Speech – 24 June 2021
Mr HILL (Bruce) (10:48): I’m going to choose my words very carefully to avoid any issues of sub judice. Earlier this month, the fixated persons unit of the New South Wales police counterterrorism unit violently arrested a 21-year-old boy in his family home. His mum and dog were injured as he was taken away in handcuffs, and he spent a night in jail. His name is Kristo Langker and he’s a producer of the friendlyjordies YouTube channel, a comedic Chaser-esque production created by citizen journalist and professional provocateur Jordan Shanks. The show satirises, comments on, jokes about and critiques Australian politics, with a focus on corruption and holding power to account.
Since his arrest, Kristo has been charged with two offences. The counterterrorism unit that arrested him have charged him with stalking and intimidation of New South Wales Deputy Premier John Barilaro. When you dig a little deeper, was the infraction which has prompted this extreme police action actually the embarrassment of John Barilaro on YouTube? Let’s be clear about the facts. Friendlyjordies has created videos accusing the Deputy Premier of corruption, a legitimate endeavour of journalists. John ‘Bruz’ Barilaro took offence to these claims and commenced civil defamation proceedings, as is his right. Friendlyjordies responded to the lawsuit by dressing up as Luigi and embarrassing Barilaro at Macquarie University at an event. Six weeks later, Kristo was walking home from uni when he happened to walk past the Deputy Premier, turned on his camera and asked him a few times, ‘Why are you suing my boss?’ before Barilaro got in his car and was driven off. The whole interaction is online. That’s it.
Apparently in New South Wales that conduct is alleged to warrant a counterterrorism and fixated persons unit knocking on your door and arresting you in front of your mum.
That’s now what happens if you approach a New South Wales minister in public twice in two months. Even if Kristo is found guilty as charged, what on earth justified the over-the-top police action? It doesn’t matter if you like or dislike friendlyjordies. I’m aware of some of his statements that offend people and which I may not personally agree with, but that doesn’t mean a YouTube producer should be violently arrested in his home because he engaged in journalistic behaviour. The threat to free speech and a free press is clear—
The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Zimmerman): The member for Bruce will come to order. We are in delicate territory because of the sub judice convention. I’ve been listening very carefully to what you have been saying.
Mr HILL: I’ve checked the words—
The DEPUTY SPEAKER: If you could let me finish and not interrupt. The Practice makes clear that commentary involving criminal matters is considered more likely to run foul of the sub judice convention than if it were simply a civil matter. To be absolutely clear—and obviously it’s the discretion of the chair in these circumstances—I think it would be helpful if your comments did not ascribe motives to any actions that have been taken by the police force, noting that charges have been laid and that presumably this will be before a New South Wales court at some stage very soon. I think a descriptor of the events is permissible, but I counsel you against ascribing motives or questioning the legitimacy of any charges that have been laid against this person.
Mr HILL: I accept the counsel. I’ve chosen my words carefully. I haven’t contested the charges. I’ve got 30 seconds left; could I finish that?
The DEPUTY SPEAKER: You have, unfortunately, run out of time.
Mr HILL: Sometimes the clock is stopped. Usually the clock is stopped.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Yes. We can give the member for Bruce another 30 seconds.
Mr HILL: It’s 35 seconds; I’ll be that long. It has been observed that the bail conditions may be unconstitutional—that’ll be worked out in the courts, but the normal acceptance is that bail conditions are not supposed to hamper democracy or gag the press. He’s now prevented from commenting on the Deputy Premier’s appearance or behaviour.
ASIO warned last year that right-wing extremist rhetoric was reaching such an unprecedented audience in Australia that police should be focused on serious violent threats. Instead, in my view, conservative snowflakes in New South Wales have sicked the police and the criminal law onto a left-wing comedian who upset them. The public are yet to know what exactly the Deputy Premier of New South Wales told the police in order to get a specialist police unit, set up for terrorists and fixated persons, to act in the way they did.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER: You’re starting to trespass on the area of ascribing motives to the actions. I note you’ve concluded, but I suspect that was very borderline.