Kristo Langker, a producer of satirical social media outlet Friendlyjordies, was arrested last month by counter-terrorism officers, just hours after trying to speak with NSW Deputy Premier and National Party leader John Barilaro. Friendlyjordies is fronted by comedian Jordan Shanks, and Barilaro has been a frequent target of the show. Shanks spends hour upon hour throwing juvenile personal insults against the deputy premier, but he also raises serious allegations of corruption.
They relate to Barilaro allegedly doling out funding and favours from government programs to key National Party donors and others with close personal or political connections. In one case, Barilaro championed a bill to prevent culling of environmentally destructive wild brumbies in the Snowy Mountains, after receiving a $10,000 donation from Peter Cochran, who happens to own a horse trekking company in the Snowies, and to be the former National Party member for Barilaro’s seat of Monaro.
In one video, Friendlyjordies documented allegations of an elaborate scheme through which Barilaro took control of an Italian community-run social club, Marco Polo in Queanbeyan, before loading it with debt, selling it to a shell company owned by himself, then selling it on for a profit, all while royally screwing the club members.
The deputy premier reportedly has been so brazen as to dub himself “Pork-Barilaro”. Barilaro is right at home in a state government recently accused of a $252 million scandal, named the Stronger Communities Fund, in which 95 percent of the money ended up in Coalition-held or marginal electorates. Bushfire relief funds suffered the same dodgy fate, the Blue Mountains missing out on any funding, while a paper mill owned by Australia’s third richest person, Andrew Pratt, received $10 million. Pratt is a big donor to both the Coalition and Labor parties.
Barilaro’s first attempt to silence Friendlyjordies was through a defamation suit. The same tactic has been used recently by former Federal Attorney-General Christian Porter and alleged war criminal Ben Roberts-Smith. The script is similar: the rich and powerful accused paints himself as the poor victim of a malicious campaign, which is no doubt taking a terrible toll on their mental health. In Barilaro’s case, the suit has only given Friendlyjordies extra publicity, and a “truth” defence has been entered, which might embarrass and expose Barilaro even further. So now the police have been sent in.
More troubling than corrupt politicians and pork-barrelling is the extraordinary use of the Fixated Persons Unit of the NSW Police to try to intimidate and silence Friendlyjordies. This unit was created in 2017, in the wake of the Lindt Café siege, as an addition to the NSW Counter Terrorism Unit, to investigate people who were allegedly obsessed with public officials but who could not be charged with terrorism offences.
The arrest of Langker supposedly rested on two incidents: first, a satirical prank in which Langker and Shanks gate-crashed a Barilaro function; second, an incredibly innocuous encounter on 4 June, when Langker happened to run into Barilaro on the street and tried to speak with him. Barilaro ignored him and was driven away. Just hours later, the special police unit arrived at Langker’s family home, violently arrested him, shoving his mother to the ground and nearly killing the family dog in the process.
It is a chilling reminder that any time the police are given more powers, it is a setback for our side, as they will be used to protect the powerful. In this case, as Paul Gregoire from Sydney Criminal Lawyers writes, “This basically means that detectives who are trained to locate potential offenders, like Lindt Café siege perpetrator Man Haron Monis, arrested and charged a social media satirist who was obviously aiming to cause a lark”.
There must be dozens of protests in recent years that could similarly be accused of “harassing” politicians. The incident follows a long line of anti-democratic policing enacted in NSW, from enhanced “move on” orders used to target and arrest climate protesters in 2019, to the outright banning of protests and the arrests and fines given to more than 50 demonstrators in 2020 under the pretext of public health orders.