Whistleblower Freya Newman, On Life, The Universe And Leaking Frances Abbott’s Secret Scholarship Details


One of Australia’s most famous whistleblowers has finally opened up on what it’s like to be the focus of an intense media gaze. Chris Graham reports.

The whistleblower who last year revealed that Frances Abbott – daughter of the Australian Prime Minister – received a free $60,000 scholarship to a private college while her father was planning to send university fees sky-rocketing, has finally spoken out.

Almost a year after Sydney university student Freya Newman was convicted of ‘unauthorised access of information’ in the Sydney Downing Centre, Australia’s most famous leaker finally opened up in detailed and often entertaining interview.

Freya Newman – who was the subject of intense media interest last year, but maintained a stony silence throughout the ordeal – tells comedian, blogger and podcaster Tom Ballard  about the impact of whistleblowing on her, and her family.

Her interview with Ballard is the first in-depth look back at what happened.

In May last year, New Matilda revealed that documents from the Whitehouse Institute of Design showed Frances Abbott was given a secret $60,000 scholarship to attend the college, despite Whitehouse widely advertising that scholarships were not available to students.

The story caused an uproar for the Abbott government, and sparked an investigation by the NSW Police after a complaint from Whitehouse.

Freya Newman worked at Whitehouse as an assistant librarian, and accessed data on a computer which undermined claims by the Prime Minister that his daughter’s scholarship was awarded on the basis of merit.

It emerged that the Chairman of the college, Les Taylor was a personal friend of the Abbott family, and that Whitehouse had also provided a scholarship for an Aboriginal student to a course that never ran.

At the time, the Abbott Government had recently unveiled plans to de-regulate Higher Education fees, leading industry experts to warn that the price of college degrees would sky-rocket.

Those reforms were quietly abandoned last month – at least for now – after Education Minister Christopher Pyne was removed from his portfolio, following the toppling of Abbott by Malcolm Turnbull.

In the end, Newman had no conviction recorded for the offence, but was required to be of ‘good behaviour’ for a period of two years. That bond expires in November 2016.

The sentence was poorly received by some conservatives, with Education Minister Christopher Pyne tweeting his outrage.

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Chris Graham is the publisher and editor of New Matilda. He is the former founding managing editor of the National Indigenous Times and Tracker magazine. In more than three decades of journalism he's had his home and office raided by the Australian Federal Police; he's been arrested and briefly jailed in Israel; he's reported from a swag in Outback Australia on and off for years. Chris has worked across multiple mediums including print, radio and film. His proudest achievement is serving as an Associate producer on John Pilger's 2013 film Utopia. He's also won a few journalism awards along the way in both the US and Australia, including a Walkley Award, a Walkley High Commendation and two Human Rights Awards. Since late 2021, Chris has been battling various serious heart and lung conditions. He's begun the process of quietly planning a "gentle exit" after "tying up a few loose ends" in 2024 and 2025. So watch this space.