It was the Midwinter Ball on Wednesday night, and if Health Minister Greg Hunt, Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar and Human Services Minister Alan Tudge felt a little a groggy the next morning, they are unlikely to have their mood improved by the letters they received from the Victorian judicial registrar. Following vocal criticism from the trio about the Victorian Judiciary’s decisions regarding Terrorist suspects, each was told he, or his legal representative, were required to “appear before the Court of Appeal on Friday 16 June 2017 … to make submissions as to why you should not be referred for prosecution for contempt”. (George Brandis must be thanking his lucky stars.)
The trio opted not to make the trip, sending the Solicitor-General to argue their case.
Of course, rule makers breaking the rules is nothing new; we couldn’t possibly fit every instance a pollie being hauled before a judge into one article, but here are a few selected highlights…
Of course, we can’t talk about contempt of court and politicians without mentioning former broadcaster and Crikey contributor Senator Derryn Hinch. Prior to his election to the Senate in 2016, Hinch was a serial offender when it came to contempt of court. In 1987, he was convicted after revealing paedophile priest Michael Charles Glennon’s prior conviction during a pending trial. Hinch served 12 days (plus a $15,000 fine) for that one.
In 2011, while battling cancer, he breached four suppression orders concerning two sex offenders (both on his website and at a victims-of-crime rally outside the Victorian Parliament in 2008) and was confined to his home for five months. And finally in 2014, Hinch spent 50 days in the big house — having declined to pay a $100,000 fine — for revealing details of the criminal history of Jill Meagher’s killer Adrian Bayley. Once Hinch swapped sides and decided to attempt to put laws in place, rather than ignoring them, his approach didn’t change; he used his maiden speech (and the parliamentary privilege that comes with it) to name paedophiles.
Ironically, our most famous wartime prime minister was a total leftie pacificist in his youth. In 1916, he was imprisoned for failing to attend a compulsory medical examination for conscription into World War I. He was, at the time, an organiser for the national executive of the Australian Trades Union Anti-Conscription Congress. He was charged with failure to enlist and sentenced to three months jail (of which he served three days). According to the Australian dictionary of Biography his attitude “blended pacifism, traditional socialist anti-militarism and the Marxist analysis that war was essential to the capitalist system”.
Our Pauline has become such a fixture of the political landscape in the last year that it’s easy to forget not only has she already had an eventful enough political career for one lifetime, but that her career as a politician seemed dead, buried and cremated a little over a decade ago. After a brief period in the Senate from 1996 to 1998, Hanson was, after a sustained campaign from Tony Abbott and others, convicted of electoral fraud and sentenced to three years in prison along with then-One Nation deputy director David Ettridge. After she spent 11 weeks in the slammer, her conviction (and that of Ettridge) was unanimously overturned on appeal.
“I got caught up in a system that I saw fail me and I am so concerned now for the other women behind the bars … and men,” she said upon her release. Thirteen years later, and a year into her second Senate term, no word yet on when she’s going to get around to doing anything about that concern. A check of the One Nation policy page provides no clue.