The heat is on Police Minister Jo-Ann Miller but Labor seems to be at a loss about what to do about the trouble-prone MP, writes Steven Wardill
The Premier already has a chequered history with Miller
PINT-SIZED Police Minister Jo-Ann Miller is proving a big problem for the Palaszczuk Government.
And Labor appears at a loss about what to do with the trouble-prone MP.
Do they keep her in Cabinet, risking the distractions and constant cock-ups undermining the administration?
Or does Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk finally take action and kick her out, enraging Miller’s militant union supporters and risk having her go rogue?
The Miller quandary escalated to a new and precarious stratosphere this week. In an extraordinary move, the Parliamentary Crime and Corruption Committee recommended the Police Minister face an ethics investigation.
At the heart of the PCCC’s referral is Miller’s handling of highly sensitive documents detailing covert corruption watchdog investigations.
Miller left almost 90 documents, which included the names of suspects, in a safe she was given in her previous role as PCCC deputy chair. The safe containing the documents later turned up at the electorate office of Warrego MP Ann Leahy.
Crucially, Miller has repeatedly refused to confirm or deny whether she signed a statement, like all other outgoing members of the PCCC in April, declaring she’d destroyed or returned all documents to the committee secretariat.
When The Courier-Mail broke the story, the Police Minister attempted to wipe her hands of responsibility for the documents.
“I have no knowledge of what happened to the safe and the documents following their return to the committee secretariat as required, nor is it my responsibility,” she said.
She even attempted to claim Leahy should be investigated for rifling through the confidential material.
“I will ask the Clerk of the Parliament to investigate this matter and for how long she has known the safe included documents she should not have had access to,” she said.
However, Miller’s story changed considerably in her correspondence with the Clerk, Neil Laurie.
She claimed she left them in the safe deliberately as a “matter of principle” because she was poisedi to be sworn in as Police Minister and it would be inappropriate for her to handle the documents.
“I held the view, and I still do, that it would have been a conflict of interest to have had access to the sensitive documents of this nature, given the dual roles,” Miller wrote.
She went on to blame the secretariat, saying she’d handed the safe keys to Parliament’s building control officer.
“I advised the secretariat on a number of occasions that the keys had been handed to the BCO,” Miller wrote.
“I bring the issue to your attention as any administrative arrangements for the secretariat of the PCCC are a matter for the Clerk of Parliament.”
If Miller’s slapdash approach wasn’t bad enough, blaming Leahy, then Parliament staff, only made matters worse. However, the extraordinary part, the real inside shenanigans, surround the referral. The PCCC’s letter to Speaker Peter Wellington wasn’t couched in the customary cautious language.
It specifically accuses Miller of “failing to follow an order of the previous PCCC regarding the procedures to be followed in respect of the destruction or hand over of documents”.
And, importantly, it confirmed Miller signed the statement about the destruction of documents, saying this was “prima facie deliberately misleading”. The letter has caused a bitter rift in Labor and the party’s dominant Left faction. It was penned by PCCC chair Peter Russo, who according to key insiders, is aligned to Deputy Premier Jackie Trad.
Trad and Miller fought for the leadership of the Left and the Deputy won out. Just. However, Miller controls nine votes within the Labor caucus plus her own, a sizeable sum among 43 members, and is one of the CFMEU’s favourite MPs.
Russo’s letter has sparked conspiracies of a power play within the Left, that it was aimed at ending the Police Minister’s Cabinet career, so one of the Left’s many ambitious MPs not aligned with Miller can win promotion.
One party source describes the internal machinations as “on the brink of implosion”.
The CFMEU is reportedly furious with Russo. Others believe Russo, an experienced lawyer, played the issue straight, like a chair of the PCCC should.
Palaszczuk’s problem is she has to take sides. And given she hails from the much smaller Right faction and needs the Left, it’s a difficult decision.
The Premier already has a chequered history with Miller. When Miller compared fly-in, fly-out mining accommodation to concentration camps last term, Palaszczuk was deeply offended. The Premier’s grandfather spent seven years in a Polish work camp during World War II. Her family still bears these scars. Her father Henry, a Beattie government Cabinet minister, famously withdrew his ministerial oath to the Crown in 2005 after Prince Harry dressed for a costume
party in a Nazi uniform. Miller refused Palaszczuk’s demand to apologise and threatened to resign if made to. The Labor leader was reduced to tears in Parliament saying sorry on her behalf.
According to some sources, Miller issued a similar threat after being caught out contacting the whistleblower in the case engulfing Pumicestone MP Rick Williams. You’d think with their history, the Premier would welcome the opportunity to ditch Miller. But Labor insiders describe Miller as a “dangerous person” to have disgruntled on the backbench. Particularly given the Government’s hold on power is so precarious.
Miller is a longserving MP who has already qualified for a lucrative parliamentary pension.
If she’s a distraction now, an ousted Miller could prove deadly. So could her caucus supporters.
Palaszczuk would have been mulling over the Miller quandary as she took a well-deserved break this week. Her decision, be it now or later, will have to be what she thinks is the least worst option for the future of the Government.