Lockdown activist’s fundraiser unlawful: court

Anti-lockdown identity Monica Smit and her platform Reignite Democracy Australia have been found guilty of running an unlawful fundraiser. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Nicki Connolly

A prominent protest leader during Melbourne’s Covid-19 lockdowns has been found guilty of running an unregistered fundraiser to pay for her legal challenges.

Monica Smit, 35, and her company, Reignite Democracy Australia, were charged last year after a fundraiser called “Monica’s legal defence support” was set up following her arrest in August 2021.

Between September 2021 and October the following year, $66,544.98 was received from supporters as Smit faced mounting legal problems.

During a two-day contested hearing this week, the court was told Consumer Affairs Victoria launched an investigation after retiree Damien Hutchinson, who donated $5, raised concerns that he thought it was a scam.

The case returned to the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court on Friday morning as magistrate Brett Sonnet found Reignite Democracy Australia guilty of failing to register the fundraiser and failing to comply with a notice from Consumer Affairs demanding information.

More than two dozen spectators joined the videolink as Smit beamed in from a campervan in Perth.

Anti Vaxxer Protest
Monica Smit rose to prominence as a protest leader during Victoria’s Covid-19 lockdowns. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Wayne Taylor

He found Smit guilty in her capacity as director of Reignite Democracy Australia of conducting a fundraising appeal while not registered but acquitted her of a second charge of failing to provide information to Consumer Affairs.

Prosecutors told the court that it was important “for reasons of transparency” for fundraisers to be registered.

“This was clearly an unlawful fundraising exercise to raise funds,” the Consumer Affairs Victoria prosecutor said.

Smit’s lawyer, Gareth Rogers, had argued the case on a narrow issue, claiming the campaign did not meet the definition of a fundraiser under the Fundraising Act.

“If you’re soliciting money for your benefit and expending that money it’s not a fundraising appeal,” he said.

Mr Rogers told the court, and it was not challenged by prosecutors, that every cent donated had been spent on Smit’s legal bills.

He said both Smit and the company answered some of the questions sent, but argued others were “irrelevant” and he had “invited” Consumer Affairs to explain why they needed the information.

“In our last written communication, we basically made it clear we would co-operate further,” he said.

Smit was convicted and her company fined $1500. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Nicki Connolly

On Tuesday, Smit requested mercy from the court should the case be decided against her, saying she had been left owing $80,000 after Reignite Democracy Australia “stopped operations in about September or October last year”.

She said she had “nothing to my name” bar a few thousand dollars and some gold and silver.

Mr Sonnet told the court that he was going to show “significant mercy” after she explained her financial circumstances.

Reignite Democracy Australia was convicted and fined $1500, while Smit received a conviction and discharge.

“I’m not here to judge her engagement in the Reignite Democracy Australia Pty Ltd but I do wish her the best in terms of the future,” Mr Sonnet said.

He will hand down a written judgment next week.