The Federal Member for Melbourne Ports, Michael Danby, has used a former staffer and daughter of a Victorian Multicultural Commissioner to deliver an anonymous threat to a student union president over a pro-Palestinian protest.
On Tuesday, the president of the La Trobe University Student Union, Lachlan Batchelor, received the threatening call, later revealed to be from Rebecca Pinskier, a former Danby staffer and the daughter of senior ALP identity Henry Pinskier and Victorian multicultural commissioner Marcia Pinskier.
“I have a message from Michael Danby”, the phone call began.
“You’re a fool. And nothing you can do will sabotage the Rudd Government’s VSU legislation.”
When Batchelor enquired as to the caller’s identity, the caller hung up. However it later emerged that the caller ID belonged to the Pinskiers.
The call came hours after the La Trobe University student union held a special general meeting called by campus activists Students for Palestine, that Batchelor was required to approve under University guidelines.
The meeting, which proposed to donate $500 to a Gaza Strip hospital and $500 to pro-Palestinian campaigns on campus, failed to a reach quorum and was disbanded minutes later.
When contacted by Crikey this morning Rebecca Pinksier denied she had made the call.
“Someone must have used a phone card and hijacked my number”, she said.
“I don’t have to listen to your questions”, she added.
When read the transcript of the conversation, a spokesperson for Danby said it was “obviously not Michael’s view, or the office’s view.”
But 30 minutes later Danby issued an extraordinary statement backing Batchelor’s version of events. He claimed pro-Palestinian expenditure would deny the Rudd Government passage of its Student Services Amenities Bill, which was rejected by the Senate last week.
“Rebecca Pinskier rang me and I told her that if the Student President was backing this he was a fool and nothing he could do would undermine the government legislation, that is being blocked in the Senate, overriding VSU,” Danby said.
“This expenditure of student money is exactly the kind of ammunition the Liberals will need to sabotage government legislation being passed.”
Last week, the Rudd government’s Student Services and Amenities Bill was defeated in the Senate and it is not expected to re-enter the chamber.
The fight between pro-Palestinian activists and pro-Israel students at La Trobe’s Bundoora campus has been simmering for weeks. On 29 June, two university staff members met with a rabbi to discuss the community’s concerns.
The Pinskiers are leading lights in the Melbourne Jewish community.
Henry Pinskier is a senior figure in the right-wing Labor Unity faction, a former Danby staffer and sits on a number of state government boards. His wife, Victorian Multicultural Commissioner Marcia Pinskier, was on a short-list drawn up by the ALP to replace Evan Thornley in the upper house seat of Southern Metropolitan, which takes in Danby’s electorate.
In Danby’s maiden speech to parliament, he thanked Henry Pinskier as one of his “three musketeers”. Rebecca Pinskier has worked as a Danby staffer at the member’s St Kilda office.
Batchelor told Crikey that he was still stunned by the call.
“I’m bemused that a federal parliamentarian would think anonymous threats were an appropriate medium for getting a message across.”
Batchelor said he was simply applying Student Union rules that require a meeting to be called if a petition receives over 60 students. He said he broadly supports the passage of the Rudd Government’s Student Services and Amenities Bill.