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Freya Newman, the 21-year-old student who blew the whistle on a secret scholarship awarded by a private design school to Tony Abbott’s daughter, should be applauded for her bravery.
Newman’s sentencing was delayed this morning and had not yet been handed down at the time of Crikey’s deadline. She faces two years in jail for accessing restricted data on a computer at the Whitehouse Design Institute, where she once worked as a library assistant.
There is no doubt that the information Newman leaked was in the public interest. In our minds, there is also no doubt that if Frances Abbott were not the Prime Minister’s daughter, Newman would not be in court today, facing jail for her actions.
As Whistleblowers Australia president Cynthia Kardell told Crikey after news of the scholarship was first broken by news website New Matilda:
“Police do have discretion. They don’t investigate everything that turns up on their doorstep. Often … they’ll investigate if there’s a strong political interest. There’s an amazing amount of money and power on the father’s side, who has full access to the law and can find ways to use the government to push it along. No doubt somewhere along the way, someone will ask him whether this use of the Crimes Act is heavy-handed.”
Whistleblowers like Newman take massive personal risks. In return, they often face smear campaigns and a lifetime of being branded a “troublemaker”. Taking on powerful individuals and institutions takes a financial and emotional toll, too.
That’s why media outlets must take a stand in their defence and acknowledge the critical role they play in exposing information those in power would prefer remained hidden.
Crikey stands in support of Freya Newman, and all whistleblowers who risk their personal freedom to expose corrupt behaviour by those in power.