41. The trip or the truth
Wednesday August 18th 04 was an eventful day all-round. My diary says it was the day the feature story about ‘One Steel’ appeared in the Advertiser Newspaper, the same day as my visit to No. 1 Steele Street. It was the day our Prime Minister, John Howard, visited our city in the lead-up to the Federal Election, which had been announced for October 9th 2004. Just as well the Liberal Party didn’t preselect me for the Federal Election. I have a creative mind, but I could not imagine my wife Isobel shaking hands with the Prime Minister of Australia and asking: “Would you like a TicTac? I’d probably ask: “Would you like a Tactic?”
Instead, on that Wednesday my wife spent her first day at the “Blind Welfare’ Office, helping in the Administration Section: As she rushed out the door, running late as usual, I couldn’t help joking: “Ask them to open your eyes.” I don’t think she heard me. If she did, she may have thought I was joking, but I really meant it.
(At the time of writing (11/9/04) my wife had just returned from the shops. She had given a small donation to a person collecting for charity. The small label on her jacket reads – DEAF’SA).
Within days I also was to be ‘roped in’, as it were, to become a voluntary bus driver for transporting blind people. My volunteering nature had not yet learned to say no. (Please note: I do enjoy working with these lovely people).
On that same Wednesday in August a story in the Advertiser (18/8 – P.19) caught my attention. A Federal Member of Parliament, a Parliamentary Secretary (meaning, he was working with a Minister and therefore in line to be considered as future Minister) was shown with his wife and a baby. In the article the Liberal politician, father of four and a declared Christian, admitted to having cheated on his wife.
But before exploring this story in another chapter, let me take you back to Chapter 37 of ‘More in Number’. A female Member of Federal Parliament (I will call her T), a moral crusader, as it were, had campaigned strongly against the French film ‘Baise Moi’. She led a push, which in the end was successful in having this violent, sexually explicit film banned in Australia.
On Friday May 14th I caught a brief segment on Channel Seven TV, which mentioned T, the MP. The following Monday a report was to be shown, asking questions about her and an alleged boyfriend taking a tax-payer funded, overseas trip. She was supposed to have declared this man, ten years younger than her, as her spouse, to have his expenses paid from the public purse.
I held a lot of respect for this TV station and their news program. They had done some groundbreaking, investigative work and not shied away from controversy. Some years earlier a journalist from this Channel was interested in my story, particularly about my correspondence with retired Magistrate Peter Liddy.
More recently they had asked serious questions in the Cheney murder case. The journalists found serious flaws and omissions in the police investigations. I remember the mother of the accused murderer appearing on their show. The grey-haired lady, in her early 70’s, was beaming to finally see justice done for her son, after 10 long years. She had always believed in his innocence.
Sadly, I can’t recall any further news on this matter; only that Mrs. Keogh had died suddenly in early June.
I knew Mrs. T, the politician to be shown off on ‘Today Tonight’, only from meetings of the Liberal Party and the odd social function. She had been divorced prior to becoming a politician. Because I had only a short time earlier uploaded my involvement in politics, and the difficulties I experienced as Branch President, I started to think: “Surely, they don’t think that Mrs T had anything to do with the wrong that was done to me?”
Early on Saturday (15/5) I dropped a letter to ‘Today Tonight’. In it I clearly stated that T. had nothing to do with the sad behaviour of some party members. I told them that she had my full support and confidence, and I was hoping that the whole truth would come out.
To my utter surprise her advertised story was not aired on the Monday. Mrs. T had been successful in getting an injunction against the TV program. However, by Wednesday 19th May, the story had made huge headlines interstate, but kept suppressed in Adelaide. The embattled MP reported that documents had gone missing from her office and Federal Police were investigating.
Days later the TV Program went ahead. An interview was broadcast featuring a former staffer of the MP. The “whistle-blowers’ face, a female with a young-sounding voice, was not shown and her identity kept secret. Accusation against Mrs. T sounded something like this:
Four years earlier (in 2000) the MP went on a taxpayer funded, overseas study trip. The rules allowed her to be accompanied by a spouse or partner, one whom she lived with. Mrs. T allegedly was still in another relationship, when she falsely nominated a photographer named Derick Sands, as her spouse, and took him on the trip to Dublin, Amsterdam and Paris.
Most logical thinking people could see that dirt was being thrown. Why had the matter not surfaced before or in time for the 2001 election?
T had originally won the seat in 1996, snatching it from a high-profile Labour MP in a sensational victory. Bad publicity such as this would influence the outcome of the election, apart from her reputation and good name being dragged through the mud.
On May 20th 04 I wrote the following letter to encourage Mrs. T. with copies to the ABC and the Advertiser:
As soon as I heard the program preview for Channel Seven’s ‘Today Tonight’ last Friday, I knew something was not as it should be. I wrote them a letter straight away and dropped it into their Gilberton address personally on Saturday morning (15/5/04).
I simply urged them to ensure their facts are correct, because of the potential damage such bad publicity can do in an election year. To set the record straight I told them that you have my full confidence and that I hold no grudges against anyone following my pre-selection defeat). I wrote the full story – truth ‘n all – about my short career in the Liberal Party on my website.
Finally I urged them to keep pursuing criminal cases, such as the Keogh murder case, which they started to investigate, rather than boring cases of MP’s alleged travel account irregularities.
This morning I phoned the ABC talkback program and was going to say the following:
I am a constituent of Mrs. T. MP and have full confidence in her. I think that she, a very experienced politician, would have checked carefully before taking someone on an overseas trip.
My I suggest - all MP’s should be allocated $ 20.000 or whatever is decided on, (Ministers perhaps more) for an overseas study trip once a year. If, when or who with they spend the money is up to them. Instead of taking a spouse, it would make more sense to take an expert in the field they are studying.
I had phoned about 11.40 am and hoped it was not too late. But after waiting until 11.55. am I was told there would be no time to get on air. This was the second time that I was trying to get on air on that station (it also happened with Station X on other occasions) and time ran out. The lady at the switchboard was not happy when I questioned, if politics had anything to do with me getting on air.
I have confidence in the presenters of the ABC program. They are always probing for detail and in a common sense fashion. My spirit tells me that there is more behind this whole story than just travel rort allegations.
Be assured I will be praying for you and your family, as I have done since before the last election. Remember I did not promise to pray that you will be re-elected, but that God’s will be done. As happened in 2001, so it will be in 2004.
The publicity surrounding this MP’s alleged cheating was classic media hype, which no doubt sold many newspapers. Mrs. T’s face featured on the front pages on a number of days. The publishers usually picked a photo, which showed her as seriously worried.
The reason for writing above letter was an inexplicable unease about the case; something told me not all was right - but what? While most analysts focused on the fact that this MP, standing for good morals, told a lie, I was more shocked that Mrs. T had (allegedly) slipped to such a low, moral level and been that stupid. Around the time of this affair happening, I remember the Pastor of Clovercrest Baptist Church mentioning Mrs. T’s name from the pulpit. (I can’t recall in what context. I assume, she was making a stand on an important issue and the pastor asked everyone to support or pray for her).
I don’t know when it dropped into my spirit, during a prayer or a dream, but in the days leading up to writing above letter a thought process started. From first hand experience I knew what effective weapon ‘character-assassination’ was. Years ago I had felt vibes that evil people spread stories about me. I could tell by people’s reaction toward me’ they were not good stories. In Chapter 17 of ‘More in number’ I wrote about my suspicion that our family doctor was set up to ‘assassinate’ his character. It had led to serious implications.
Slowly, I started to think that this classic tale of a morals campaigner, eloping with a young lover at public expense, might have been fabricated. To add to my mistrust of the whole affair, the man involved in this saga, had allegedly been a suspect in the still unsolved murder of a young, pretty woman, Corinne Marr. She was found murdered in their flat by her husband. I remember the case well, because at the time, about 10 years ago, I taught a client, who lived a few houses away from the crime scene.
The burning question arose, if the story was untrue, why did Mrs. T not vehemently deny the allegations to clear her name? I spoke to an ardent supporter of Mrs. T during a fundraising BBQ on 4/7/04. He did not express great disappointment about the Member of Parliament’s alleged behaviour. He agreed that it was a smear campaign against her, but so what? “She might lose a few votes and also gain a few, in sympathy,” he said. This kind of laid-back attitude cemented my view that a game was being played by someone; but why and by whom?
Another shattering piece of information, given to me by another party member and supporter of Mrs. T, if I understood him correctly and all was true, fuelled my suspicion. She confided in him that a newspaper reporter had phoned her, to comment on a story to be printed the next day. It was about Mrs. T admitting she’d made a mistake, was sorry and was repaying the money (nearly $ 10 000) she had claimed for her ‘spouse’. Mrs. T was then given an option to comment. If she preferred not to, the story would be printed regardless.
The article in question appeared on the front page together with the sad looking face of Mrs. T. This was a full week after the story had first broken. How many readers that week would have made up their mind to vote or not to vote for the Liberal MP?
This raised the next question. If this far-reaching episode was invented to discredit Mrs. T and possibly kick her out of office, who was behind the move? The logical suspect would be the immediate opposition candidate and/or the party that he represents. I didn’t think so at all. The person selected to run against Mrs. T has held public office on a local level in our area for many years. It was hard to imagine that he would condone such action, let alone instigate it. The fact that he stayed clear of the case (to my knowledge) showed that he did not intent to do more damage, than had been done already.
Who then would have such influence over a Federal Member of Parliament? Why would she let her name be dragged through the dirt, when in fact she was framed? All I could surmise was that, if I was correct, there must have been a power behind the allegations, threatening Mrs. T with a worse outcome, if she did not comply. I could imagine a force behind it all, motivated by greed, lust for power, a big ego or all of the above. Likewise I could imagine Mrs. T had angered a certain element with her outspokenness in the moral arena. Now was the time to target her for character assassination in revenge.
Serious questions of this kind warranted action. The Adelaide phonebook listed 33 entries under the name Sands, but only a few matching the initials D. In between driving lessons I personally knocked on a few doors and asked a few people, if they knew the Messenger Press photographer Derick Sands. Nobody seemed to know him. It surprised me that some had not even heard of the scandal that had made front-page news for a week.
In a strange twist, a few of the addresses of the ‘Sands’ I visited clicked with me. One particular one captured my interest. On Friday 11/6/04 I drove to a short street, one of the Sand’s addresses, with one of my female clients to practice ‘three-point-turns’. The name of the street, ‘Dawn Ct, the number combination 123, plus some of the surrounding street names had me mesmerized. To top it off at the mouth of Dawn Ct I noticed two sections of the road surface under repair. Both were oblong in shape, rectangular to each other, thus forming the letter L.
As the student practiced a 3-point-turn, I vaguely took note of an old truck parked, with a load of pallets on the back. The word pallet, the P, all and cross, fitted perfectly into my picture. Suddenly another clue emerged, the name of the pallet company – Chep (He C P). Then a bit of magic, which astounded me even further. After she had completed the 3-point-turn, I asked my client: “Can you see something unusual about the truck over there?” Of course she didn’t; I never expect her to. It took my special kind of fixation to see it.
“Look at the registration number of the truck,” I said. ”It is …450. Now look at the load. Can you see that there are 4 stacks of pallets, each 5 high on the back?” She looked at me rather bewildered. “Let’s do another 3-point-turn”, was more the talk she expected.
Pallet is such a nice word. It caught my attention, before the numbers did.
But there again was more. That weekend my 21-year-old son had planned to go camping with some friends. He arrived home from work and for the first time ever brought home a few pallets on a trailer. (He was going camping that weekend. The pallets were for firewood). I was dumb-founded, but didn’t venture to try and explain my pallet co-incident that same day.
Was there an invisible ally encouraging me, playing a little mind game with me? If yes, it certainly did the trick. It fuelled my fire to continue asking why questions.