Labor MPs Abuse and Bullying
Wednesday, 9 August 2017
The Hon. R.I. LUCAS (16:36): I move:
That this council notes with concern the actions taken by Labor MPs and statements made by Labor MPs both inside and outside the parliament. The motion that I have moved this afternoon has been brought on by the arrogance and hypocrisy that I and other members have witnessed from Labor ministers and members over a long period of time. I have to say that after 16 long years in government, in my judgement, it is now worse than it has ever been at any time in the 16 years, and, I also have to say, at any time under previous governments, both Labor and Liberal, in all my time in the Legislative Council.
At question time on a daily basis we see the arrogance of ministers in the way they treat, or more accurately, dismiss, genuine questions from opposition members. We regularly see reasonable questions being asked and either no response being given or abuse of the particular questioner or a deflection to an abuse of a third party such as the federal government or some other body, agency or organisation completely unrelated to the responsibility of the minister and the government.
Sadly, we have also regularly seen abuse of opposition MPs when they put questions. Regularly, we see in this council that opposition MPs are accused of having made up the story, not telling the truth in relation to the story, or quoting something out of context, when it is a direct quote from either a parliamentary committee or from a media transcript that the government's own services have provided. There are claims that nothing can be believed from members of the opposition or opposition parties, and claims that it is an abuse of parliamentary privilege or a defamation that is being used in disguise as a parliamentary question. I will explore some of those claims later on in my contribution today.
In aggregate, as I said, it is as bad as it has ever been and the arrogance and hypocrisy of the government knows no bounds. I want to explore, in particular, some of the hypocrisy of the government and its ministers in this contribution this afternoon. The first area that I want to look at, in terms of a recent example of hypocrisy, was the story that the Labor government managed to get up earlier this year in The Advertiser in relation to a staff issue between the member for Bright and a staff member.
The journalist that was used for that particular story was an ex-staffer for Kevin Foley who still has very close contact with Labor ministers, MPs and staffers. Confidential information in relation to the settlement of that particular claim was leaked to that particular journalist and other information was provided in relation to that particular story.
Subsequent to the story being successfully put up, I have to say, knowing a little of the background, that this particular journalist had been trying to get this story up out for a number of weeks prior to its subsequently running in The Advertiser. It was able to be subsequently run because eventually he was given the amount of the payment that was made to settle that particular staff issue.
What we saw immediately after that was the Leader of the Government in this chamber, Hon. Kyam Maher, quoted in the Sunday Mail on 29 January this year, and he did radio and television on that weekend as well. The headline of the Sunday Mail was 'Marshall "must sack colleague"':
"Liberal Leader Steven Marshall should be as good as his word and sack a rising star of the party at the centre of a settlement for a bullying and harassment claim, a state minister says."
Further on, it states:
"Employment Minister Kyam Maher said yesterday Mr Marshall must answer 'important questions' over his decision to stand by Mr Speirs and that 'no one should condone bullying'.
I note the clear inference that in some way Mr Marshall's defence of Mr Spiers was condoning bullying in some way. Returning to the quotes:
'He made a very clear statement (in a 2016 tweet) that if one his Cabinet colleagues abused a work colleague he would dismiss them,' Mr Maher said.
'Mr Marshall has to come forward and say if he doesn't think he should sack his Cabinet colleague, exactly why?'
As I said, he made similar and more inflammatory comments on the radio and television on that weekend along the lines of that Sunday Mail article. At the outset, can say I accept that on both sides of the political fence over many years there have been examples of breakdowns between MPs and staffers. Sometimes the greater weight or fault was with the MP, sometimes the greater fault rests with the staff member, and sometimes it is equal mixture of both—that is, there are just irreconcilable differences between both parties.
I think the wisest counsel is it is best to listen to both sides. Certainly in the case where there has been a single breakdown in a relationship between a member and one staff member, that is in one category. If there is a pattern of behaviour where more than one complaint is lodged, more than one claim settled, clearly that enters a different realm.
Again, it is best to at least acknowledge that there are two sides to any dispute. I think, as I said, I am aware of over the years on both sides of the political fence, single disputes between an employer and an employee not having been able to be resolved and having been settled either by way of payment or by managing to find a job in another part of government.
There has been an example that has not been highlighted publicly. A relationship between the member and the staff member broke down and this current government found that particular staff member a job in a government agency. I know under the former Liberal government of at least one example where the same thing happened in terms of resolving an issue but finding alternative employment for the staff member.
Most of those examples have not seen the light of day and we have certainly not seen the third most senior member of the ministry leading the charge, calling for the sacking of the individual first-term member in parliament and trying to place the political heat on the Leader of the Opposition and on that particular individual.
It was clearly a calculated, strategic decision by the Weatherill Labor government to go for broke. It was clearly a cold-blooded, calculated decision to get the story up, to leak enough information to get the story to run, and to ensure the damage was done not only to the individual MP but also to the opposition.
I think it is symptomatic of where this government is after 16 long years that political tactics and strategies–and I referred to those in my grievance earlier today—mean that conventions and the rule book seem to have been thrown out in relation to political advertising, political doorknocking and the like. Clearly, the government seems to have gone for broke in relation to its political judgement on a whole range of issues.
Let's call this as it is: a cold-blooded strategic decision by the powerbrokers in the Labor Party to ensure that this particular story got up and to seek to do political damage to the Liberal Party and to the Liberal member in particular. This would not surprise the Hon. Michael Atkinson, who has a not insignificant number of enemies within the broader Labor movement and within the Labor caucus. I think Labor MPs would be well aware of that.
Soon after that story raged in January this year I was certainly provided with information by one Labor MP that indicated that I should take a close look at what had been going on with Michael Atkinson. Subsequent to that—that was clearly not enough to substantiate anything further than locking it away in the memory bank—I was contacted by a public sector source. I guess the best way of describing this is that there were some others with a very close understanding of the workings of the office of Michael Atkinson who provided much more detailed information in relation to the issues that I have now publicly revealed.
As a result of all that information, particularly in light of the strategic decision the Labor Party had taken, I made the judgement that I would lodge freedom of information requests with both Premier and Cabinet and Treasury in relation to a number of issues. The freedom of information requests were quite specific: that they provide a copy of the workers compensation claim lodged by (I named the individual)—unlike the Labor Party, who named the staff member, I do not intend to do so—in June 2013, which includes a claim of bullying against Michael Atkinson MP.
I lodged a similar freedom of information request, which was a copy of a workers compensation claim lodged by a second staff member in October 2015, which includes a claim of bullying against Michael Atkinson MP. Both of them were then referred from Premier and Cabinet to Treasury, and Treasury responded as follows:
"The purpose of this letter is to advise you of my determination. One document was identified as answering the terms of your application and I have determined to refuse access to the document."
There was also a similar response to the other freedom of information request. Clearly there Treasury had confirmed that it had a document, which was a workers compensation claim lodged by these two particular staff members on those particular dates, both of which included claims of bullying against Michael Atkinson MP.
Similarly, I lodged freedom of information requests for total payment, if any, to these two particular staff members to help settle a workers compensation claim lodged on those two particular dates referred to earlier. Again, Treasury responded, stating:
"The purpose of this letter is to advise you of my determination. One document was identified as answering the terms of your application and I have determined to refuse access to the document."
Again, Treasury confirmed that there had been workers compensation claims lodged in the terms that I had indicated. There had also been payments made in terms of settling that particular dispute but Treasury again, for the reasons they outlined in the refusal, refused to provide information.
I will say that at the same time I lodged two further freedom of information applications in relation to another Labor MP, and that particular application read as, 'Copy of a workers compensation claim lodged by'—a particular staff member at a particular time—'which includes claims of insulting language and spreading rumours against'—a particular Labor MP. I do not propose at this stage to say anything further about the case. It is only a single example. I would judge that it is certainly at a lower level to claims of bullying. It is certainly not backed, at this stage and to my knowledge anyway, by further evidence of multiple claims being made against the member.
I repeat again that, from my viewpoint and based on my past experience with these things from both sides of the fence, I do not prejudge the guilt or otherwise of members who are accused in relation to these issues, unlike the Labor Party and unlike the Leader of the Government in this chamber, the Hon. Kyam Maher, who rushed to judgement and demanded that a particular MP be sacked.
What I have said in relation to this is that, given that the Labor government leaked the cost to taxpayers of settling the first claim, the government should release the cost to taxpayers of settling these claims and, in particular, the two claims against the Hon. Michael Atkinson MP. If the government believes it was in the public interest to leak that information in relation to one then it is certainly in the public interest to provide the information in response to these questions and revelations as to what the cost to taxpayers has been in relation to these particular claims.
I think most people who know the Hon. Michael Atkinson would know that he would be, to understate it, a difficult person to work for. He has eccentricities, which are entirely his prerogative. His legendary pedantry in relation to spelling and the like is known to all members in parliament, and I suspect that is also reflected in the workplace, and other members in the caucus and the parliament would be aware of that.
Clearly, on some of the information, he has very tough requirements on his staff in relation to what he expects of them and, again, I make no criticism of that. That is a judgement call for an individual member in terms of whether they expect end-of-day reports on the number of telephone calls and what has been done. I make no criticism. Each to their own. That is an issue for an individual employer and the individual staff member to work out in and amongst themselves.
I think some of the other issues that have been raised do raise some more significant issues. Certainly, in the complaints that were lodged with me, trainees were being sent out to letterbox in 40º heat when they felt that that was unreasonable and a staff member regularly cooked lunch for the Hon. Michael Atkinson MP from the electorate office kitchen.
The major complaints clearly related to what both complainants described in their claim as 'bullying that was aggressive behaviour and yelling directed at staff'. One particular staff member said that on occasions the Hon. Mr Atkinson had become red in the face and frothing at the mouth, causing her and others in the workplace to be terrified. Another staff member, who is not one of the two who has lodged a complaint, indicated that that staff member had been upset at the Hon. Mr Atkinson's treatment on a number of occasions, causing that particular staff member to burst into tears on a number of occasions.
There was a complaint which is a bit more serious—and, again, these are difficult issues, so on this particular one I make no criticism of the member, having seen it occur in other workplaces—of inadequate management of a complaint of sexual harassment against a volunteer, that is, the staff member was complaining that the volunteer was sexually harassing the staff member and the staff member felt that that had not been adequately managed. Again, having seen and observed various ways of treating claims of sexual harassment, some which involve volunteers who come in and out of workplaces, I accept that that is a difficult issue and I place no great store on that.
I think the issue for the Hon. Mr Atkinson, as opposed to some of the others in this is that this is not a single complaint. There are a number of staff, two of whom have been pushed to the edge of lodging bullying complaints against the member, but there are others who have complaints as well. It is ultimately an issue for management between both the member and the staff members, but also for electorate services in terms of how these particular issues are managed.
I conclude all of that by saying that these are issues which by and large—I mean, clearly once they go over a certain step, they take on a greater seriousness—in the past have been generally managed and handled by electorate services, which is the representative arm of Treasury, or I think it is now Premier and Cabinet, the member of parliament, whether it is Liberal or Labor, and staff members. As I said, there have been various resolutions, some which have involved payments but some which have involved the transfer of staff to other positions.
It is the decision of this government in what they did earlier this year, led at the very highest level by the Hon. Kyam Maher and other strategists within the Labor Party, to seek to make political capital or advantage out of this particular issue which has led to the set of circumstances where in the first instance a Labor MP spoke to me, and then a Public Service source, and then, as I described it, 'others with a close knowledge of the operations of the office of the Hon. Mr Atkinson'. These are the sorts of issues in terms of hypocrisy that ultimately rest with this government.
I now turn to some other examples of the sorts of hypocrisy that we have seen from government ministers over the years in terms of issues that have been raised in the parliament. I refer to a couple of statements the Hon. Kyam Maher has made in this chamber when issues have been raised. I refer to a ministerial statement he made on 30 March this year, and let me quote it:
"The Hon. Rob Lucas regularly demeans his position, this parliament and all of us who serve here. The Hon. Rob Lucas regularly uses parliamentary privilege to harass, insinuate wrongdoing or lay fanciful accusations against members of the public and members of the Public Service, who have little opportunity to respond. These are the actions of a bully and a coward."
He then goes on:
"The Hon. Rob Lucas regularly tries to hide behind weasel phraseology, such as 'sources close to the matter have informed me' or 'an anonymous fax to Liberal Party headquarters', in an attempt to try to distance himself from the vitriol that he is making up."
Earlier, on 24 March 2016, in a similar vein—and we have had many examples of this, not just from the Hon. Kyam Maher but from the Hon. Gail Gago and, before that, the Hon. Paul Holloway in relation to accusations made against members—the Hon. Kyam Maher again said:
"Nearly all of us act with the dignity and respect, I think, which most of the public expect from elected representatives. Certainly, I know my apprenticeship before coming to parliament, working for the Hon. Terry Roberts, was a good example of how to conduct yourself and how to gain the respect of others.
Sure, in the rough and tumble of the day-to-day of politics, certainly the views will be put in a forthright way. I probably don't always live up to the example the late Terry Roberts set in doing that; however, I object regularly to the way in which the Hon. Robert Lucas uses parliamentary privilege in this place—a privilege that we all enjoy. Regularly, his contributions, and particularly his contribution late last night, would almost certainly see him on the wrong end of a defamation suit…One thing that I am sure most people will remember Rob Lucas for is being a coward—an absolute coward—regularly singling out and naming individuals who can't defend themselves, often on the basis of made-up rumours or, as he did last night...
And there is more of the same. It is not limited to the Legislative Council. In the House of Assembly we have seen similar attacks and claims made by members such as the Hon. Mr Atkinson, the Hon. Tom Koutsantonis and, indeed, many others in the House of Assembly. Time will not permit me to go through the many examples, but let me give one oldie but goodie that was dished out by the Hon. Michael Atkinson back in 2006, when he was the attorney-general:
Another example of the cruel effect of media reporting was the vile insinuations made under parliamentary privilege by the Hon. Robert Lucas against the former Attorney-General Chris Sumner. Let's make no mistake. Lucas was the man who did it. It was a long time ago now—about 17 or 18 years ago. He has never apologised. There was a $1 million-plus inquiry into the attorney-general and, again, he was exonerated. I was at dinner with a QC—who I think subsequently became a judge—and, over the table, he said, 'Oh yes, Sumner was mixed up with the mafia, wasn't he?' Because it sticks. Rob Lucas knows it sticks. Mud sticks, and he has never apologised. I wish Rob Lucas was required to come into the chamber and withdraw some of the vile falsehoods he has told in the house over many years. So, I am minded to give due consideration to the member for Mitchell's proposal.
Just on that particular claim, I might add that, as with many of the claims that have been made, that particular claim by the Hon. Michael Atkinson was palpably wrong. He also made the mistake of making a similar claim on 5AA in an interview with Bob Francis, which, if I was the litigious type, I could have financed a nice house extension with. However, over my long period in parliament I have not yet sued anyone. I am prepared to give as good as I take, but the Hon. Mr Atkinson knows that the claim he made in parliament on a number of occasions is demonstrably wrong. He also made the error of making the claim on Bob Francis's program one night on 5AA.
Just to clarify that—newer members would have no knowledge of this particular period—the inference in the question that was asked during that period of Chris Sumner was actually asked by the government's great mate, the former member for the Mallee, Ivan Peter Lewis. It was referred to as question 148 and was the question that set Chris Sumner off in terms of his concerns. It was not a question that I asked; it was not a question I had anything to do with. The Hon. Mr Atkinson's memory is faulty in that respect.
I might note that all of those clearly defamatory statements made by ministers and members—if they were made out in the community—rely on parliamentary privilege to make those particular statements and claims. As I indicated before, I accept the robustness of parliamentary debate. I give on occasions, but I certainly take more than my fair share in terms of the debate.
I also note that, with regard to the warning I was given by the President about injurious reflections under section 193, I pointed out that that was a substantive motion and that, therefore, an injurious reflection on another MP could be made. All of those statements from the Hon. Kyam Maher and the Hon. Mr Atkinson I referred to earlier were not made on substantive motions. They were either made in ministerial statements, responses to questions or in debate.
I reject the government's views that the Liberal Party and its MPs regularly abuse parliamentary privilege and make defamatory statements without care or consideration in the parliament and without consideration of the consequences. I also reject the government's claim, in essence, that Labor MPs are lilywhite and never engage and never have engaged in such behaviour and are therefore beyond criticism in relation to the give and take of politics.
I want to highlight a number of issues where government MPs can be called to account over many years—and there are many others I could refer to—but I do at the outset refer to a very small issue, which is the constant claim from the Hon. Kyam Maher and others that part of my political epitaph was going to be 'the campaign genius that oversaw the Fisher by-election and the loss in the Fisher by-election'.
As I highlighted in an explanation in the council, the Hon. Kyam Maher knew at the time he made that particular statement that at the time of the Fisher by-election I was actually with my mother in her final days before her death and my only involvement in the Fisher by-election was subsequently, during the recount, when I was asked by the party to head the team of people and to be the public face of responding during that particular period.
I make that clarification because, again, here is a clear case of the Leader of the Government making up that story because it suited his political purposes. He knew it to be untrue but has nevertheless continued to prosecute that particular case. The more substantive issue that I want to refer to is that he, in one of those statements, said that we should all follow the political lead of the Hon. Terry Roberts, his former boss, with the clear inference that the Hon. Terry Roberts would never be engaged in such behaviour.
By way of supplementary question, I referred him to statements and claims that the Hon. Terry Roberts had made about a former federal Liberal candidate, Alan Irving. I refer the Hon. Kyam Maher to the Hansard record and the particular contribution from the Hon. Terry Roberts on 18 February 1993, where he made a series of claims about a Liberal candidate leading up to the then federal election. He said:
"Here we have a company director not only with defunct companies but people who dishonestly moved money to him and his wife as directors so the company's assets could not be used to pay creditors."
He then went on to say:
"…there are ways in which people are able to avoid their responsibilities and hide the circumstances of the situation in which they find themselves."
Further on he says:
"They take the easy way out and use other people's money to improve their own position and cushion themselves against any liquidator's orders that come at a later date."
He made accusations about a failure to lodge annual returns. He then says:
"There is another tale of an Irving plane in Queensland that mysteriously caught fire."
It goes on and on. Then he said:
"I suppose, dubious activities of some companies that resort to these tactics would be avoided. The other concern is that the businessman involved in all those companies, Alan Irving, is a candidate for the next Federal election. I guess that is a matter for public concern as well."
What he had done was talk about an unnamed businessman for a long period of time in the contribution and then, at the end of it, named the businessman as the Liberal candidate in the federal election. Again, I refer the Hon. Kyam Maher and others to 2 March 1993 and the rebuttal of that from the Hon. John Burdett, who said:
"Mr Irving, after the Hon. Mr Roberts statements under privilege of incorrect facts in this chamber, wrote to the liquidator, Bruce Carter, and said, 'In view of the political consequences arising from statements made in the Legislative Council last week by Terry Roberts MLC under parliamentary privilege, I ask you to provide me with answers to the following questions.'"
The liquidator was actually Bruce Carter, and he said:
"In response to your questions I advise as follows: I have no evidence of any payments being made by Hay to any of the directors of the company."
And two and three says, 'I am unable to comment in respect of those questions.' So, Bruce Carter rejected a number of the serious allegations made by the Hon. Terry Roberts. John Burdett then went on into detail and concluded his contribution by saying:
"A series of damaging and alarming allegations have been made against a candidate in the forthcoming Federal election, without any justification whatever and without checking the facts, and under Parliamentary privilege."
So, the role model the Hon. Kyam Maher referred us all to follow (that is, his former boss) has dirty hands, as many others in politics have had over the years in relation to that particular issue I have just highlighted. There have been many others over the years and I do not have time today to go through all of them.
Former member Colin McKee referred to a Liberal MP as the Freddy Mercury of the Liberal Party, with a clear inference behind that particular attack on that particular member at that particular time. A former president of the Legislative Council, the Hon. Bob Sneath, in one of the more appalling examples I saw of questioning in a parliamentary committee during issues that related to the Select Committee on Allegedly Unlawful Practices Raised in the Auditor-General's Report, which is the Crown Solicitor's trust account issue.
The former CEO of the justice department, Kate Lennon, was giving evidence and part of her evidence was that she had done certain things on the basis of advice from the former crown solicitor, Mike Walter. The Hon. Bob Sneath put a question to Mike Walter in the parliamentary committee as follows:
"I have a few questions. Do you have anything other than a professional relationship with Kate Lennon?"
So, here is the Labor Party putting a question to the former crown solicitor about his relationship with the former CEO of the justice department because the crown solicitor had supported the former CEO's view in relation to the issue and it contradicted the Hon. Michael Atkinson's position in relation to the Crown Solicitor's trust account. Later, the Hon. Bob Sneath went on to say:
"Have you ever attended any meetings or had any discussions with Mr Lucas or his staff in Parliament House building about any matters concerning the use of the Crown Solicitor's Trust Fund?"
Here is the response from Kate Lennon, the former CEO:
"No, I got rung last night at quarter to 11 to be told two things; first, that I was seen sneaking out of your office—"
that is me—
"late one night from parliament; and the other was that you and I have been dining out and around town. Given that I have already had put to me that I have been having an affair with Mike Walter, I had said to my husband this morning that clearly I am the Mrs Blunkett of the South Australian public sector. My husband is sitting here: we have been married for 32 years; I have not had an affair with anybody, and that is no offence to anyone sitting in this room."
Further on, she said:
"It was seen by everyone that I was having an affair. I must have had at least 60 phone calls. It upset my family and the people at the church. His partner rang me in no uncertain words, and it was taken universally."
As I said, there have been many, many other examples over the years where Labor MPs, Labor ministers, etc., have used the parliament and parliamentary committees and have gone, in my judgement, further than I would have gone. The questions the Hon. Bob Sneath asked of Kate Lennon and Mike Walter, I think, were beyond the pale and should never have been asked. They had a clear inference. Journalists were being backgrounded by the government's media advisers at the time that Kate Lennon had been seen sneaking out of my office late at night and that she had been having an affair not only with Mike Walter, the crown solicitor, but also with me.
So, the Labor Party, Mr Acting President, as I am sure you would be aware, cannot come to the debate in this chamber saying, 'We are lilywhite in relation to all of these issues. We have never offended in relation to what can clearly be seen as abuse of parliamentary privilege and defamatory statements.'
There are two final issues that I want to refer to. One is an issue that is probably only of great interest to the Hon. Kyam Maher and myself, because he seems to return to it often. The Hon. Kyam Maher often refers to the fact that not only do I make up things but I always rely on anonymous faxes and the like to make things up and not tell the truth. For the interest of members, this issue of anonymous faxes goes back to the issue in relation to whether or not Ralph Clarke, a former deputy leader of the Labor Party, had been offered board positions to drop defamation action against the Hon. Michael Atkinson.
What happened at that time was that back on 8 July 2003, I indicated in the parliament that an anonymous fax had been provided, not to me but to the Liberal Party, and that it had been forwarded to the police inquiry that was being conducted at the time. That anonymous fax read as follows:
"Today's story on page 5—spot on except the issue of costs arose. MA—"
that is Michael Atkinson—
"would not pay out a penny. It is then…in place of costs…that the board story gets legs, real legs. Made by MA—"
"passed on by RA—"
who was Randall Ashbourne, the government's key adviser—
"one appointment for costs—the other for compensation."
When the issue was raised in parliament, the Hon. Paul Holloway, who was then the acting attorney-general because the Hon. Michael Atkinson had had to stand down for the duration of inquiry, then launched into a tirade, which said that the leader of the opposition was abusing parliamentary privilege, etc., supposed anonymous letters to make accusations.
Just to put this story to bed for all of those who do not understand the Hon. Kyam Maher's reference to anonymous faxes, in the evidence to subsequent inquiries and also to the parliamentary committee, a gentleman by the name of Gary Lockwood, who will be very well known to members of the Labor Party—a veteran member of the Labor Party in the north-eastern suburbs, a rusted-on supporter of people like Ralph Clarke, and at varying times, I think, worked for Robin Geraghty and Frances Bedford—knew where every skeleton was buried within the Labor Party.
Gary Lockwood indicated that he indeed had sent that fax. It was genuine and he had sent that fax, because he was actually supporting Ralph Clarke's contention, and he was vigorously disagreeing with the Hon. Michael Atkinson's claim that there had never been a discussion about giving Ralph Clarke board positions in response to dropping a defamation action against Michael Atkinson. These constant references to faxes as if they have been made up are blown out of the water. The only reference to a fax is actually one delivered by a member of the Labor Party by the name of Gary Lockwood, and he subsequently confirmed publicly in various inquiries and before the parliamentary committee that that particular fax was accurate.
Let me conclude by making one final general point, and that is that a lot of the criticisms that the government makes of issues that are raised by opposition members relate to issues such as nepotism. They relate to appointments within the public sector, and that is abuse of process, where jobs for the boys and jobs for the girls are given and people with known connections to the Labor Party are given jobs, where in some cases longstanding loyal public servants who have served both Liberal and Labor governments over 20 plus years are kneecapped and then replaced by people with known connections to the Labor Party, and where you have the position of ministerial staffers being parachuted out of contract positions in the ministerial office into five-year contracts in the public sector, particularly in the period leading up to a state election.
These are the sorts of issues that are raised in this house on a number of occasions. Members who have been in this chamber for a number of years will remember that way back in about 2005, I first raised with the then leader, the Hon. Gail Gago, issues in relation to an appointment that Karen Hannon, someone with known connections to the Labor Party, had received in terms of an appointment to the Residential Tenancies Tribunal. I asked questions a number of years ago—and I continued to ask them over a number of years because they did not get answered. Those questions were essentially:
1. Was it correct that Ms Hannon applied to be a member of the tribunal, was interviewed by a properly constituted panel and was not successful in an application to be a member of the tribunal?
2. Did the minister personally intervene and direct that Ms Hannon not only be appointed as a member of the tribunal but also be given the plum job of presiding member?
3. Will the minister take advice on the number of hearings the last presiding member, Pat Patrick, participated in each of the financial years 2007-08, 2008-09, 2009-10 and how many hearings has the new presiding member participated in for each month since October, since her appointment?
The minister then entered into a diatribe about how this was stooping in the gutter, that this was outrageous, that it was an abuse of privilege and all those sorts of things, but in the years since those questions were first asked, the government's subsequent ministers have never come back with a rebuttal or response. I would have thought that if you were to make a claim and if the government were to establish that it was incorrect, they would come charging back into the chamber and say, 'Here are the facts in relation to this particular claim.'
There are many others of a similar nature. I raised questions about a ministerial staffer to the Hon. Paul Holloway, in relation to George Vanco's involvement in a transaction in the department. That has never been answered. I raised issues in relation to the reclassification of a staffer in the then attorney-general's office, Loula Alexiadis, and I gave a long history of it being refused by the department and former CEOs like Kate Lennon, which is one of the reasons she fell out of favour. The reclassification was then given by the new CEO. Again, none of those questions have been answered, or if the government believes they were wrong, they have not come back to rebut it.
I raised in the parliament issues in relation to the nepotism accusation made against the former CEO of DPC, Warren McCann. I raised issues, with detailed claims that I made, in relation to a meeting between former premier Rann and Warren McCann when the premier yelled at Warren McCann and said, 'You were told to ensure that Mark Johns got the job as CEO of Justice. You have failed,' because there had been a number of panel processes and the panels kept saying they would not support Mark Johns as the CEO of the justice department. The government continued to refuse the panel recommendations until eventually they got their way in terms of that particular appointment.
All of those questions are valid questions that have been asked. If the government—other than the diatribe about an abuse of privilege, a defamation or whatever—actually came into the house and said, 'Okay, here are the facts and we now rebut them,' then they would be in a much stronger position to make this particular accusation.
Recently, when I raised a series of accusations against Leon Bignell in relation to a Crows function, the minister here said, 'Go and say that outside the house.' I did radio interviews on all the radio stations the next morning, but the minister would not enter into the radio conversations or debate. I was quite happy to raise those issues and debate them in the media.
There are issues which in the robustness of political debate would be defamatory if you said them out in the public arena. The minister saying that you cannot believe anything an individual member ever says because he always tells lies and makes up stories, would be clearly defamatory out in the community. Others might not, but I certainly accept that as part of the robustness of parliamentary debate.
I think it is going over the top in terms of response. It is not the sort of response I would like to see from a government minister. However, there is the hypocrisy of the government where on the one hand they accuse the opposition of making defamatory statements yet regularly they defame members of the opposition and use parliamentary privilege to their own purpose. They certainly do not do it under substantive motion.
Again, I do not insist on that. I accept the robustness of political exchange in this particular chamber, but I do not think you can have the situation where you have the government wanting to attack opposition members and then they squeal like stuck pigs when the same measures are used against them on occasion in terms of holding them to account and ensuring there is accountability and transparency in some of their decision-making. With those significant number of words, I would urge support for the motion.