PO Box 915
Bega NSW 2550
20 June 2007
The Hon David Hawker
House of Representatives
Canberra ACT 2600
Dear Mr Speaker
REQUEST: CITIZEN’S RIGHT OF REPLY
I wish to exercise my citizen’s right of reply in relation to some statements made during debate on the House of Representatives Privileges Committee report: “Allegation of documents fraudulently and inaccurately written and issued in a Member’s name” on 14 June 2007.
My request is in two sections:
A. Request for corrections to comments made on 14 June 2007 by Committee members and the Hon Gary Nairn during the House of Representatives debate on that report on 14 June 2007.
B.Requests relating to the report itself.
A. COMMENTS ON STATEMENTS MADE BY COMMITTEE MEMBERS AND THE HON GARY NAIRN DURING THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES DEBATE ON THAT REPORT ON 14 JUNE 2007.
The police evidence made it very clear (and committee members and Mr Nairn were all aware of this) that no offence had been committed. Accordingly, I want the record corrected that there was no forgery, fraud or other illegal act committed. The report does not state that there was, although it did retain the misnomer “fraudulently” in its terms of reference even after it became aware that no fraud had occurred.
2. I did not break the law. Mr Thompson, the chair of the Committee delivered a speech which was technically correct and a fair representation of what was in the report. However, all other members of the committee who spoke as well as Mr Nairn misrepresented the report in their speeches on 14 June by stating or implying that I had broken the law. The report did not find that I had broken any law. It found me guilty of a contempt of Parliament which is quite a different thing. I want the record corrected on this.
B. REQUESTS RELATING TO THE REPORT ITSELF.
The Committee requested a statement from me for inclusion in the report, but did not publish the statement I supplied. The following summarises that statement:
1. General. The subject of this report is an April Fools Day joke. It aimed to satirise a scheme of Government grants to give taxpayers’ cash to subsidise loggers to turn trees, often hundreds of years old – into woodchips.
Loggers have received millions of dollars from the taxpayer to buy machines which make the industry ever more capital intensive and put workers out of a job.
I do not dispute the committee’s broad version of the events that occurred, but I do dispute the basic premises from which it has operated, some facts in the report and the selectivity with which some other facts are presented.
2. April Fools. I have no complaints about my treatment by the committee at the hearing on March 22 (other than not being given the chance to make a closing statement). I believe it gave me a fair hearing. However, I don’t believe it gave Mr Phil Mathie, the logger, a fair hearing.
According to the draft report, the only person who was actually tricked as an April Fool was Mr Mathie. Nobody else admits to having been tricked. However, this is solely on the word of the Hon. Gary Nairn, who says that Mr Mathie was tricked. We have only his word for it and in the interests of natural justice, I believe that Mr Mathie should have been able to tell the Committee in person whether or not he was an April Fool. If asked directly, Mr Mathie may well have recalled things differently. I am not known for my admiration of loggers, but I believe in fairness to Mr Mathie, the Committee ought to have asked him directly whether or not he was an April Fool, rather than take Mr Nairn’s word for it.
3. Contempt. I dispute that my conduct amounted to “an improper interference with the free exercise by a House or a Committee of its authority or functions, or with the free performance by a member of the member’s duties as a member.” That is a very warped and grandiose interpretation of what began and ended as an April Fools Day prank.
If this becomes a precedent, poking borak at a politician or anything else that annoys a politician would be contempt.
3. Language. The Committee has failed to acknowledge that its title “Inquiry into allegations of documents fraudulently and inaccurately written in the name of a Member” is a misnomer. There was no fraud, a fact confirmed by the police, so there were no documents fraudulently …. written in anybody’s name. Similarly, the question of “inaccuracy” is spurious when the material is satire.
The report is drafted in very loaded language, using wording such as “admission,” “potentially a criminal offence” and so on. This, in the absence of much detail on what the inquiry was actually about gives the reader quite a pejorative impression. The website: http://www.chipstop.forests.org.au/april_fools_day.htm provides the missing context for the matters covered in the report.
4. Lies about Logging. While it is not directly relevant to the question of Parliamentary Privilege, the logging industry itself is a notorious purveyor of false information about the environment and environmentalists (e.g.; logging is good for the climate; woodchipping is sustainable; no animals are harmed, conservationists are terrorists and so on). It does this routinely, 365 days a year with a very large budget, much of it sourced from the taxpayer. It sets up front organizations purporting to be community based groups which are actually bankrolled by the logging industry and operate in the interests of the logging industry. Timber Communities Australia is an obvious example, as was the “A-Team” which operated in Victoria for some years.
5. Jokes and Satire. To my mind, the best jokes tap into human vanity and greed. I am satisfied that this one did both.
I have not apologised for it and I have given no undertakings about not doing something similar again, provided I can think of a good enough joke.
I would be grateful if my corrections could be recorded. Thank you.