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Inga Peulich sues Prasad Philip for defamation

Is she racist?

Prasad Philip says she is.

Inga-Peulich-2015-Fed-Sq
Ms Inga Peulich MLC

This is an unfortunate story involving two people – one is a member of our own community and the other one although not Indian, has had a great bond with many Indians over the years.

Prasad Philip, a Keralite Indian by descent, is being sued for defamation by Inga Peulich, a member of the upper house (Legislative Council) in the Victorian parliament. She has been seen almost every time the community has held an event or function for the last 2 decades or so. “She is one such politician who perhaps can be labelled as omnipresent in the Indian community” say her supporters and that is the evidence of her unconditional commitment to her area of work – multicultural affairs.

But Mr Philip alleges she is racist who has racially abused him and vilified him as an Indian.

Mr Philip, an IT professional who came to Australia about 8-9 years back is a member Liberal party. On his Facebook page – he makes no mention of his academic or professional qualifications and lists himself as “politician”.

At a meeting of the Liberal party’s Cranbourne District Electorate branch on 8 December (or thereabouts) 2014, Mr Philip – who was vice chairman, along with Damien Rosario – a councillor in the City of Casey as the chairman, met with other (16-20) delegates to review the (lost) campaign and elect a new electorate committee (just having lost the November 2014 election a week or so back). Their candidates – Geoff Ablett (Cranbourne) and Amanda Stapledon (Narre Warren South) had been defeated. The mood was obviously not triumphant.

BT understands during the meeting something happened between Mr Philip and Ms Peulich. One source told BT Ms Peulich said something to Mr Philip which now has become the crux of the issue between the two. Mr Philip alleges that that ‘something’ was when Ms Peulich racially abused and vilified him as “Indian” and thus demanded an apology from her.

BT would not like to repeat the alleged comments as, if truly made, they are absolutely derogatory and obscene to print.

Ms Peulich, on the other hand categorically denies the allegation and claims she is a strident opponent of racism who has devoted much of her public life to assisting multi-cultural communities.

BT has learnt Mr Philip, soon after the incident, lodged an official complaint against Ms Peulich to his party hierarchy. The party appointed party elder David Kemp to investigate. Some months passed (BT is unsure of any progress of that “investigation”) and in July 2015 on two separate occasions (July 16 and July 23) The Australian newspaper (“The Oz”), carried Mr Philip’s story wherein Mr Philip repeated his allegations.

After the first publication on 16 July, Ms Peulich felt aggrieved and sent a letter to Mr Philip through her lawyers saying she “completely and categorically” rejects the allegations “as untrue and malicious”. She asked Mr Philip to issue an apology and retraction of his allegations or face the prospect of defamation proceedings.

Mr Philip, stood his ground and told The Australian:

“What I said was the truth, so I will not be retracting my comments”. “This lawyer’s letter, I think it could be just a threat to try to intimidate me”. The Oz carried the second piece with the headline “I won’t be silenced: Liberal racism row on the boil” in their 23 July piece.

In those articles (July 16 and 23), Mr Philip repeated his allegations saying Ms Peulich launched a verbal barrage at him during that meeting in December that he says was peppered with obscenities and the word “Indian”.

Mr Philip told The Oz, “Ms Peulich owes a sincere and public apology to me and the Indian community who she abused and racially vilified”. “(She) should ask herself whether she has the moral right to continue as an elected representative of the people after being accused of bullying and threatening a citizen who lives in her electorate”.

Commenting on the receipt of a lawyer’s letter, Mr Philip told The Oz:

“For me, I would prefer to die for the truth rather than run away from it like a coward” he told The Oz.

And on 18 November 2015, Ms Peulich’ lawyers filed a defamation case against Mr Philip in the Supreme Court of Victoria. Ms Peulich claims she has been gravely injured in her credit and reputation, has been humiliated and embarrassed and has suffered loss and damage.

From the legal documents obtained by us, BT can reveal that Ms Peulich is claiming damages, costs and perhaps aggravated damages against Mr Philip, for not retracting his allegations when he was asked after the articles appeared on 16 July and repeating the same in July 23 pieces in The Oz.

She has also joined The Oz to the legal proceeding as a party.

BT contacted Ms Peulich directly and through her lawyers so that we could put questions to her on behalf of our community. We sent a list of questions to Ms Peulich and her lawyers which she chose not to respond to.

In an email Ms Puelich’s lawyers in part said,”… our client has now instigated legal proceedings it would be inappropriate to respond to your inquiry given that proceedings are afoot”.

 The issue has rattled the Victorian Indian community. There are people who are clearly on Mr Philip’s side and want Ms Peulich to apologise. One pointed to the fact Ms Peulich had hired Gary Anderton as her advisor well after it was on public record that he (Gary Anderton) had been embroiled in a blog ridiculing his Indian doctor as “smelly dud”.

Well there are also staunch devotees of Ms Peulich who see her as one politician in the entire Victorian class – who CAN DO NO WRONG.

BT spoke to Damien Rosario, who chaired the ‘ill-fated’ meeting on 8th December 2014. Mr Rosario was being very circumspect as he ‘has got baby on the way’ and did not want ‘to get sued’.

But when pressed – if he did or did not hear what Ms Peulich said or if there were any witnesses to what happened, Mr Rosario said, “I was some distance away on the round table and did not hear what she said to Mr Philip (Philip)… but as she was giving small squares of the paper away to delegates, she leaned in and said something (to Prasad Philip) and I believe there were at least two people close enough who heard what she said”.

It was his understanding that witnesses, who heard the alleged comments, were giving affidavits in support of Mr Philip.

Friends and supporters of Mr Philip are claiming to be working with (many) witnesses and are absolutely upbeat about Mr Philip successfully defending himself in Court in the end.

George Thomas, a Liberal party member and a staunch supporter of Mr Philip told BT:

“Ms Peulich will not win, one hundred per cent. She cannot win this case (as) there are many people who have heard her say that (the alleged tirade)”.

He repeated his comments made to another publication that the best way out of the problem would have been for Ms Peulich to apologise to Mr Philip.

On the other hand, from Ms Peulich’s staunch supporters, Yogen Lakshman, while holidaying in Fiji took time to speak to Bharat Times over the phone and expressed absolute support for Ms Peulich.

“She is probably one politician in the entire Victorian government (entire batch of Victorian politicians) who will not do anything wrong. I have known her for many years… I do not believe she has said anything like that (as alleged by Prasad Philip).

Story-ad-Banner-picAre you sure you fully stand by her on this?

“Absolutely” came the rock solid commitment from Mr Lakshman.

Do you realise, that the flip side to what you are telling me is that ‘Mr Philip is telling lies’? I put to him.

“Prasad Philip… I have met him on two or three occasions and do not know him that well but I can say with utmost confidence Ms Peulich cannot be that wrong. She is probably the only politician who does most for the multicultural communities in Victoria. You check her Facebook page and you will see how much work she puts in for various communities…”, Mr Lakshman added.

Then I put to him: “If this case proceeds, Ms Peulich may have to call some character witnesses from the community to give evidence to support her. Will you be prepared to go to court for her if you were asked?

“Absolutely, most definitely” Mr Lakshman said committing himself.

Another hand of support comes from Gandhi Bevinakoppa, a long time friend of Ms Peulich and Liberal candidate for Clayton in 2014 elections. Although holidaying in Thailand, he took time off to speak to BT and said:

“I have known Inga for many years. As an immigrant herself, she understands the Ethnic Communities well. She is one political leader who respects every community; Indians are no exception to that”.

Mr Vasan Srinivasan, former president of the FIAV and a prominent Liberal who hob nobs Liberal heavy weights more often than most others in the community says he is very disappointed at what has happened.

“I was not there at the meeting so I cannot say what happened and who said what. But I am disappointed and hurt that the matter has ended up in court… I spoke to Michael Kroger, Victorian state president of the Liberal party and told him we should find resolution to the issue before it gets out of hand but before we could arrange anything, the case was filed in the Supreme Court and nothing much could be done.”

It is important to note that the incident happened in or around 8 December 2014 and the legal proceeding was issued on 18 November 2015; almost a year from the incident. Despite the fact the party had confirmed to investigate the issue, naming the party elder David Kemp to look into it, nothing could stop this proceeding.

Even Ms Peulich had been quoted by The Oz (July 16, 2015 in the first article) as saying, “I will continue to work with party headquarters toward a prompt and appropriate resolution of this matter”.

Apparently, she did not or could not keep that commitment and has gone to the Supreme Court of Victoria.

On 3 January, 2016 while doing the story, I spoke to Michael Kroger, the state president of the Liberal party to discuss the issue. He had “no comment” on the issue and “I am sorry I have no comment to make” on the progress of the investigation by David Kemp.

Looking closely at the allegations against Ms Peulich, without the actual knowledge of what was said and in what context and what was the trigger which extracted or attracted the alleged tirade, one would have to go by her public record and comments made by people – her fans and some fans who have or are seemingly changing camps – for whatever political reasons or agendas. But there has not been a single comment – or an instance narrated where someone has made the monumental leap of calling her behavior or even the slightest strand of it – as racist. This is a ‘new first’ and should be duly ventilated – because the allegation is absolutely serious to the core and threatens Ms Peulich’s political survival and her political future and potentially smears her 19 years long public record.

BT spoke to a number of people, contacted a lot many more who – for whatever reasons – could not make time to meet our print deadline but as someone – who requested to be unnamed for the story said: “Inga is a strong headed politician who likes to lead and not be led and thus takes charge which ruffles many feathers in the process but that is inevitable in politics – remember politics is not for the ‘faint-hearted’. But to accuse her of racism – although I was not there – it seems to be a very big leap to me… and I believe she has a reputation and her future to protect here.”

Having spoken to many people and having not heard a single suggestion of her being a racist, that summation may not be off the mark. But as for the Liberal party, there are many questions that need urgent answers:

Did the party do enough to deal with the issue?

Was the party serious about the issue?

Does the party take the Indian community seriously?     

The answer, in my personal view, is a clear “NO” and what you see at various functions and events, may potentially befor the “cameras”, put briefly.

If the Liberal party was serious about the Indian community, they would have activated redressing processes in due earnest and this matter would have been put to rest before it went to court.

Attributing value that is due and appropriate to our community, as a starter, Matthew Guy, the leader of the Opposition should have asked Ms Peulich to step aside and relinquish the portfolio of multicultural affairs, at least until the resolution of the complaint against her.

One has to ask, would such allegation against a Liberal front bencher from the Jewish, or Islamic or any other valued community, have resulted in the same ‘pretty nothing’? Honestly, I have my doubts.

There is a serious issue involving – a shadow minister in the state government – who is being called racist and the shadow minister is in Court suing for defamation.

At least empirically, procedural fairness has to be seen to being accorded to the Indian community and Liberal Party has until now failed in this process.

Perhaps Ms Peulich should rise above the Liberal Party by volunteering to relinquish at least the “multicultural” portfolio until her defamation claim is resolved in the Supreme Court of Victoria.

And may the truth prevail in the end!                                                                                                                                                                                        – DM

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