Crikey Says

Oct 23, 2014

Crikey says: we stand with Freya

Keane: Bishop bows to Ebola pressure. Suck it up Labor, today’s Gough would be Green. New Matilda in landmark privacy case. More ads for SBS. Rundle in America: curtains for the Dems' Senate majority. Gillard’s goldfish (sort of) explained. The preference whisperer heads to Spring St. Pyne’s curriculum review shambolic compared to Howard’s. Mayne: name and shame secretive councils. Whitlam’s mining legacy. And Razer reckons baby, you weren’t born this way.

Freya Newman, the 21-year-old student who blew the whistle on a secret scholarship awarded by a private design school to Tony Abbott’s daughter, should be applauded for her bravery. Newman’s sentencing was delayed this morning and had not yet been handed down at the time of Crikey’s deadline. She faces two years in jail for accessing restricted data on a computer at the Whitehouse Design Institute, where she once worked as a library assistant. There is no doubt that the information Newman leaked was in the public interest. In our minds, there is also no doubt that if Frances Abbott were not the Prime Minister’s daughter, Newman would not be in court today, facing jail for her actions. As Whistleblowers Australia president Cynthia Kardell told Crikey after news of the scholarship was first broken by news website New Matilda:
“Police do have discretion. They don’t investigate everything that turns up on their doorstep. Often ... they’ll investigate if there’s a strong political interest. There’s an amazing amount of money and power on the father’s side, who has full access to the law and can find ways to use the government to push it along. No doubt somewhere along the way, someone will ask him whether this use of the Crimes Act is heavy-handed.”
Whistleblowers like Newman take massive personal risks. In return, they often face smear campaigns and a lifetime of being branded a “troublemaker”. Taking on powerful individuals and institutions takes a financial and emotional toll, too. That’s why media outlets must take a stand in their defence and acknowledge the critical role they play in exposing information those in power would prefer remained hidden. Crikey stands in support of Freya Newman, and all whistleblowers who risk their personal freedom to expose corrupt behaviour by those in power.

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52 thoughts on “Crikey says: we stand with Freya

  1. Norman Hanscombe

    Having known a NSW Education Department teacher who stood up to both the Department and the NSWTF who backed the Principal against allegations of not performing his duties, perhaps I’m less easily impressed than is Crikey.
    The Department with Union backing did a faux investigation and cleared the Principal. When the teacher persisted, he was offered a transfer to another school if he’d drop the allegations, and if he refused to do this because he was in his first year of appointment his employment could be annulled without appeal, and this was being done without even telling him.
    He had the good fortune to be told about this by an Education Head Office employee, but then lodged a further complaint making it clear he would go public if nothing was done. The Department held another review but although it demoted the Principal to classroom status, he was allowed to retire immediately on his Principal’s salary superannuation, and no mention was made of assault incidents I’d documented.
    Two temporary teachers the Principal had sacked were given permanent positions, but the valuable position of the Education Department Officer who assisted was abolished.
    As for Crikey’s current crusade, I’d suggest you look more carefully at whether there was ANY credible improper involvement by ANYONE. and if so do what hasn’t been done so far, detail it. While you’re at it, I’d be interested in hearing why what seems to have been a politically influenced action by the “whistle-blower” deserves the status of Caesar’s Wife.

  2. David Hand

    Newman is not a whistle blower and it is an insult to those who genuinely risk their reputations and careers to expose illegal activity that would otherwise have remained hidden.

    She is an extreme left wing activist who has committed a crime and subsequently pleaded guilty to it.

    Though I agree that if it were not the prime minister’s daughter Newman may well have not been in court today, the hacking was a direct attack on the stability of the Coalition government. Rather than whistleblowing it was designed to damage Tony Abbott’s reputation and make the process of government more difficult. If it were not the prime minister’s daughter, this activist would not have hacked it.

    And Kardell’s view is laughable. A crime was committed. That crime damaged the government. The perpetrator has pleaded guilty. Frances Abbott has not had to refund the scholarship. The institute is handing out its scholarships in exactly the same way now as it did before this hacking occurred.

    The hacking has changed absolutely nothing apart from damaging Tony Abbott’s reputation. But that’s why you guys love Newman.

  3. Norman Hanscombe

    David, those attacking Freya may have a justification for doing so, but many of them will be doing it for the wrong reasons, just as many of those defending her are also doing it for the wrong reasons. Our species DNA makes non-emotive analysis of significant complex issues possible, but far from probable.

  4. Brendan Jones

    > She faces two years in jail for accessing restricted data on a computer

    Now that’s interesting. Last September I found public servants in the Department of Defence were using web surveillance company Blue Coat Systems to circumvent the access security on my web site:

    I saved the logs:

    I wrote to Public Service Minister Eric Abetz, who claimed he could do nothing but that instead (although it was clearly not an intelligence operation) said I could report it to IGIS (you know, the same mob who refused to investigate ASIO spying for Woodside):

    Reported it to the NSW Police… who didn’t even respond to the complaint.

    Reported it to ACLEI (the AFP watchdog) who didn’t do anything either.

    Also reported it to Justice Minister Michael Keenan… who also did nothing.

    It’s also a felony violation of the US Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (since the target system was in the US). So to hell with Australian law enforcement (now there’s an oxymoron if ever I heard one); I’d do better to report it to the FBI instead:

    Yet the police were very quick to prosecute Freya Newman, yet there are many federal corruption cases – years old – which remain uninvestigated. I compiled a list of them here from public sources:

    All this makes the point, in Australia public officials are free to break the law without fear of prosecution, yet members of the public cannot.

    US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis: “Decency, security, and liberty alike demand that government officials shall be subjected to the same rules of conduct that are commands to the citizen. In a government of laws, existence of the government will be imperiled if it fails to observe the law scrupulously. Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example. Crime is contagious. If the government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy.”

  5. Yclept

    Supporting your hero again David. Good to see he can do no wrong in your eyes. Of course a $60,000 scholarship wasn’t being used to buy influence. Why should Tony be accountable for such a thing when a state Premier resigns over a bottle of over-rated plonk.

    How could Abbott’s reputation be damaged any more than he does all by himself.

    And by the way where are all the legal actions against government ministers for leaking confidential information when it suits them?

  6. max

    Considering your own ideological vilification of Newman David, I’d say she’s one of those genuine whistle-blowers that is having their reputation and career damaged after exposing illegal activity…

    The public deserves to know about unusual and incredibly generous scholarships being awarded to the daughter of our head of state, if that damages the government it’s Abbott’s fault for accepting the scholarship, not the messenger’s for telling us about it.

  7. Norman Hanscombe

    Yclept, were you more observant you wouldn’t hold the absurd belief about a “state Premier resigns over a bottle of over-rated plonk.” Following the news more closely might have helped there?

  8. Norman Hanscombe

    max, please give serious thought to checking on how the scholarship was won and why Freya chose to not raise an ethical issue but rather chose to launch a political attack. Remember assessing situations shouldn’t rely heavily on our pre-determined prejudices.

  9. Norman Hanscombe

    max, if it’s not asking too much, either explain what your personal meaning is for the word ‘illegal’ OR explain what actions you imagine to have been illegal.
    While you’re at it, max, an explanation re why anyone associated with possible political beliefs you don’t share is less entitled to accept scholarships than are those whose political beliefs you support?

  10. max

    Abbott was only the second recipient of the prize, which was not advertised to other students. Whitehouse has declined to detail the application process and criteria for awarding the scholarship.

    According to its website, Whitehouse “does not currently offer scholarships to gain a place”, but the college has maintained it offers a variety of scholarships and all “are discretionary and awarded on merit”.

    ^quotes from

    That might not constitute illegality, but it reeks of corruption and will continue to while the whistleblower is persecuted and her claims go un-investigated.

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