Did a key election adviser to Steve Bracks use his arts contacts to try and influence the outcome of last month’s state election?

On Thursday 30 November, five days after Bracks won the election, Melbourne Fringe Festival supporters received this strange email from Chair Anni Davey:

Last Friday I sent you an email in which certain statements were made relating to the Victorian election campaign. The sending of this email was an error of judgement and it should not have been sent. Melbourne Fringe and I, personally, unreservedly apologise for contacting you regarding these views. Melbourne Fringe has a proud heritage as a truly independent arts organisation, and we are committed to ensuring that remains the case.

What Davey was referring to was this even stranger pre-election email — sent to up to several thousand Fringe Festival supporters one day before the election –in which she openly endorsed Labor minister Bronwyn Pike who went on to beat the Greens by a whisker in her highly marginal inner-suburban seat of Melbourne: 

It is not easy to put on a festival of the size and scale of The Age Melbourne Fringe Festival year in and year out…

I would like to bring your attention to the personal commitment from the Minister for Health – and Member for Melbourne – Bronwyn Pike. 

Bronwyn has engaged with Melbourne Fringe and given us assistance when we have needed it most to make a difference – and has allowed us the freedom to put on the best festival that we possibly can. 

However, what many of you may not realise is that the Greens have
support of the Liberal Party in the inner city in an attempt to unseat
Bronwyn Pike, as well as other inner urban supporters like Richard Wynne in the seat of Richmond.

This could result in some of Melbourne Fringe’s strongest supporters – like Bronwyn Pike in Melbourne – losing their seats.

If you live in the inner northern seat of Melbourne, I urge you to 
vote for one of Melbourne Fringe’s biggest supporters – Bronwyn Pike.

Yours sincerely

Anni Davey
Melbourne Fringe

This political email — and the Greens’ outraged reaction to it — was reported in various papers, including The Australian.

Sources close to Pearson have told Crikey that the link between Pearson and the email is a “strong one”.

We put in calls to Anni Davey for her response but she was unavailable, though we were sent a pro forma reply:

Last week, the Melbourne Fringe Chair wrote to supporters discussing the Victorian election campaign. The Fringe Chair has again written to supporters on the Melbourne Fringe database advising them that the comments should not have been made. Melbourne Fringe has a long-standing commitment to being a truly independent arts organisation, and that commitment remains.

Davey’s email response “raises more questions than it answers,” says Victorian Greens spokesman Greg Barber. She needed to say more than “it was a mistake”. She should have said “how it happened, why it happened and how it won’t happen again.”

Crikey also put in calls to Pearson but had not heard back from him by deadline.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for Pike, Ben Hart, said it was totally false and a slur on the festival to suggest the ALP was behind the email, reports The Oz.

“It is an insult to the independent Fringe organisation for the Greens to claim that they are an instrument of the State Government. We condemn the Greens’ attempts to silence the organisation and stop them from expressing a view,” he said.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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