Politics Analysis

Uncovering the protection racket behind Bruce Lehrmann: Does he know too much?

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(Screenshot via YouTube | 7News Spotlight)

Why does Bruce Lehrmann appear to be such a protected species? Rosemary Sorensen offers her analysis.

IF YOU'RE SOMEONE who still believes people are essentially good and society can rely on decency to out the rotters, you might see a tweet by “Simone”/@kangabella) as you scroll through the #Bruce Lehrmann aftermath, and think, yeah, nah, that’s a conspiracy step too far.

Which is why whistleblowers like Simone Marsh face an uphill battle. Sometimes, what they reveal is so outrageous, so rotten, it’s hard to believe.

Independent Australia was first with Marsh’s story – back in 2016 – when she wrote about the shonky Queensland gas industry’s dealings with certain politicians. This was two years after a Senate hearing, at which Marsh spoke, where she called the approval process to Santos and the Queensland Gas Company (QGC) a “crime”.

In 2018, Michael West published more of Marsh’s complex dot-joining about Queensland gas company QGC and how it schmoozed its way past government regulations. Last week, that story ended up back in Toowoomba, posing some questions about Bruce Lehrmann. And Walter Sofronoff.

While you may now know more than enough about the sordid behaviour of rapists and their cronies, so many questions linger. In February, it became clear that there was an unusual link between The Australian’s Janet Albrechtsen’s trial reports and the jurist Walter Sofronoff, tasked with heading the inquiry into the handling of the Lehrmann criminal trial.  That link, which saw Sofronoff .... is now under investigation. For Marsh, these are chickens that appear to be coming home to roost.

She had chucked her job with the Queensland Coordinator General of the Department of Infrastructure and Planning in 2010, after she was told to write an environmental impact assessment for two gas projects in haste and without the required information.

Since then, Marsh has laboured to bring to light how many people, including Sofronoff and journalist Hedley Thomas – who introduced Albrechtsen to the judge over lunch in March 2023 – worked within a government/business network that, as a 2013 Four Corners program showed, sold out the State’s gas resources in a process that has never been called to account.

How does Bruce Lehrmann slot into this narrative? Marsh is intrigued, like many others, by the seemingly impenetrable protection surrounding him right up until the moment Justice Michael Lee spoke those fateful words, “Bruce Lehrmann raped Brittany Higgins”.

And she finds his name on the periphery of a big swirling circle of all kinds of people — journalists, politicians, lawyers, business people, friends and relatives. One of the interests that connects them all is Big Gas and the big money associated with that industry.

The story of Big Gas in Queensland is a right-royal mess, literally. In her 2018 article, Marsh valiantly outlined the extraordinarily lucrative Australian phase of the history of the British Gas (BG) Group and its subsidiary QGC, eventually acquired by Royal Dutch Shell in 2016.

It’s depressing reading. Huge profits were handed to UK interests by subservient Australian politicians who, Marsh suggests, might have been softened up by the dazzle of Royal lobbying. The timeline included in Marsh’s article certainly shows an unusual amount of patronising visits bestowed on Queensland during the time Australia was basically giving away its natural gas reserves at huge expense to the environment.

The promise of big benefits back to the community in company taxes didn’t happen. As history now shows, Australia’s tax receipts from BG/CGS’s multi-billion-dollar gross income from the three companies was risible — from zero to about $35 million in the year they sold to Royal Dutch Shell for $US20.4 billion (AU$31.7 billion).

Adding another layer to the perplexing lack of government resolve to do something about energy emissions and climate disaster, Marsh’s timeline forensically details how the arrival in June 2010 of BG’s then-British chief executive, Sir Frank Chapman, coincided with the ousting of Kevin Rudd as PM, which killed off any hope of an effective Resource Super Profits Tax.

In another Marsh article, 'Compromised: Genie Energy and the Murdoch media's climate denial', perhaps coincidentally, there’s an interesting constellation of dots that forms a network around all those names she has mentioned in relation to the Big Gas deals.

To call it a network sounds chummy and anodyne, but by showing how people who have made some perplexing decisions – such as allowing a UK gas company to skip robust environmental and economic impact assessment requirements – are connected socially, as well as through business links, Marsh provides a framework for a Brueghel-style painting of fossil-fuel supporters and propagandists. It’s not pretty.

As Hedley Thomas, famous for his Teacher’s Pet podcast and now The Australian’s national chief correspondent, told Marsh when she went to him with the files a decade ago, he, for one, was socially acquainted with the Queensland Gas Company boss, and his partner still worked for the company. Thomas had been employed there too, before he returned to The Australian. He recused himself from investigating this story and any implications for Queensland’s environment.

Toowoomba, Bruce Lehrmann’s home town, has had its fair share of distinguished public servants. In her submission to the 2014 Senate Hearing about Queensland energy, Marsh described some of the people with connections to Toowoomba who were in responsible positions within the government and judiciary at the time the gas project was proposed, and then steered through the approval process.

During these years, too, Bruce Lehrmann began working for the Liberal National Party (LNP) — as mentioned in his parting speech by Attorney-General George Brandis in 2017, as the Senator resigned and then headed to London to take up the UK High Commissioner role.

Complaints concerning the gas project approval – aired on the Four Corners 'Gas Leak!' program – were made to Queensland’s Crime and Misconduct Commission (CMC) in February 2013. The CMC dismissed those complaints, but without releasing a report, which has yet to be explained. Tracing history shows this was a crucial time to protect Australia’s environmental and financial interests, which were then under threat from Big Gas.

This brings us up to the present moment, and how Simone Marsh responded to people asking about Lehrmann’s mysterious support network. She says we should take a look at his Queensland and, specifically, Toowoomba connections.

In February this year, when former Queensland Court of Appeal Judge Walter Sofronoff was challenged about his inquiry into the Bruce Lehrmann aborted rape trial, Marsh’s head appeared above the parapet with this tweet:

Then, another Marsh flag appeared, with another surprising reference:

Again, there’s more on this in a 2017 article, 'The Great Gas Con'.

And Simone’s response to a tweet (see above) about the Sofronoff-inspired articles in The Australian written by Janet Albrechtsen with that nudge from Hedley Thomas:

'Thomas, his family and connections were key players during the CSG-LNG entry period. Could this be the motive? Perhaps Lehrmann knows too much?'

Influence is not necessarily wrongdoing.

And yet, Marsh’s patient analysis of the nebulous Queensland/Toowoomba network of power and money that led to fateful government business decisions, which can appear dizzyingly complex, does resonate. Surely, now, this week, the idea that this is how things sometimes happen is not entirely fanciful.

Rosemary Sorensen was a newspaper, books and arts journalist based in Melbourne, then Brisbane, before moving to regional Victoria, where she founded the Bendigo Writers Festival, which she directed for 13 years.

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