PO Box 915
Bega NSW 2550
12 April 2007
Mr C. Thompson
Canberra ACT 2600
Dear Mr Thompson
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the draft report of the Privileges Committee into the April Fool’s Day matter.
While I do not dispute its broad conclusions, I do dispute the basic premises from which the Committee operates, some facts in the report and the selectivity with which some other facts are presented.
The report does not 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 evidence, 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 about what actually happened. To correct this, I am requesting that a link to the website: http://www.chipstop.forests.org.au/april_fools_day.htm be included in the report. Further, I note that at the Committee hearing on March 22 I was not invited to make a closing statement. In these circumstances I am now requesting that a statement by me be included with the Committee report when it is tabled in Parliament.
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 you gave me a fair hearing. However, I don’t believe you have given 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 Mr 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 recall things differently. I am not known for my admiration of loggers, but I believe in fairness to Mr Mathie, the Committee ought to ask him directly whether or not he was an April Fool, and not take Mr Nairn’s word for it.
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.”
Poking borak at a politician might be construed as “improperly interfering with the …free performance by a member of the member’s duties as a member” in so far as it might prevent the true virtue, honour and worth of the member from shining through to a skeptical public; or in some circumstances stripping away the trumpery that conceals the hypocrisy and venality of the member. Of course, I am not suggesting either of these happened in this instance, but to interpret Clause 4. so widely makes it virtually meaningless. Anything that annoys a politician would be contempt.
The report says that “misuse [of a politician’s letterhead or signature] would be regarded by the community as a very serious matter.” I also dispute that. I don’t think many members of the community would see it as anything other than a joke. Moreover, it is quite unwarranted to invoke an assumed public opinion about a matter the public knows nothing about and probably cares even less.
You can’t find me guilty of a contempt of Parliament if there hasn’t been any damage done. The report asserts that there has been damage, but again, we only have Mr Nairn’s word for that. There is no evidence from Mr Mathie or unbiased evidence from anyone else to show that there was damage. I propose that no evidence is possible because there was no damage. If anything, my activities have probably brought Mr Nairn and Mr Mathie closer together. They have bonded against a common adversary, me.
The matter was a joke. Mr Nairn might not like it. I probably would not like it if the boot were on the other foot, but I would take it on the chin and move on. I would not waste police time and resources and abuse the processes of the Parliament to exact a petty revenge on a political opponent who only wants to save the far south coast from the ravages of woodchipping...
Gary Nairn is the Minister who bankrolls his colleagues to spam their constituents with the tens of millions of dollars worth of junk mail per year. He should not be surprised if, occasionally, one of his constituents strikes back and uses some of his spam to satirize his Government’s policies.
Mr Nairn misled the Parliament on 10 August 2005 by omitting the important fact that the material which so offended him was dated April Fools Day and thus also misled the Committee. His media statement the following day also omitted this important fact. Arguably, that makes his statements to the House and to the media, contempts of the Parliament.
Lies about Logging
Similarly, while it not a matter 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; 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, and was the “A-Team” which operated in Victoria for some years.
Jokes and Satire
To my mind, the best jokes tap into human vanity and greed. I am satisfied that this one did both.
I don’t apologise for it and I can give no undertakings about not doing something similar again, provided I can think of a good enough joke.
During the hearing, Mr Randall stated that because money was involved, there could be no joke. One European website http://members.chello.nl/m.jong9/map15/law.html estimates that two thirds of the best jokes are on the subject of money and greed.
In my earlier submissions I warned the Committee that it could end up looking very silly if it pursued this matter. I still believe it is not too late to avoid that ignominious fate. I attach as an appendix an extract from Wikipedia on the subject of “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” Politicians live in a very rarified atmosphere and I invite you to reflect on this tale.
Many years ago there lived an emperor who was quite an average fairy tale ruler, with one exception: he cared much about his clothes. One day he heard from two swindlers named Guido and Luigi Farabutto that they could make the finest suit of clothes from the most beautiful cloth. This cloth, they said, also had the special capability that it was invisible to anyone who was either stupid or not fit for his position.
Being a bit nervous about whether he himself would be able to see the cloth, the emperor first sent two of his trusted men to see it. Of course, neither would admit that they could not see the cloth and so praised it. All the townspeople had also heard of the cloth and were interested to learn how stupid their neighbors were.
The emperor then allowed himself to be dressed in the clothes for a procession through town, never admitting that he was too unfit and stupid to see what he was wearing. He was afraid that the other people would think that he was stupid.
Of course, all the townspeople wildly praised the magnificent clothes of the emperor, afraid to admit that they could not see them, until a small child said:
"But he has nothing on!"
This was whispered from person to person until everyone in the crowd was shouting that the emperor had nothing on. The emperor heard it and felt that they were correct, but held his head high and finished the procession.
This story of the little boy puncturing the pretensions of the emperor's court has parallels from other cultures, categorized as Aarne-Thompson folktale type 1620, although the tale itself has no identified oral sources.
The expressions The Emperor's new clothes and The Emperor has no clothes are often used with allusion to Andersen's tale. Most frequently, the metaphor involves a situation wherein the overwhelming (usually unempowered) majority of observers willingly share in a collective ignorance of an obvious fact, despite individually recognizing the absurdity. A similar twentieth-century metaphor is the Elephant in the room. A metaphor of the opposite, in which each individual insists on his or her own perspective in spite of the evidence of others, is shown in the various versions of the Blind Men and an Elephant story.
The story is also used to express a concept of "truth seen by the eyes of a child", an idea that truth is often spoken by a person too naïve to understand group pressures to see contrary to the obvious. This is a general theme of "purity within innocence" throughout Andersen's fables and many similar works of literature.
"The Emperor Wears No Clothes" or "The Emperor Has No Clothes" is often used in political and social contexts for any obvious truth denied by the majority despite the evidence of their eyes, especially when proclaimed by the government.