It’s official. The Parliament has decided on a formal slap on the wrist for a forest activist who played an April Fools Day joke on her local MP.

After two years of inquiries involving the Minister for Justice, the Australian Federal Police, the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Parliamentary Privileges Committee and finally, the full House of Representatives, the activist, Ms Harriett Swift of Bega has been found guilty of a contempt of Parliament and warned that she mustn’t do it again.

The House of Representatives made its decision last Thursday (14 June07).

The Member for Eden-Monaro, Mr Gary Nairn, who is also Special Minister of State, took exception to the joke which satirised a Commonwealth Government program to give cash grants to loggers of hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy new machines.

On April Fools Day 2005 Ms Swift wrote a prank letter canceling a grant to a local logging company which the previous week had been told by Mr Nairn that he would receive $165,000 towards a new mechanical harvester. The logging company, Bruce Mathie and Sons had already received $200,000 for the same purpose.

Ms Swift says it is outrageous that these private companies should receive such huge amounts of taxpayers’ cash, especially for machines which actually put workers out of a job.

“It was especially bad in this instance since the logging company in question does not even appear to own the mechanical harvester it was funded to buy,” she says.

She also disputes that she has committed a breach of privilege: “If poking borak at a politician is construed as “improperly interfering with the …free performance by a member of the member’s duties as a member” then anything that annoys a politician would be contempt,” she says.

Ms Swift says that Mr Nairn has abused his position, misled the Parliament, and wasted taxpayers money and police resources as a payback for his wounded dignity.
”Mr Nairn was told by police almost immediately that no offence had been committed but he continued to harass me in this wasteful way.”
”I am convinced that his aim was to frighten me and to stop me campaigning against woodchipping.
”Well, it didn’t work. I am more determined than ever to work against this dreadful industry.”
Ms Swift has refused to give either the AFP or the Privileges Committee any assurance that she will not play similar tricks again.

The report was tabled in Parliament

The full story
17 June 2007
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