Friday, September 09, 2005

Why I Spoke Out

In 1993, I joined Bankstown Young Liberals and the Macquarie University Liberal Club. Early in my political career (I was around 23 at the time), I had placed my lot with the conservatives of the Party.

In 1995, I met David Clarke for the first time. I admired his forthright and straight forward manner. You always knew where you stood with David. I admired his common touch and his good humour. In the dirty game of politics, with so many people so highly strung, it was great to have someone senior who could crack a good joke and enjoy taking the piss out of others and himself.

I still like David, notwithstanding the fact that he has threatened to sue me. I think he has a following in the Party, and he does have some role in the Parliament. And before the London bombings, I saw his somewhat extreme views as relatively harmless.

I read his speeches in which he praised certain extremist religious and nationalist groups. I am aware of allegations that he attended meetings of groups such as the League of Rights. I know of things he has said in the past which, if I were to reveal today, would sink his political career.

But I also know that he said these things in the late 1990’s and during the period leading upto February 2002. I am also aware of things he and his factional allies said about me following that time.

I fell seriously ill in February 2002. A long-standing thyroid problem was finally discovered and diagnosed. This explained the almost constant weight problems as well as my somewhat cynical and morose mood.

Nothing any Young Liberal or Senior Liberal said or did caused me to fall ill. Indeed, I was on top of the world. My practise was expanding. I was basking on the glory of achieving a 5.1% swing in a safe Labor seat. I had everything going for me. Then I fell ill.

I was forced to shut my practise at a time when it was about to expand. I had achieved so many milestones and was ready to reach many more. But one day in mid-February 2002, I collapsed into a heap. No one quite knew what it was. At first, it seemed like a nervous breakdown. Later, when I was tested to see if anti-depressant medication was suitable, it was discovered my thyroid gland was not functioning properly.

It took me some 15 months to recover to a state where I could take up another legal job. In the meantime, my former political friends and allies were subjected to a brutal campaign to force them out of the party. The architects of that campaign were Alex Hawke and his colleagues.

These people also spread malicious rumours about me and the circumstances of my practise being closed. They said that I had been struck off for fraud. Or they said I had dipped my hand into the trust account and misappropriated funds. Or they said I had been found guilty of professional negligence.

All these things were said. My name was mud in the Party. I felt I could not return. I was regarded as too “colourful” (to use David Clarke’s terminology).

Yet the reality was that I had appointed a manager to close down my practise on my own accord and on doctor’s orders. It was a difficult and painful decision which took over 15 months off my legal career and ensured I lost over $100,000 in work-in-progress fees.

I made the painful decision and did the right thing. Yet I was accused of being a cheat and a fraud by persons I had assisted both politically and personally.

The rumours spread about me almost led me to have a subsequent breakdown. But I survived thanks in no part to the inspiration of a former Liberal Party member who had been demonised by the same people. Patrick was a rock on which many of us leaned. When he succumbed to and died from leukaemia, he left behind a legacy of friendship that transcended factional rivalry.

Patrick suffered a nervous breakdown thanks to allegations made by this faction. Had his other illness not taken him over, Patrick may have been able to take anti-depressants. Instead, he found comfort in the company of friends and God. Patrick was a true Christian to the end – compassionate toward all and able to recognise truth and wisdom in all traditions.

Patrick brought people together. Yet he was demonised. He suffered and was driven to a breakdown and near-suicide. Just as I was. Just as John Brogden was.

I never liked John Brogden’s politics. But John is my age, of my generation. Whatever I think of his views on many issues, he has spent the best years of his life working for the Party. When Hawke and others were still in their ideological diapers, Brogden was spending untold hours doing unpaid work for a cause he loved.

John was driven to attempt suicide by these same people who almost drove myself, Patrick and so many others down this road. In my case, I was already down when I was kicked. In John Brogden’s case, he was ready to soar when he was cut down.

In the case of other friends of mine, they have had rumours and skeletons dug out. Some have had their employers phoned and told lies to, resulting in loss of employment. Others have had their marriages threatened.

And the gall of people to accuse John Brogden of being a racist. I can say a lot of things about John. But I can never truthfully accuse him of being a racist. I am yet to meet a small “l” liberal I could describe as a racist. I wish I could say the same for my own former factional colleagues.

It took John at least 6 drinks before he could make a racist joke. Yet his accusers openly espouse racism when sober. They support racist and anti-Semitic groups, attend their functions and support their politics.

I never heard David Clarke condemn Sophie Panopoulos or Bronwyn Bishop for their comments on the cloth my mother occasionally wears on her head. But then, I know that David was always a supporter of Pauline Hanson’s vision.

So why did I speak out? Partly because of an important piece of advice my good friend Charlie Lyn once gave me. He said: “The Liberal Party never rewards loyalty. Take your chances when you can. Don’t rely on others as these people will just as easily stab you in the back.”

I also spoke out because, like so many people, I felt what John Brogden and his family were going through. John’s wife and family are seeing him in a state they are perhaps unaccustomed to. My family saw the same thing, and it still haunts them.

John Brogden was the most prominent victim of these Factional Nazis. Whatever he may have stood for in the past, he was the Liberal Leader. He should have been supported. The vicious nature of the rumour campaign almost drove him to take his own life.

That same rumour campaign made Patrick’s last days miserable. And when news spread of his illness, none of these former factional allies so much as visited him in hospital or attend his funeral.

In short, I speak out for Patrick whose body is 6 feet under the ground in Rookwood but whose soul is (I believe) in a place where all saints go. Patrick never had a chance to clear his name or expose the hypocrisy of his accusers. I hope he is smiling as he watches the right-wing factional circus being exposed.

© Irfan Yusuf 2005