A 21-year-old student at the University of Technology, Sydney will face a Sydney Court this week to be sentenced for accessing student records that showed the Prime Minister’s daughter received a secret scholarship from the Whitehouse Institute of Design.
In September, Freya Newman pleaded guilty to breaching Section 308(H) of the NSW Crimes Act, which forbids accessing restricted data held in a computer.
The charge carries a jail sentence of up to two years.
Newman worked as a part-time librarian at the Whitehouse Institute, quitting shortly after it was revealed Tony Abbott’s daughter Frances had been approached by the college to accept a rare scholarship.
Ms Abbott paid just $7,546 for her $68,182 degree.
At the time Tony Abbott was the Leader of the Opposition.
Documents obtained by New Matilda showed Frances Abbott had a single meeting with the college’s owner Leanne Whitehouse, and after graduating from the three year course was also given a job at the Institute.
Internal registers revealed that unlike the college’s 73 other employees, Frances Abbott had no assigned role.
Since charges have been brought against Newman, support has grown from sources as diverse as human rights lawyer Julian Burnside and former ‘Neighbours’ star Caitlin Stasey.
Writing for Guardian Australia, Burnside argued Newman should be thanked for acting as a whistle blower.
“It is a matter of concern that whistleblower legislation is not adequate to protect the disclosure,” Burnside wrote.
“If Newman had been working in a government organisation and had made an equivalent revelation from public service records, she would likely have been able to claim whistleblower protection. “
“But not for revelations about the workings of a private school.”
A Facebook group called “Free Freya Newman” now has over 4,500 members, and a Facebook event indicates a small group will turn up to Thursday’s sentencing at Sydney’s Downing Centre as a show of support.
A change.org petition supporting Newman has over 10,000 signatures.
Newman is yet to make any public comment on the incident, while the Prime Minister Tony Abbott and the Whitehouse Institute have maintained Frances Abbott’s scholarship was awarded on merit.
Another whitsleblower from the Institute, Melletios Kyriakidis, told Fairfax media he taught Frances Abbott and believed other students had been more deserving of scholarships.
“Even from her class I could name 10 people more deserving either for merit or financial need or both,” Kyriakidis said.
Senior staff at the college were unaware the scholarship existed, and the Whitehouse Institute website still to this day advertises that scholarships are not available at the college.
Newman will appear at the Downing Centre Local Court at 9am on Thursday morning.
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