News, Culture & Society

Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull donate $5,000 each to Crikey legal fund after Lachlan Murdoch sues

Two former Australian prime ministers have thrown their support behind Crikey in the news website’s impending legal battle against billionaire News Corporation chairman Lachlan Murdoch.

But Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull, who have both regularly blamed their political failures on news outlets controlled by the Murdoch family, have contributed just $5,000 to the fight despite both being worth millions.

This is despite Malcolm Turnbull being worth up to $200 million and living in an $60 million Point Piper mansion. Kevin Rudd’s wife, Therese Rein, sold her employment services company Ingeus, for $298 million in 2014. The couple also paid $17 million for home on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland in 2020.  

Mr Murdoch is suing over an article which named ‘Murdoch’ as a ‘co-conspirator’ with Donald Trump in an article about the former U.S. president’s claim the 2020 election was rigged, and the January 6, 2021 riot at the Capitol.

When Mr Murdoch complained about the article, Crikey published an open letter  in New York Times daring him to sue, and he did so. 

In a comment attached to his donation, Mr Turnbull said ‘Lachlan Murdoch owns boats that are worth more than Crikey.’ 

Mr Rudd has previously called Rupert Murdoch an ‘arrogant cancer on our democracy’ and had organised a petition seeking a royal commission into the role of News Corp in influencing Australian politics. 

Former prime ministers Kevin Rudd (left) and Malcolm Turnbull (right) have each donated $5,000 to the Crikey news website, which is being sued by billionaire Lachlan Murdoch, the co-chair of News Corp

Bernard Keane’s Crikey article, originally published on June 29, was about the US Congressional hearings into the events of January 6 when supporters of Mr Trump stormed into the Capitol buildings in Washington D.C.

It only mentioned the Murdochs in the final sentence, but its headline reads ‘Trump is a confirmed unhinged traitor. And Murdoch is his unindicted co-conspirator’.

This sparked a furious reaction from Lachlan Murdoch – his father Rupert famously doesn’t sue for defamation – who demanded it be removed, and initially it was.  

But on August 15, Crikey changed its mind and the article and related social media posts were republished and it challenged Mr Murdoch’s Sydney-based lawyer John Churchill to follow through with his threat of legal action.

The Federal Court subsequently listed an application brought by Mr Murdoch against Crikey owner Private Media, its managing editor Peter Fray and political writer Bernard Keane. 

Knowing Mr Murdoch has very deep pockets to fund a drawn-out legal battle, last Friday Crikey launched a GoFundMe page, hoping to raise $3million to fund its defence.

By Monday afternoon it had raised more than $350,000 from more than 1,300 separate donations, including those from Mr Rudd and Mr Turnbull. 

As well as his comment about Mr Murdoch owning boats worth more than Crikey, Mr Turnbull also took a swipe at News Corp and its US channel Fox News for its coverage of what he called an ‘attempted coup’. 

‘Fox’s contribution to the events and context of the January 6 attempted coup are matters of the highest possible public interest and not just to Americans,’ Mr Turnbull said. 

Billionaire Lachlan Murdoch (pictured left, with his wife Sarah) is suing an Australian news website for defamation after it challenged him to do so

Billionaire Lachlan Murdoch (pictured left, with his wife Sarah) is suing an Australian news website for defamation after it challenged him to do so

Lachlan Murdoch (pictured left) is suing Australian publisher Crikey for defamation, while his father Rupert (right) famously doesn't sue for defamation

Lachlan Murdoch (pictured left) is suing Australian publisher Crikey for defamation, while his father Rupert (right) famously doesn’t sue for defamation

‘Those events shook the world and it has to be said that Australians today are far more sanguine about the endurance of American democracy than many, if not most, Americans,’ he said.

Mr Turnbull’s financial involvement in this case, and other entries into the political arena since he was tipped out of the Prime Ministership, are at odds with his previous comments attacking Mr Rudd and another former PM in Tony Abbott as ‘miserable ghosts’ for continuing to publicly participate in political matters.

‘When you stop being prime minister, that’s it,’ Mr Turnbull said in 2018. ‘There is no way I’d be hanging around like embittered Kevin Rudd or Tony Abbott. Seriously, these people are like, sort of miserable, miserable ghosts.’

Another former politician, independent Tony Windsor, donated $1,000 to the Crikey fund, while someone signing themselves as ‘Donald Trump’ also contributed.

‘Thank you for your tremendous support over the years Lachlan but I’m afraid Crikey will come after me next.

Part of a letter sent by a lawyer representing Lachlan Murdoch to the independent news site Crikey

Part of a letter sent by a lawyer representing Lachlan Murdoch to the independent news site Crikey

‘Crikey, please accept this donation as a quid pro quo. I also have some (declassified) documents which you may be interested in,’ Mr ‘Trump’ said. 

The biggest contributions so far have come from beyond politics, though. There have been two donations of $10,000, one anonymous and the other from a Ben Appleton.

Mr Murdoch is seeking aggravated damages and an injunction to stop Crikey republishing the article and its imputations.

Lawyers for Mr Murdoch say the article falsely alleged he ‘illegally conspired with Trump to overturn the presidential election result’ and ‘knowingly entered into a criminal conspiracy with Donald Trump and a large number of Fox News commentators to overturn the 2020 election result’.

Some of the grievances Lachlan Murdoch's lawyer made against an article published by Crikey

Some of the grievances Lachlan Murdoch’s lawyer made against an article published by Crikey

Justifying the decision to reprint all the correspondence between their lawyer at MinterEllison and Lachlan Murdoch’s representative, Mr Fray said Crikey was performing a public service and taking up a cause the Murdochs had championed. 

In their open letter, which ran as an ad in the New York Times, Mr Fray and Private Media chairman Eric Beecher said they were defending freedom of the press. 

‘We at Crikey strongly support freedom of opinion and public interest journalism,’ they wrote. ‘We are concerned that Australia’s defamation laws are too restrictive.’

Demands made by Lachlan Murdoch's lawyer of the independent news blog Crikey in relation to an article by Bernard Keane

Demands made by Lachlan Murdoch’s lawyer of the independent news blog Crikey in relation to an article by Bernard Keane

They added that they ‘want to defend those allegations in court. ‘You have made it clear in your lawyer’s letters you intend to take court action to resolve this alleged defamation.

‘We await your writ so that we can test this important issue of freedom of public interest journalism in a courtroom.’

If it was a bluff, Mr Murdoch called them on it, and their day in court will come. 

Crikey publisher Eric Beecher wrote an open letter daring the Murdochs to take legal action against his website

Crikey publisher Eric Beecher wrote an open letter daring the Murdochs to take legal action against his website

 

 

 

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