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Response to egging of Senator Fraser Anning sends all the wrong signals

By Brendan O'Reilly - posted Monday, 15 April 2019


On 16 March this year, Will Connolly (a 17 year old student) smashed an egg on the back of Senator Fraser Anning's head during a press conference at Moorabbin in Melbourne (in the wake of the Christchurch massacre). The attack by the so-called "egg-boy" was clearly premeditated, with the perpetrator filming the incident on his cell phone.

Anning reacted by hitting Connolly twice in the face before a supporter separated the two. Connolly was then grappled to the ground by others. While held on the ground by several people, video footage shows a man holding a phone delivering several light kicks to Connolly. Police subsequently launched a search to find this young man.

The aftermath was as follows.

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Connolly, represented pro-bono by high profile lawyer Peter Gordon, was not charged. Instead he was issued with an official caution. His lawyer said that more than $100,000 in donations had been made by the public to "egg-boy". The teenager also became a social media celebrity garnering hundreds of thousands of Instagram followers, and was feted on Ten's "The Project". Even PM Scott Morrison took the side of the egger, telling reporters: "The full force of the law should be applied to Senator Anning."

Police decided not to charge Anning. "On assessment of all the circumstances, the 69-year-old's actions were treated as self-defence and there was no reasonable prospect of conviction," the force said.

On 9 April, a 20-year-old West Footscray man was charged with assault in relation to the alleged kicking incident.

What is astounding is that the public and officialdom all were more concerned about having the latter two charged, while there was no real desire to charge the instigator of all this (Connolly). The key issue is whether it is either OK or not a serious matter to "egg" a public figure you don't like, especially if they are in some way infamous. A second issue is whether the three key figures in the incident were each treated fairly and proportionately, given their actions.

Egging people constitutes assault, and in most jurisdictions usually gives rise to criminal and/or civil liability.

Egging can cause injury (especially to eyes). In 2008 a nurse in Dublin was blinded in one eye after being egged from a passing car. During the 2004 Ukrainian presidential-election campaign, Viktor Yanukovych was rushed to hospital after being hit by what many thought was a brick. (It turned out to be an egg.) Even if egging does not cause injury, being egged is particularly revolting. This is firstly because of the public belittling, and secondly because of the lingering effects (e.g. odours, objectionable residues) on the body or clothing, which generally (at a minimum) require washing or a change of clothes.

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It is obvious therefore that "egging" is not ok. At the very least it is very unpleasant, and is a potentially serious form of assault, that neither public figures nor private citizens should have to put up with. High-profile people who have been egged include Billy Hughes, David Cameron, Harold Wilson, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Helmut Kohl, to name but a few.

Fraser Anning himself is a politician liked by virtually no one. He has been called the "accidental senator" because just 19 people voted specifically for him in the 2016 election, and because he replaced Malcolm Roberts, who had initially won One Nation's second Senate spot in Queensland. (Roberts had subsequently been ruled ineligible by the High Court.) On his first day in Parliament, Anning quit One Nation, and has since become notorious for intemperate speech (especially aimed at Muslims and Africans) and for cavorting with right wing extremist elements.

Anning is living testimony to the limitations of One Nation's candidate selection process, and of the shortcomings of "above-the-line" voting in the Senate. His most controversial statement was that concerning the Christchurch massacre: "The real cause of bloodshed on New Zealand streets today is the immigration program that allowed Muslim fanatics to migrate to New Zealand in the first place". This statement probably provoked Connolly and would have contributed greatly to the egging incident.

To assess the proportionality of the police response, it is useful to look at related cases.

In 2017 Qantas chief executive, Alan Joyce, had a lemon meringue pie smashed in his face at a business breakfast event in Perth (in protest against Joyce's promotion of same-sex marriage). The pie was launched by a man in his 60s wearing a business suit. Magistrate Greg Smith described the attack as "appalling" and said it was designed to humiliate Mr Joyce. The man pleaded guilty to charges of assault and trespass, and was fined $3,600.

In 2001 at Rhyl, North Wales, a shocking brawl took place after then British Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, got off his campaign bus, the Prescott Express. Protestor Craig Evans chucked an egg at Mr Prescott at almost point blank range as the Labour politician walked past. In fury, Prescott swung round and punched the egg thrower in the jaw. The protestor managed to pin Mr Prescott down on a small wall as they wrestled each other. In the end, Police interviewed Prescott but decided not to prosecute him. Evans spent a few hours in police custody but no action was taken against him either.

Then there was the egging of British PM David Cameron during the 2010 election campaign. A 16 year-old threw an egg that struck Mr Cameron on the right shoulder as he visited the student's college. The student, Tyler Dixon, was expelled from school despite his apology letter being accepted by the new Prime Minister. Devon and Cornwall Police let the matter go because no damage was caused and no complaint was made.

My assessment of official and community reactions to the egging of Fraser Anning is that "egg-boy" has been treated leniently by authorities, and has been inappropriately celebrated by parts of the community. (I don't think he deserved a criminal conviction but he should not have gotten off scot-free either.) I do not object to the West Footscray man being charged for kicking, (assaults on the person are generally treated too leniently) but if he has to face charges, so too should "egg-boy". As far as Fraser Anning is concerned, hedid what a large proportion of men would also do as a reflex action to an assault.

The overall gist of reaction to the egging of Fraser Anning (whereby many elevated the perpetrator almost to social-hero status) seems to suggest that "egg-boy's" actions were somehow justified because Fraser Anning made offensive and inappropriate statements. The problem with this reaction is that, if it was ok for "egg-boy" to act so, then it is ok for anyone else to do the same to persons (especially public figures) they dislike or disagree with. Are conservatives entitled to egg people like Richard Di Natale or Bill Shorten? I don't think so.

Freedom of speech is another issue. While many of us find much of Senator Anning's language and views insensitive and offensive, he is still entitled to express his views as long as they are not slanderous/libellous and he does not advocate injury to others.

At the risk of being controversial, it seems to me that Anning's statement about the cause of the Christchurch massacre may have been at least partially valid in terms of motive. Brenton Tarrant did say in his published manifestothat his reasons for the disgusting attack were to "show the invaders that our lands will never be their lands, our homelands are our own and that, as long as a white man still lives, they will NEVER conquer our lands and they will never replace our people".

While this may explain Tarrant's hostility to Muslim immigration, Anning left out the most important consideration, namely that it required a character with no respect for human life to undertake such mass killings. It is one thing to oppose migration from Islamic countries but this is leagues away from justifying the mass killing of innocent people.

Overall, I can understand protestors, who say that they deplore violence of any kind. There is, however, a certain hypocrisy when people of political commitment condone violence, when the perpetrator is one of their own.

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About the Author

Brendan O’Reilly is a retired commonwealth public servant with a background in economics and accounting. He is currently pursuing private business interests.

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