So Merri Rose cops three months’ porridge for attempted blackmail — at least she wasn’t guilty of pattern bargaining.

Discerning the difference between blackmail as a criminal offence and something merely commercial does seem a curious thing on occasion.

The former Queensland Minister being jailed provides the chance for me to ask the m’learned Crikey Army friends to explain exactly the difference between what Merri Rose tried to do to Peter Beattie and what Manildra boss Dick Honan succeeded in doing to John Pascoe, who is now the Chief Federal Magistrate.

In his 2004 judgment in the Federal Court against George Weston Foods Ltd, Gyles J seemed to go to some effort to include fascinating testimony by Honan about a threat he made to Pascoe when the latter was chairman of George Weston. Honan wanted George Weston to stop exporting gluten and used the threat of dobbing Weston in to the ACCC as a way of achieving that ends.

Gyles’s judgement includes, among other things, this testimony by Honan:

I said: “Let me come to the point, Paul Loneragan called my son on two occasions and I have two employees who would [swear] an affidavit that Loneragan called them seeking Manildra’s co-operation to raise the price of floor. Unless you call me by 5pm this afternoon, I will go to the ACCC about Loneragan calling out office.”

Both Mr Pascoe and Mr Forgie expressed shock and surprise at this. Mr Pascoe used strong language to express his shock and surprise. The conversation continued in words to the following effect:

Pascoe said: “He knows that he cannot do that, he will have to be fired.”

I said: “I didn’t come here to get anyone fired; I came to see you about stopping the importation and re-export of gluten; otherwise I am going to the ACCC with this information.”

Gyles notes that “later that day, Pascoe informed Honan that the commercial matter was resolved in the manner sought by Honan”.

So, aside from being successful in applying leverage, unlike Merri Rose, what’s the difference?

Honan didn’t go to the ACCC, but some whistleblower did. George Weston was fined $1.5 million. Just before the judgment was made, John Pascoe resigned various public company directorships and was made Chief Federal Magistrate by the Howard Government.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
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