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The Canberra Times
The Canberra Times
Jasper Lindell

'What a coincidence!': Barr fizzes with frustration at media over inquiry leaks

Chief Minister Andrew Barr, left, and Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury on Monday. Picture by Karleen Minney

Chief Minister Andrew Barr had a moment of levity in his otherwise testy press conference announcing the release of the Sofronoff report on Monday.

Asked whether he accepted The Australian had managed to get a second, non-embargoed copy of the report after already accepting an embargoed copy from the inquiry itself, Mr Barr smiled to himself.

"I am reminded of the film Muriel's Wedding when Bill Heslop says, 'Deirdre Chambers, what a coincidence'," he said.

"What a coincidence."

In his most fiery press conference appearance this year, Mr Barr's careful language masked a frustration bordering on fury at the media.

It was not hard to see the deep reserve of anger Mr Barr had for the way the whole, drawn-out process - from trial, to post-trial aftermath, to board of inquiry - had been covered.

Walter Sofronoff KC had breached his confidence, Mr Barr said, and, troublingly, had briefed journalists on issues before they came up at public hearings.

"That was all news to me," Mr Barr said. "I found out after I had been provided with a report that it had already been provided elsewhere."

Journalists attend a press conference on Monday where Mr Barr and Mr Rattenbury announced the release of the board of inquiry report. Picture by Karleen Minney

For him, the media's interference and involvement meant the inquiry that should have "drawn a line under this matter" had been tainted. His frustration on Monday afternoon was a reminder of his previously expressed hatred of journalists from half a decade ago.

In Mr Barr's mind, if it wasn't for the media, the government would have had a month to properly consider the report and release its response - all within the legislated time frame.

"I remain extremely disappointed that this has occurred, this action and the subsequent reporting that has followed, which has interfered with the due process that should have been afforded to impacted parties," he said.

Mr Barr said: "Unfortunately, whilst the recommendations I believe are sound and we have accepted them the whole process - the leaking, his engagement with journalists on the way through - leaves in the minds of many people questions - significant questions - and it is just so disappointing."

And what was Mr Sofronoff's explanation? The former Queensland solicitor-general had advised, Mr Barr said, he had learned in his years of experience to identify which journalists were ethical and which ones would not "take the serious step of betraying his trust".

Mr Barr read out part of Mr Sofronoff's reasoning in a state of bewilderment - or perhaps incredulity.

The Australian and the ABC were given the report on an embargoed basis, Mr Sofronoff told the Chief Minister, and only after assuring him they would not publish any of its findings until the government released it formally.

Mr Barr indicated it would have been a significant coincidence for The Australian to have been provided a second, non-embargoed copy after Mr Sofronoff had confirmed the newspaper had already been provided a copy by him.

"Well, I'm sure Mr Sofronoff is not the first person who has had their confidences breached by that media outlet," Mr Barr said.

What a coincidence, indeed.

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