A Yes campaigner and prominent academic filmed spitting at a No supporter says she was simply trying to “block his camera without engaging in physical contact”.
Denise Ferris, an emeritus professor at the Australian National University in Canberra, had a heated confrontation with conservative activist Andrew Thaler over the upcoming Voice referendum.
Footage widely shared on social media shows Professor Ferris spitting at Mr Thaler after he was called a “stupid mole” at an event in Cooma, south-east New South Wales, on Sunday after- noon.
But Professor Ferris said Mr Thaler instigated the encounter after approaching her while she was standing outside the Yes23 volunteers’ tent.
“Out of the blue, Andrew Thaler walked up to me filming me with his iPhone extended,” she wrote.
During the confrontation with Andrew Thaler, Denise Ferris can be seen leaning forward and spitting
Professor Ferris said she “felt intimidated” because he held the camera “like a gun pointed at me” and shouted “give me the name of that bitch” as part of a crude tirade.
“I was beyond terrified, he was literally in my face, I had a visceral response, a panic attack, fight or flight,” Professor Ferris said.
“I didn’t spit on him. I wanted to block his camera without initiating physical contact. Flight? Should I turn my back on him – no way, I’m too afraid of his actions, it was so traumatic.
The professor, who holds an unpaid position at the ANU, also accused Mr Thaler of heavily editing the video and setting “a trap” for him because he was a “full-time professional provocateur”.
She denied the row was over Indigenous Voice, despite wearing a Yes23 t-shirt and Mr Thaler being a staunch opponent of the proposal.
Thaler, encourages the teacher to call the police, reminding him once again that she had just spit on him
“Please note that some of my best friends here are non-LNP voters, we have never discussed this and never will,” she said in the email.
While other witnesses said Mr. Thaler was provocative, he is it is unclear what was said during the exchange before the camera started rolling.
In the video, Mr. Thaler tells the teacher that she is a “stupid b**ch” and asks her to “step aside.”
She retaliates by moving even closer to the camera.
“Don’t… don’t you dare call me that,” she said.
Ferris is an Emeritus Professor at the Australian National University in Canberra, an unpaid position.
She leans forward and spits at the camera, before returning to the crowd of Yes23 activists in their tents.
Mr. Thaler claims that he approached the Yes23 tent when Professor Ferris tried to stop him from approaching it.
He told Daily Mail Australia the tent housed a petting zoo with lambs and he believed it was a ploy to attract children and families to discuss Voice.
The altercation began when he tried to take photos of the lambs “to show that they (the Yes campaign) would do anything… even exploit the animals.”
After the initial confrontation, Thaler follows Professor Ferris into his group, describing her as a “crazy bitch” and demanding to know her name.
He tells her that she could be “convicted of assault” for spitting on him.
‘Don’t stalk me. Go away, she said. “I call the police.”
Mr. Thaler encourages the teacher to call the police, reminding her again that she had just spit on him, which she denied.
“I didn’t,” she said.
Andrew Thaler, the man at the center of the clip, claims he approached the Yes23 tent during a campaign event at Centennial Park in Cooma on Sunday afternoon when the professor tried to block him.
He later told the Daily Mail that Australian police arrived at the scene around 2 p.m. and were currently investigating the incident.
A NSW Police spokesperson confirmed an investigation was underway.
“Officers from Monaro Police District were informed that three people had been involved in a physical altercation,” the spokesperson said.
“No injuries have been reported and police are investigating the incident.”
An ANU spokesperson told Daily Mail Australia they were “investigating and will take appropriate action if necessary”.
“This video has just been brought to the attention of the university. Emeritus professors are not paid staff members,” the spokesperson said.
The professor’s online profile was removed from the university’s website on Thursday.
Mr Thaler has sparked controversy over the past year.
He was branded a “parasite” by 2GB presenter Ben Fordham after claiming to speak on behalf of the family whose grandmother, Clare Nowland, 95, was fatally shot by a Taser at a care home in Cooma on May 17.
He has also run for political office at different levels of government.
In 2022, he pleaded guilty to intimidating a member of Rural Fire Service staff four years earlier, but avoided conviction.
For Voice to succeed, the Yes campaign must win more than 50 percent of the vote across the country and in four of the six states by October 14, the referendum date.
The most recent Resolve Political Monitor survey showed that 43 percent of voters supported a plan to enshrine the Voice in the Constitution, down 20 percentage points from a year ago.