Liberals Cutting Out the Middleman

This hasn’t got a lot of attention outside New South Wales, but today, while South Australia and Tasmania are almost certainly putting the Liberal Party back in power, there will be a by-election on Hurstville Council.

Now I will admit I wasn’t even aware of the existence of Hurstville Council before this, so we are not talking a centre of power. Nevertheless, what happened should really be national news. The former councillor, Andrew Istephan resigned from council after being convicted of five counts of assault on elderly people. The jury was deadlocked on seven others. Istephan is a dentist, and was deliberately damaging healthy teeth, without anesthetic of people in nursing homes so he could bill the government under a welfare program to fix the problems he had caused. Most of the patients he did this to had dementia and couldn’t give consent. Istephan claimed he believed the nursing homes had arranged for consent from the legal guardians, but given the unnecessary nature of the operations he was performing this seems improbable.

Clearly Istephan is a truly evil individual. However, every party sometimes makes a mistake in preselection, and psychopaths are often good at being charming. One can certainly imagine someone capable of performing these acts slipping through. Parties have run child molesters before. It doesn’t necessarily reflect on the party as a whole.

But that wasn’t the case with Istephan. He was elected in 2012, not only after these crimes had been committed, but after he had been charged and the fact reported in the Sydney Morning Herald. That is the Liberal Party endorsed a candidate who had done these things, and then once he was elected to council his colleagues got together and made him Deputy Mayor. It is very hard to imagine this was a purely local decision, and that state office was not aware of, and endorsing, running him.

Now I understand that at the point the Liberals were showing this level of faith in him these were just charges, he hadn’t been convicted. Hypocritical it might have been for them to hold the principle of innocence until proven guilty while denying it to Craig Thomson and Peter Slipper, but innocent he was in the eyes of the law.

However, there is a difference between holding that someone is innocent until proven guilty and backing them to this extent. If someone has been charged with a serious crime surely there is a precautionary principle that means one doesn’t place them in positions of too much power until those charges have been tested. Just as Istephan wasn’t allowed to practice dentistry until the case came to court, it is reasonable to think a party wouldn’t want to announce him as the best person to represent a ward of 20,000 people.

Even once he had been convicted his fellow Liberals on council, and the independents, rallied to his defense as a fit and proper person to hold his position. It’s likely that at least some of them didn’t really see what was so bad about what he had done. After all, these are people who endorse what is being done to innocent people on Manus – Istephan was just cutting out the middle man, although he made the mistake of doing to Australian citizens, rather than those who want to gain that status.

Istephan’s ward is in the seat of Banks, which the Liberals narrowly won at the last election for the first time since its creation. Parts of Hurstville fall into Barton, another Liberal pick up in September.

All this gets back to the point I keep making. The declining membership of political parties means that an increasing proportion will be sociopathic monsters driven less by political ideology, and not at all by a desire to help people, and more by their own agenda to get ahead. Combine that with the Randian views that are so popular within the Liberals these days and these sorts of chancers are going to crop up rather a lot. Places like Western Sydney will be particularly vulnerable, as they are where the membership is weakest. I said before that Jaymes Diaz is the Liberal Party’s future, but in some ways he is the better side – a big part of their future is actually going to be Andrew Istephan, and people who don’t have a problem with injuring elderly people for fun and profit.


About Stephen Luntz

I am a science journalist, specialising in Australian and New Zealand research across all fields of science. My book, Forensics, Fossils and Fruitbats: A Field Guide to Australian Scientists is out now through CSIRO Publishing. I am also a professional returning officer for non-government organisations. I'm very politically active, but generally try to restrict this blog to scientific matters.
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2 Responses to Liberals Cutting Out the Middleman

  1. Chris Maltby says:

    And in the other NSW council by-election (Woollahra), the seat was won by a tobacco company public affairs executive for the Liberals…

  2. eternalist1 says:

    I wonder how far up the chain people like Istephan could go. While they might implicitly condone his behaviour at a municipal level, the Liberal party might have more of a problem statewide if he were to run at that level in the future.
    My understanding of municipal politics is limited; what their scope of power is, who is voting in municipal elections, how the candidates are chosen, etc. I guess a broader questions for me is, ought we be having three tiers of government in the first place? I like the idea of local council representation, but perhaps it needs to be empowered further, but simultaneously made more accountable and representative. I dunno, I’m off on a tangent here.

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