Andrew L. Urban.
January 26, 2009 was the last Australia Day that Sue Neill-Fraser enjoyed in the true spirit of Australia, with a blustery, crowded and celebratory Hobart full of young and old, her partner Bob Chappell tinkering aboard their marvellous new yacht, Four Winds, anchored in the Derwent River at Sandy Bay. She never saw him again. That August, she was charged and a year later convicted of his murder. She is still in prison, victim many believe, of a decidedly un-Australian spirit in the process that fused a deficient police investigation with a flawed prosecution and miserably unjust trial. Celebrate not, Australia, in her name.
I write this overlooking another notable Australian harbour as the sun rises on Australia Day 2020; this one is decorated by Sydney’s iconic Harbour Bridge and Opera House. These symbols are not of Sydney alone: they glorify Australia’s spirit: the historic bridge of a young city and the soaring sails of a modern metropolis – both recognised world wide, symbols of a country known for its devotion to what is so economically expressed as a fair go. The phrase sticks in the throat of all those who have been appalled at the way our legal system has treated Neill-Fraser, frustrating her every attempt at appealing her conviction.
Hobart’s legal establishment (aka The Club) likes to dismiss the determined group of Tasmanians who have gathered over the years in support of her, the Sue Neill-Fraser Support Group. What they don’t like to be reminded of is the list of legal luminaries who also question her conviction, from Chester Porter QC, to Robert Richter QC, from Flinders University legal academic Dr Bob Moles to former ace detective Colin McLaren, from filmmaker and investigative documentarian Eve Ash, to the lawyer who took on the case after the first (unsuccessful) appeal and fought to have it reviewed – Barbara Etter. She has chosen to change her career in the face of legal harassment because she was rocking Hobart’s leaky legal boat.
Neill-Fraser’s current legal team – Tom Percy QC in Perth and Paul Galbally’s famed Melbourne firm – is working pro bono, such is their belief in her innocence.
They, at least, are showing Hobart’s miserable self-protective bunch how the Australian spirit should be manifest.