May 20, 2004 | Jeff Wall

Politicians and “stopper writs” – risky politics!

THE front page of today’s Adelaide Advertiser carries this headline, with accompanying colour photograph – “Travel rorts scandal engulfs Liberal MP”.
The story is carried by just about every newspaper in Australia today, but The Advertiser story could hardly be more unfavourable for the Liberal MP concerned – Trish Draper, MP for the marginal SA seat of Makin.
On Sunday, Ms Draper obtained an injunction against Channel Seven’s Today Tonight program to prevent it running a story on a taxpayer funded overseas trip she made with her then “boyfriend”.
If Ms Draper, or the South Australian Liberal Party officials who apparently “advised” her, believed that this action would end the matter they should give politics away, and take up an occupation more suited to their naivety and incompetence – perhaps market gardening or commercial tatting!
A story which would probably have been a one day wonder, damaging though it might be, has become a scandal that threatens to engulf not only Ms Draper, but also the Special Minister of State, Senator Eric Abetz. The Prime Minister has also been dragged in, offering total support for Ms Draper, something he may regret.
There are two issues here. Firstly, the overseas travel by politicians matter, and then the wisdom of politicians seeking to use court injunctions to “block” the media from writing about them.
On the latter, the stupidity of the MP and her advisors is surely revealed by the fact that, even though the injunction remains in place, the real reason for her panic is now out in the open.
Clearly, Ms Draper had two concerns. Firstly, the legitimacy of taxpayers funding an overseas trip by an MP with a non-live in boyfriend, and, secondly, questions about the character of the gentleman concerned.
The fact that he is a “person of interest” to the Police is now well known.
But the real political damage lies is the unqualified declaration by Senator Abetz that the boyfriend was entitled to taxpayer funded travel under parliamentary rules.
Wrong, or so it now seems. The Advertiser has received written advice from the Remuneration Tribunal that the definition of spouse does not include a non-live in partner or boyfriend/girlfriend.
Senator Abetz claimed the travel was legitimate because of “modern domestic relationships”. Belonging as he does to the “moral right”, that is an usual comment for Senator Abetz to make.
Federal Members and Senators from all parties may well blame Senators Brandis and Mason and Ms Draper (and Senator Abetz) if the overseas travel issue now sinks their collective standing even further.
In truth it is a time bomb that was always going to explode.

Posted by Jeff Wall at 9:35 am | Comments (1) |
Filed under: Uncategorized

1 Comment

  1. Though not being a lawyer (and I’d welcome comments from legal types out there), I have to say I’m more than a little confused as to how she managed to get the “stopper writ”.
    I seem to recall a politician (Theophanus from Victoria) trying to sue a newspaper for printing true things about him that he didn’t want printed, which resulted in a 1994 landmark ruling from the High Court of Australia declaring that the constitution implied a right to free speech on political matters. From what I’ve dug up in a google search, the ruling went as far to spell out that:
    “There is implied in the Commonwealth Constitution a freedom to publish material:
        (a) discussing government and political matters;
        (b) of and concerning members of the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia which relates to the performance by such members of their duties as members of the Parliament or parliamentary committees;
        (c) in relation to the suitability of persons for office as members of the Parliament.”
    Seems to me that Ms Draper shouldn’t have had a leg to stand on… or am I terribly misled here?

    Comment by Brendan Bouffler — May 20, 2004 @ 7:10 pm

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