By Father Kevin Lee
OK I know people reading this are going to say, “He is suffering from ‘sour grapes,’ but please try to understand. It’s like when you are in love with someone you overlook their flaws (even though you recognise them) and you can become despised enemies after you discover attributes you didn’t realise the other had. My position has changed due to discoveries I never anticipated. So reserve your judgment of me until you read the whole story.
I was a priest for twenty years and was always led to believe that separation of the Church and State was like two parallel lines that never meet, but I was soon to find out that like the celibate clergy, it’s a truth in terms of policy position only, it is not true in fact.
I discovered this painfully in my last parish, Glenmore Park.
In our community was Liberal Party Federal candidate Karen Chijoff (now using her maiden name Corey) prior to her dramatic fall from grace after her husband and Jackie Kelly’s were discovered delivering pamphlets attempting to allege a link between Labor and the introduction of more Islamic schools in Western Sydney.
Ms Chijoff asked if she could display a Liberal Party campaign poster on our vacant parish grounds opportunely located opposite the playing fields in the centre of town. She was a card-carrying Catholic contributor to our collections for the new church we were building so I didn’t see a problem and agreed to her seemingly harmless request.
Not one hour after the said poster was pitched in the ground, I received a call from the Diocesan Bishop, Kevin Manning. He was irate. He demanded the immediate removal of the offensive sign. He said that David Bradbury the Labor Candidate was a strong supporter of the Catholic diocese (and his sister Catherine Bradbury taught in our adjacent Catholic girls’ school) and had complained about the poster as it implied political bias.
I defended my position as I have mentioned that she, not David, is an active parishioner and just like if a plumber asked to advertise his business on our grounds, and was financially supportive of the parish I would advertise his business even if it competed with other non-practising, non-paying plumbers in town. Bishop Manning angrily rejected my analogy and reiterated his demand for the removal of the poster.
I resented Bishop Manning’s refusal to allow me to determine my own course for political diplomacy in my parish and as a protest did not immediately remove the poster until a trouble-maker threatened to report me to the Bishop, at least a week after the initial planting of the sign.
I was disappointed at the eventual unfortunate election loss of Ms Chijoff but have maintained contact and remained a friend and confidant.
That and other examples of contradictions within the Church (mostly based on my own experience of living with pretend priests – I personally believe that celibacy for the clergy is a cleverly choreographed charade) forced me to contemplate a future life outside ministry.
I have written about those experiences in my self-published book, ‘Unholy Silence – Covering Up the Sins of the Fathers’ which formed the backbone of the Four Corners’ Logie nominated episode of the same name which exposed the Catholic cover up of known pedophile priests including the notorious Father F (which screened on the ABC on 2nd July 2012).
While I anticipated my days as a Catholic priest were coming to a natural conclusion (after promising approaches from a couple of potential publishers for my book), I was encouraged by my close friend and recent convert to Catholicism, Superintendent Ray King, to venture into politics.
I met Ray in 2007 in my role as regional police chaplain when he was Commander at Fairfield. At that time he was going through some of his own personal difficulties which I was helping him to cope with. Although we emptied quite a few bottles of wine together, I managed to get Ray to lift his head and look up to God as a way of finding direction in his life.
He started to attend our church, travelled with us on religious pilgrimages to Italy, France, Spain and Portugal and was eventually confirmed into the Catholic religion in our parish at Easter the following year. We became close friends and both being single men, enjoyed eating and drinking together and going to Chinese or Thai restaurants regularly.
So close did our friendship grow that he moved house into my parish at Glenmore Park so he didn’t have far to drive home after drinking. We exercised together, running or walking 6km almost every day in the Mulgoa National Park and shared our views about life, death and the cosmos. We also shared a passion for rugby league and watched nearly every game on Foxtel in my house.
Ray knew of my efforts to subtly expose the frauds in the Catholic Church and from his policing experience filled in some of my gaps in understanding how police can unknowingly participate in the cover up of clerical crimes because they believe Catholic priests to be above the normal foibles of humanity. He shared with me some intimate details of being asked (off the record) to investigate a theft in the Parramatta Cathedral presbytery where a priest was the prime suspect. When he delivered his findings to Anthony Fisher, the Bishop of the Diocese, he didn’t want to know about it. That event convinced Ray King of what I was saying all along: Bishops want to know what’s going on in their Dioceses, but when they find out, they don’t want to do anything remedial.
It was Ray King who was with me when I met Josefina (my now wife) on a trip to the Philippines with some friends from our parish in 2009. Later, without my knowledge, Ray secretly sponsored my then girlfriend from the Philippines on a tourist visa (putting down the requisite deposit to ensure she would return) and thus allowing me to nurture my relationship with her. He even made a trip to the Philippines with me to meet his latest girlfriend, a celebrity judge on ‘Shall We Dance’ TV show, whom he met around the same time as I met mine.
He started inviting me to attend Liberal Party functions with a view to me joining the party and embarking on a political career post-priesthood. He introduced me to Premier Barry O’Farrell, Senator Marise Payne and Philip Ruddock, telling them that I would be a fine candidate to represent the Liberal Party.
I had not at that stage indicated anything about my secretly flourishing relationship with my then Filipina fiancé. I also did not mention the book that I had been compiling for ten years which was going to pull the carpet out from under many high profile churchmen with dark pasts.
Ray also introduced me to many well-heeled Liberal loyalists whom he suggested “were important people to know”. We dined at restaurants and Ray took me in his personal police car all across Sydney to promote my identity with potential supporters.
At some point I was invited to have lunch with Philip Ruddock. He was quite encouraging of my political aspiration but felt the need to point out to me that he was not a Catholic before confiding that there are certain dangerous Catholic elements within the Liberal Party.
Mr Ruddock explained that these people were highly influential and may not be too pleased at the prospect of a priest abandoning his lofty ‘Divine calling’ to descend to the nether regions of Federal politics.
Ruddock specifically mentioned Opus Dei member David Clarke as a key decision maker that would need to be convinced of my orthodox credentials before I had any chance of being nominated. At the conclusion of lunch I gave Mr Ruddock a letter which I had prepared for the Leader of the Opposition suggesting how I could assist the Liberal Party. Mr Ruddock promised to give it to Tony Abbott personally a few days later. True to his word he hand delivered my letter and it didn’t take long for Tony Abbott to reply, calling me on my mobile and leaving a long and personal voice message encouraging me to make contact.
I gave Tony a return call and arranged to meet him at a campaign rally he was launching at Penrith RSL on 29th November 2010 to support a local Liberal candidate and live-in boyfriend of Senator Marise Payne, Mr Stuart Ayers. We spoke only briefly at the rally although I did give him a ‘Dorothy Dix’ during his question time about the need to act on crime in the local Penrith community.
Mr Abbott then made an appointment and I met with him personally at his office in Philip St, Sydney on 20th December.
After welcoming me to his office Tony sat back in his desk chair and put his hands behind his head, confidently exposing his perspiring underarms. While we were in the seminary we studied the same Alan Pease body language videos in which he taught prospective leaders, “Confident people will always expose themselves and open up when they are seated, while nervous, shy or introverted people tend to hunch forward, cross their arms or hold their hands in their laps”.
I wondered if Tony was displaying this false bravado as part of what he had learnt about leadership while preparing for priesthood? Whatever the case, at that point in time I was in awe of him since we had walked a similar path, albeit his with far greater personal successes. The first thing that struck me about Tony is, for a future Prime Minister and leader of the nation he stammered quite a bit. There were very few sentences that he didn’t started with “Ah,…” He perhaps picked up this linguistic impediment from John Howard who also vocalised his responses with similar hesitation.
Anyway, we had a fairly casual conversation in which, for people who had only really spoken once before, I was surprised at the amount of trust he quickly conferred on me. We discussed many personal topics particularly relating to people we both knew in the seminary in Manly. We naturally discussed celibacy and he expressed candid openness that the expectation of a life without sex was a factor in his decision not to pursue priesthood but “it certainly wasn’t the deal breaker”. We shared similar disgust at the attitude of our former seminary Rector, the late Father Gerry Iverson who had a large determining role over who went on to ordination and who didn’t.
The assertive Tony Abbott was not considered suitable pastoral material despite being a student who achieved high distinctions in his assignments. Perhaps this was because he thought for himself rather than saying ‘Amen’ to the establishment which we both agreed was full of imposters, “wolves in sheep’s clothing.” One of his Philosophy lecturers, Father Gerry Gleeson (son of the Chief Justice of the High Court, Murray Gleeson Q.C.) who was also my spiritual director, remarked to me once, “Tony Abbott is one of a very few people I awarded high distinctions to then had to write the comment, ‘Next time read the prescribed texts!’”
Tony marvelled at the longevity of my virginity that I had managed to protect for forty six years. “I don’t know how you do it! I couldn’t do it. I find it difficult enough staying faithful to the one woman for the rest of my life,” he said with a laugh.
Our originally timetabled thirty minute meeting extended as he called his other appointments to cancel. I was flattered that he wanted to prolong our conversation and talk further about my political possibilities and he expressed an eager desire of utilising me in the upcoming election. He actually said, “If you had come forward earlier we might have been in government right now. You could have beaten Bradbury yourself. We really needed that seat.”
I assured him that we will win it next time and reiterated my request to represent the area in which I had actually been born.
“Ah, I don’t think that can happen, Kev. They’ve already completed the pre-selection process. You might think that the leader of the party would have the power to choose who represents us in government, but I don’t. It’s all up to branches and the pre-selectors and in the case of Fiona Scott, I think they’ve got it wrong. But we can’t change that. Well I’d be reluctant to intervene.”
He didn’t say he wouldn’t intervene or that he couldn’t so, ever the optimist, I kind of hoped he still would see the logic of choosing a community leader with proven commitment to represent the community rather than a business woman who was financially backed by her father.
I didn’t initially tell Tony about my book in case he thought it imprudent and negative to a future political campaigner. I told him the main reason I wanted to look at politics was because I had already decided to leave ministry (due to an inability to embrace the Church’s contradictory attitude to contemporary morality).
I told Tony I had decided to look for a partner in marriage.
“No!” he said adamantly. “Don’t leave the priesthood. You have to campaign as an active, currently serving priest. It would have a better impact than a former, disaffected or ousted priest. Your current credibility would be critical to a successful campaign.”
So despite already having met my future wife and really had her in mind when I mentioned ‘looking for a wife’, I decided to hold that part of my plan close to my chest.
We concluded our conversation with Tony saying, “The procedure from here on is, I will need to speak with a few people and if you get a phone call from Bill Heffernan, you’re in”.
“And if I don’t?” I asked.
“You can go on with your normal life,” he said smiling.
“My life has never been normal,” I thought to myself.
Being just five days before Christmas when we met, I was not surprised when there was still no phone call from Senator Heffernan by New Year. People easily forget things like “make a phone call to Father Kevin Lee” I told myself, still optimistic rather than accept that the Party may not be interested in sanctioning a priest as a politician.
In the meantime Ray King suggested that I start writing some letters in the Penrith Press, a local newspaper distributed freely to all homes in our electorate. Mr King wrote some ideas to me each couple of days and I reworded them and sent them to the newspaper’s editor. Every letter I wrote was pro-Liberal or critical of the Gillard government. I spoke about the need to focus on local job creation schemes such as hotels, restaurants and cafes along the banks of the picturesque Nepean River. I also promoted local identities and congratulated them on their achievements, things Liberal candidate Fiona Scott was clearly reticent to do.
In fact, I had been told by some within the local Liberal Party that she had been told to stay away from the media in case she said something that Labor could use against her. Still believing that Tony Abbott might suggest replacing Fiona Scott, my letters were designed to galvanise some local support for the idea that I would be a worthy opponent for David Bradbury.
A month later, I still had not heard from the country Senator so I assumed the powers-that-be had collectively decided against using me and I moved on with my own plans.
I married my then secret fiancé and contacted journalists with a view to launch my book on the Catholic Church’s cover-ups of sexual abuse by clergy and teachers in their ubiquitous schools system. I first went to Philippines to marry my wife on February 4th 2011. I went into a lone crusader mode and after one year I again contacted the media to publicise my secret marriage on National TV news on 30th April 2012.
I explained on Seven’s evening news that, “If I can get away with being married for a year as a priest, how can the Catholic Church hierarchy maintain the position that they monitor the private lives of priests? How can they claim with such certainty that they would know if any of their priests were abusing children?”
I continued to co-author with Ray King politically motivated letters to the editor of the newspaper which were consequently published by fellow St Dominic’s College Penrith student, Brad Earl. Of course there were a few ad hominen attacks on me by Labor Party supporters but there was more importantly much wider support for the idea that as a dedicated community leader I would make a good representative for the area.
When I did ultimately announce my marriage and was forcibly resigned from my parish, I assumed that my political career had self-destructed so I was shocked when I received the belated call from Senator Bill Heffernan in mid-May 2012.
He rang and said, “Father Kevin, do I still call you that? It’s Bill Heffernan here. I was supposed to ring you some time back but it slipped my mind.”
My natural question was, “How do I know it’s the real Bill Heffernan”.
I do have some joker friends who call me constantly starting their call with, “Kevin, it’s the Bishop here (and yes, the real Bishop has rung me and called himself ‘the Bishop’).
I made a big mistake when I lived in the parish house at Blacktown and the Pope had asked the former Bishop Bede Heather to resign over his handling of the pedophile crisis in Greystanes parish (read that story in my book at www.unholysilence.com ). Anyway, the Pope’s representative called our house looking for Bishop Heather who also resided there. I picked up the phone and the caller said in what I thought was an impoverished impression of an Italian accent, “Good morning it’s the Apostolic Pro Nuncia here and I would like to speak to the Most Reverend Bede Heather”.
I replied facetiously, “Sure you do, and if you were the Apostolic Pro Nuncio, you would have used your name instead of your title! Well Bede is not here and he is not the ‘most reverend’ person here, because that would have to be me!”
The caller reacted with surprise and said, “I am wanting to speak to the Bishop whom I am told is living there”. Suddenly his formerly fake Italian voice sounded quite authentic and I said, “I’m sorry Your Eminence (not sure how you address someone who represents the Pope) but Bishop Bede is not available, he has left for Parramatta. Can I tell him who called?” He declined and said he would try calling him at his office.
Well, I made a similar mistake with Bill Heffernan but when he started using expletives and telling me Tony Abbott asked him to call, I knew he must be authentic. He talked for a long time and my ear was getting hot from the mobile phone radiation before he even mentioned the reason for his phone call.
He told me he knew about my book exposing pedophilia in the Catholic Church. “You have no idea how deeply the problem has penetrated not just the Church, but the police and the judiciary” he said. “During the Wood Royal Commission into Police Corruption the topic of organised crime protected by police led into the topic of organised pedophilia rings in Australia. Suddenly Justice James Wood himself called a halt to proceedings and ordered a break for lunch. After lunch the topic was never returned to, or raised again. The issue would touch too many important people who have secrets they don’t want to be known. You will never get to the bottom of pedophilia in the clergy because too many people in high places are involved…”
“What about if there was a Royal Commission into the Catholic Church?” I suggested as that was what I and many others had been agitating for, for years.
“It’ll never happen” he said. “Labor don’t have the political will and when we return to power we’ll never initiate one. So what are you thinking about doing with your book?” Heffernan asked.
“Well, if I am selected as a Candidate, I won’t publish it,” I assured him.
“Good idea. That’s better at the end of your political career as part of your memoirs,” he said.
I indicated that my phone battery might die at any time in order to prompt his memory about what he was ringing me to say. I assumed his questioning was something like a job interview.
“Well the reason I am ringing is because you indicated to Tony that you wanted to be a politician. Have you any idea where you would like to run?”
I explained the reasons why Lindsay would be the best place for me.
“Well, that’s not going to happen. Fiona Scott has been given the nod for a second crack at it. I am informing you that nominations for pre-selection for McMahon close tomorrow.” He then ordered me to put in my application for pre-selection for candidacy in that seat. The seat currently held by then Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen.
“But I have heard that Frank Oliveri is running for that seat and is the branches’ local favourite.” I said, reiterating things my friend Ray King had confided.
“Oliveri is going to withdraw. I can’t understand why he hasn’t done it already. He was ordered by the Party Executive to drop out, but he appealed and it was upheld. But he is yet to discover the amount of crap he is going to encounter if he intends to go forward. That’s why I’m ringing you and asking you to put in your application. Don’t worry about Oliveri, he is going to pull out”.
As soon as I finished my call with Heffernan I rang my good friend and police Commander Ray King (who was by this stage stationed at Liverpool police) and informed him of my phone conversation. Ray had also developed political ambition and had nominated for pre-selection for the seat of Fowler. We went for a walk along the Nepean River to discuss what Senator Heffernan had spoken about during our protracted phone conversation.
“Oliveri is not going to withdraw,” King protested. “I was talking to him yesterday and he has no intention of standing aside”. King then went on to confirm that the police “have a brief on Oliveri” which would bring him unstuck if it became public. He said, “Maybe Heffernan has that information. But you can’t win Kev. You’re not from the area. You’re an unknown”.
When I looked at the application form I noticed I needed three signatures from current financial Liberal Party members.
My first call was to new friend and state candidate for Cabramatta Dai Le. I met Dai at a campaign dinner where I impressed her with my fluency in Vietnamese. I learnt the language while volunteering as an English teacher in a refugee camp in Palawan, Philippines in 1989. She had asked me to join her team for the State election campaign which I readily agreed to. I wanted to learn from those who had been there in the fray of campaigning.
“Hi Dai, I need a favour” I said when I called.
“I will do anything for you Kevin,” she responded generously. “You helped me with my ill-fated campaign,” (indicating that I had delivered some pamphlets for her during the State elections.
I told her I needed her autograph.
“What for?” she asked curiously.
I then told her I was applying for pre-selection for McMahon.
She sounded annoyed when she replied, “Kevin, Frank Oliveri is going for that seat. Why are you applying for there?”
I told her that Bill Heffernan had rung and told me to apply thinking that by mentioning his name she would be impressed with my connections ‘higher up’. Instead she became angry.
“Why the hell is he interfering? The branches have it all under control. We know who we want. Kevin, the guy is mad. Don’t have anything to do with him! You will lose all credibility!” she almost yelled at me.
“So I guess I won’t be getting a signature from you?” I asked.
“No, Kevin I can’t put my name on your application form because I support Frank” she said.
I must say Dai Le’s reaction took me totally by surprise. This was the first indication that I was looking at a party divided. Especially hearing the disrespectful way she addressed a Liberal Senator.
My next point of call was Bernard Bratusa. He was someone in my local community who had also encouraged my political aspirations and was someone I trusted. He readily agreed to sign my application despite revealing some reservations in his body language. I am quite perceptive when it comes to sensing people’s honesty. It comes from decades of hearing confessions and running high school camps and retreats.
Bernard Bratusa is media officer for State minister Greame Anersley and one time editor of the Western Weekender newspaper where I was a weekly contributor with my column, “Kev’s Korner”. I went referee for one of his nominations for the Board of Panthers leagues club as well as one other job application. He could not refuse my request even if he felt compromised signing my form.
When I asked who else I might be able to get a signature from he suggested Councillor Mark Davies, currently Mayor of Penrith. Mark is married to Tanya Davies the local State member in Penrith and fellow resident of Glenmore Park. Although it was nine twenty in the evening I still dared to call him. “Hi Mark, sorry if I disturbed you” I apologised prior to ascertaining the possibility of receiving a signature that night.
“It’s OK Kevin. We’re in the car coming home from another school presentation ceremony,” he replied. “What can I do for you?”
I said, “Would it be OK to come over to your place when you are home. I just need one minute for a signature on my nomination for pre-selection,” I informed him.
“Sure” he said, “We will be home in about twenty minutes. So where are you nominating for?”
“McMahon,” I said.
His jovial voice suddenly changed. “Oh, that would be a problem for me Kevin. Frank Oliveri has also nominated for McMahon and he is a close friend of ours. He was very supportive of Tanya when she nominated for the State election.”
“Listen Mark, I just need three signatures of financial Liberal Party members for my application. The signatures are never seen. I was assured of this by Bill Heffernan” I said being sure that dropping his name would have a magic effect.
“Is he the one who asked you to nominate?” Mark asked.
“Yes because he tells me that Frank Oliveri is withdrawing from the pre-selection,” I informed him. Mark Davies appeared to already know about the demand for Oliveri’s withdrawal.
“Well I was speaking with Frank today and he isn’t withdrawing. I’m not saying that’s not what Bill told you. I’m just saying that Frank reckons he isn’t going to step aside just because Heffernan or someone else from the Exec tells him he has to” Mark also said angrily.
Early the following day I rang Bill Heffernan and explained the predicament.
“I have a form but no signatures,” I said.
“Alright. Just bring your forms down here to headquarters by midday and I will get you some signatures” he assured me, seemingly cognizant with my difficulties.
Used to following instructions, I obediently came to the City and found Bill Heffernan sitting in the conference room waiting for me, pen in hand.
I explained the difficulty with getting the Liberal Party members’ signatures. He used some descriptive expletives about the attitude of those who were determined to keep Oliveri in the running.
“The man is a crook. There’s plenty of reasons for him to be charged in the future over the deals he did in Liverpool and it will become an embarrassment to the Liberal Party. His mates don’t think about that, do they? Show me your form I will sign it for you”.
When I handed him the nomination form he exclaimed, “It’s blank. You haven’t even filled it in yet!”
“Well I got a bit disillusioned by the contradictions I was hearing here. You tell me to apply because Oliveri is pulling out, and all his friends maintain that he isn’t. I don’t want to pay $1000 to nominate for a position I can’t win”.
“Listen if Bill Heffernan rings someone and tells them to put in an application, they bloody well do what I tell them,” he said angrily. I knew he was angry at the people who refused to cooperate with my request for signatures on my application.
Then Bill signed my form, found two others in the office to sign and told me what to put on the application form. At that point it was realised that I was not yet a member of the Liberal Party so I had to pay $95 for the privilege of joining before I could pay my $1000 fee for nominating for pre-selection.
I could hardly wait to tell Ray about my meeting with Bill Heffernan.
I was shocked when Ray told me that he had already withdrawn his application for the seat of Fowler and put in his nomination for McMahon! He had done so without discussing it with me. I felt betrayed and could not comprehend his actions. To this day, I still don’t.
I was naturally angry with what he had done but at the time accepted Ray’s innocent sounding explanation. He said that there was a certain nominee called Andrew Nguyen, a seventy year old Vietnamese man who had also applied for Fowler. Ray told me that Nguyen had re-mortgaged his house to get $300,000 as a campaign contribution and was quite likely to be pre-selected, “because what they are looking for is, who has the money to fund a campaign and the ability to communicate with many of the electorate. Apparently Fowler has a predominantly Vietnamese community”.
Now in hindsight I don’t believe Ray’s justification because people in the party have told me that they were expecting Ray to be pre-selected because Andrew Nguyen had such poor communication skills and he was seventy years old.
The fact that Nguyen has been preselected speaks volumes for Liberal’s failures. They do not care about selecting the best person to represent the community but whoever can come up with enough campaign money or supporters to promote the Liberal brand.
Ray was deceptive in his comments from then on. I was a bit ambivalent about the role of politician by this stage with more focus on developing a life for myself and my new wife as well as trying to get a job. I was unemployed and dependent on welfare payments for a number of months and definitely sure that running a political campaign would be costly beyond my means. I was also determined to see my exposure of corruption within the Catholic Church publicised as many more victims had recently been in touch with me about their painful experiences.
The only thing I had in my favour was the fact that one former parishioner who is loyal to the Liberal agenda generously offered to give me $100,000 to run my campaign if I was pre-selected. I never mentioned this to anyone except Ray King who admitted that he had no one offering to fund his campaign.
Without revealing his real ambition Ray continued to feed me lies and encouragement telling me I was a better candidate than him. He continued to say he was only in the race “to knock off the competition” for me. He said, “With me in the race, I will take the votes away from Jamal Elishe (who represented Liberal at the previous election, and was the only other contender) and you will win the prize. I can’t afford to lose $1000 so I will be pulling out in the week before the pre-selection so you can do a Steven Bradbury and win the competition”.
We even planned to meet Bill Heffernan together and discuss the pre-selection process.
But Ray was leading me on all the way.
His actions have proven to me how politics and ambition can destroy a man’s sense of perspective and allow him to throw away everything he has. In my mind Ray was a close confidant and friend. He has done so many things for me in the past that assisted me move forward at times when I could quite easily have given up.
When I was unemployed for a long time, Ray King organised for one of his friends and Liberal loyalist, Brian Zammit to allow me to live rent free in his granny flat in West Hoxton, close to the area I was hoping to campaign for. Brian also gave me a job in his family construction business as his customer liaison officer, a job that required me to visit a number of his Vietnamese clients. It was a job I received only three hundred dollars for, but I was never disappointed because it gave me a reason to get up each day and also the accommodation was free.
One day while in the office, Brian was discussing the nominations for pre-selection with his accountant Joe Malluso who was also one of the pre-selectors. I had seen Joe sitting in the office earlier in the day doing his audits and I made him a cup of coffee.
When I walked in Brian asked Joe, “What do you think are the chances of Kevin Lee getting nominated?”
“The priest? He’s got no hope. He hasn’t got any support” Joe said dismissively.
“Tell him that now,” Brian said to a perplexed looking Joe. “He’s right in front of you” Brian said smiling in my direction.
Joe was shocked. I was wearing my blue BAMS Building and Maintenance Service collared shirt and looked nothing like the priest that Joe had visualised.
“You’re kidding,” Joe said.
“I kid you not. Joe meet Father Kevin Lee,” Brian said smiling at the irony.
Joe stood up respectfully. His Italian Catholic background brought out the pre-programmed respect. “Well, I’m sorry Father Kevin. I didn’t know you are the priest everyone has been talking about. I expected Father Lee was Asian,” he said.
“Yes that’s a common racial generalisation I get with an Asian sounding surname, but my parents are Irish” I informed him.
We sat down and discussed the election and I switched into campaigner mode and began to impress on both Brian and Joe why I would be a better candidate to support than Ray King. Ray interpreted my conversation which followed was an attempt to white-ant him but I maintain that they deserved to know the truth about the candidate they were supporting. It seems now that no one in the Liberal camp really wants to know about the skeletons of their representatives. They are happy to allow the media and Labor to discover them.
I was led to believe, or maybe I wanted to believe them, that they were swinging their support from Ray to me. One of the reasons I stated which I thought was already known to both of them was Ray’s appearance to give testimony to the Wood Royal Commission. Ray claimed later that I told them he was arrested and forced to stand trial at the Commission but I maintain I merely indicated my concerns that if his involvement in a defending role at an Inquiry into Police Corruption was brought up, he may have some explaining to do. They agreed to turn their support over to me as well as promising to convince the branch members to support my nomination.
Brian then rang Ray to tell him of their decision.
I don’t know what Ray King said to them but I could hear Brian Zammit saying, “Ray you have my complete support and also that of Joe. We are 100% behind you Ray” he repeated a number of times.
I then knew I had only one option, I rang Bill Heffernan and asked him to request Ray to withdraw. Heffernan sounded angry when I called and he said, “Kevin forget about Ray King. It’s the pre-selectors you have to focus on now. Call all of them. Don’t bother with emails. That’s horseshit. You just ****ing call them all and convince them why you are the best candidate for the Liberal Party.”
For some unknown reason each of the candidates is sent an Excel spreadsheet with the names, home addresses, home, business and mobile phone numbers as well as personal email addresses of all the pre-selectors. I was wondering whether this was in fact so we could offer them all a bribe for their vote but since the election was going to be by secret ballot no one would ever know if anyone did vote for you. In fact, Senator Marise Payne said, “The only people you know are telling you the truth in those interviews are the ones who say that they are not going to vote for you!”
None of the pre-selectors I spoke to said they wouldn’t vote for me, but some did say they would, while the majority were non-commital.
I was aware that one of the candidates had invited all fifty two of the pre-selectors to his home for a dinner. Did he win any support by that gesture? I will never know but to me it reeked of impropriety to even give all that contact information prior to delivering what could be a life-changing speech to them.
“But Bill” I protested to Mr Heffernan, “if you just call Ray and tell him to withdraw, he will do it.”
“No, I’m not going to do that Kevin. That would be very wrong if I were to interfere in the process. You just go and do what you have to do to get selected. Call Marise Payne and make sure you meet with her. There’s also a few other people you should call …” and he gave me a few names of people whose support I needed.
I visited, rang or emailed everyone on the list with few replies. One who did sound positive but then disappeared and never replied to my emails was a Doctor Clive O’Connor. He was a conservative Catholic whom I assumed had Opus Dei connections because his main question to me was, “What’s your position on abortion?”
I told him I had written something on the topic and included it in my parish website and newsletter and he asked me to send him a copy. I did, but he never responded.
There was another couple who seemed very interested in supporting me particularly because they didn’t want fellow Italian and outside dark horse, Joe Romeo (who withdrew in the week leading up to pre-selection) as their local member. They were Italians so they gave me the correct pronunciation of the statement I began my speech with, “Buona sera signore e signori. Vi ringrazio per la vostra presenza qui questa sera.” They assured me that they could swing all their branch members into voting for me after losing their preferred representative, Frank Oliveri.
When it came closer to the day of pre-selection and Ray had not yet withdrawn, I was still working for his friend Brian Zammit as a customer liaison officer, the job which Ray had gotten for me. I was asked by our BAMS general manager to go to Liverpool police station and measure up the area that Brian’s company had been asked to make desks for Ray’s police station conference room.
When I turned up, Ray King was sitting at his desk reading the paper and eating his lunch. He had an angry look on his face as he said, “What are you doing here?”
“I’m working” I said with a smile.
He didn’t believe me when I told him that I was told to do the measurements.
He said, “Have you come to apologise? I know what you told Joe and Brian was an attempt to undermine me”.
“Ray, you promised to withdraw from pre-selection. You said, on your honour you would withdraw. I need you to do that now,” I almost pleaded with him.
“Well I have to now, don’t I? I got a call last night from the Liberal Party asking about what happened in the Royal Commission. They told me I have to withdraw my nomination now.” He glared at me in a way I had seen him look at junior officers he had berated for some infraction of police protocols.
“I have done you a favour Ray. If you had have gone to the election, Labor would have brought it up and whether you are innocent or not of the allegations, you are always going to come out of it looking corrupt. And what about people from your past? Anyone of them can come forward and embarrass you?”
“Mate, I wanted to knock your head off when you walked through the door. I can’t believe you would try to white-ant me like that after all we have been through together,” Ray said a bit more calmly. He glared at me for a moment while all I could do was smile.
“Anyway, just go. See ya later. You and I are finished as mates”.
A few days later another of the contenders Joe Romeo, realising he didn’t have the support he needed, withdrew.
On the day of pre-selection was contacted by a Vietnamese pre-selector and Liberal candidate for Fowler, Andrew Nguyen. He said he was impressed with the fact that I was dedicated to my faith and done some volunteer work in Vietnamese refugee camps. He assured me that I could get sixteen of the votes who were Vietnamese if I included some of their language in my speech and told them about my voluntary work with St Vincent de Paul, which I also did.
In the end Ray didn’t keep his word. He went into the pre-selection which ended up being between him and I and Jamal Elishe, an Iraqi refugee who had been in the country for seven years. Although he apparently had a lot of Arab backers (with money) he had very little English, so it did really boil down to just Ray and I.
I did what Bill Heffernan advised and forgot about Ray King and put all my energy into attempting to sway the minds of the pre-selectors.
I prepared a speech which started with an introduction in five languages to emphasise that this election was best contested by someone who had an ability to communicate across a number of cultures in an area that boasted over 130 different nationalities. My speech had humour: “A little girl asked her father, “Daddy, do all fairy tales begin with ‘Once upon a time’?” He answered, “No, sweetheart, some of them begin with ‘If I am elected…’”
As well as emotive phrases designed to elicit a positive response I gave many logical reasons why I could represent the community energetically due to my interest in people and willingness to visit homes, schools and the workplaces of the constituents. I had canvassed opinions from people in the community about what issues most affected them and translated those comments into a proposal that I believed would be well received by the pre-selectors, some of whom gave me pointers on what I should say.
I rehearsed my speech each day for at least an hour as I did my six kilometre walk for twelve days, as well as calling, writing letters and emailing all the pre-selectors many of whom promised me their support.
As we sat in the room waiting to deliver our speeches to the pre-selectors on the presentation night, Ray offered his hand, “I forgive you for trying to undermine me and when I win, I will still keep my promise and give you a job as my media officer. And if you win, I hope you would extend to me the same courtesy”.
“Sure Ray, but I never did undermine you. I only wanted to save you the embarrassment which is going to come your way, should you win. You’re too old for politics”.
“Whatever happens, let’s have a beer afterwards,” he offered.
“Yeah that would be nice” I said.
I had managed to memorise my speech word for word and presented it flawlessly without notes.
I knew in my mind Ray King looked very confident that he was going to be chosen but I had no idea how assured he was until I heard the vote tally. Out of fifty two possible votes I got one. Ray King got thirty seven and the Jamal, Iraqi refugee got the rest. Some in the audience expressed their incredulity at the outcome and the moderator was questioned as to why there were no independent auditors at the counting of the votes. He was convinced not to destroy the ballots in case any questioning happened later. I would have liked to but I could not see the point.
Now I am not silly enough to believe I was able to sway the decision of all the voters in the room but I am sure some must possess a conscience and have realised that my presentation was better than Ray’s or Jamal Elishe.
After Ray King won the pre-selection by a landslide, we shook hands and I have not seen or heard from him since. I waited for a call or text to have that promised drink but it has never come.
It is quite upsetting what Ray King has done to our friendship but I can forgive him for what happened because I also believe that the pursuit of position and power blinded me to what was happening around me.
As I went home to lick my wounds, I received a call that night from Bernard Bratusa.
“I just spoke with Marise Payne and she used one word to describe your performance tonight, ‘Awesome’. You impressed some important decision makers in that room tonight Kevin. I wouldn’t be too disappointed by how you went. You have a long career ahead of you in politics. You’re only forty eight. Ray is sixty one or two, so your turn will come. Just play the game for a while and show some loyalty to the Party by supporting Ray during the campaign process. Ray tells me he has plans to offer you a job in his office when he gets elected”.
I was not in the mood for conversation with Bernard but I didn’t want to fob him off as he is a good man. I got to know him better in recent years since he started attending our church and with his wife Katheryne, had helped out in our fundraising committee.
But I was not impressed when he let slip that he and Senator Marise Payne had helped write Ray King’s speech for the pre-selection! I had introduced Ray to Bernard and he at no time had told me that he had been getting public speaking lessons from my friend.
I had already made up my mind that the Liberal Party was filled with two-faced pretenders (very much like the Church I had previously ministered in) but on this day, I had promised myself never to have anything to do with party politics again.
After my unsuccessful pre-selection campaign I received no response to my emails and texts to either Tony Abbott or Bill Heffernan. I have heard absolutely no word from my former best friend Ray King (although he sent a text to my wife asking where he might send some baby clothes but she did not respond).
The reason I think he is still nervous of me is because I am one of the few people who know his real character.
During our daily walks around the Mulgoa Reserve, Ray had promised me he would withdraw from pre-selection if it ever came down to a two horse race. He said, “On my honour as a mate, I don’t want to go against you. You are the far better candidate than me. You’re younger, a clean skin with no skeletons. I would never be able to stand up and represent the community without wondering what the media could dig up. No Kev, I would never go seriously to nominate. I just want to enter the race to bump off some of your opponents.”
I still cannot reconcile what has happened.
Josefina pointed out to me recently, “This has been the worst year of your life. In one year, your actions have lost you your family, your job, your church, your community, your home, your political career and your best friend. All you need now is to lose me and you will have lost everything.”
Her blunt summary would cause most people to think suicidal thoughts. But I am still an optimist and a realist. I do believe that some friendships are for a reason, some for a season, but there are very few for life.
Ray was my friend for a reason. Perhaps I was his for a season.
Since the event, I have taken some time and reflected on why things turned out the way they have. Are the Liberal Party somehow controlled by people who manipulated even my best friend to keep me out of politics? If however they were so intent on seeing someone other than me represent the Liberal Party and would select a man with all the question marks hanging over him in preference to me, then I am glad I am no longer part of that Party.
Ray King, despite the length of time we had been in daily communication has not made any contact, but kept his words uttered through a sandwich in his office, “You and I are finished as mates”.
On 16th June 2013, I found a message among my Facebook messages that was unread:
“Great speach tonight at the preselection. Very engaging, you had my vote don’t give up mate.” March 14 10:22pm
Then I wrote to the person:
Hi xxxxxxxx, I don’t know why I only found this message today. It’s amazing that so many people told me they had voted for me at the pre-selection but I only got one vote. So you must be the one who told the truth. I don’t remember seeing your name on the pre-selection list. So what did you think of Ray King’s speech? What did he say that so convinced the majority that he is the best man for the job?
And this was his reply:
“Hi Kevin. I sat in the second row on your left. I was baffled why Ray King received the winning number of votes. Your speech was without a doubt much better than Ray’s. Furthermore the other candidates speech ( jamal ) was so painful to watch I couldn’t bare it. He couldn’t even comprehend the questions that were asked of him. For example, one pre selector asked him about the proposed changes to superannuation laws, and his response to the question ( after asking to have the question repeated ) was quote “superannuation is for people to put money into for their retirement”. Completely did not understand the question. Following that response there was a muffled chatting among people in the room. Yet Jamal was closely behind Ray. The meeting was stacked with Assyrian pre selectors and they would of voted for Jamal no matter what he said. Earlier than day an sms circulated to me from an unknown number that “we all must support Jamal”.
Anyway, after your speech there was a brief pause before questioning commenced, and your speech was much less scrutinized than Ray’s or Jamal’s. I thought that was an indication you were a clear winner. I was shocked when the chairperson of the meeting announced you only received one vote ( my vote ). Ray mainly discussed his time in the police and he emphasised integrity over and over. There was no smoking gun which made him the winner or better. Than your speech. He was reading a pre prepared speech also. And almost lost his cool with the questions. Whereas you were very calm and composed throughout the speech and questions. It was very well delivered, clear and precise Kevin. Even the guy sitting next to me said “you smashed it”, referring to the high calibre of your speech. Yet he voted for Jamal because he had to. I say keep trying, maybe even at a state level?”
Since the pre-selection process concluded, I have had plenty of time to reflect on the process as well as outcome. I have reviewed some of my opinions about Tony Abbott and his supporters as well as the individuals whom I was convinced were supportive of my political aspirations with the Liberal Party.
Prior to my resignation from the Liberal Party I was a staunch defender of all that Tony Abbott stood for. I even defended his decision in 1997 to support a fellow seminary student John Nestor who had been accused of pedophilia while a priest in the Wollongong Diocese. The criticism levelled at Mr Abbott regarding his decision to support John Nestor without any personal knowledge of the allegations was an area that I needed to do some examination of my conscience.
Paul Osborne wrote a story in February 8, 2013 questioning the motives of Liberal Leader Tony Abbott when he gave a character reference to the accused priest. In order to understand what irked Paul Osborne about Abbott’s actions you need to read the article:
I know John Nestor from my time in the seminary too and can vouch that he was a man of exceptional character. But there is one quality of his that must have motivated the future Prime Minister to put his reputation on the line to defend an alleged pedophile.
John Nestor was a priestly member of Opus Dei.
So it doesn’t surprise me that the then Parliamentary secretary to the Employment Minister described John Nestor as: ”An extremely upright and virtuous man. I guess one of the things that I like very much about John when I first met him was his maturity – intellectual, social, emotional. And he was, to that extent I guess, a beacon of humanity at the seminary.”
I knew that there were a number of complaints by people within the local school and parish of the Wollongong Diocese that were opposed to Father John Nestor’s Opus Dei associations.
I spoke with John at the time of the allegations and asked him to confide in me whether he did anything wrong. He said “the only wrong I did was to trust this particular family” whom he believes “set him up”.
Anyway, innocent or guilty he is in Opus Dei and I believe this is the only reason that Abbott stuck his neck out to support him. Because he is an Opus Dei priest I am sure there are people in the Liberal Party who emphasised the need for John Nestor to be cleared. How many other pedophiles has Tony Abbott personally given character references for who are not in Opus Dei? That would be none.
I am writing this not to be malicious but responding now to constant critics of Opus Dei interference in politics which I am now convinced of. My experiences prove that they exert significant influence over who is acceptable and who is not.
Even Ray King who now is running for Liberal in the seat of McMahon told me during the lead up to pre-selection, “You will lose support from the Libs because of your attacks on Cardinal George Pell”. Little do they know, but Ray King hates Opus Dei with more passion than me and he will be doing his best to undermine them once he gets in.
He told me, “Your attacks on Pell, as much as I personally agree with them, were the reason you burnt all your support base. Opus Dei have power in Federal politics.”
The proof is in the fact that none of my endorsers have contacted me since my pre-selection speech even to ask how I went or to comment on what happened.
I am guessing that some of you don’t know what, or more correctly who Opus Dei is, so I had better give you a brief overview. If you have watched The Da Vinci Code movie or read the book, you will still have no idea because that story is fiction. Dan Brown took advantage of the mystery that envelopes the operations of the real Opus Dei cult, using the same name to identify a mythical secret sect intent on protecting the fictional Vatican secrets alluded to in Brown’s novel.
But the real Opus Dei, which is Latin for ‘The Work of God,’ is a personal prelature or association of priests and lay people that was formed in 1928, by the actions of a certain Spanish priest, Father Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer y Albás. To the devotees of Opus Dei he is referred to simply as “The Founder”. His spiritual movement had found its way into Australia in 1963, through the efforts of a humble and holy Springwood identity and father of ten, Professor Ron Woodhead. Convinced of its merit he welcomed the movement and all it stood for into NSW University in 1971. I became involved in Opus Dei while still a University student and was soon overcome with the zeal of its adherents. I tell of my involvement in my book.
Opus Dei’s influence spread through Warrane College, a residential college of NSW Uni that provided a home predominantly for country students and the members worked tirelessly to ensure that other young and energetic Catholic students would be introduced to their founder’s teachings. Its agenda is to indoctrinate educated people of the validity of its aims and infiltrate the legal profession, medicine and politics to influence them to enforce the extremely restrictive interpretation of Catholic social teaching that its founder inculcated. Pope John Paul II who favoured the spirituality of the cult that emphasised personal sanctity and obedience to the Pope, canonised the Founder in record time and declared the cult a valid separate category of associations in Canon Law.
Its influence continues today through its schools and institutes which never bear any identifiers that associate them to this secretive organisation. Its attempts to place members in positions of influence in Australia (and in fact throughout the world) are extremely successful.
The current Rector of the Sydney seminary (the one responsible for determining who becomes a priest in Sydney) Father Anthony Percy is an Opus Dei priest. Father Percy was directly appointed by Cardinal George Pell and is a personal friend of Tony Abbott.
If Opus Dei and extreme right wing conservatives are setting the agenda for the Liberal Party, then the Australian people need to know who the Liberal Party is made up of before they elect them into government.