Premier defiant on ‘bribe’ probe
PALASZCZUK REFUSES TO STAND ASIDE FOR ETHICS INQUIRY
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk last night resisted calls to stand aside while parliament’s ethics committee considers allegations that she tried to bribe rival MPs by threatening to withdraw their resources unless they backed her agenda in parliament.
The affair stemmed from Ms Palaszczuk’s decision last month to sack four staffers allocated to Katter’s Australian Party in retaliation for its MPs refusing to condemn senator Fraser Anning’s call for a referendum on restoring the White Australia Policy. The Crime and Corruption Commission found Ms Palaszczuk may have committed bribery by warning the KAP members that she “would like to see members of the Katter party here in this parliament get up and say” they condemned the senator’s speech.
However, because the comments were made under parliamentary privilege, it was for MPs to decide whether the Premier should be punished.
Although Ms Palaszczuk previously dismissed the allegations as the “argy-bargy” of parliament, Speaker Curtis Pitt yesterday warned that the issue was not “unimportant, technical or trivial”.
“In my view, there are sufficient questions of fact to be determined against the evidence such that it would be prudent to refer the question as to whether there has been a contempt to the ethics committee,” said Mr Pitt, who was Ms Palaszczuk’s treasurer until he was replaced last year.
“It would be for the committee to consider whether the Premier’s conduct could be considered an improper interference with the free performance of KAP members’ duties as members of parliament.”
Ms Palaszczuk’s spokesman last night said the Premier would not heed KAP leader Robbie Katter’s demand that she stand aside as premier while the matter was investigated.
Mr Katter said: “People have been stood down for less. There is a ministerial code of conduct they should abide by and I’d be shocked if this wasn’t a breach of that code.
“We think it’s a dangerous position for the leader of any party to be able to intimidate other minor parties and independents into changing their view in parliament.”
Queensland Labor minister Mark Bailey last year stood aside from the energy portfolio after the CCC found a “reasonable suspicion of corrupt conduct” involving a private email account he used to communicate with union stakeholders. Mr Bailey returned to the ministry after the investigation was concluded.
Former NSW premier Neville Wran stood aside in 1983 while allegations that he perverted the course of justice were investigated by a royal commission. His successor, Nick Greiner, also stood aside in 1992 amid an investigation by the Independent Commission Against Corruption.
The ethics committee has even numbers of Labor and Liberal National Party MPs. The opposition had sought a select committee that included crossbenchers “to guarantee an open and impartial investigation”.
“Today’s decision means that the LNP will be unable to question the Premier about this matter next week or establish a select committee to investigate her conduct,” Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington said. “Annastacia Palaszczuk’s integrity is in tatters.”
The CCC acknowledged the Premier’s power to allocate parties’ staff but recommended she surrender that responsibility to an independent agency in future.