Politics Opinion

'Truth' makes comeback in Roberts-Smith and Lehrmann trial twists

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The trials of Ben Roberts-Smith (left) and Bruce Lehrmann have resulted in truths coming to the surface (Image by Dan Jensen)

The outcomes of two major legal cases have revealed dark truths about both our justice system and a celebrated war hero, writes Dr Jennifer Wilson.

*Also listen to the audio version of this article on Spotify HERE.

AUSTRALIA IS A COUNTRY still reeling from the aftershocks of an L-NP government led by former Prime Minister Scott Morrison — without doubt, the most blatantly deceptive and mendacious leader in our history.

Many quite sensibly regard politicians with a leery eye and always have, but Morrison took us deep into new post-truth territory shared at the time by renowned liar, U.S. President Donald Trump and established liar, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. In this grimly barren landscape, not only did political leaders prevaricate and gaslight, but they made little effort to conceal their mendacity or express any shame when exposed, instead adding to the original lies with even more cavalier calumny.

Standards were rapidly lowered, with no subsequent loss of power. All three men appeared to revel in an apparent untouchability that gave them license to lie without consequence, testing the boundaries to see what they might get away with and finding them delightfully elastic.   

Our atmosphere was rendered toxic by their fabrications, leading to a kind of enraged and baffled despair as we watched truth recede as a public value. Nothing was true anymore. There was no trust. In the infamous words of the infamous Steve Bannon, the zone was flooded with shit.

We could only impotently rail and grieve truth’s passing.

Yet against all odds, truth has recently and unexpectedly begun to strike back.

For example, disgraced war veteran Ben Roberts-Smith lost his defamation case against The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Canberra Times. Justice Anthony Besanko found that on the balance of probabilities, the highly decorated Roberts-Smith did indeed take part in the murder of unarmed civilians in Afghanistan, as alleged by the journalists, survivors and fellow soldiers who bore witness against him.

Roberts-Smith, in an astounding psychological own goal, instigated this investigation with his legal action, leading some of us to ponder the Shakespearian power of unconscious guilt.    

The importance of this outcome can’t be exaggerated. Roberts-Smith, an elite soldier who embodied the cherished values of Australian military service to an iconic degree, was revealed as a murdering bully by people who were committed to speaking the truth, regardless of the consequences and at great personal cost.  

In another theatre of war, Brittany Higgins, former media advisor to former Defence Minister in the Morrison Government, Linda Reynolds, fought and continues to fight a furious public battle for truth-telling against the combined forces of politicians, police and media, with her allegations of sexual assault against another former Reynolds’ staffer, Bruce Lehrmann.

The twists and turns of this ongoing process have revealed the insidious underbelly of institutions that are controlled primarily by the will to power, rather than the will to truth.

The facts of the alleged assault may never be satisfactorily established as the Lehrmann trial was aborted after juror misconduct, denying both the complainant and defendant justice. However, Ms Higgins’ persistence has exposed to the public gaze the machinations and manipulations of significant institutions involved in this yet unfinished saga, and laid bare their folded lies.

The inner workings of the justice system and the inadequacy and incompetence of too many of its practitioners would have remained unseen were it not for the revelations of the Sofronoff inquiry into the conduct surrounding Ms Higgins’ complaint, and we are still to hear that judgement.

None of this would have seen the light of day were it not for Brittany Higgins.

There are many other instances of whistleblowing in which women and men risk their livelihoods, their well-being and even their lives as they struggle to speak truthfully in a post-truth zone that is flooded with shit. This is the zone in which democratic institutions, originally intended to serve the people and ensure our safety, make enemies of us and place their own survival above our common good.

Whistleblowers are rarely rewarded for their efforts. Even those who agree with them may choose silence rather than risk their own well-being and who can blame them? It takes a very special kind of courage to put truth before your own safety.

We owe these ironic points of light, as W H Auden described the truth tellers in his poem, September 1, 1939. We owe them everything because without their affirming flame and without leaders who have at least some respect for truth, we collapse into chaos.

As the poem goes:

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

*This article is also available on audio here:

Dr Jennifer Wilson is an IA columnist, a psychotherapist and an academic. You can follow Jennifer on Twitter @NoPlaceForSheep.

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