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The April Fool
The Background
The Joke
Gary Nairnís Response
The loggers
The last straw
The law
The Police
The Privileges Committee

What the Committee said to us and we said to them

Harriett's response to the draft Committee Report
The Committee Report
Request for "Citizens Right of Reply"
"Catch-22 - the Privileges Committee decides

AFP spend $66,000 in pursuit of the joker

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, CHIPSTOP convener, Harriett Swift has been found guilty of a contempt of Parliament and warned that she mustnít do it again.
The Committee backed off imposing a jail sentence or fine.

John Howard's Special Minister of State, Gary Nairn caused the AFP to spend $66,000 in their futile inquiry.
Mr Nairn at first sooled the Australian Federal Police
onto his constituents over the joke, intended to draw attention to Commonwealth Government cash handouts to loggers. This drew a blank for Mr Nairn when the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions decided not to prosecute, but he never gave up.....  
 


April 1st 2005 hoax letter from Gary Nairn to Bruce Mathie and Sons
April 1st 2005 hoax Media Statement by Gary Nairn
Gary Nairn Media statement March 2005
Criminal Code Act extract

Gary Nairn Hansard extract
Cr Keith Hughes Media Statement
11.9.05
Harriett's response to the Privileges Committee
Keith's response to the Privileges Committee
Harriett's final response to the Committee

Statement for incorporation in Committee Report
Parliamentary Privileges Act

The Committee Report
Media Statement on Parliament's decision

"Nasty woodchip prank" 2016 upsets
 Bega District News.

The offending "prank"                      

Bega District News Editorial

Hon Gary Nairn MP chats with a logger. Note that the logger has had the good sense to keep his ear muffs on. This photograph was originally published in Gary Nairn's own newspaper advertising insert.

The April Fool

Special Minister of State, Gary Nairn was so annoyed by the joke that he called in the Australian Federal Police as well as referring the matter to the Parliamentary Privileges Committee.

He has used the AFP as his political enforcers at enormous cost to the taxpayer.

Following Mr Nairn's complaint, AFP advised Bega based forest campaigner, Ms Harriett Swift that they wanted her charged with offences which carry a possible 5 year jail sentence. After the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions declined to prosecute over the joke, the matter was taken up by the Parliamentary Privileges Committee.

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Background

As Member of Eden-Monaro, the electorate which contains the Eden chipmill and all the SE NSW cut for woodchips, Gary Nairn has been a long time supporter of the woodchipping industry.
About a week before April Fools Day 2005, he announced $696,603 of federal Government cash grants to some local logging contractors, including $165,400 to Bruce Mathie and Sons for a mechanical harvester. (Each mechanical harvester, incidentally puts 4 loggers out of work).
He also announced that
Eden Logging Investigation and Training Team in association with South East Timber Association would get $106,250 to help buy a ďmechanical harvesting simulatorĒ to help train loggers. In Gary Nairn's first speech to Parliament in 1996 he called for more woodchipping and has maintained his strong support for the industry ever since.
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The Joke

On April Fool's Day 2005, someone purporting to be Gary Nairn wrote to Mathie, canceling the grant, saying that this type of pork barreling was getting the government a bad press and with a parliamentary committee inquiry going on into the Community Partnerships Program, the Government had decided to rescind Mathie's grant. If he had any queries, he should ring Mr Nairn. In an agitated state at the thought of $165,000 slipping through his fingers, Mr Mathie did so, but only after referring the matter to his accountant.

There was also a hoax media statement along similar lines suggesting that the announced subsidy for the ďharvesting simulatorĒ had been so well received that Mr Nairn was proposing that the entire industry be put on a simulated basis.
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Gary Nairnís Response

On August 10th 2005, Mr Nairn raised the matter in the House of Representatives, tabled the offending material and referred the matter to the Parliamentary Privileges Committee without mentioning, incidentally that the deed was done on April Fools Day.
In September, a couple of AFP officers visited the far south coast and questioned Greens Councillor Keith Hughes, who gave them a wink, but declared he would neither confirm nor deny whether he knew the identity of the joker. Both he and Harriett Swift declined an AFP invitation to provide them with a formal statement.

The legal tack the AFP were taking in 2005 was a possible breach of Section 144.1 (5) and Section 145.1 (5) of the Criminal Code Act 1995. Maximum penalties for these offences are ten years imprisonment.
On 18 August 2006, Gary Nairn, as Special Minister of State announced massive increases in the printing and postage allowances for MPs to bombard their voters with junk mail. How does he think his constituents get hold of his signature and letterhead in the first place?

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The Hon Gary Nairn MP, Special Minister of State

The loggers

Bruce Mathie and Sons have had done well out of the taxpayerís generosity to loggers, having received $365,000 from Mr Nairnís Government over a 2 year period. Nevertheless, the thought of losing $165,000 was enough to panic CEO Phil Mathie, who spent a weekend in a lather after receiving the prank letter.
Coincidentally, the Mathie company was the instigator of a Supreme Court Injunction against 9 Wandella forest blockaders in 2005 and one Director, Gil was lucky to get off an assault
charge over an incident at the Wandella blockade. The Mathie company operates log trucks, chip trucks and logging crews, but we have seen no sign of the mechanical harvester for which it received $365,000 from the taxpayer.
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The last straw

The story may well have ended in 2005, but Mr Nairnís annoyance was reignited on April Fools Day 2006 when someone purporting to be him wrote to the Secretary of the Privileges Committee, complaining that the inquiry was taking too long. That got a decisive result, a search warrant and a further AFP visit to the south coast on 8 June and the seizure of computers used by Keith Hughes and Chipstop Convenor Harriett Swift. The AFP also took some files.

The AFP  told Ms Swift that they had recommended to the DPP that she should be charged with offences under the Criminal Code Act.

When this failed and the DPP refused to prosecute, Mr Nairn pursued his revenge via the Parliamentary Privileges Committee.

 


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The law

The Parliamentary Privileges Act allows a committee of politicians to impose a penalty on a person found guilty of a contempt of Parliament of 6 months in jail or $5,000 or a slap over the wrist.
"A House may give such directions and authorise the issue of such warrants as are necessary or convenient for carrying this section into effect," it says. The bad news is that a person in jail as a result of this section cannot expect to get out of jail simply because the Parliament has been prorogued and an election called.

The sections of the Criminal Code Act 1995 recommended by the AFP to the DPP as prospective charges for Harriett Swift were Schedules 471.12 and  474.17. One carries a 2 year penalty, the other 3 years, a possible total of 5 years in prison. These laws are usually applied to people who send death threats, dog turds, pornography and the like through the post.
This was a different legal approach from the previous year, probably brought about when the AFP realised that their earlier approach would not succeed. The course they were pursuing back in September was charges under Section 144.1 (5) and Section 145.1 (5) of the Criminal Code Act 1995. Maximum penalties for those offences are ten years imprisonment.
The April Fools Day defence has not been tested.


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The Police

As a result of Mr Nairnís complaint, AFP officers made 3 trips from Canberra to the Far South Coast. They obtained a search warrant and took away computers, documents and files from the forest activistsí house.
After analysing the contents of the computers and making a fruitless recommendation to the DPP to prosecute,
on 12 October, AFP officers paid another visit to the south coast, returning Harriett Swift's files and backup CDs. Disappointed, they revealed that the DPP had declined to prosecute, but advised against any repeat occurrence in 2007. "We'll get you next time," they warned and even hinted that the Crimes Act would be amended to facilitate this. 
In December 2006 they gave in camera evidence to the Parliamentary Privleges Committee. The cost to the taxpayer as a result of Mr Nairnís abuse of AFP services must be significant.

 

The Privileges Committee

The House of Representatives Privileges Committee has extensive powers and has even jailed people in the past. It can also impose a fine or issue a reprimand. The  Privileges Committee members are: Mr C.P.Thompson (Chair), Ms A.E. Burke (Deputy Chair), Mrs Draper, Mrs Gash, Mr Hartsuyker, Mr Melham, Mr McMullan, Ms Plibersek (nominee of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition), Mr Price, Mr Randall, Mr Somlyay (nominee of the Leader of the House).

Its current and only inquiry since August 2005 has been ďAllegation of documents fraudulently and inaccurately written and issued in a Memberís name.Ē

Incidentally, the chair of this Committee is paid an extra $13,084 per year above the base MP's salary for his efforts. The single aged pension is $12,529.
 

 
What the Committee said to us and we said to them

On December 7, both Keith and Harriett received letters from the Privileges Committee, inviting them to respond to evidence apparently given to the Committee by the AFP. They have been asked to respond by 31 January 2007. Summary of Evidence against Keith  Summary of Evidence against Harriett.

Keith and Harriett both responded, offering to appear before the Committee provided that it is open to the public and provided certain other conditions are met. The Committee then asked Harriett to appear at a secret hearing on 28 February 2007. She refused, unless it was made public, so they have now ordered her to appear at a secret hearing on Thursday 22nd March.
Harriett attended the hearing but has been ordered not to make any public comment about it. If she speaks about her experience there, she is committing a contempt of Parliament. Huh!

The Committee Report

The end? On 31 May, the Parliamentary Privileges Committee tabled its report in Parliament and found Harriett "Guilty" of a contempt of Parliament. Penalty: a rap over the knuckles and a warning not to do it again. Read her statement for incorporation into the Committee report that was censored in the Committee Report.  On 14 June 2007, the full House of Representatives endorsed the Committee recommendations and formally administered the slap on the wrist. Harriett's media statement

 

Citizens Right of Reply
A ďCitizens Right of ReplyĒ can be requested by anyone who believes that a politician has misrepresented them, but it is the Privileges Committee (whose members, she believes, misrepresented her) which decides whether or not to grant it. Harriett's request. The Privileges Committee decides.

Are they trying to upstage the joke?

AFP spends $66,000 in pursuit of the joker
A question on notice by Greens Senator Kerry Nettle has revealed that the AUstralian Federal Police wasted $66,000 of taxpayers money . Hansard report

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