Impersonating Commonwealth Public Official Offences

Image credit: Damian Pankowiec

Poppy Morandin.

A former South Australian political candidate has been refused bail, following charges of importing hundreds of fake Australian Federal Police badges, allegedly in hopes of ‘overthrowing the government’. 

49-year-old Teresa Angela van Lieshout was a former candidate of Peterborough in South Australia and had formerly received endorsement by Clive Palmer. 

She has unsuccessfully stood for election with the Palmer United Party and One Nation at various points.

She is a ‘far right’ political candidate campaigning against vaccinations, lock-downs, and even psychiatry. 

She has also offered to mail ‘mask exemption badges’ to persons for a ‘low cost’. 

Prosecutors will allege that she imported 470 fake badges from an overseas manufacturer into Australia. 

The badges were branded to appear similar to that of the Australian Federal Police. 

They claim her aims in doing such were to form an ‘alternative’ police force and arrest politicians and public servants to overthrow the government. 

The AFP however confirmed that there was no evidence that she “had the ability to carry out specific violent acts.”

She has been charged with importing a prohibited import, contrary to section 233(1)(b) of the Customs Act 1901 (Cth).

The maximum penalty for this offence is two years imprisonment. 

Ms. van Lieshout came to police attention following a federal counter-terrorism investigation sparked by a viral video.

The video was falsely claimed as a recording of the AFP Commissioner detailing plans to overthrow the Federal Government and encouraging others to join.

The footage also included claims that Ms. van Lieshout was the ‘true governor-general’.

During the investigation into the video, a search warrant was conducted on Ms. van Lieshout’s Peterborough residence. 

This led to her being charged with falsely representing herself to be a commonwealth public official. 

During her latest bail application in Adelaide Magistrates Court, she claimed she would not engage in any ‘political meetings or public discussions’ if released. 

Furthermore, she claimed that a friend could be her guarantor, despite him being fined last year for breaching COVID-19 rules. 

Ms. van Lieshout called out from the dock that: “he’s a man of character and, I assure you, a person of integrity.”

Despite this, Magistrate Brett Dixon ultimately refused bail telling her that: “your assurances from the dock carry little weight.”

Ms van Lieshout replied: “Well, that’s not very respectful.”

She is remanded in custody until her next court appearance in March

Impersonating a Commonwealth public official is an offence, contrary to section 148.1(2) of the Criminal Code 1995 (Cth).

The maximum penalty applicable is two years imprisonment. 

However, if the matter proceeds summarily (in the Local Court), a maximum penalty of a $13,320 fine and/or 12 months imprisonment is applicable. 

A person commits an offence if they falsely represent themselves to be a Commonwealth public official and does so in the course of doing an act, or attending a place, in the assumed capacity of such an official.

It is irrelevant whether that capacity as a Commonwealth public official exists or is fictitious.

The offence is not applicable where it is deemed that the conduct was engaged in for satirical purposes. 

Section 148.1(3) outlines an aggravated version of the offence, in which a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment is applicable. 

As well as impersonating or falsely representing oneself to be a Commonwealth public official, it must be done with the intention of: 

  • obtaining a gain; 
  • causing a loss; or
  • influencing the exercise of a public duty or function. 

If it is alleged that one obtained a gain as a result, the conduct must also have been done so with intent to deceive.

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