This week Victoria Police and the Australian Federal Police (AFP) conducted raids on a number of Victorian properties as part of an investigation into an alleged plot to attack a military base in outer Sydney. An associate editor at The Australian, Cameron Stewart (pictured right), knew of the planned raids in advance. According to a report by Paul Maley in The Weekend Australian, on July 30th Stewart contacted the AFP and alerted them that he was aware of the planned raids and intended to publish on the information he had. In the ensuing negotiations with the AFP Stewart agreed not to publish if the story jeopardised the police operation. But Stewart also made it clear to AFP acting commissioner Tony Negus that the final decision on whether The Australian published the story or not was not his to make. This led to what can only be described as an incredible series of events.
Stewart informed Negus that the final editorial decision would fall on The Australian’s Sydney editor Paul Whittaker (pictured right), who in turn told Negus that he’d have to check with editor-in-chief Chris Mitchell. The hubris of The Australian’s editors is amazing. Essentially, the AFP was held over a barrel by the national daily. Whether or not a large police operation would be effective was in the hands of three editorial staff who would have to check with each other that it was okay not to go to press. Eventually Whittaker struck a deal with the AFP to hold Stewart’s story until after the raids. Nevertheless, how is it that senior editors at The Australian can even consider placing a police operation in jeopardy? Given that significant coverage of the planned raids would tip off the targets, it seems that in this case the success or failure of the operation largely came down to an editorial decision at The Australian.
But this is not the worst of it.