in­ter­ests above the court’s.

Mur­phy’s lawyers were set to be served with one fur­ther al­le­ga­tion for re­sponse, and pos­si­bly more, be­fore op­er­a­tions were abruptly shut down.

Cameron Mur­phy, the late judge’s el­dest son, strongly ar­gues against the re­lease of any of the doc­u­ments now, ques­tion­ing what pub­lic in­ter­est it serves 30 years af­ter his fa­ther’s death.

Cameron Mur­phy, a Syd­ney bar­ris­ter and for­mer pres­i­dent of the NSW Coun­cil for Civil Lib­er­ties, tells In­quirer that the process has been “grossly un­fair” be­cause none of the allegations was tested at the time.

He says his fa­ther had no op­por­tu­nity to re­spond to the allegations be­cause he was “com­ing in and out of a coma”. Cameron Mur­phy calls the allegations “dis­grace­ful mud­sling­ing at its worst” when dozens of ridicu­lous or triv­ial claims can be aired along­side se­ri­ous ones that could not be es­tab­lished as fact at the time.

He claims the in­quiry was deeply flawed from the start be­cause it al­lowed any­one to come for­ward with an al­le­ga­tion against his fa­ther, span­ning a life­time. The re­sult, he says, was to en­cour­age “nut cases” or peo­ple mo­ti­vated by jeal­ously or greed.

Ge­orge Williams, pro­fes­sor of law at the Univer­sity of NSW, agrees the Mur­phy com­mis­sion process was un­usual.

He says other in­quiries would typ­i­cally not re­lease allegations lack­ing in any cred­i­bil­ity, as has oc­curred here. Still, Williams be­lieves the re­lease of the Mur­phy files is jus­ti­fied in the pub­lic in­ter- est given the ex­traor­di­nary and se­ri­ous na­ture of the mat­ter. The key, he says, is to be very care­ful about the cred­i­bil­ity at­tached to untested in­for­ma­tion.

A key doc­u­ment re­leased with oth­ers for the first time was a let­ter sent to Lionel Mur­phy in March 1986 by Don­ald Stew­art, the in­scrutable head of the royal com­mis­sion into drug traf­fick­ing and il­licit tele­phone in­ter­cep­tions. He asked Mur­phy for his re­sponse to seven spe­cific allegations based on in­for­ma­tion from il­licit po­lice phone taps he had been in­ves­ti­gat­ing, some of which had come to light in me­dia re­ports from the so­called “Age Tapes”.

In front of him, Stew­art had tele­phone record­ings of Mur­phy, Ryan and oth­ers re­lated to Yuen’s casino prob­lems, the Luna Park lease, the Cen­tral Sta­tion deal, the Eth­nic Af­fairs Com­mis­sion job, the pos­si­ble brib­ing at­tempts in­volv­ing fed­eral po­lice of­fi­cers Thomas, Lew­ing­ton and Jones, and a fur­ther mat­ter re­lated to a debt re­pay­ment to Ryan that al­legedly in­volved “de­fraud­ing the tax department”.

Williams says the Stew­art let­ter is cer­tainly ap­pro­pri­ate to re­lease in the pub­lic in­ter­est: “It’s not scut­tle­butt but comes from some­one with in­tegrity who raised them with Mur­phy, and it should come to light.”

A law passed in 2012, with rare agree­ment be­tween La­bor and the Coali­tion, means a re-run of the Mur­phy in­quiry can never oc­cur — at least not with the same pow­ers to ad­vise on con­duct war­rant­ing dis­missal. That power is now solely in the hands of par­lia­ment. If the pro­vi­sion had ex­isted in Mur­phy’s time, the com­mis­sion would have run as a fact-find­ing ex­er­cise, un­able to make ac­cu­sa­tions of mis­be­haviour.

Williams says: “In the end, this is go­ing to be a mat­ter for his­to­ri­ans. There is enough to say it should have been re­leased — but it de­pends what weight you put on it.”

Mor­gan Ryan scores nu­mer­ous men­tions in the allegations

Clock­wise from main pic­ture, Lionel Mur­phy; Gough Whit­lam, sec­ond from left, front row, with his cabi­net in De­cem­ber 1972, in­clud­ing Mur­phy, sec­ond right in the sec­ond row; Abe Saf­fron; Mur­phy with his wife In­grid af­ter be­ing ac­quit­ted of crim­i­nal charges in 1986; and Ju­nie Morosi

Whit­lam flanked by deputy PM Lance Bernard, left, and Mur­phy in par­lia­ment in 1973

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