A week ago, most Australians had never heard of Freya Newman. Now, courtesy of a week-long smear campaign by The Australian newspaper, the 20-year-old Sydney media student is on everyone’s lips.
Ms Newman has been charged with unauthorized access of computer data over the alleged leaking of details about a secret $60,000 scholarship awarded to the daughter of the Australian Prime Minister, Frances Abbott, by the private Sydney-based college, Whitehouse Institute of Design.
Ms Newman faces up to two years in jail if convicted of the offence, a reality that appears to have polarized thousands, angered that the focus is on the alleged messenger, rather than the message.
Ms Newman is studying communications at the University of Technology, Sydney, and is the women’s officer for the UTS Student’s Association. She has refused to comment on the matter since The Weekend Australian claimed to uncover her role in a ‘plot’ last week to damage the Prime Minister via his daughter.
The Australian has also accused this publication - and this writer - of being part of that ‘plot’.
On Friday, the Student Representative Council at crosstown rival Sydney University voted in favour of a “motion of solidarity” for Ms Newman, which may extend to financial support for any legal battle.
There is also growing support online for Ms Newman, with the launch of a Facebook page and an online petition at Change.org.
This afternoon, the Facebook page – Free Freya Newman - had attracted almost 2,000 followers, and hundreds of posts in support, including offers to contribute to a ‘fighting fund’ for Ms Newman.
The change.org petition has also attracted almost 2,000 supporters at the time of press, and is seeking 50,000 signatures in total.
The petition is headed ‘Stop the pursuit of Freya Newman for leaking documents about Frances Abbot's (sic) scholarship and enshrine the freedom of the press in the Australian constitution’. And the mood at Change.org appears to be one of simmering anger.
The petition reads: “In the last year we have seen many calls for people like Edward Snowden to be charged with treason, Chelsea Manning being sentenced to 35 years for the military documents leak to Wikileaks and now this.
“This shows how quickly it has gone from chasing down people who leak information with international political consequences to chasing down those who make life for our leaders politically inconvenient.
“We aren't at the top of a slippery slope, we're already flying down it head first.
“This is a call for the Australian Government to not only stop the pursuit of Freya Newman, but also to enshrine the freedom of the press in the Australian constitution.”
The clear message from those signing the petition is that authorities should focus their attention on the actions of the Prime Minister, rather than Freya Newman.
Paul Turner from Moonta writes: “When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty. Pursue the corruption inherent in our government, not those brave enough to expose it.”
Ailsa Turrell of Kambah in the ACT writes; “The PM is clearly in the wrong on this and she has simply released the information which he should have declared.”
Ben Andrews from Mt Barker in South Australia writes: “This is the government trying to get back at a person who brought to light the Prime Ministers corruption.”
Gregory House from Australia writes: “Whistle-blowers are a vital part of our democracy we need to protect those Aussies who bravely step forward to report abuse, fraud and corruption.”
Cassie Lynch from Australia writes: “That information about Frances Abbott's sneaky scholarship was important for the public to know.”
The matter is likely to continue its strong run in the media news cycle next week, with Prime Minister Tony Abbott named in a legal action to be heard by the Fair Work Commission on Tuesday.
One of The Australian’s other alleged ‘co-conspirators’, Mellitios Kyriakidis has named the Prime Minister in an adverse action he is bringing against the Whitehouse Institute.
Mr Kyriakidis revealed to Fairfax media on Friday that he was pursuing Whitehouse over treatment he alleges was unfair, and he’s named the Prime Minister and three other people, along with Whitehouse, in the action. He is being represented by Harmer’s Workplace Lawyers.
He also told Fairfax media he could name at least 10 students who were more deserving of a scholarship than Frances Abbott.
Documents obtained by New Matilda earlier this year reveal that Ms Abbott was awarded the scholarship after a single meeting with the college. Testimony by Whitehouse insiders revealed that Frances was pursued by the college after it became known she was considering studying at rival Sydney college Billy Blue.
The chairman of Whitehouse, Les Taylor, is a close friend of the Abbott family, and is listed in Tony Abbott’s parliamentary interest’s register as having provided several gifts.
Mr Abbott’s register, however, contains no record of his daughter receiving the secret $60,000 scholarship, despite numerous entries detailing small gifts and advantages Ms Abbott gained, such as flight upgrades and free tickets to events.
This evening, New Matilda will reveal additional details about the Whitehouse Institute’s scholarship program, via our 6pm Sunday digest.
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