Councillor Keith Hughes
PO Box 915
Bega NSW 2550
Dear Mr Thompson,
Thankyou for inviting me (your letter dated 12 December 2006) to respond to the Privileges Committee inquiry into the April Fools Day (woodchipping) prank.
Please place my response and the attached document – a copy of the document tabled by Mr Nairn which is the basis of his complaint relating to me – before the Committee.
1. Response to the summary of evidence
I became aware of the reaction of the Hon Gary Nairn MP following media reports of his tabling of the documents he objected to. In so raising the complaint, Mr Nairn effectively published the “offending” documents.
On 7 September 2005, I was paid a visit at home by two officers of the Australian Federal Police (AFP) because they said the April 1 faxes of the prank media release heralding a new vision for a fully simulated native forest woodchipping industry sent to The Eden Magnet, ABC Radio South East NSW and Radio 2EC were transmitted via my Council phone line. Those calls were not at ratepayers’ expense.
I informed the AFP officers I would neither confirm nor deny whether I knew the provenance of the media statement.
The AFP officers also showed me a copy of the letter and envelope which had been posted to Mr Bruce Mathie informing him of the rescission of a previously announced government grant for logging equipment.
I knew the documents – the prank media release and letter - had been created when Mr Nairn tabled them.
I told the AFP officers that I believed the documents were April Fools pranks because of the contents of the documents and because they were dated April 1.
My attempts to explain why the contents were funny didn’t seem to make much headway.
Nevertheless I thought it reasonably conclusive that the envelope containing the letter to Mr Mathie dated April first had been date stamped by Australia Post in Bega on March 31.
2. Woodchipping: The ongoing woodchipping of Australia’s remaining native forests is a national disgrace. Last year the company – South East Fibre Exports Pty Ltd – owning and operating the woodchip mill last year boasted of its highest ever annual sales of export woodchips: one million tonnes of woodchips – almost all from native forests.
The regulatory framework allowing such intensive logging is an indictment of the political system which promotes the conversion of countless trees and vast swathes of native forests to woodchips.
Scientists have been unequivocally informing us for many years of the consequent destruction of native forests and the adverse environmental impacts including soil, water, habitat and carbon emissions.
3. Porkbarrelling: To add economic injury to the environmental insults, governments prop up this pariah industry with a range of taxpayer funded subsidies.
Among the most egregious – although far from the largest - of these subsidies are structural adjustment grants which provide generous taxpayer funded handouts to individual logging companies to help them further mechanise their already capital intensive operations.
In March 2005, Mr Nairn announced through local media outlets a further round of woodchipping corporate welfare.
4. The tradition of April the first pranks is enjoyed in many cultures and countries.
Like satire, some jokes convey an underlying message. For professional comedians and cartoonists, successful humour may carry a financial gain but no such potential reward is evident in this case.
Even if the parody of a porkbarrelling media release touches a raw nerve, it is best understood as an attempt to leaven with humour an exercise of public participation in the political process for an issue whose consideration is usually rather grim.
The prank media release contained Mr Nairn’s office contact details so any media outlets interested in following up the story would – if they hadn’t already surmised – have been informed that Mr Nairn was not its real source.
As far as I am aware no media outlets ran the story as an announcement by Mr Nairn in April 2005.
5. Abuse of privilege: In his complaint to Parliament which preceded the initiation of this inquiry, Mr Nairn falsely asserted that the documents he tabled were fraudulent.
This is manifestly wrong because whoever created and/or transmitted the joke could not conceivably have gained any financial advantage from the prank.
I believe Mr Nairn also misled Parliament by omitting his knowledge of the April first link.
In the interests of good government may I suggest that Mr Nairn be censured for using his position – and, consequently, public funds - in an attempt to harass people holding views different to his own?
Mr Nairn’s complaint demonstrates a prejudicial and misleading account of the April first prank. Will the Committee require Mr Nairn to apologise for misleading Parliament and wasting public funds?
6. Doctrine of separation of powers
Mr Nairn’s referred his complaint to the Australian Federal Police as well as to the Privileges Committee.
It was readily established that there was no fraud.
Further investigation of possible offences other than fraud involved the execution of a search warrant and the confiscation of computers. The results were forwarded by the AFP to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) who declined to prosecute. It is evident that the DPP found there was no case to answer.
In effect, the Judiciary had determined that no indictable offence arose from the April first prank.
But it appears that is not good enough for the Privileges Committee which is pressing on with its inquiry.
I note that I have not even been provided by the Committee with the documents and transcripts of evidence taken. Rather, as prejudicial as possible a summary has been prepared without any opportunity for me to see let alone challenge or cross-examine the material which could provide the basis of the Committee’s deliberations, conclusions and recommendations.
In particular, the fact that the DPP found no case to answer is not mentioned in the summary of evidence to the Committee which has the power to recommend substantial custodial or financial penalties.
Is the Committee contemplating what amounts to a judicial function but without the rules of evidence necessary for properly constituted judicial processes?
I hope that the Committee will dismiss the complaint and take the opportunity to warn off any other Member who may diminish the reputation and standing of Parliament by referring frivolous complaints to the Committee thereby improperly using Parliamentary procedures to harass or intimidate constituents for political purposes.
I am willing to consider giving evidence before the Committee if I am furnished with a complete set of the documents and transcripts of evidence taken by the Committee on the inquiry and further request that you forward the arrangements for my appearance and attendance including an undertaking that any hearing I appear before will be open to the public rather than being held in camera.