When does chutzpah become delusion? When the Federal Liberal member for Ryan, Michael “Khemlani” Johnson is involved.
Michael Johnson’s function that wasn’t keeps getting talked about – and it seems that the Prime Minister was involved in it, too. When did he find out about that?

Labor Senate Leader John Faulkner raised the matter in Estimates again last week, this time with Ricky Ponting’s fellow guest, Lieutenant General Peter Leahy, AO, Chief of Army. Like the Australian cricket captain, Leahy doesn’t seem to have known what was going on:

Senator FAULKNER – My broad question goes to the appropriateness of photographs of uniformed personnel – not necessarily including a local member, a local candidate or anyone else – appearing in material produced by political parties and whether that is deemed to be something that the ADF would encourage or discourage.

Gen. Cosgrove – It would depend on the circumstances; the circumstances would provide an answer to that. If it were to be used for unmistakably political purposes, we would not want that to be done.

Senator FAULKNER – I am happy, privately, if you like, to show you the sort of material that is being produced and you might care to reflect on it and let me know in due course what your response is. Specifically, to General Leahy – and I might say, General Leahy, that in the cases that I am aware of this is mainly from the Army; I have not seen much material depicting the other two services – I very briefly wanted to raise a question with you directly about a matter which you were involved in: what was described as the 2004 Ryan Youth Leadership and Development Forum. I think you are aware, aren’t you, General, of the occasion that I am referring to?

Lt Gen. Leahy -I am.

Senator FAULKNER -The media release for that particular event said: “The Chief of the Australian Army, General Peter Lahey…”
Your surname was incorrectly spelt.

Lt Gen. Leahy -A common occurrence.

Senator FAULKNER -It says: “The Chief of the Australian Army, General Peter Lahey AO flew in especially to open the Forum.” Was that accurate?

Lt Gen. Leahy – I did not fly in especially. I had other business in Brisbane that day. But I did fly in to open the forum.

Senator FAULKNER – It is not accurate; you did not fly in especially to open the forum. That is neither here nor there. This is a forum, you may be aware, that achieved some notoriety because the Australian cricket captain, Ricky Ponting, also attended. Were you aware of that?

Lt Gen. Leahy – I was aware that he attended but I did not see him on the day.

Senator FAULKNER – Were you aware that Mr Johnson, the MP, the member for Ryan, stated on ABC radio last Friday: “It was entirely a community event … There was not a single penny asked from the schools or from the students and I think what Senator Faulkner raised in Senate Estimates is quite deceptive and an act of fraud on his part, not my part.”

You may or may not be aware that Mr Johnson said that, but just for the sake of complete record I like these things to be read in their entirety. Were you aware that he said that?

Lt Gen. Leahy – I was not.

Senator FAULKNER – Are you aware that Mr Johnson sent out an email on 1 February 2004 soliciting support for the function from schools, which states: “If each school was in a position to make a relatively small financial contribution to the event of $4000, I would look after the balance of his expenses.”

I interpolate here: `his expenses’ refers to Ricky Ponting’s expenses. It continues: “For your support I would have in mind that each school would bring its First XI squad, including coaches etc…the kids’ parents, and of course your good selves and spouses. If you are able to give me a firmer indication of your school’s interest and commitment, I can start to get things moving.”

Were you aware of that email that was sent out to schools?

Lt Gen. Leahy – No.

Senator FAULKNER – Which of course puts the complete lie to what was said in the parliament. There was a forum and a cocktail party; I do not know if you were aware that there were two functions.

CRIKEY: Khemlani responded in the Adjournment Debate that evening – and the PM and Education Minister Brendan Nelson will be delighted that they got a mention for appearing to endorse the full thing. All of which has got us wondering when chutzpah ends and delusion begins.

The intro’s a bit long – but worth it. Hop in, intrepid reader. Here’s the works. Estimates and then Khemlani”

Senator Hill – Those who participate in a parliamentary exchange with the military no doubt would come out of it with a fist full of photos of their warrior-like activities.

Senator FAULKNER -Yes.

Gen. Cosgrove – I think it is just a commonsense approach. If you established that the ADF person entered into that photographic opportunity knowing that it would be used for electoral purposes, that would be obviously beyond the pale. If, on the other hand, it was a casual photo, it is hard to see how you could police it, much less regulate against it.

Senator FAULKNER – I think these probably are casual. Without doubt, the photographs were not taken for the purposes of political exploitation. I do not think there is any question about that. The issue is whether there is a broad view about the appropriateness or otherwise of these sorts of photographs being depicted in party political material. I do not think it really matters per se what the party is. Obviously if there is a principle to apply, it applies to all of us, whatever side of politics we are on. I want to know whether there is an ADF view about the appropriateness or otherwise of these sorts of things appearing in political propaganda.

Gen. Cosgrove – I can tell you what I would say about its use overtly for political purposes. I can tell you what I would say about ADF members who deliberately entered the opportunity for that reason. But if you got to what we might call random use, where the ADF member did not know that it might be used that way, it would be terribly hard to regulate and police.

Senator FAULKNER – I accept that completely and I am not suggesting that. But I wonder whether there is an ADF view about whether you would prefer politicians like me from the Labor Party or Senator Hill from the Liberal Party – it does not matter so much which political party we might happen to be members of or represent-not to have this sort of material in party propaganda.

Gen. Cosgrove – If it was party propaganda – and somebody has to judge that – I would not want ADF members to engage in something which would be seen to deliberately benefit any side of politics.

Senator FAULKNER – I am happy to show you a sample and, if you would like to see it, I will. Are there any prohibitions or is there a Defence instruction of any description in terms of actually not providing this material to political parties? If somebody goes to Defence PR and says, `I’d like a really nice photograph of General Cosgrove because I want to put General Cosgrove’s photograph in a Labor Party pamphlet.’

Gen. Cosgrove – We would probably say no, but that would be commonsense. I would have to check to see whether there is a specific regulation. I would like to say that I was au fait with every regulation in Defence. I am aware of a longstanding convention, so beyond the regulation I could say to you that an approach like that should be politely declined and it should be pointed out that General Cosgrove may not wish his photo to be used for political purposes-or whoever else the request was concerning.

Senator FAULKNER – It is certainly not obviously encouraged and I did not think for one moment that it would be encouraged by Defence.

Gen. Cosgrove – No.

Senator FAULKNER – Is it fair to say that it would be discouraged by Defence?

Gen. Cosgrove – If we thought that it was to be used unmistakably for political purposes-you said political propaganda; that is pretty strong.

Senator FAULKNER – Political propaganda is the sort of material that the Liberal Party, the Labor Party and other parties produce-pamphlets and the like. Propaganda may not be the most generous terminology but I reckon a lot of people in the community would think it was fair.

Gen. Cosgrove – What about the guy standing for council or something?

Senator Hill – If the local member out at the awards ceremony at the barracks and so forth puts the photos in his newsletter, that does not cause me any distress, no matter which side of politics it is.

Senator FAULKNER – What about the local candidate?

Senator Hill – It would not keep me awake at night either. If you put something in an electoral brochure saying `Cosgrove supports Labor’ and then a photo that you happened to have had taken at the local barracks when you were there for the presentation.’

Senator FAULKNER – Probably get sued for that!

Senator Hill – of the flag, that would be inappropriate. A lot of these things require a commonsense approach.

Senator FAULKNER – My broad question goes to the appropriateness of photographs of uniformed personnel – not necessarily including a local member, a local candidate or anyone else – appearing in material produced by political parties and whether that is deemed to be something that the ADF would encourage or discourage.

Gen. Cosgrove – It would depend on the circumstances; the circumstances would provide an answer to that. If it were to be used for unmistakably political purposes, we would not want that to be done.

Senator FAULKNER – I am happy, privately, if you like, to show you the sort of material that is being produced and you might care to reflect on it and let me know in due course what your response is. Specifically, to General Leahy-and I might say, General Leahy, that in the cases that I am aware of this is mainly from the Army; I have not seen much material depicting the other two services-I very briefly wanted to raise a question with you directly about a matter which you were involved in: what was described as the 2004 Ryan Youth Leadership and Development Forum. I think you are aware, aren’t you, General, of the occasion that I am referring to?

Lt Gen. Leahy -I am.

Senator FAULKNER -The media release for that particular event said: “The Chief of the Australian Army, General Peter Lahey…”

Your surname was incorrectly spelt.

Lt Gen. Leahy – A common occurrence.

Senator FAULKNER -It says: “The Chief of the Australian Army, General Peter Lahey AO flew in especially to open the Forum.” Was that accurate?

Lt Gen. Leahy – I did not fly in especially. I had other business in Brisbane that day. But I did fly in to open the forum.

Senator FAULKNER – It is not accurate; you did not fly in especially to open the forum. That is neither here nor there. This is a forum, you may be aware, that achieved some notoriety because the Australian cricket captain, Ricky Ponting, also attended. Were you aware of that?

Lt Gen. Leahy – I was aware that he attended but I did not see him on the day.

Senator FAULKNER – Were you aware that Mr Johnson, the MP, the member for Ryan, stated on ABC radio last Friday: “It was entirely a community event … There was not a single penny asked from the schools or from the students and I think what Senator Faulkner raised in Senate Estimates is quite deceptive and an act of fraud on his part, not my part.”

You may or may not be aware that Mr Johnson said that, but just for the sake of complete record I like these things to be read in their entirety. Were you aware that he said that?

Lt Gen. Leahy – I was not.

Senator FAULKNER – Are you aware that Mr Johnson sent out an email on 1 February 2004 soliciting support for the function from schools, which states: “If each school was in a position to make a relatively small financial contribution to the event of $4000, I would look after the balance of his expenses.”

I interpolate here: `his expenses’ refers to Ricky Ponting’s expenses. It continues: “For your support I would have in mind that each school would bring its First XI squad, including coaches etc…the kids’ parents, and of course your good selves and spouses. If you are able to give me a firmer indication of your school’s interest and commitment, I can start to get things moving.”

Were you aware of that email that was sent out to schools?

Lt Gen. Leahy – No.

Senator FAULKNER – Which of course puts the complete lie to what was said in the parliament. There was a forum and a cocktail party; I do not know if you were aware that there were two functions.

Lt Gen. Leahy – I am aware. I attended part of the forum.

Senator FAULKNER – Were you aware that people attending the forum and the cocktail party were making out cheques to the Ryan Liberal campaign?

Lt Gen. Leahy – I was not.

Senator FAULKNER – Thank you. That is all I have on that, Chair. I am sorry you had to wait so long, General, to answer those few questions.

Lt Gen. Leahy – It was a great pleasure to be here.

Senator FAULKNER – Now you are misleading the committee!

Lt Gen. Leahy – I withdraw!

Senator FAULKNER – You know that is a very serious offence!

And here’s the lad’s response in Parliament:

Mr JOHNSON (Ryan) (9.24 p.m.) – I am pleased to rise in the parliament and speak about a very special event that I had the great pleasure of putting together in my electorate. On Saturday, 17 April, I had the great pleasure of hosting the inaugural Ryan Youth Leadership and Development Forum. This was a very special event that brought together over 150 local secondary students who live in the electorate of Ryan and go to school either in the Ryan electorate or outside the Ryan electorate. It also brought together parents and teaches to take part in this special forum. The venue was the Centenary State High School. Incidentally, I had been to that school only a couple of weeks earlier when I had the opportunity of opening a new general learning area block worth $1.45 million that was funded by the Howard government.

We had the opportunity to put on what I would say was a showpiece youth event at this school, which my office had been working on for many months. We had the great privilege of having some special Australians attend to enlighten young people in the Ryan electorate about their personal experiences and to encourage them to pursue their goals and dreams. I want to pay tribute to all those who played a part in that forum. Lieutenant General Peter Leahy AO, Chief of the Australian Army, very generously opened the forum. Other guest speakers included: Steven Bradbury, an Olympic gold medallist; Brett Casey, from the Queensland Deaf Society; Lael Bruckner, from the McIntyre Centre; Deni Leishman, from the University of Queensland; Sarah Seckold, the 2003 Queensland Telstra Young Businesswoman of the Year; and Gerrard Gosens, who is a very special Australian. Gerrard is a paralympian with an incredible ambition to climb Mount Everest, notwithstanding his disability. The keynote speaker to close the event was the Australian cricket captain, Ricky Ponting.

I want to thank all those who very generously gave their time to inspire the young people of Ryan. I want to also pay tribute to Pastor John Robertson, from the Kenmore Baptist Church, who did a tremendous job as MC on the day. He made sure that the event moved very smoothly and he also gave students the opportunity to interact and engage in discussions. It was a wonderful event. The young students of Ryan had the chance to hold an Olympic gold medal in their hands, meet an elite sportsman such as Ricky Ponting and hold a baggy green hat. That was a very special opportunity for the students of Ryan and I am sure they will treasure it for many years.

I want to read the welcoming words from the Prime Minister, who very kindly supported the Ryan Youth Leadership and Development Forum, as stated in the brochure that my office put together. He said:

“Young Australians are playing a significant part in building this nation’s prosperity and stability. As young people increasingly assume leadership positions, their talents, attitudes and creativity will become even more important to our future. As you prepare for the next important step in your life, remember that there is nothing you can’t achieve if you put your mind to it. Good luck for your future endeavours.

“Yours sincerely
“John Howard”

I also want to thank the federal Minister for Education, Science and Training, the Hon. Dr Brendan Nelson, who also very kindly provided comments. These are his words as contained in my brochure:

“Good leaders inspire others to rise above themselves, to enthusiastically embrace ideas that implemented will serve the broader interests of all of us. To do so requires intelligence, wit, humility, determination, humour and the imaginative capacity to see the world through the eyes of others.”

I want to again very generously thank those who gave up their time. I thank all the volunteers who gave up their Saturday because, without volunteers, forums such as this, which are entirely put on for the community, would not be possible. I want to very quickly thank Barry and Pat Middleton from Bellbowrie, Keith and Caroline Hamilton from Mt Ommaney, Phil and Brenda Williams from Corinda, Mrs Shirley Tsui from Taringa, and Veronica Jones from Toowong. They are wonderful Australians who give up their time to help with community events such as this one put on by me, their federal member. Volunteers like this assist with charities and other community events throughout the length and breadth of our country. I want to thank everyone who was involved in the forum. (Time expired)

What’s John Howard going to say about this one? It’s got to be time for Khemlani to go, surely? How much embarrassment can the Liberal Party suffer?

Peter Fray

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