This explains one of the most bitter defamation battles of the past 20 years between former Senator Noel Crichton-Browne and his former Liberal colleague turned enemy Sue Knowles.
Senator Knowles appears to have deliberately misled the Senate. Having said one thing to the WA Supreme Court, her statements are clearly misconduct by a Senator.
Knowles’ first misbehaviour in the Senate was as a result of two articles published in major newspapers. The most compelling evidence comes from Knowles own mouth and the following statements will give readers a clear insight as to her suitability to sit in the Senate.
By way of back ground; in both the print and electronic media, Knowles accused one of her former Liberal colleagues, the very colourful Noel Crichton-Browne, of making obscene and life threatening phone calls to her. She claimed to so fear for her life that she was under police protection. Crichton-Browne sued Knowles in the Western Australia Supreme Court for defamation. Knowles unreservedly retracted her claims and unreservedly apologised and paid Crichton-Browne $20,000 in full and final settlement.
Here are some of the proceedings of the Supreme Court on 21 October, 1998 in the matter of Noel Ashley Crichton-Browne and Susan Christine Knowles. In reading this evidence, it is relevant to remember that the 1998 federal election took place on 3 October 1998.
What the WA Supreme Court was told
Mr R.W. Richardson appearing for the plaintiff and Mr E.J. Picton-Warlow appearing for the defendant.
RICHARDSON: Your Honour, I am pleased to advise that this matter has been settled, and in fact was settled on 25 September 1998. The reason for the delay in bringing the settlement to the court’s attention was the result of two conditions imposed in the settlement agreement by the defendant, and they were that the apology, although to be read in open court at a date convenient, was not to be read on or before 3 October 1998, and my client also gave an undertaking at the request of the defendant not to publish to any person the apology or the details of the settlement of the action prior to 3 October 1998.
WHEELER J: All right.
Richardson: Your Honour, there has been a minute signed by the parties consenting to the orders to be made today to dispose of this action, if I could hand the original of that to your Honour.
WHEELER J: Thank you.
RICHARDSON: You will see from that that the terms of the settlement comprise, firstly, in order 2 a publication of an apology in three newspapers by the defendant, that to be done within 7 days and to be published in the West Australian, The Australian, and The Canberra Times. In addition, the defendant is to pay the plaintiff the sum of $20,000 and the defendant has agreed to read an apology in open court by her counsel in terms of the annexure to the minute you have.
Prior to the reading of that apology, it is important that the causes of action identified in the apology are identified in court, for two reasons: firstly to ensure that the plaintiff has proper vindication for the apology which does not itemise, which is the usual course, the articles or the publications complained of, and of course that is also an important consideration for the defendant the apologies granted are identified in open court, because it is to those publications that the apology relates.
The first publication, your Honour appears on page 2 and that publication is an allegation of slander and it is a publication made to a Richard Mincherton and it was made in or about May of 1995 at the defendant’s West Perth office. The words were spoken to Richard Mincherton, and the allegation was that the words were as follows – – –
WHEELER J: Do we need to go through, actually read out, all of the allegations?
RICHARDSON: What I propose to do is to briefly identify them. I won’t read it all out, but the essence of the publication was, “Noel Crichton-Browne made life threatening threats to me by phone, and as a result of that I have sought police protection.”
The second publication was a publication made to a Richard Utting, then of ABC 7206WF, on the morning of 1 September 1995, so that was a publication of a slander plus the libel of the republication on ABC Radio. Mr Utting there referred to public allegations that “Senator Crichton-Browne has perhaps in some way threatened you and then you went to the police about it. What’s the story behind that?” The defendant was asked several questions about it by Mr Utting, and at the conclusion it was unclear as to who the person was. Mr Utting said, “All right, the ‘him’ that you were referring to there is Noel Crichton-Browne,” and the defendant replied, “Yeah”. The next publication was to Liana Strutt on Radio 6PR.
WHEELER J: What page is that one.
RICHARDSON: Page 33, I apologise.
WHEELER: J; Thank you.
RICHARDSON: That is to similar effect, other than Liana Strutt said that the allegations had been denied by Mr Crichton-Browne. “He calls it a total fabrication. It was suggested that you find alternate accommodation at that time.” The defendant then repeated that she had taken precautions in updating her security, both in Perth and in Canberra and she hadn’t made a formal complaint because she didn’t want any person interviewed or him being interviewed.
As a result of these publications on the radio, your Honour, as one would expect, they received considerable publication in the print media and were published, or the contents of these allegations were published — this is page 38 — in the West Australian on 12 September 1995 under the heading Senators Clash on Threat Claim, and the start of that article reads, “Liberal Senator Sue Knowles renewed her public rivalry with former Liber Senator Noel Crichton-Browne yesterday by claiming he had once threatened her, a charge he vigorously denied.”
Basically that was reported on the radio, ABC Radio program. It also received a report in the Australian on 12 September 1995 under Lib tells of disgraced Senator Fear, and that article commenced, “Liberal Senator Sue Knowles revealed yesterday that she was the MP who complained to the police about being concerned about her safety in relation to disgraced Senator, Noel Crichton-Browne.”
A further report was contained in The Canberra Times on 12 September 1995, and that article on page 47 stated inter alia, “Senator Sue Knowles named Senator Crichton-Browne as the person about whom she had complained to the Western Australian police this year, she told ABC Radio in Perth.”
They are the causes of action that the plaintiff sued upon to seek vindication of his reputation. He, during the course of those, as you will have already noted, vigorously denied the allegations that he had made any threats whatsoever to the defendant, and it is now his opportunity to be vindicated from that allegation, and the defendant has agreed to do so by reading the apology that has been agreed between the parties’ solicitors. I would seek orders in terms of the minute by consent.
The apology from Knowles to Crichton-Browne
“Statements that I have made to various individuals and on the radio during 1995 have been construed by some as meaning that Mr Noel Crichton-Browne had made threats upon my physical safety by telephone. It was not my intention to convey that meaning. I unreservedly withdraw and retract the allegation that Mr Crichton-Browne threatened me on the telephone and unreservedly apologise to him for any damage, distress or embarrassment caused thereby.”
WHEELER J: Thank you, Mr Picton-Warlow. In that case, there will be orders in terms of the minute of agreed orders dated 21 October 1998.
Now that is all clear enough. Senator Knowles agreed that she told lies about Noel Crichton-Browne and when he sued her she withdrew the allegations and apologised paying him $20,000.
What follows are Knowles subsequent statements about the same matters using the parliamentary privilege of the Senate. The denials and deliberate contradictions are breathtaking.
In referring to an article in the “West Australian” written by Anne Burns, Knowles had this to say in the Senate.
Knowles rescinds her apology
“I wish to set the record straight, 05 Burns, claims that I apologised for alleging that Crichton-Browne has made death threats against me. I have not.”
“The other question is why were the terms of the settlement not made public until after the 3 October election last year? The answer is that is what Crichton-Browne agreed to.”
“The article claims that I told Mincherton that I ‘had received death threats from Crichton-Browne at her home in Perth and Canberra and was under police protection.’ All I can say to that is that Mincherton is totally dishonest and manipulative and well known for it in the party in Western Australia.”
“Many supporters have asked why I paid $20,000 to Crichton-Browne and have made the observation that doing so gave the appearance of guilt. To that I say two things. Firstly, given my time again, I would do no such thing. Secondly, I wish to make crystal clear that I have not pleaded guilty to anything.”
Senate Hansard 8 December 1999.
But Senator Knowles was not yet finished:
“, 05it is all the same stuff trotted out over and over againthe same lies, the same dishonesty.”
“Many thought when the party made its third decision in support of me and against his malicious, deceitful and dishonest claims that it would be the end of the matter.”
“I do not care what he [Mincherton] writes about the Supreme Court and everything that I specifically apologised for in the comments I made I covered that in December. His affidavit was absolutely and utterly wrong. I have said that all the way along the line, and I will say it and say it again.”
“I still stand by what I said in December absolutely and equivocally, except with interest.”
“I advise the Senate that no amount of continual harassment will make me think otherwise or behave differently to this criminal (Crichton-Browne) who just keeps on assaulting me in every way he possibly can.”
“He is a particularly vicious, bitter and nasty man whose sole motivation in life is to harass and intimidate anyone who disagrees with him, his modus operandi, his conduct and his behaviour, and I am proud to be one of those people – one of a very large group.”
“I am entering my 13th year of abuse, vilification and harassment from this man, 05”
Senate Hansard 10 April 2000.
Senator Knowles insisted that the settlement remain confidential until after the 3 October because that was the election day and she feared that the public disclosure of her dishonesty would damage her prospects of winning the third Senate position which was already looking very doubtful at that time. Her explanation speaks for itself.
Crichton-Browne wrote to the Liberal Party as follows:
“I agreed to Senator Knowles demand that the terms of the settlement remain undisclosed to the voters of Western Australia until after election day because it was of no moment to me and because I was happy to have the public exposed to Knowles’ dishonest and deceitful conduct. It simply added weight to the cause of my action against her.”
The letter after this Parliamentary attack
In response to Knowles’ claim that in respect to her payment of $20,000 to Crichton-Browne that given her time again she would do no such thing, Crichton-Browne’s lawyer subsequently wrote to Knowles in December 1999, in part in the following terms:
Dear Senator Knowles
I am advised by Mr Crichton-Browne that you are reported as having said that you regret having settled the defamation action brought against you by him.
Please contact me at your earliest convenience with a view to having these matters litigated. In the event that I do not hear from you, I will take it that you are not prepared to have your truthfulness tested under oath.
Stephen Browne & Co Lawyers.
Crikey understands that twenty seven months later, Knowles has still not responded.
In conclusion it is instructive to read the legal advice that the Liberal Party of Western Australia obtained from Freehill Hollingdale and Page.
“The matters, the subject of the defamation action by Mr Crichton-Browne against Senator Knowles, are in the public arena. They have been widely reported, have been stated in open court and have been subject of a public apology.
It must be clearly understood that the statements made by Senator Knowles have been acknowledged by her to be untrue. She unreservedly withdrew and retracted the allegations and unreservedly apologised. In the context of the apology read in the Court and published in newspapers, that is an admission by her that she made the allegations and that they were untrue. There is no scope for denial by Senator Knowles of these matters. That being so, it would seem that there is no need for discussion on the truth or otherwise of what was said.”
Freehill Hollingdale and Page.
In spite of this advice and the self evident state of Knowles claims, admissions, retraction and apology, the present Minister for Justice, Senator Ellison claimed at the State Executive of the Western Australian Liberal Party while representing the Prime Minister and in various other forums of the Party that the statement read out in the Supreme Court by Knowles’ lawyer was not an unqualified admission of the nature put simply and succinctly by Freehills.
The documents sighted are all either public documents or documents held by the Liberal Party of WA.
Crikey has previously asked, would you vote for this woman. Senator Knowles was expelled from the Liberal Party and with vigorous support from Senator Ellison and Wilson Tuckey in particular, Knowles was reinstated.
Lillian Libel, a concerned Crikey subscriber.