of an overactivist
Rodney Johnstone files
was the season of goodwill and cheer and also of loneliness and quiet
desperation. I would normally feel sad about these things but when it
is Ken Hooper feeling lonely I chuckle.
Hooper is a political fixer straight from central casting -- a PR type
who was once a tabloid journalist and a management boy for News Limited.
Nowadays he works for John Laws, writing Laws' radio program and also
working on his pay TV show. During the years when Nick Greiner was Premier,
Ken was his press secretary. More recently he was one of the masterminds
behind Kerry Chickarovski's state election campaign.
I chuckled with delight when I opened the Saturday Herald to find that
Ken stands accused of organising bogus community groups to campaign
on behalf of the giant Westfield shopping centre empire against rival
matter was in the Federal Court, where a couple of developers who had
bought the old Arnott's factory site at Homebush had taken action against
Hooper under the Trade Practices Act. In court last week Westfield Ltd
owned up to having paid Hooper. He had organised a nifty letterboxing
campaign against the Arnotts' site proposal by a faceless group called
the North Strathfield Resident Action Group. The Herald said it was
"an admission likely to send shockwaves through the corporate sector
and the State Government and possibly spark a new round of huge damages
there is no suggestion that Ken Hooper or Westfield are linked in any
way to the cases that suddenly flooded into my memory but the Herald
story sent a shiver of recognition down my tail and I went to the cabinet
where I archive old and unsolved cases and hunted out my files on the
Burwood Council affair and various related matters.
community groups are nothing new. They have been a seedy part of politics
for years and they do a lot of damage to the good name and reputation
of genuine community activists. I have come across a few such groups
and most of them were run by a character, very active in Sydney during
the years of the Fahey Liberal Government, who called himself Rodney
first came to my notice during the 1994 public inquiry into Burwood
Council. Then, he was styling himself 'president' of the Burwood Action
Group. It eventually emerged that he was the secretary, the treasurer,
the committee, and all the members as well. In the inquiry, Johnstone
alleged he had witnessed the Deputy Mayor, ALP councillor John Fisk,
receiving money in a paper bag from developers. He also alleged that
Fisk had assaulted him, and that two goons had attacked him in his home.
was all lies, and Johnstone got caught out. When the cops came for him
he 'fessed up and in July '94 he got a month in the slammer.
the surface he was just a sad little man who got caught up in a spur-of-the-moment
deception that got out of control. That was how the magistrate dealt
with it, but the more questions I asked, the wierder the case became.
the Burwood Council affair, Rodney Johnstone was often seen in the gallery
of the Legislative Council and seemed to be on easy terms with a number
of Coalition identities.
1994, Councillor Fisk was the Labor Party's preselected candidate for
the vital State seat of Burwood. His past had never been a public issue,
but the Liberals were keen to make it so. He had been in their sights
as early as 1986 when Nick Greiner, then Opposition Leader, asked a
question without notice in Parliament about what he said were Fisk's
criminal convictions for stealing, conspiracy to defraud the Commonwealth
and malicious injury, and his involvement with Neighbourhood Watch.
That question was unanswered in September the following year and John
Hannaford, a Greiner insider, raised the matter again in the Legislative
it turned out, the unmasking of Johnstone was a bit of bad luck for
the Liberals. Had his false allegations against Fisk stuck, there is
no doubt the media would also have run stories on Fisk's past and these
would have brought no joy to Bob Carr who was then making his run for
power. After the Burwood inquiry, Fisk decided not to stand for Parliament
because of the stress.
when I dug further I found that Rodney Johnstone was not all he seemed.
His real name was Rodney VanWeigner and he had played an interesting
role in Victorian politics in the years when Jeff Kennett was newly
elected and on the rampage. In 1993, when the Victorian police were
under severe public criticism he ran a little campaign called "Cops
are Tops". He is said to have stood outside police headquarters
with a sandwitch board saying "Honk if you support the Police".
the same year Johnstone joined a genuine community group called the
Geelong Action Committee. They called a meeting to fight Kennett's plan
for council amalgamations and raised $1000, which was given to Johnstone
to finance a Supreme Court challenge. Johnstone assured the group that
a writ had been issued, but it never was. Johnstone disappeared to NSW
and the money was never seen again. The Victorian Police declined to
take action, because, they said, the sum was too small.
whatever this activist did, the Liberals seemed to benefit.
was a very busy 'activist' in 1994 and Burwood Council was not alone
in receiving his attentions.
said he was active in Manly politics. I was never able to confirm that,
but early in '94 he popped up at a meeting of LinkUp, an umbrella group
covering pro-public transport organisations. He was then calling himself
director of Concerned Citizens Association of Australia and his entre
was a nicely-presented report (of which he claimed to be the author)
titled A Community Audit of User-friendly Principles for Sydney's
Public Transport. The CCAA operated out of offices above a physiotherapy
studio in Burwood, and it even boasted a "public transport issues
made the LinkUp mob suspicious and Rodney wasn't invited back. It was
not long afterwards that he turned up in the Burwood Council affair.
prison experience didn't deter Rodney's 'activism'. By September 1994
he was trying hard to establish himself inside the burgeoning anti-motorway
movement. He was calling himself the Canterbury North Residents Action
Committee. He even turned up unexpectedly at a meeting of the direct
action group called Freeway Busters, who were then blockading the M2,
but he was recognised and frozen out.
media, however, has a short memory, and in October 94, Rodney got his
CCAA some free publicity in the Sydney Morning Herald, when he
announced the bogus group's support for the anti-float directors of
the NRMA. He claimed the CCAA was a watchdog group with 2,000 members
across Australia. It was 2,000 efforts of his fertile imagination.
few days later he announced he was standing as an independent in the
March 95 state elections for the seat of Canterbury, against Labor incumbent
Kevin Moss. Johnstone's platform was a weird mix of Left and Right-wing
policies. It looked like it was hand-crafted to steal votes off Moss
and deliver them to the Liberals, but by then he was pushing his luck
too far. His antics were exposed in the Sun Herald and he dropped
out of sight.
last time I heard of Rodney Johnstone he had set up shop in Perth as
an "anti-corruption campaigner". The West Australians are
more trusting than Sydney folk. Rodney had a campaign going against
a shop selling novelty condoms and another for human rights for security
guards. He was still running the CCAA and also the Thornlie and District
Residents Association, the Youth and Childrens' Progress Association,
the Southern River Health and Human Services Consumers' Association
and also the International Citizens' Action Council, which was campaigning
against judicial executions in the USA. He was on first-name terms with
half the politicians in town.
makes you wonder.
in Whispers from the mean streets
-- Best of 1999