Pauline Hanson stands to lose a fortune in legal fees after the man who leaked her emails purporting to show a vote-rigging cover-up in the March NSW state election failed to show up in court yesterday. It now appears the whistleblower may not exist at all.
The plot thickened even further on Thursday afternoon when the Greens MP at the centre of the scandal revealed he has received phone calls from a fake Daily Telegraph journalist (see update at end of story).
Hanson’s legal challenge rests on alleged email exchanges between the NSW Electoral Commission’s chief information officer and communications manager suggesting counting by “dodgy staff” may have cost her up to 1200 votes.
The serial candidate was leaked the emails by “Michael Rattner”, a construction worker who says his girlfriend works at the NSW Electoral Commission.
Hanson’s legal team appears to have taken a Descartes 2.0 approach to Rattner’s existence: I Facebook, therefore I am.
“We know he is a real person,” Peter Lowe, Hanson’s barrister, said yesterday. “He has a Facebook site. He has made postings on that website to Ms Hanson.”
Hanson also says she has spoken to Rattner on the phone, but admits she has never met him in person. If Rattner does exist, he certainly is a man of mystery — not to mention one with ironically little regard for Australia’s electoral laws. An electoral roll search by Crikey this morning showed there is no Michael Rattner enrolled to vote in Australia. There is also no M. Rattner listed in the White or Yellow Pages in Queensland or NSW. The Facebook page in question is set to private and does not display a profile picture.
Overnight, obviously fake Facebook and Twitter profiles for a Michael Rattner — who lives in Cronulla and supports One Nation NSW — have also emerged.
Speaking outside court yesterday, the former One Nation leader admitted she may have been the victim of an “elaborate hoax”.
The Greens’ Jeremy Buckingham, who beat Hanson by 2437 votes in the final count, told Crikey this morning he thinks it “highly unlikely” that Rattner is a real person and “almost certain” the emails are fraudulent.
“Pauline Hanson has based this incredibly contentious and expensive case on one email from one person who may or may not exist as a real person,” he said. “If I wasn’t in the middle of it I’d think it was funny. It’s a farce.”
Buckingham said if Hanson is not successful he will be pursuing her for his legal costs, which he estimates will come in at more than $20,000.
“She’s cast aspersions on me, my election and the democratic process in NSW — I think that’s shameful,” Buckingham said.
“I hope it’s the end of Pauline Hanson. I hope she rides into the sunset and is never seen again.”
Buckingham’s barrister, Tom Malomby SC, told the court Hanson’s vote-rigging allegations, if true, would amount to a ”massive, crack-brained conspiracy of extraordinary proportions”.
Back of the envelope calculations suggest Hanson could be close to $100,000 out of pocket if she has to cover the legal fees of the other defendants — Buckingham, the NSW Electoral Commission and Nationals MLC Sarah Mitchell — as well as her own.
In the emails sent to Hanson, the NSW Electoral Commission’s chief information officer Ian Brightwell is purported to tell chief communications officer Richard Carroll to “stonewall” journalists asking questions about irregularities in Hanson’s vote count.
“Thank you for your inquiry regarding advice on media inquiries relating to today’s pushing of the button for the upper house preferences. Just stonewall them as much as possible when it comes to Hanson and her issues with the count. Do not mention there is any possible provision for a recount,” Brightwell allegedly wrote.
“We know the media are looking at the blank ballots and are trying to get them all rechecked because one of her scrutineers was meant to of found some of her votes in among the blanks (I have heard through the chain that there could be as many as 1200 across the state that are in with the blanks as there were a few dodgy electoral staff on, but don’t offer that).”
Brightwell and Carroll have signed affidavits saying they did not send the emails in question and the court was yesterday told Brightwell’s email did not carry his usual e-signature.
If a hoaxer is at work, he has certainly played an elaborate game. The Australian journalist Leo Shanahan today writes that he has received several calls since the election from a Mr Rattner who says he is “merely a Labor voter trying to do the right thing”.
Hanson wasn’t giving up yesterday, even though her mole failed to show. “I’m asking Michael Rattner … Please stand by your word and come to court,” she pleaded.
Regular Crikey readers know we tend to be sceptical of media-driven campaigns but today we are making an exception. The integrity of the democratic system in our nation’s most populous state is, after all, at stake.
So please, if you know a Michael Rattner then get in touch. Or at least tell him to show up at court next Thursday: a warrant is out in his name.
And Rattner, if you’re reading this, we have only two words for you: please explain.
UPDATE: On Thursday afternoon Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham told reporters in Sydney that he had been repeatedly contacted by a fake Daily Telegraph journalist named Michael Wilson since the March 26 election. Two weeks ago “Wilson” contacted Buckingham and told him that he could “relax about the case” because he had been speaking to Michael Rattner and knew that he would not appear in court.
“In light of all the other information made available yesterday, it seems that Michael Wilson is the only person who knew how to contact Michael Rattner,” Buckingham said. ”It now seems to me that Michael Wilson is not only an imposter, but may be the same person as Michael Rattner.”
The Greens MP also revealed that another fake Tele journalist, “Sean Castle”, had requested vote count figures from the NSW Electoral Commission.