Premier de­fi­ant on ‘bribe’ probe

PALASZCZUK RE­FUSES TO STAND ASIDE FOR ETHICS IN­QUIRY

The Weekend Australian - - OUTLOOK CONFERENCE 2018 - JARED OWENS

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.

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