HE is a long-time favourite of the national broadcaster and Anthony Albanese’s preferred architect for a federal anti-corruption commission. Former New South Wales ICAC counsel Geoffrey Watson SC – invariably described by the ABC as a “top silk,” “eminent barrister” and this morning (falsely) as an “ICAC insider” – was always going to be the go-to ‘expert’ on the investigation and retirement of Gladys Berejiklian. He says the “scrutiny” of the exiting Premier over the implications, if any, of her relationship with allegedly on-the-make MP Daryl Maguire is “a great moment.” Last year, the ABC consulted Watson about Bridget McKenzie and the sports grants affair. “We need a properly resourced body with powers of compulsion,” he thundered. When Fairfax was canvassing opinions on the licitness of Christian Porter’s blind trust, it turned to Watson.When Labor was demanding an “independent” inquiry into the accusation that Mr Porter had raped a girl as a minor in the Reagan era, Patricia Karvelas knew just which button to push: the smudged one for speed-dialing you know who. In the words of Bon Scott, when it comes to getting a Lib, pick up the phone, leave it alone.
But there is something the ABC meticulously avoids telling its audience about Watson. In 2014, he brought about the resignation of Mike Gallacher by making entirely false allegations of corruption against the then Liberal police minister while acting as counsel assisting ICAC. He was eventually reprimanded – more like pulverised – by ICAC independent inspector, Bruce McClintock SC. In a 205-page report on the Gallacher matter tabled in Parliament, McClintock admonished Watson for his “sneering,” “contemptuous,” “bullying” and “hectoring” behaviour, saying he had done “serious damage” to the reputation of the Commission and reduced its ability to perform its role.
Labor MP Ron Hoenig went even further: “When, as a result of impropriety, the practical effect is to remove a senior minister of the crown, it is really an attack on the entire democratic fabric of the state.” Audited by the unimpressed McClintock, Watson’s excuse was that he had been “frustrated and cranky” and had been called “a lying c..t” by another barrister during a public hearing. There were limits to his contrition, however. His only written response to the inspector-general’s report was to imply McClintock was acting with “personal animus.” He had no proof of that either. Little wonder the Morrison government couldn’t believe its luck last year when Labor called for Watson to be consulted on how to improve its draft legislation for a Commonwealth Integrity Commission. That was proof. That Labor wasn’t serious.