The Queensland Labor whip Terry Sullivan was charged after a wild brawl on Saturday night so let’s look at how The Courier Mail reported it and then explore what other political brawls Crikey subscribers have come up with, including Jeremy Thompson hilarious account on what it was like being strangled by Max Ortmann.

By Simon Lomax and Paula Doneman of The Courier Mail

A STATE Labor MP arrested after a Brisbane street brawl informed police he was a politician before they charged him.

But MP and Government Whip Terry Sullivan last night denied he was seeking special treatment from police as Premier Peter Beattie pledged there would be no political interference in the handling of the case.

Mr Sullivan, the Member for Stafford, vowed to fight charges of obstructing and disobeying police and declared he would continue as Chief Whip while his case was before the courts.

Mr Sullivan further declared he would not resign from Parliament if he was convicted, a stance backed by Mr Beattie who said there had been no criminal offence committed.

Mr Sullivan was arrested after a brawl involving up to 70 people outside the Norths St Joseph’s Junior Rugby League Club at Virginia late on Saturday night.

The club was hosting an 18th birthday party at which Mr Sullivan’s teenage son was an invited guest.

But witnesses said when several carloads of gatecrashers started throwing beer bottles at the clubhouse, police were called.

Police sources said officers arrived at the scene and immediately called for back-up.

Police said officers tried to break up the fight and the crowd was moved to nearby Wellington St so paramedics could treat the injured.

The clubhouse was badly vandalised during the melee and Mr Sullivan said his son, a member of a band which played at the party, asked to go in to check his gear.

But Mr Sullivan said a police dog bit his son and the teenager used a mobile phone to call his family for help. Police sources said when Mr Sullivan arrived he approached the clubhouse and refused to leave with the rest of the crowd.

Police said that after several warnings Mr Sullivan was arrested and allegedly tried to wrestle free. He was forced to the ground, handcuffed and put in a police van.

When asked for identification, he produced a Parliamentary business card instead of a driver’s licence.

He later presented his licence after the arresting officer demanded to see it.

Mr Sullivan said he lost his glasses during the arrest and had not been allowed to retrieve them until he identified himself.

“The only thing I could see clearly were the business cards in my shirt pocket,” Mr Sullivan said.

Mr Sullivan was charged with obstructing police and contravening a direction by an officer before being released.

Twelve others were charged with various offences.

ends

Now let’s look at other political brawls Crikey subscribers recall.

Panda and guns

Crikey,

I have a vague recollection from the 80’s re a punch up at an ALP state conference, possibly involving John Pandazopoulos and some heavy from labor unity. A gun may have been involved but it wasn’t Panda’s. The matter went to the ALP Disputes Committee, with the other party being represented by the late Sam Papasavis

Also remember the Melb Uni Lib Studs club having a meeting in the early 80’s, and the office bearer charged with checking memberships had a rifle (pretty sure it was unloaded).

Anon

Bill Hayden punches on

A former television journalist writes:

I have a favourite image of Bill Hayden as, I think, Treasurer back in the early 80s. I seem to remember it took place outside the old Parliament House. Anyway, Bill fired up as a TV journo came striding in, camera rolling, to pepper him with questions. Hayden was in a foul mood about something or other and took a mighty swing at the TV crew with the official Treasurer’s briefcase, muttering something unmentionable at the same time. Very unbecoming for the GG-to-be.

And back in the rollicking Queensland Parliament under Joh, again in the early 80s, there was a brawl in one of the weekly state cabinet meetings. Nothing unusual in that, except from all reports it got almost physical. It involved Terry White (of the Terry White Chemists chain), who had taken over the Liberal leadership from Llew Edwards and would eventually tear up the coalition agreement with the Nats, Rosemary Kyburz, a Liberal Minister, and, naturally, the late, great Russ Hinze.

Unfortunately the subject matter escapes me after such a long time, but I do remember very clearly an extraordinary press conference held by a clearly-shaken Rosemary Kyburz (no delicate flower herself) shortly after the meeting broke up. Rosie told in breathless detail how after some robust discussion on some now-long-forgotten issue, Russ Hinze jumped up and advanced on Terry White at the Cabinet table, lunging across Rosemary to get at him. It was fantastic material, the sort of stuff that made political reporting in Queensland in the 1980s a never-a-dull-moment pursuit.

Prescott’s big punch

The ultimate political punch-up was, of course, John Prescott in the last UK election laying one on the guy who tossed an egg at him. Notwithstanding my Tory background, I’d vote for him if he was my local member. I saw Prescott on Parkinson. He’s a legend.

Punching on in the Top End

Stephen,

I’m surprised your list of beatups has left off the NT’s illustrious Matthew Bonson. Whilst Max Ortmann quite rightly deserves his serve, Matthew was recently under a cloud for a biffup with a team-mate after a basketball game. Consistent with the ALP aping the CLP’s behaviour in office.

Unsurprisingly, Clare Martin backed her boy. Losing him would put the seat of Millner to a by-election, which if lost would take the Martin Government with it.

But, no matter. A few other issues have poped up and the whole scuffle has been gratefully forgotten by our Clare.

A Territory Boy

Boom boom I’m Ray Groom

A former Tasmanian writes:

Ray Groom (former Premier and Liberal Leader in Tasmania), king hit Bob Cheek (current Liberal Leader in Tasmania) after a rowdy party meeting following the Liberal’s defeat in 1998. Ray Groom, once described as a good footballer, but no politician, by Malcolm Fraser, also knocked out a former Labor Federal Parliamentarian in a friendly Federal Parliament football match in the early 1980s.

Daryl Baldock, the former Saint and former Tasmanian Labor politician also beat the living crap out of someone in a bar-room ball in Smithton, Tasmania around 1977. However, I think the target was a union hack.

Cheers, Apple Eater

Great punching traditions in the ALP

Labor history has a proud history of this sort of thing – there are still people in the WA branch who remember the old days when the DLP split and public brawls were the norm and Secretary’s of Branch’s brought first aid kits to meetings.

But more recently, who can forget the couple of stoushes that followed the pre-selection round in WA before the last state election in the ALP?

Following the pre-selection of John D’Orazio for Ballajura and the split in the Right, there was a merry old punch up downstairs at the Court Wine Bar after the meeting. Jim McGivren, Secretary of the TWU took a swing at Ted Cunningham (dislodging a couple of teeth, as I recall) – and a couple of the burlier lads from the left were forced to intervene. There were a couple of other scuffles on the night around the same theme, as I recall.

Missing the Old Days of the DLP Split.

McGiven is a thug

Re the account of the events following the pre-selection of John D’Orazio for the seat of Ballajura in WA. To refer to it as a “merry old punch up” is pretty generous especially to McGiveron. What actually occurred is that McGiveron kinghit Cunningham, a 63 year old (at the time) standing all of about 5’8″ with the punchline (pun intended) “That’s for ratting on Brian Burke”.

McGiveron is a thug and should be portrayed as such.

Name withheld

Lightfoot goes the heavy leg

It was a bit before my time, but I understand in the 1980’s there was a punch-up between Ross Lightfoot and Phillip Lockyer at the Western Australian Parliament. They were both State Liberal Members of Parliament at the time.

Matty

More on Lightfoot’s heavy leg

Hi Stephen

Saw you request for details of political punch ups. Of course, there would have to be one involving Ross Lightfoot, wouldn’t there.

A number of years ago, when he was a state MP, Ross got into a stoush with former Liberal MP, Phil Lockyer. If you’ve seen Lockyer, you’d have to question Lightfoot’s sanity in taking him on.

And more recently, prior to the state election in WA, Doug Shave and Colin Barnett (the now Lib leader) were not quite in fisticuffs, but poking their fingers into each other’s chests about some issue.

Suffice to say, Doug is on the political scrap heap, and Barnett has the toughest job in WA politics

Cheers

Colin Barnett’s passion for education

Who in WA could forget the last State election campaign where Lib leader Colin Barnett flexed his muscles.

As we in the Wild West know, Col is very passionate about education (being an ex Education Minister), and it was a bit of an election issue with both parties not promising to fix it but arguing over who had stuffed it up more.

Anyway, after a particularly heated radio interview with Col and Labor’s Alan Carpenter (ex 7.30 Report presenter now turned Education Minister) the normally placid Col was moved to belt Alan – not with his fists but, in an attack of unparalled ferocity – with a rolled-up newspaper. Look out Labor, I say, you never know when a rolled up copy of the West Australian will be coming your way.

72yo WA Liberal’s industrial battles

The last WA Lib government was famous for its industrial relations policy which was remarkably simple – unions on one side, the government on the other. Riot police in the middle.

Poor old Liberal Legislative Council Chairman Clive Griffiths, at the ripe old age of 72, trying to break through a union blockade of Parliament House and “escorted” away by five or six big wharfie looking types. Great front page picture.

John Martyr’s commie bashing

Speaking of great front page pictures, who could forget the illustrious (showing my age here) DLP Senator John Martyr.

Senator Martyr cut his political teeth in Melbourne fighting the commies and when he moved to Perth he knew exactly how to deal with a communist protest in Forrest Place. He was down there leading the groupers and the good Senator was snapped (and on the front page of the next day’s paper) belting a commie square in the jaw.

Those were the days…

WA Watcher

Queensland monopolises the political brawls

The Queensland Labor party has the monopoly on political punch ups and I don’t think you’ll get anything from anywhere else.

Remember, the Christopher Pyne incident also involved Queensland Labor members Rudd and Swan. We had the Schwarten thumping of 2001.

I’d be interested to know if there are any political punchups which DON’T involve a) someone from Queensland; b) Labor sitting members and c) both of the above.

Queensland Liberal Chick

The Schwarten thumping

Queensland public works minister Rob Schwarten belted the husband of his campaign manager at a barbeque in rockhampton. There were plenty of explanations at the time and charges were filed and dropped or the cops investigated but charges weren’t pressed. It was in the papers at the time and you will have to check as my memory is hazy on the details.

Also the Labor MP who held Mundingburra before the 1995 by-election booted someone up the backside on the polling day when he lost to Liberal Frank Tanti. The Sunday Mail covered that one and all the tv’s as he did the kick while they were there.

Victorian Liberal Cameron Boardman

You could do a 100,000 word thesis on the life and crimes of Dirty Harry Boardman.

Getting strangled by Max Ortmann

First published on Crikey in February 2000

The Northern Territory is a frontier town where red-necked politicians send 15 year old Aboriginal kids to jail for pinching a pack of biscuits, as a complacent local media cheers them on. Being a journalist in Darwin is only marginally less dangerous, says experienced TV reporter, JEREMY THOMPSON

On the wall of my home office in a leafy Canberra suburb hangs a framed front page of the Northern Territory News of which I’m perversely proud. Over a photograph of a journalist, me, being strangled by a politician, Max Ortmann, a headline proclaims MAX DIDN’T TUG HARD ENOUGH.

Back in 1993 I was working for the 7.30 Report based in Darwin and, in early August that year, was celebrating the birth of our son Harry and enjoying the paradise that is the top end in the dry season.

But I’d heard a rumour that Max Ortmann, the Minister for Works in the Country Liberal party NT Government was handing out favours to people who had helped him attain office. The stories had it that a committee of local businessmen had backed Max – and backed him solidly with substantial amounts of money – during the last election. I had checked the back issues of the NT News and discovered that Max was the only individual candidate who had advertised extensively in the paper during the election campaign, but that’s about as far as my digging had progressed.

Chance threw up an opportunity to advance the story when we filmed a little piece on a couple of young blokes who were having no luck getting government approval to set up a paragliding business; the relevant minister was Max Ortmann, so I teed up an interview on the subject with him at his earliest convenience, scheduled for two days later, Thursday August 11 at 1pm.

Not wishing to waste the opportunity I started asking around about this rumoured committee; finally, a CLP stalwart admitted cheerfully that he was a member, that “we got Max up” and gave me the names of a couple of other members. What was intriguing was that one of these men, Mr X, was the developer of a highly controversial canal presidential suburb on the pristine Darwin harbour, and the other, Mr Y, was a member of the firm constructing a second highly controversial harbourside development. Both developments were approved by the Minister for Pubic Works, Max Ortmann.

So the obvious questions I wanted to put to him were: did these men help you, financially, in your election campaign? Did you subsequently, as minister, approve developments that would advantage them financially? If so, is such conduct proper for a minister of the crown?

In the lift, on the way up to Max’s office on the fifth floor of Northern Territory House, I briefly filled in cameraman Gerry Meyer and sound recordist big Bill Simmons on the interview, telling them it was going to be more than just the paragliding story. Gerry raised his eyebrows.

We set up, one microphone on a stand on Max’s desk and another – called appropriately a “neck mike” – clipped to my shirt, lights on, camera rolling. I asked Max about the paragliding matter; he’d been nicely briefed and deflected my questions easily. Then, the time honoured phrase “on another matter, minister”. I began asking the planned questions – but never finished them. Max grew clearly agitated and angry as the line of questions continued, seizing the desk microphone and hurling it across the room. Rising, he advanced around the desk and tore off a page of my notepad, crumpling it and throwing it to the floor.

Then, as I removed the neck mike from my shirt, Max grabbed at it and tried to jerk it from its socket in the video recorder. He couldn’t, so from behind he wrapped the cord around my neck and gave it a good solid jerk.

What does one do under these circumstances? I left the room. David Hill, then head of the ABC, told me later I should’ve “jobbed the prick”.

A few minutes later Gerry and Bill joined me outside with the good news that they’d kept rolling during the brief attack. The bad news was that I’d left my bag in Max’s office, the bag that contained documents and other material I wouldn’t want that government to see. Gerry gallantly retrieved it for me.

The ABC is only a few hundred meters from Northern Territory House. I almost ran, tape in hand, and immediately had one of the videotape editors to copy the tape and secrete three copies around the station. Paranoid? Maybe, but after a few months in the Territory I would not have been surprised if the government sent in the troopers if they so chose.

What followed was, for a journalist, very instructive. Suddenly I was in the position that people who are pursued by journalists find themselves. A highly newsworthy event had occurred and everyone was on the phone wanting an interview. But I had an advantage not enjoyed by most in that I knew who was worth talking to and who was not, so I confined my comments to the ABC, some newspapers and a couple of commercial outlets of repute, giving the tabloid current affairs shows and the talkback jocks short shrift. I must confess it was good to call the shots to the bottom-feeders of our industry.

Among the journalists I spoke to only two, Andrew Olle and Liz Hayes, brought up the possibility that I may have acted unethically; that I arranged the interview under false pretences, requesting it to canvas one topic while really laying an ambush on another. If so, it wasn’t a planned ambush. It was only after the paragliding interview was granted that I even began thinking about the developers and their dollars. Should I have then called Max’s office and told them about my new line of questioning? I knew that there was no way the interview would then proceed under those circumstances. I also believed, and still do, that the public has a right to have the conduct of their elected representatives put under scrutiny and that a minister should be able to field any questions of propriety put to him or her.

It wasn’t long before a more famous “ambush” took place – also on the 7.30 Report – when Kerry O’Brien stunned then opposition leader John Hewson live on air with the results of secret Liberal Party polling which showed Hewson was on the nose and on the skids. I can’t recall much criticism of Kerry’s approach at that time, but for John Hewson it was finis.

No less instructive were the reactions of other players after the event, including that of the Chief Minister, Marshall Perron, who defended Max with vigour. “I can understand the frustration that is felt by politicians who are faced with people who conduct themselves like animals,” Mr Perron told ABC radio, “We saw an example of arrogance and bad manners which this journalist is not unknown for.”

David Hill, much to my pleasure, wrote to Marshall saying, “I believe your comments have inaccurately and unfairly defamed ABC journalists” and informing the Chief Minister that I had been informed of my legal rights.

I had indeed been informed of my legal rights and the law of assault. Legal eagles told me that in case of such a public assault, televised even, that the NT police force would charge Max with assault. Four days passed with no move from the police so I filed a complaint… which later I regretted. Although Max had clearly assaulted me and, at the time, I harboured fears for my safety, in the end it was really no more than part of the job.

Max pleaded guilty and was placed on a three-month good behaviour bond, lost his job in the ministry and, later, lost his pre-selection. His political career was over, but I don’t believe the Northern Territory was any the poorer for that.

On October 19, 1993, Max appeared on the tabloid Channel Nine show, A Current Affair, telling the reporter of the fullsome support he’d had for his assault in the community. “The one thing they’re telling me that I did wrong was that I didn’t tug hard enough. Ninety-nine percent of the people I talk to say,’well, it was a normal reaction’.” Hence the headline that adorns my Canberra office.

The Max Ortmann affair, and the events that lay behind it, is just a small vignette of the political landscape of the deep north. Those of us who have worked there have seen a system of government and the use of public monies that is deeply disturbing and can only be resolved by a Royal Commission with wide terms of reference.

* Editor’s Note: Jeremy Thompson has also worked as a political reporter in the Federal Press Gallery for the Seven Network and was one of a group of journalists shown the door by Kerry Stokes at Today Tonight after a brave attempt to re-introduce investigative reporting to TV current affairs. The last straw for Kerry was an examination by Thompson’s team of Jeff Kennett’s share dealings, which threatened various commercial relationships Kerry had in Victoria.

Peter Fray

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