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Thursday, 18 March 2010
Page: 3038

Mr BRADBURY (10:25 AM) —I wish to add my congratulations to the committee for the work that it has done to try to remedy the situation that led to one of the lowest acts in our democratic history. The events that occurred in the 2007 election in the electorate of Lindsay, where I was the Labor candidate contesting the seat, represented one of the worst examples of a group of individuals seeking to stoop to new lows in trying to use issues of race, ethnicity and religion to divide our community. The one redeeming grace in this whole episode is that the culprits were caught. There will be arguments about the extent to which the individuals that might have been responsible were ultimately prosecuted. I do not wish to engage in any of those. The point remains that had those individuals not been caught red handed as they were then their activities would have gone on without the public scrutiny that has occurred. It was on the basis that those individuals believed that they would be able to do that without getting caught that they engaged in those activities.

The recommendations that the committee has brought forward will be significant because of the way in which they have increased the penalties and changed the nature of the offence so that it is a strict liability offence. Many people would find it very difficult to believe that seasoned campaign professionals, as some of the individuals involved were, could participate in the distribution of materials of this sort and then be exonerated on the basis that they did not understand or know that the material was distributed. These proposals are not just targeted at the seasoned campaign professional; they are targeted at all individuals. The act of distributing material in a political and campaign context is an act that should always attract some degree of caution and obligation on the part of the person who is distributing that material. Clearly these proposals will go some way towards requiring that of individuals.

The previous penalties were clearly inadequate—$1,000 for an individual or $5,000 for a body corporate—for someone guilty of being in breach of section 328 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act. These proposals would increase those penalties to a maximum penalty of 60 penalty units or $6,600 for an individual and 300 penalty units or $33,000 for a body corporate. Significantly, as I mentioned earlier, this offence will be one of strict liability.

Clearly people in communities should have an expectation, which should be realised and adhered to by those of us involved in political campaigns, that material that is distributed is not of the nature of the material that was distributed in this case. It was material that was factually incorrect, material that was racially and religiously motivated and material that was by its nature deeply divisive and intended to cause and incite division.

It is instructive to reflect upon the contents of the pamphlet because so much commentary and discussion has occurred about the pamphlet that we have sometimes moved a little further away from the text than perhaps we should. The pamphlet itself has logos of the Australian Labor Party. It is clearly purporting to be a document distributed by the Australian Labor Party. It is headed, ‘The Islamic-Australia Federation’. I will not quote all of the contents but I will focus on a couple of the elements contained in that leaflet.

In the upcoming Federal election we strongly support the ALP as our preferred party to govern this country and urge all other Muslims to do the same.

It goes on:

The leading role of the ALP in supporting our faith at both State and Local government levels has been exceptional and we look forward to further support when Kevin Rudd leads this country.

I think it is worth making the point that I was the Labor candidate at that election and had been a long-serving member of the local council. So, clearly, there was an implication here that, as the Labor candidate and someone who had been involved in local government, I was being drawn in personally to the comment being made. If we go on, the leaflet reads:

We gratefully acknowledge Labors support to forgive our Muslim brothers who have been unjustly sentenced to death for the Bali bombings.

What a disgraceful suggestion. What a disgraceful comment to make. Anyone who had any basic sense of morality or understanding of the need for tolerance in our community would agree that to tell a bald-faced lie of that nature, which was clearly intended to be very divisive and to reflect poorly upon the Australian Labor Party, was disgraceful. We all know it was untrue. We all know that the Australian Labor Party and members of the party were as dismayed, disgusted and appalled by the events surrounding the Bali bombings as any other Australian. The suggestion here that somehow the Australian Labor Party was forgiving of the individuals involved was clearly designed to push certain buttons within the community and create division over this particular issue. The pamphlet goes on to say:

Labor supports our new Mosque construction and we hope, with the support and funding by Local and State governments, to open our new Mosque in St Marys soon.

Well, there is no existing mosque, there is no new mosque and, as far as I am aware, there is no proposed mosque. Once again, this was a bald-faced lie and an attempt to create division within the community.

The pamphlet goes on, but I do not wish to quote any further from it other than to make the point—a point that is beyond contention, and I acknowledge that those on the other side do accept that this is the case—that the comments that were contained within that pamphlet were clearly factually incorrect. And I think that, as to the motivations of those who penned these comments, we all agree that the comments were intended to incite division and racial and religious disharmony.

This has been an exhaustive process and I do commend the committee for their involvement. But I wish to focus in on some of the unanswered questions that I have an interest in having answered and which I think many members of my community also have an interest in getting to the truth on. I wish to raise a matter that I have raised previously in the House. I have raised the matter to try and seek clarification and answers to my questions but, up to this point, those questions have not been answered.

By way of background, I refer to an article that appeared in the Sunday Mail on 9 December 2007 written by Glenn Milne. It says:

SENIOR Liberals have sought to link Tony Abbott to the “race leaflet” row that helped cost the former government the election.

The article goes on:

According to senior Liberal sources, it was Mr Abbott who advised the former Liberal MP for Lindsay, Jackie Kelly, to defend the leaflet as “a Chaser-style stunt”.

The article goes on a little later to quote Mr Abbott as saying:

“Jackie’s a great mate—

that is, Jackie Kelly, the former member for Lindsay, is a ‘great mate’—

of mine and the Warringah Conference—

the article notes that to be ‘Mr Abbott’s fundraising arm’—

bankrolled the Lindsay campaign.

The questions that I have asked and which still remain unanswered are: who paid for the printing of these pamphlets? Where were these pamphlets printed? Were they printed using either taxpayer funds—which I think would be an outrage—or alternatively funds that were provided by the Leader of the Opposition’s fundraising arm, as this particular article states? As I understand it, the quote that I have just read was attributed to the Leader of the Opposition. I am not aware of any statement that he has made to distance himself from the financing of the Lindsay campaign, but the question remains: were any of the funds that were raised by his fundraising arm used to print this pamphlet? I do not think it is too much to ask the question and expect that someone who is putting themselves forward as the alternative Prime Minister will answer that question. That is the first question.

One of the other questions that arise from this particular report, as appendix I of the report indicates, is about the bogus pamphlet against the ALP that was distributed in Greenway in the 2004 election. It had some remarkably similar themes in it. In the 2004 election there was a bogus pamphlet distributed—and a copy of this is enclosed as an appendix—where a picture of Ed Husic, who was the Labor candidate for Greenway in the election, appears. The banner sitting underneath the picture says: ‘Ed Husic, Labor candidate for Greenway.’ Then there are some very simple dot points. The pamphlet reads: ‘Ed Husic is a devout Muslim. Ed is working hard to get a better deal for Islam in Greenway.’ We still do not know who printed this pamphlet. In this particular case, the distributors of the pamphlet were not caught red-handed in the early hours of the morning in some sort of almost SWAT-style operation. That is what it took, unfortunately, to uncover the activities in the Lindsay campaign in 2007. So we have this pamphlet. It seems to me that there is a clear pattern here. We might not know who did it, but I think the Australian people have enough circumstantial evidence to draw their own inferences as to what occurred there.

As far as I am aware, the current member for Greenway has not sought to dispute whether the local Liberal campaign had any involvement in this particular leaflet. I am certainly not coming into this place to make an accusation of that sort, but I think it would be helpful for the member for Greenway to clarify her position and to rule out any involvement on the part of those individuals that were working on her campaign in this particular episode.

All in all, I think that the measures that are being proposed are good ones. I dearly hope that they are able to ensure that in the future these sorts of activities are not undertaken. If, at the end of the day, there are people who are not prepared to allow their own moral compass to stop them from engaging in activities of this sort then it is the role of the state to put in place penalties that might discourage those individuals from engaging in these activities. I hope the way in which the penalties have been increased and the way in which we now have a strict liability test will weigh heavily on the minds of many individuals, whether or not they are supported by a party organisation, if they are ever considering printing and distributing a pamphlet of this nature. It was an outrage. I come to this place having lived to tell the tale but only because the activities of these individuals were uncovered when they were caught red-handed. It is a shameful episode in our nation’s political history and I think anyone who reads the report that has been handed down by the committee could not help but agree with that conclusion.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Ms AE Burke)—In my role as chair of committees I want to commend the Chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, the member for Banks, and the member for Goldstein for the way the committee has conducted this report and for their statements in the House today. I think it reflects incredibly well on the parliament. I think that, if the public saw the work that went into this, they would have a greater appreciation of our parliamentary standards. I really want to commend the committee for the work done on what would, in some respects, have been a fairly difficult report. Congratulations on that.

Debate (on motion by Mr Chester) adjourned.