A 21-year-old university student has plead guilty to charges of unauthorized access of computer data in relation to the leaking of details about a $60,000 secret scholarship given to the Prime Minister’s daughter, Frances Abbott.
Freya Newman, a communications student at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) will be sentenced on October 23rd after she appeared briefly in the Downing Centre Local Court this morning.
She now faces a maximum of two years prison, under section 308(H) of the NSW Crimes Act.
Ms Newman was working as a part-time night librarian at the Sydney-based private Whitehouse Institute of Design, when she accessed an internal computer system.
At the same time, Frances Abbott was working at the Melbourne campus of the Whitehouse Institute in an undefined role, having previously graduated with a Bachelor of Design on a $60,000 scholarship kept secret from students at the college, and even senior staff.
New Matilda revealed earlier this year that Ms Abbott was awarded the secret scholarship after a single meeting with the owner of the institute, Leanne Whitehouse.
The meeting was organised by the Chairman of the Whitehouse Institute, Les Taylor, a close family friend of the Abbott’s.
Testimony by Whitehouse insiders revealed that Frances Abbott was pursued by the college after it learned she was planning to study at a rival Sydney design school, Billy Blue.
Documents obtained by New Matilda also revealed that Ms Abbott was used by Whitehouse Institute to lobby federal government regulators for accreditation for a new Masters of Design course.
Ms Newman appeared briefly in a media-packed court room today but was not required to speak. Accompanied by a small group of family and friends, she did not provide comment to a large media contingent on leaving the building.
The Australian Newspaper earlier this year accused Ms Newman of being part of a “plot” to bring down the Prime Minister, along with New Matilda owner Chris Graham and contributing editor Wendy Bacon.
The newspaper reported police began investigating the alleged leaking of the information after receiving a complaint from the Whitehouse Institute.
As part of their investigation, police obtained CCTV footage from the college and email correspondence from Ms Newman.
A large body of supporters have continued to pledge support for Ms Newman.
A Facebook group “Free Freya Newman” was closed to the public after obtaining more than 4000 members, and nearly 6000 people have signed an online change.org petition for the Australian government to “stop the pursuit” and enshrine “freedom of speech” in the constitution.
“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,” the petition reads.
“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.
“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.”
Meanwhile, there has been little pressure on Mr Abbott to explain the scholarship after the story broke earlier this year.
Mr Abbott has never declared the scholarship in his parliamentary interest’s register, despite using it to record gifts to Frances of negligible value, such as free tickets to marketing events.
The chairman of Whitehouse, Les Taylor, is also noted on the Prime Minister’s interests’ register as having provided several gifts of clothing worth a few hundred dollars.
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