Thursday, September 08, 2005

COMMENT: Defaming the Defaming and the Defamed

Defamation law is one of the more esoteric areas of law, full of exceptions and controversies and nooks and crannies that can delight students and enrich barristers.

And if threats of “legal action” made by Liberal MLC David Clarke are to be taken seriously, it appears I will need to brush up on my knowledge of defamation law quite soon.

I admire Mr Clarke for his guts in dealing with the matter. Unlike his factional ally, Bronwyn Bishop, Mr Clarke has not chosen to hide behind Parliamentary Privilege to respond to my comments. Further, he has not accused me of being a terrorist or a bomb-thrower as Mrs Bishop has done.

In Mrs Bishop’s case, I acknowledge that I have been very much a bomb-thrower. However, virtually all the bombs I have thrown have been against the Left faction of the NSW Liberals known as “the Group”. Mrs Bishop has been a beneficiary of my actions, and has even endorsed these actions.

Part of my collection of weapons of mass political destruction was a conservative youth magazine entitled pro-Action. Mrs Bishop permitted me to reproduce a speech given by her in the ANZAC Day edition of the magazine. I would be happy to show copies of the magazine to any journalist.

Further, I distinctly recall Mr Clarke being a huge fan of the magazine. No doubt, should the matter reach court, Mr Clarke will need to swear on the Bible before he dares contradict my version of events in this regard. Indeed, Mr Clarke did express some reservations concerning the magazine, one of which concerned my criticism of Pauline Hanson and her policies on racial and immigration issues.

On Wednesday 7 September 2005, Mr Clarke was interviewed by ABC reporter Alison Caldwell. Mr Clarke described me as having ...

... a very colourful and interesting background.
Given the role Mr Clarke’s staffer Alex Hawke played in the defamation of myself and other members of the Centrist strain of the non-Group faction, I am not surprised in the description of my background.

Indeed, the role Mr Clarke has played in the development of my background is a matter which perhaps Mr Clarke is somewhat uncomfortable with. Mr Clarke is aware of the key role I played in the non-Group faction. He knows that his ascension to the Upper House of the NSW Parliament is the result of the efforts of numerous people whom his staffer had defamed and politically “stabbed” during the years leading upto his ascension to the Presidency of the NSW Young Liberal Movement.

Mr Clarke is aware of my role in ensuring key reforms to the NSW Liberal Party’s constitution were successfully resisted. He is aware of my attendances at virtually all factional meetings of the NSW non-Group forces. He is also aware that my own branch hosted many of these meetings at the Lithuanian Club in Bankstown.

If my background is colourful and interesting, it is because of the key role Mr Clarke played as a political elder and mentor.

I have no problem with Mr Clarke personally. But I do have a problem with some of the sentiments he has expressed in some of his Parliamentary speeches. I have a problem with his comments on a range of issues, and I am concerned that his own staffer is telling journalists that Muslim Australians like myself do not belong in this country and need to assimilate more.

I have a problem with Mr Clarke and his allies seeking to marginalise myself and 300,000 other Muslim Australians together with countless thousands of people deemed to be Muslim because of their names and/or appearance.

If Mr Clarke is prepared to openly take the following steps:

*distance himself from the comments of Messrs Bishop & Panopoulos,
*undertake to rein in his staffer’s racist comments to journalists, and
*undertake never to make any anti-Semitic (be they anti-Jewish or anti-Muslim) remarks

Then I will give serious consideration to negotiating a resolution of any outstanding matters with Mr Clarke.

Mr Clarke needs to more closely monitor and supervise what his staffer is saying to media and members of the public. When Alex Hawke makes islamophobic remarks to journalists, these reflect on Mr Clarke himself. They also reflect on the Liberal Party and on Mr Howard.

More importantly, they create an environment where members of a community which has been at the heart of Australian life for more than 150 years are made to feel unwelcome and unwanted. When my Muslim background leads Mr Clarke and his staffer to suggest that I am not welcome in the Liberal Party, we have a serious crisis on our hands.

Mr Howard has gone out of his way to welcome people of all backgrounds and faiths into the broad church of the Liberal Party. He has also made Muslim organisational leaders key stakeholders in national security. Mr Howard understands that marginalising this faith community is adverse to the interests of national security.

I believe Mr Clarke more than likely agrees with Mr Howard’s sentiments. If that is, in fact, the case, Mr Clarke should openly repudiate the islamophobic comments made by his staffer to a number of journalists.

It is one thing to allegedly defame one Member of Parliament. It is another for that Member’s staffer and a President of the national youth wing of a major political party to defame and marginalise over 300,000 Australians. Mr Hawke’s group-defamation must be stopped and curtailed. Freedom of speech should not include freedom to incite hatred.

If Mr Clarke is serious about his claims to not being anti-Semitic, he must stop his staffer Alex Hawke from making public statements which offend and marginalise followers of a major Semitic faith in Australia. And Liberal leader Peter Debnam, whose seat of Vaucluse has a large Jewish community, cannot afford to be seen to be shielding anyone with anti-Semitic links.

Words © 2005 Irfan Yusuf

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