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Marion Councillor pleads guilty in "unprecedented" electoral case

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A former deputy mayor of the City of Marion has pleaded guilty to anonymously publishing election brochures, in what both the Electoral Commission and his defence counsel agreed was an unprecedented prosecution.

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Through his lawyer, Marion councillor Luke Hutchinson pleaded guilty in the Adelaide Magistrate’s Court this morning to publishing electoral material that did not contain his name or address, as required by law.

Both his lawyer, Tim Bourne, and counsel for the Electoral Commissioner of South Australia (ECSA), Louise Kleinig, said they were unaware of any previous instance of the offence being prosecuted in this state.

However, Kleinig said its inclusion in the legislation was designed to “protect the integrity of the electoral process”.

“If a person wishes to engage in the political (…process) during an election they are to identify themselves, so that they can be held accountable for their statements,” she told the court.

She argued that there had been an element of “deception” in Hutchinson’s offending, and that he had produced the anonymous material as a means of “manipulating or altering the composition of the council”.

Failing to identify one’s self in electoral material carries a maximum $2500 fine.

Bourne told the court his client’s motivation in publishing the material was not to gain an advantage at the election, but rather to inform the public of problems that he considered to be impairing the council’s ability to function effectively.

He said Hutchinson did not identify himself in the material because he wanted to maintain his working relationship with the person criticised in them, and “wished not to suffer a backlash”.

Bourne said the councillor had been suffering anxiety, and seeking treatment for the condition, at the time of the offending.

He said anxiety had had an impact on the councillor’s decision-making.

He said Hutchinson was a person of good character with two children, both under the age of two, and produced a character reference letter from Marion Mayor Kris Hanna.

Bourne said he was not aware of this offence being prosecuted previously – either at the state or federal level – despite numerous documented incidents of people failing to identify themselves on electoral material.

“In that respect, I would ask your honour to be moderate,” he told the court.

“It would be appropriate for your honour to impose a fine, but not a conviction.”

Bourne said a conviction for the offence would impair Hutchinson’s ability to find future employment and to travel overseas.

He added that Hutchinson had pleaded guilty at the earliest possible opportunity and had written to Electoral Commissioner Mick Sherry to explain the circumstances surrounding the publication of the material.

The prosecution did not allege Hutchinson had any prior offences.

An ECSA representative told InDaily in a statement: “The Commissioner’s decision to refer this matter to prosecution was taken after assessing the particulars of the matter.”

Hutchinson was first elected to the council in 2010.

His proposal to allow artificial turf on nature strips caused a minor controversy earlier this year.

Magistrate John Fahey noted that the offence did not relate to the content of Hutchinson’s election brochures, but only to the fact that he was not identified in them by name and address.

Fahey said he would make a decision on sentencing and provide his reasons at a hearing in October.

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