John Menadue. The scholarship is the real issue.

Dec 2, 2014

Freya Newman has been placed on a two year good behaviour bond  with no conviction recorded  for  accessing the computer system of the Whitehouse Institute of Design concerning a ‘scholarship’ awarded to Francis Abbott.

Overwhelmingly the media coverage has been about Freya Newman and very little about the substantial issue, the ‘scholarship’.

The substantial issues seem quite clear. They have not been publicly disputed.

  • The Whitehouse Institute is a private tertiary body.
  • It awarded Francis Abbott, the then Opposition Leader’s daughter, a scholarship which saved her family more than $60,000 in fees.
  • The scholarship was not advertised.
  • Its existence was never made public.
  • The Institute insists it was offered on the basis of academic merit, but has offered nothing to substantiate this claim.
  • The Institute’s chairman was a substantial donor to the Liberal Party and has confirmed that he ‘probably’ recommended Ms Abbott for the scholarship.
  • Tony Abbott did not disclose this benefit as part of his parliamentary obligations.

Just imagine if the daughter of Kevin Rudd or Bill Shorten had been awarded a $60,000 scholarship in such circumstances. The English language would not have been adequate to describe the criticism they would have received from Tony Abbott and Julia Bishop. The Murdoch media would have gone almost into meltdown over such a scholarship. The Australian would have called for either a judicial enquiry or a royal commission. It would have been as relentless as it was on Julia Gillard’s union connections.

It is remarkable that a young woman, who chose at very considerable risk to be a whistle blower, has been the focus of public attention, including from Christopher Pyne, while the substantial issue, the ‘scholarship’ has been sidelined.

It should not have been left to a young whistle blower to bring this issue to public attention. If Tony Abbott had been a member of the Parliament of NSW, Freya Newman and other whistle blowers could bring their concerns to the attention of the NSW ICAC. But there is no national ICAC.

The real issue is not Freya Newman. It is the ‘scholarship’ and the circumstances under which it was granted. An injustice has been done to Freya Newman. At least Magistrate O’Sullivan got the point about how trivial the case was.  The magistrate said that Freya Newman was not motivated by personal gain or a sense of animosity to Francis Abbott. ‘I accept that Freya Newman was motivated by a sense of injustice rather than a desire for personal notoriety or any desire to embarrass the student (Francis Abbott)’.

An injustice has been done, but the central issue surrounding the ‘scholarship’ has not been properly examined.

The issue is certainly not Frances Abbott. There is no suggestion she has done anything wrong.

New Matilda deserves credit for pursuing this issue whilst almost all other media avoided it or focussed on the whistle blower rather than on the ‘scholarship’.

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