I used to work
for Kris Hanna, the South Australian State MP who enjoyed his fifteen
minutes of fame when he quit the Labor Party and joined the Greens less
than a year after the 2002 election.

In 2001, Kris got into a
niggly argument with a Liberal State MP in a neighbouring electorate,
Wayne Matthew, who was then Minister for Minerals and Energy in the
Olsen Government.

The details are pretty mundane. Wayne wrote a
couple of letters to the local rag accusing Kris of improperly stepping
off a local high school council. In the first letter he named the wrong
school, and in the second letter (which was only written after Kris’s
lawyer sent Wayne a warning about the first letter), Wayne got the
school right but repeated his allegations, despite having been warned
that they were totally wrong.

Kris sued in December 2001, only weeks before the start of the election campaign. The judgment,
which explains the circumstances of the case quite well, was not made
until a couple of months after the election, by which time there had
been a change in Government. Kris was awarded $65,000, tax free of

The interesting detail about this, which has been
mentioned in the South Australian Hansard but never broadly reported,
is that the Olsen Government agreed to fund Wayne’s defence, despite
him having written the defamatory letters as a local MP, not a
Minister. His letters had nothing to do with his portfolio. Further,
the Government agreed to indemnify Wayne, despite apparently receiving
Crown Law advice that only Ministers acting in their capacity as such
should receive such indemnity.

In fairness to Kris, he attempted
to expose this during the trial, but his lawyer’s attempts to pursue
these details were ruled out by the judge.

So South Australian
taxpayers coughed up $65,000 to Kris, and presumably a lot more to the
lawyers on both sides. Once the judgement had been made, Wayne
apparently asked the new Labor Attorney General to fund an appeal –
this was not surprisingly refused.

I notice he’s announced he won’t be contesting his seat again.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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