May 28, 2004 | Graham

More Guest Bloggers – Steve Austin v Michael Johnson

I’m told that our “cricket tragic” Prime Minister, undoubtedly with the Draper and Tollner incidents in mind, called tyro MHR Michael Johnson into his office to discuss the “Youth Leadership Forum” that Johnson recently held with special guest Ricky Ponting. It was a seminar with Ponting that students from local schools attended.
A recent report in The Australian suggested that this was actually a Liberal Party fundraiser. There have also been suggestions that the schools who sent students along paid toward the function and effectively made a donation to the Liberal Party.
Below, without comment, is a transcript of an interview by Steve Austin on 612 ABC in Brisbane just after 10:00 a.m. this morning.
Naturally the PM would be concerned about these allegations, not only to protect Ponting’s reputation, but the future of his government. I wonder if he got all of this information from Johnson though?
Austin: Michael Johnson, did any schools pay?
Johnson: No, not at all, not a single penny and I think that Barry (Talk-back caller needs to get his facts right and do a bit of homework and if he had the courtesy of actually calling my office and having a chat about his concerns he would have (inaudible) very different story.
Austin: I’m sorry, he’s a Talkback listener, I mean, give the guy a break. He was responding to media reports or news reports.
Johnson: I’m not sure about that, Steve. I think he was being very assertive and speaking with presumed authority.
Austin: What, you think he was a stooge, he was a set-up, do you?
Johnson: I’m not saying he was a stooge but I’m saying he certainly didn’t have the facts.
Austin: C’mon, the guy is a voter, a taxpayer. Perhaps you’d better clarify the facts for me – did any schools pay?
Johnson: As I said when I first came on, not a single penny was paid by a school.
Austin: What was the nature of the Youth Leadership Forum and then the cocktail party attached to it?
Johnson: Steve, I’m very happy to explain everything.
Austin: Just forgive me, Michael, are you on a speakerphone?
Johnson: Yes, I am, yes.
Austin: Would you mind taking it off speakerphone – it’s a very distracting echo when being broadcast across the S.E. corner of Qld, if you don’t mind.
Johnson: Sure, not a worry. Hello, is that better?
Austin: Much better, thank you.
Johnson: Makes it easier for me. I’m happy to explain it totally. In April I had the opportunity of hosting this Youth Leadership Forum and we had as a special guest the Australian cricket captain, Ricky Ponting and, of course, Gen. Peter Leahy, Chief of the Army, who very kindly opened the Forum for us, and it was an opportunity to bring about 150 kids from the Ryan Electorate to come along and, I guess, be encouraged and be inspired by some of the people that came along. It was entirely a community event, Steve. There was not a single penny asked from the schools or from the students and I think what Sen. Faulkner raised in Senate Estimates is quite deceptive and an act of fraud on his part, not my part.
Austin: so the Youth Leadership Forum wasn’t a fundraiser?
Johnson: Absolutely not.
Austin: What about the cocktail party? Was that a fundraiser?
Johnson: No, the cocktail party was held to assist with off-setting the costs of Ricky Ponting’s appearance fee.
Austin: So that was a fundraiser?
Johnson: It wasn’t a fundraiser – the implication is that it was a fundraiser for my campaign and that was not the case.
Austin: That wasn’t what I said. It was a fundraiser, you raised funds?
Johnson: Oh, I wouldn’t put it in those words at all, Steve.
Austin: You raised funds to pay for Ricky Ponting?
Johnson: There was a function held and this was made very clear to Ricky that because of his substantial appearance fee, we had to recover those costs and that came in a combination of sponsors helping out as well as the invited guests.
Austin: Did you make any profit on the function?
Johnson: No. In fact, we’re in deficit, so any allegations that the Ryan campaign or that the Liberal Party made a benefit out of it, is entirely inaccurate.
Austin: I haven’t said that at all.
Johnson: No, no, I’m saying any allegations made and that was, I think, the clear implication by your caller, Barry, and certainly by Sen. Faulkner, I think it’s a smear on some good working being done. People who, the companies that made a contribution and those who came along to meet Ricky, they, in fact, through their contribution subsidised the Forum. They gave the opportunity of Ryan kids to meet people like Ricky Ponting and to meet people like Steve Bradbury, the Olympic Gold Medallist, all those sort of people.
Austin: Who did people have to make their cheques payable to?
Johnson: Well, the cheques are made payable either to, directly to, catering companies, they were made payable directly to the schools. I mean, we were charged by Centenary State High School for use of the venue so we had to recover costs for that sort of thing.
Austin: That wasn’t what I asked. For the cocktail party, when people signed cheques, who did they make their cheques payable to?
Johnson: Cheques were made payable to me, to the Ryan Liberal campaign, and that’s because I had to pay Ricky Ponting.
Austin: To the Ryan Liberal campaign?
Johnson: Yes, that’s right.
Austin: But you’ve just told me that they weren’t for the Ryan campaign?
Johnson: Well, the funds – I mean, Steve, I think it’s quite simple to explain. Ricky Ponting asked for an appearance fee to appear. He was the only guest of those who very generously gave their time and to provide the opportunity for Ryan students to be inspired and to meet someone such as the Australian cricket captain –
Austin: You’ve told me that –
Johnson: – we had to pay for him and I decided that it was a good event to bring to the community. The first time that the Ryan electorate has had the opportunity of a Youth Forum and I think it was a great day. I think this [inaudible] just muckraking on the part of the Labor Party to try to smear the integrity of people like Gen. Leahy. Gen Leahy –
Austin; Hang on, Michael Johnson, I’m not a member of the Labor Party. I don’t think that that talkback caller is and if you can find out otherwise, please let me know and we’ll put you straight to air –
Johnson: I’ll be very happy for him to give me a call. I obviously don’t have his contact details but the clear imputation, Steve, is that came out of Sen. Faulkner’s comments in Senate Estimates and his questions, was that there was a profit made from having the Forum and there was no –
Austin: That might be what’s happening in Canberra but what’s happening up here, where your electorate is, is completely different. We haven’t spoken to Sen. Faulkner. His imputations, as you put it, hadn’t even been made on my program. What is the Ryan Liberal campaign fund for that you’ve just told that cheques were made payable to – what’s it for?
Johnson: The Ryan – I mean, all Members of Parliament raise funds for their re-election and that’s part of a re-election account that is endorsed by the Liberal Party to assist with providing opportunities for the electorate and I hope – what’s important here is the fact that I’ve provided the opportunity for young kids for the first time, as a local representative, to come to a special event to meet some pretty fascinating people.
Austin: Michael Johnson, you’ve told me that but I need to get some clarity here. Clearly, then, the cocktail party was a fundraiser, that those people who paid money did make cheques payable to Ryan Liberal campaign fund and it is clearly a Party-political campaign fund?
Johnson: That’s not the case, Steve.
Austin: If it’s for Ryan Liberal Campaign fund, the Seat of Ryan, you’re the Member for Ryan, you’re the Liberal Member for Ryan, it’s clearly a campaign fund, if they made it out to the Ryan Liberal Campaign fund.
Johnson: Well, unfortunately I don’t have an equivalent of a Centenary House account that the Labor Party has, that has $800 sq. metre, so I don’t have the funds to provide an opportunity – had Ricky Ponting been able to give his time for free, there wouldn’t have been any requirement to ask people to make a contribution [inaudible]. The important thing in all this is there were no funds raised for my re-election. The funds raised were to pay Ricky Ponting’s costs – simple as that.
Austin: At the head of this interview, you told me that cocktail party wasn’t a fundraiser?
Johnson: And I maintain that position.
Austin; But people are making their cheques out to the Ryan Liberal Campaign fund?
Johnson: I think the distinction is between fundraiser for my re-election account, for my re-election, for a political purpose as opposed for a specific reason. The specific reason was to pay Ricky Ponting’s appearance fee and I think those who actually attended the Forum will say that it was a fantastic event, it was worthwhile and I certainly look forward to having it again next year if I have the privilege of being re-elected by the Ryan constituency.
Austin: At any time, at any time, has the Ryan Liberal Campaign fund been used for Party-political purposes?
Johnson: They Ryan Liberal, the Ryan Campaign is an account endorsed by the Liberal Party for the re-election of the Member, and that is an entirely different thing. This money that was recovered by people very kindly making donations and companies sponsoring the event, it was to help assist the costs of Ricky Ponting and unfortunately we had to pay him but I thought it was an investment worthwhile providing a service to the local community and I think, as I said, everybody who turned up, I think, thoroughly enjoyed it and that’s what’s the important message to get out and I think Sen. Faulkner’s Estimates comment impugned my integrity and I think they’re entirely inaccurate and I reject them totally.
Austin: Michael Johnson, from memory you’ve held a number of fundraisers in the past, one with Alan Jones at the cost of $100 head; I think the Springboks Rugby Team, I think, at one point at about $100 head: I think a John Eales one as well, possibly for more money – were they fundraisers?
Johnson: No. The Springboks one was not a fundraiser. I was able to, I had the opportunity of hosting that as Chairman of the Australia-South Africa Parliamentary group and that was a great opportunity to bring Ryan residents who originally had a South African heritage to come and meet members of the South African team.
Austin: So when the ink went on the cheques it wasn’t made out to the Ryan Liberal Campaign fund?
Johnson: No, that was made out to the caterers that put it on. I mean, I don’t think that we’re going to put on McDonalds hamburgers & fries for people and unfortunately, as you know, Steve, nothing’s for free in this world. You’ve got to pay for things, to host the thing was a great opportunity. It brought out a whole range of Ryan residents and I don’t think you’ll get one comment from anybody who turned up that it wasn’t worthwhile, and there was a lot of complementary guests. I’m not going –
Austin: I guess I’m increasingly troubled about this, if nothing’s free in this world, you’ve got a Youth Leadership Forum where people came along, a cocktail party that wasn’t a fundraiser but people made their cheques payable to the Ryan Liberal Campaign fund to pay for the person that appeared at the Youth Leadership Forum – it sounds to me like you’re playing with words, Michael Johnson?
Johnson: No, no, Steve, Sen. Faulkner’s suggestion was that Ryan –
Austin; I’m not talking about Sen. Faulkner. I haven’t interviewed him, I haven’t spoken to him, I’m talking to you.
Johnson: Well, feel free to do so because that’s what’s at the heart of it. He’s made an allegation in Senate Estimates which I’m rejecting.
Austin: I’m not putting his allegation to you.
Johnson: Okay.
Austin: I’m asking you independently, I haven’t even spoken with the guy.
Johnson; Whether you’ve spoken or not is irrelevant. I’m clarifying his comments.
Austin: But I’m not asking you about his comments, Michael Johnson. I’m not asking you about his comments, I’m not asking you about his comments – I’m asking you to explain how you can say that it’s not a political fundraiser when what you describe as a Youth Leadership Forum was attached to a cocktail party where people, the ink actually went on cheques saying Ryan Liberal Campaign fund, and you’re saying that those cheques were used to pay back Ricky Ponting who spoke at the Youth Leadership Forum?
Johnson: That’s absolutely the case. I’ve explained my position whether you like what I say is an entirely different thing. I think you should give me the courtesy of accepting my comments. If you find to the contrary, then, or you believe to the contrary, that’s fine. My position is this, and I’ll say it again, Ricky Ponting was asked to be the keynote presenter, speaker, at the Ryan Youth Leadership Forum. We had to pay him, and so we are –
Austin: And the fundraiser paid him the money?
Johnson: There was an event held, there was a cocktail held, at the home of a Ryan resident who very kindly opened up his home to guests, and we asked those guests to come to help contribute to Ricky Ponting’s appearance at the Forum, but no one paid to go to the Forum. There was not one single dollar paid by any of the students that came along to the Forum and that’s what’s important.
Austin: No schools, no parents, no one associated with it?
Johnson: No, that’s right. Not one single person who attended the Forum was asked or expected to pay. It was a community event, put on by me, as the local Federal Member, for the young people of Ryan and it was a great success and I think that something like this shouldn’t be smeared or attempted to be smeared simply because we’re working hard to try to do something creative. I mean –
Austin: All the listener-caller, Barry, wanted was clarity. I have to go, Michael Johnson, but as I asked at the last time we interviewed, I do need some time to speak with you in some depth about the way you raise funds in your Seat. Do you think it’s proper to have people like Ricky Ponting, the Springboks, John Eales, as your guests as what are political fundraisers, were they all aware that they were being used to raise money, where the money on the cheques actually goes to the Ryan Liberal Campaign fund?
Johnson: Well, you know, all these people know who I am. They’re in the position where they can decline it. People like Ricky Ponting’s manager, it was made very, very plain to him that he was coming to a community forum and we had to recover the costs of that forum. We asked for it to be, for the appearance fee to be reduced, unfortunately they declined that, so we had to recover the funds and we were able to do that through companies very generously sponsoring it. Companies don’t make political donations or certain companies don’t feel comfortable making political donations and so certain companies made those directly to the schools, directly to the venue, directly to the caterers, and certain companies made it payable to me because I had to pay Ricky Ponting.
Austin: Michael Johnson, I think we do very clearly need to speak with you again about this and particularly [inaudible] give the opportunity for members of your electorate to talk to you about it – will you do that for us on air.
Johnson: Happy to do that.
Austin: We’ll call you when we finish on air and arrange a time. Thank you very much this morning.
Johnson: Pleasure. ENDS

Posted by Graham at 2:13 pm | Comments (1) |
Filed under: Uncategorized

1 Comment

  1. Looks like a case of complete stupidity on behalf of the member for Ryan; very sloppy to accept cheques of payment for Ricky Ponting under the campaigne account.
    Why couldn’t the Member have had payments made to Ricky ponting’s management firm?
    It does open the insinuation that he was getting something out of it apart from espensive advertising from a Ricky ponting appearance.

    Comment by matt byrne — May 28, 2004 @ 5:42 pm

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