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November 01st 2014 print

Terry Barnes

Peris and Her Privacy

Quadrant Online contributors, gentle and well-mannered folk, sometimes find themselves at odds. In December's Quadrant, just published, Keith Windschuttle and Tom Switzer disagree about Australia's role in bringing ISIS to heel. Now there is discord between Philippa Martyr and Terry Barnes over Nova Peris

peris paintPhilippa Martyr had something  to say about my article on Nova Peris on the ABC’s The Drum website, dismissing the argument that, from a conservative point of view, Peris should be given the benefit of the doubt in relation to the NT News’s splash on her emails with Trinidad and Tobago runner Ato Boldon.  The august editor of Quadrant Online, friend to us both, suggested that I might like to consider giving him  a response.  Delighted,  thank you.

First, context.  I wrote about the public trial by email of not only Peris but suspended University of Sydney professor Barry Spurr.  Both Spurr and Peris have had their dirty email linen aired publicly.  Both in their electronic correspondence said some rather unpleasant, unsavoury and, frankly, stupid things.

If there is a lesson to be learned from their public humiliation is that emails once sent are no longer your own.  They potentially belong to the world – and George Brandis.  But private correspondence is still private in my book– no-one else has the right to steal, leak or publish it without the consent of the writer.  As far as I’m concerned, that inherent right to personal privacy belongs to Peris just as much as Spurr.  That the Left is trying to distinguish the two by saying Spurr used a university email server is specious, but the inherent right of personal privacy belonging to all is not.

Second, impropriety.  We know that in 2010 former moderately-successful hockey player and runner Peris worked for a government Aboriginal agency, and thereby was a public servant.  We know that she probably was motivated at least in part by getting her Caribbean love interest to Australia to promote athletics to kids, and therefore spending time with him.  But we also know that it was not Peris who committed public money to bringing Boldon out: it was a publicly-funded agency, Athletics Australia.

Readers of Spectator Australia (available at all good newsagents) readers know that recently I fulminated in the Deanery that  taxpayers shouldn’t be exploited by rent-seeking elite sport organisations, but that what our political masters allow them to do: Athletics Australia acted on Peris’s proposal, contracted Boldon and they have now declared that they were very satisfied with the process and the outcome.  Unless hard evidence emerges of fraud and/or criminal conspiracy, it’s all raunchily salacious supposition.

Third, conflict of interest.  Here Dr Martyr may have something.  Given the way this issue is running, and Ms Peris’s responses so far, it is reasonable to ask if Peris declared her conflict of interest in a man who was not her husband when putting forward her Boldon plan.  If she didn’t, she has questions to answer.  If she did, or there the decision-makers could be presumed to know about it anyway (which in the incestuous, self-obsessed world of elite sport is perfectly likely), that’s the end of the matter.  But as the decision-making authority, the brass at Athletics Australia need to be asked the questions about what they knew about Peris’s illicit relationship with an overseas hunk who incidentally had won some Olympic medals.

Lastly, mixing business and pleasure.  If Peris created an outcome in Boldon’s visit that for her personally was a consummation devoutly to be wished, that’s a matter for her and Boldon and their semi-literate erotic – ahem, electronic –  communications.  As I wrote in The Drum, mixing pleasure with business is acceptable as long as pleasure is not on the boss’s account or detrimental to the employer’s reputation.  I admitted in the article that I have done something like it myself, taking pains to keep business and pleasure separate, and to not let my personal life affect my business duties.

And have you noticed how quiet federal MPs have been on this?  They know that when it comes to mixing official business and social pleasure in the course of their duties, half of MPs do it at one time or another and the other half are liars.  Parliament House itself is not a chapel of fidelity.  Last year’s parliamentary expenses farce arose because MPs of both sides sometimes forget the line between meum and tuum when it comes to personal versus business expenses: in this case, there’s as yet no evidence on the record that Peris, as a public employee in 2010, did likewise.

As Dr Martyr points out,  Peris has made a dog’s breakfast of her defence. She has used more positions since the story broke than the Kama Sutra (a publication she may well have read, or at least looked at the pictures).  But the fact remains private correspondence was leaked without hard evidence of wrongdoing.  The only crime she is guilty of is breaching her marriage vows so flagrantly.

I defended Peris because her privacy was wrongfully invaded, not because she is a paragon of virtue of because she is beyond criticism as a public Aboriginal.  If anything, this episode, like the Spurr emails, reveals people not as nice as their public reputations.  She certainly has revealed that, as a character, she pales (pun intended) against the fellow athlete she mocked in her emails, Cathy Freeman.  Julia Gillard’s “captain’s pick” doesn’t deserve to be where she is, but if we on the Right want to uphold the rights and privacy of individuals, whoever they are, we can’t let ourselves stoop to the moral relativism so natural to the frightbat Left that allows them contort their consciences to excoriate Spurr while rallying tribally around Peris.

And if that refusal to stoop to the Left’s hypocritical depths means giving the benefit of the doubt to the undeserving likes of Nova Peris, that’s what we have to do.

Terry Barnes is the principal at Cormorant Policy Advice