Wednesday, September 07, 2005

COMMENT: Mrs Bishop defames me under Parliamentary Privilege

I refer readers to the personal explanation provided by Mrs Bishop as contained on page 11 of the Hansard. The relevant excepts taken from Hansard are reproduced below …

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP (Mackellar) (3.05 pm)—Mr Speaker, I wish to make a personal explanation.

The SPEAKER—Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?


The SPEAKER—Please proceed.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP—It has come to my attention today that an opinion piece has been authored and distributed by a Muslim activist, known for his offensive behaviour to women, by the name of Mr Irfan Yousef. He has made a number of scurrilous, ridiculous and inaccurate statements concerning me. For the record, I totally refute his statements but, as he has not resorted to bomb throwing, I guess we can handle his accusations.

Mrs Bishop makes a personal explanation in response to an “opinion piece”. She has not advised which piece she is responding to. Her comments have been made under parliamentary privilege. Had they been made outside Parliament, they would have constituted an actionable defamation.

Mrs Bishop describes me using most unfortunate language. Given my 10 years membership of the NSW Liberal Party, and given my involvement in the very same faction to which Mrs Bishop belongs, and given my preparedness to stand as an endorsed candidate in Local, State and Federal elections, I am dismayed by her description of me as a mere “Muslim activist”.

Yet two further defamatory imputations are of particular concern to me.

First, she says I am “known for ... offensive behaviour toward women”. I would request that Mrs Bishop provide an example of such offensive behaviour together with the source of her information.

Mrs Bishop knows me well. She knows that from 1994 to 2002, I was a factional warrior for the non-Group faction of the NSW Liberals. She has even consulted me in relation to assisting her in a possible stack of branches in her conference against the State Member and former opposition leader, John Brogden.

Mrs Bishop will have last met me in person at a farewell dinner for former NSW Premier and Federal Finance Minister John Fahey. On that occasion, she would have seen me accompanied by male and female friends. Indeed, I distinctly recall Mrs Bishop having her photograph taken with my female friends, all of whom were wearing headscarves.

Further, Mrs Bishop will have remembered me from numerous factional meetings I attended where she was also present.

Mrs Bishop knows me well enough to be able to provide one example of where I have behaved offensively toward a woman. Indeed, my first op-ed piece published in the Sydney Morning Herald was a critique of a Muslim sheik’s offensive remarks concerning women’s dress.

Mrs Bishop’s suggestion that I have “not resorted to bomb throwing” speaks much for her attitude toward persons presumed to be from a particular background. I am not known to have ever engaged in the use of any weapons, beyond the odd game of skirmish paintball and my poison pen (which was usually directed against Mrs Bishop’s political opponents within the Liberal Party).

I take Mrs Bishop’s comments to be an allegation that I have perhaps in the past or maybe in the future would resort to terrorist activities. In the context of her naming me as “a Muslim activist”, I can only take this to mean that Mrs Bishop is suggesting I would engage in terrorist activities.

Again, I urge Mrs Bishop to provide an example of where I have engaged in terrorist activities. I do recall having politically terrorised members of the Group faction of the NSW Liberals. My number-crunching and editorial activities have seen numerous Group MP’s feel some political discomfort. The only bombs I recall throwing have been as a member of the non-Group Young Liberals known as “The Team”.

If Mrs Bishop regards my past political activities in the Young Liberals as terrorism, I guess she would have to regard herself as a terror-cell leader. At least one former staff member of hers actively assisted in the distribution of my “terrorist” magazine. But beyond these activities, I am not aware of any accusations of involvement in terrorism.

Naturally, I realise that some would regard possession of a Hebrew surname such as “Yusuf” as being sufficient evidence of terrorist sympathies. At this stage, I have no inclination toward dropping my paternal grandfather’s name as my surname. I am proud of my Indian Mughal Turkman heritage, and see no reason to rid myself of its trappings.

But of special concern to me is Mrs Bishop’s inability to spell my surname. My humble surname is but 5 letters, and is a common Hebrew and Arabic spelling of the popular name “Joseph”. I am sure Mrs Bishop would have many persons in her electorate of the same surname.

Surely Mrs Bishop would have copies of the conservative youth magazine “pro-Action” which I used to edit and which list me as editor. Indeed, Mrs Bishop gave me permission to reproduce one of her speeches in the ANZAC Day edition of the magazine. Further, one of her former staffers provided me with material from the “Their Service, Our Heritage” kit for use in the magazine.

Mrs Bishop should know how to spell my surname, and I am offended that she has spelt it incorrectly. I would request she arrange for the correct spelling of my name to appear in Hansard.

I have written to Mrs Bishop some 2 weeks ago, requesting a meeting with her so that I can introduce her to Muslim women residing and/or doing business in her electorate. Many of these women choose not to wear headscarves. I have invited Mrs Bishop to meet with these women and gain a first-hand Australian perspective of the issues surrounding the hijab in schools. An invitation has also been sent to Mrs Bishop’s colleague, Ms Panopoulos.

Mrs Bishop is free to contact me. I would be happy to meet with her. Alternatively, she can e-mail me. Alternatively, I would be prepared to go “head-to-head” in a live on-air discussion with both Mrs Bishop and Ms Panopoulos on Lateline or any other serious and reputable current affairs show (which I guess rules out Channel 7’s Today Tonight!).

Words © 2005 Irfan Yusuf

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