Five years in the pokey?

By February 25, 2019Australian Politics

Back in 1988, Walter Scott was the Liberal candidate in the NSW state election for the seat of Port Stephens (just north of Newcastle), and he lost to the Labor candidate Bob Martin by 90 votes. Scott took the result to the Court of Disputed Returns and that court returned a judgement that government cheques handed to community groups by Martin counted as electoral bribery1,2. This ruling was met with horror by both Coalition and Labor politicians. In the subsequent by-election, unwelcomed by the Coalition Greiner government, Martin defeated Scott resoundingly with a 12.9% swing towards him. The ruling by the Court of Disputed Returns has effectively been ignored subsequently2, but now Georgina Downer has resurrected this decision from obscurity by her latest stunt.

Downer was photographed presenting a novelty cheque to the Yankalilla Bowling Club for the considerable sum of $127,373.00. The novelty cheque had her face on the left hand side, and above that ‘Georgina Downer – Liberal for Mayo’ with the Liberal Party logo at the top right3. This is despite Downer not being a member of parliament nor a representative of the granting body. The grant was made under the federal government’s Community Sport Infrastructure Program. Normally, when a government grant is made to a local community organisations or club, it is the local member who presents it3. In this case, that should have been Centre Alliance’s Rebekha Sharkie, but she is not a Liberal, so was clearly unacceptable to a desperate and corrupt federal government.

That Downer has done this, presumably in cahoots with members of her party and Liberal members of parliament, demonstrates the abject desperation of the federal government to do absolutely anything to win the next election, especially with the threat of a federal integrity commission and perhaps assorted royal commissions hanging over their heads should they lose the election. Should Downer win the election in Mayo (she won’t), it would be interesting to see what the Court of Disputed Returns would rule given the precedent from 1988.

The Court of Disputed Returns may be the least of Georgina Downer’s worries. This Yankalilla stunt was a risky thing for Downer to do, as it could be seen to contravene the Criminal Code Amendment (Impersonating a Commonwealth Body) Act 2018. Part 7.8, Division 150.1 relates to ‘False representations in relation to a Commonwealth body’, and item 2 in this subdivision states that:

A person commits an offence if:

  • the person engages in conduct; and
  • the conduct results in, or is reasonably capable of resulting in, a representation that the person:

(i) is a Commonwealth body; or

(ii) is acting on behalf of, or with the authority of, a Commonwealth body; and

  • the person engages in the conduct with the intention of:

(i) obtaining a gain; or

(ii) causing a loss; or

(iii) influencing the exercise of a public duty or function; and

  • the person is not:

(i) the Commonwealth body; or

(ii) acting on behalf of, or with the authority of, the Commonwealth body

Penalty: Imprisonment for 5 years4

It could be argued that Georgina Downer was giving the Yankalilla Bowling Club, and any assembled media, the impression that she was representing a Commonwealth body (the granting organisation) and in doing so was engaging in conduct with the intention of obtaining a gain (in this case, a parliamentary salary), and causing a loss (of Rebekha Sharkie’s parliamentary salary) by influencing the people of Mayo in the performance of their compulsory public duty of voting in the federal election. It is clear that Downer is not a Commonwealth employee, and was presumably not acting on behalf of, or with the authority of the granting body. While many people may think it would be silly to send someone as insipidly incompetent as Georgina Downer to prison for half a decade, we operate under the rule of law or we don’t. The latter is the way to disaster.



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