In a just, fair and civilized society, Gillian Sneddon would be celebrated as a role model, NSW Premier Morris Iemma would be presenting her an award for outstanding public service, she’d be visiting Government House for a vice regal citation for integrity from the Governor, Professor Marie Bashir, and state MPs would be rearranging their schedules to pass a vote of appreciation from both house of the parliament.
Instead, she’s been given the sack. Her health is shot to pieces and she remains frightened and disillusioned.
Sneddon is paying the price for cooperating with the police during its investigation into her employer, Milton Orkopoulos, the Labor MP for Swansea and the former Aboriginal Affairs Minister in the Iemma Cabinet.
Orkopoulos’s sentencing hearing began in the Newcastle District Court today after he was found guilty last week on 28 charges, including eight counts of having homos-xual intercourse with a minor, 13 counts of supplying cannabis, four counts of supplying heroin, and three counts of indecent assault on a minor.
Orkopoulos’s pedophile conviction represents a complete vindication of Sneddon. She did the right thing by assisting the police in their inquiry into a heinous crime by a person in high public office who commited s-x crimes against teenagers and rewarded them with illegal drugs.
She had served as electorate officer on the left-wing MP’s staff from the start of his political career in March 1999 right up to his Cabinet appointment in August 2005 and beyond.
When detectives visited the office to investigate pedophile allegations in September 2006, she was dismayed because Orkopoulos had told her he had dealt with the accusations in 2005 by going to the police.
She agreed to assist the task force with their inquiry but soon found that her position in his office was untenable. She contacted her employer, the NSW Parliament, to reveal that a covert police operation was underway against her boss and that she needed alternative employment or help.
What happened next was extraordinary. The clerk of the Legislative Assembly, Russell Grove, held a meeting with human resources manager Elaine Schofield at which the pedophile allegations against Orkopoulos relayed by Sneddon were discussed.
The upshot was that a locksmith was ordered to change the locks on Orkopoulos’s electorate office. Sneddon found herself locked out.
It is inconceivable that the then Speaker John Aquilina wasn’t informed of the allegations as well as the steps taken by the parliament to protect Orkopoulos. Grove wouldn’t have acted on his own.
Subsequently, Sneddon was granted stress leave and she began to receive worker’s compensation.
On the day she testified against Orkopoulos at his trial, February 22, 2008, she received a letter signed by Grove stating that the new Speaker, pro-Labor Independent Richard Torbay, was terminating her employment. It was also her birthday.
Torbay later admitted the timing was “unfortunate” but it had inadvertently sent a loud and clear message around the state’s electorate offices and the public service generally: Don’t be a whistleblower.
Sneddon told 2GB’s Ray Hadley this week that she had been treated like a criminal though she had done the right thing. “I acted with integrity, I told the truth, I did what I had to do,” she said.
She said that at one stage of her ordeal “I was so frightened I thought I was going to be killed.” Later, her morale slumped so low, she felt like dying.
After news broke of her sacking, there was a knee-jerk reaction and Sneddon was offered a stay-on job by parliament. “How can I take it?” she asked. “How can I ever trust them again?”
She now believes that there should be an official investigation into how parliament handled the Orkopoulos matter, to establish who knew what and when.
She is supported by Murrumbidgee Nationals MP, Adrian Piccoli, shadow leader of the house, who has been harassing Iemma with questions in the house about when he first knew of Orkopoulos’s crimes. Iemma’s consistent answer is that he found out the day that the MP was arrested – November 8, 2006 – and knew nothing whatsoever before that date.
When parliament resumes next month the cross examination of Iemma will continue as the Coalition tightens the noose on this highly unsavoury episode in the life of the government. Would any MP like to table a motion congratulating Sneddon for her courage, honesty and services to parliament and integrity in public life?