Jailed, threatened and accused of being a spy in the chaos of the former Yugoslavia. That’s not a normal political apprenticeship, but it’s how ACT Liberal MLA Steve Pratt first came to national attention.
He continues to be newsworthy. Is he a raving ratbag or battling demons – and, in either case, should he be an MP?
The ACT Liberal opposition are not the happiest crew. Matters weren’t improved on Friday when Pratt announced he would issue defamation proceedings against ACT Liberal Party president Gary Kent.
This stems from a remarkable email sent to Pratt by Kent warning him about alleged muckraking attempts against a fellow Liberal MP, Richard Mulcahy. The email memorably reminded Pratt that he had not been pre-selected to be a “Sherlock Holmes”. Pratt was then photographed in the Canberra Times doing a very bad Holmes impersonation, which served to promote the piece to the front page.
The email, which Pratt sent to at least seven other people, among whom one apparently leaked it to the Canberra Times, had Kent reminding Pratt that he had “resisted all attempts to do you in over spying allegations”, a reference to the period in 1999 when Pratt, then a worker with the aid organisation CARE, was held in then Yugoslavia and sentenced to a long term of imprisonment for spying.
It has since emerged that two of Pratt’s aid colleagues who were held with him are currently suing their former employer for negligence claiming Pratt’s actions placed them in danger.
Last week, Pratt said he was taking legal action against the Canberra local paper, City News, over articles written about him as well as a journalist with whom he had an angry confrontation.
Those with long memories might recall a decision by the Australian Press Council upholding a complaint by Pratt’s brother Stuart arising from articles published in The Sunday Telegraph of 11 April 1999 relating to Steve Pratt.
The articles, entitled “The secret past of Aussie aid worker” and “Aid man’s secret UN mission”, quoted Steve Pratt’s mother as indicating that Pratt supplied information about Iraqi forces to the United Nations during the Gulf War. This was said to have occurred when Pratt was working with refugees in northern Iraq and resulted in his having to leave the country quickly as “Iraq put a price on his head”.
The permanently angry Pratt made the news earlier this year when he had a loud and abusive verbal clash in a corridor of the ACT Legislative Assembly with fellow Liberal MLA, Vicki Dunne.
Of all the sitting members returned in the ACT’s multi-member electorate system at the 2004 election, Pratt was the only one to lose ground from the 2001 result. Interestingly, his inaugural speech to the Assembly proclaimed the virtues of teamwork and loyalty.
A remark made by a constituent, which is constantly being retold by his Liberal colleagues, is: “People like Steve Pratt until they meet him”.
Steve Pratt MLA responds: It is preposterous that Crikey would identify me as “most litigious” when Crikey describes my track record as one action taken by my brother on my behalf in 1999 [when he defended me against a stupid, life threatening newspaper report while I was in a Yugoslavian military prison] and then seven years later Crikey says I have taken legal action over the Gary Kent email and against the City News and their reporter. Putting to one side the erroneous nature of that (Crikey) report this is not serial litigious behaviour.
Crikey states that I have, “…announced that I am issuing defamation procedures against ACT liberal party president Gary Kent”. The fact is I have said I am taking “appropriate legal action” over the Kent email for the defamatory allegations in the email, primarily those which accuse me of investigating Richard Mulcahy’s affairs and the related so-called “muckraking”. The fact is I am also taking “appropriate legal action” against the City News and their reporter for City News’s treatment of the Kent email allegations as FACT, one example, “…Stefaniak should have shunted Pratt to the backbench immediately and permanently for his ego driven, cowardly muckraking of his own team”.
In relation to the incorrect and misleading statement that one of the people I shared the email with was the leaker. It was not in my interest nor the interest of the five people defamed in the email, nor the two loyal staffers from whom advice was sought, to see that email leaked, given its outrageous defamatory character attacks on those of us named in the email.
As for the Sunday Telegraph article. The sensationalist Crikey is naively out of touch with the harsh realities that exist in emergency aid operations inside war zones. I wasn’t supplying information about Iraqi forces – we never saw their forces where we helped the Kurdish people. The fact is I reported information about IRANIAN Revolutionary Guard forces who backed by local Hezbollah terrorists crossed the border into Iraq, creating new humanitarian crises and havoc, including killing my staff and sacking my refugee support warehouses. We wanted the UN to stop them. Yes, that did earn me a price on my head.
I have been no more angry than any other Labor or Liberal MLA and if the one incident in 5 years that Crikey mentions is the best they can come up with then Crikey exaggerates and misleads. The incident mentioned by Crikey, by the way, occurred totally within the confidential confines of the Liberal Party corridors – this fact is borne out by a number of witnesses – but the incident was unnecessarily and rapidly reported to the media.
If Crikey wants to have a bit of fun at my expense, well I guess that is the lot of a politician, but I say to Crikey: leave my brother out of it, get the facts right and mind who you work for.