Liberal backbencher's story prompts councillor to air alarming tales of stalking, harassment

Hawkesbury councillor Sarah Richards has made public allegations of a three-year campaign of harassment against her and her family after media reports of a similar case involving a federal backbencher were published recently.

In a post on her Facebook page, the former Liberal candidate for Macquarie alleged she had been forced to move house, get police protection, had property vandalised, and begin court proceedings after both herself and her family were targeted in "attacks from the Left".

Harassment: Reports of a campaign against a federal Liberal backbencher prompted Cr Sarah Richards to share her own story about being harassed. Picture: Geoff Jones.

Harassment: Reports of a campaign against a federal Liberal backbencher prompted Cr Sarah Richards to share her own story about being harassed. Picture: Geoff Jones.

Cr Richards said her children - aged 11, eight and seven - had repeatedly been photographed and the pictures distributed electronically as part of the "bullying, intimidation, down right [sic] nastiness and frankly criminal acts".

"Pictures of the children have been taken and put on social media," Cr Richards told the Gazette. "They have used pictures of me and my children and written false words across them in reference to my personal life.

"There are Facebook pages about me ... that post daily about what I am doing, who is visiting my house.

"One of the reasons I had to move was I live in an exposed location and had people standing across the road watching my house. I had people sticking iPhones over my back fence.

"I had people follow me down the road filming me and screaming abuse.

"It does happen on both sides of politics, but I feel the Left have more hypocrisy because they use inclusion and tolerance as political platforms, except when it's against their opinion [and] the rules don't apply."

Cr Richards admitted she had "gone out there and been very harsh on other local politicians", but that had "only ever been about their decisions".

"It's political accountability, but there is a line that should never be crossed; I wouldn't target their looks, their family, not where they live, not their personal lives. Any normal person would respect that's out of bounds," she said.

While Cr Richards was quick to point out the Hawkesbury was "a wonderful community", the campaign that began when she was elected to council in 2016 mostly came from the same people, and "the predominant negativity" came from the Hawkesbury via social media.

"We need to have a lot more respect for each other in the Hawkesbury," she said. "I think it's a sad reality of modern politics. Social media is giving everyone access to commenting on politics, ... but doing it unanimously through fake profiles.

"I think it's about time that all ceases. Life is too short to be full of negativity and hatred.

"I would like to have a positive political discourse even when it's disagreeing [with each other], and do it under their own names and not threaten or abuse.

"The Hawkesbury is a beautiful place ... and that's what we need to focus on: how we promote tourism, how we help local business, and creating social cohesion, rather than worrying about what someone is wearing."

Cr Richards said her post was not meant to be a "pity party" and vowed to continue her work.

"I feel other local Liberals don't get the same level of scrutiny I do," she said. "I don't know why I am held to a higher standard or why my life has been subject to more scrutiny.

"I'm not a feminist but I do believe there is an element of me being a strong woman in politics with young children, they believe I can be intimidated. But it doesn't work.

"I am focused on my job and what I can do for the community. Having these sorts of experiences is not going to stop that."

Cr Richards posted on Facebook after The Australian published a story in which Liberal backbencher Nicolle Flint outlined a GetUp campaign against her during the run up to the federal election.

Other local figures - all female - have also since come forward off the record to the Gazette detailing death threats and threats of violence to their families.

Discourse "at all time low"

The standard of public discourse is at an all-time low and everyone must play their part to lift standards, according to Macquarie MP Susan Templeman.

"Sadly, every person in public life is aware that public discourse is at an all-time low, which is not OK," she said in a statement.

Member for Macquarie Susan Templeman said public discourse is at an all-time low. PIcture: Geoff Jones.

Member for Macquarie Susan Templeman said public discourse is at an all-time low. PIcture: Geoff Jones.

"There's no question that everyone should feel safe as they go about their work and in their home, with their family.

"In the 30 years I've been, firstly, reporting on and then participating in public life, I've seen a massive decline in standards of public commentary.

"We should be able to expect a civil and courteous public debate - on social media and mainstream media, and even what people receive in their letterboxes."

Ms Templeman said social media has played a significant role in the decline of standards.

"The ability to be anonymous has emboldened people to say things they probably wouldn't say if others knew who they were," she stated.

"While individuals can do their best to remove offensive comments, I do think Facebook and other social media platforms have a responsibility to deactivate fake accounts.

"If they can work out what kind of vacuum cleaner someone's interested in, they can weed out the fakes.

"If it doesn't have a photo, there are few friends and all they do is troll political pages with offensive comments, then you've got a good place to start.

"We should all be lifting the standards, and certainly, I've always tried to set a good example to volunteers and supporters, with a focus on policy and performance."