HON PETER COLLIER (North Metropolitan — Leader of the Opposition) [10.08 am] — without notice: I move —
That this house expresses its disappointment and grave concern at the ongoing disrespect shown by ministers of the McGowan Labor government toward the Legislative Council.
Comments and speeches from various members
HON ALISON XAMON (North Metropolitan) [11.14 am]: I rise to make some comments about this motion. Obviously, we can talk about the quality of some of the answers that come back to us in response to our questions. Quite frankly, some of them are absolutely appalling. I particularly want to note the appalling answers I consistently get from the Minister for Corrective Services. I am also happy to give out okays and acknowledge a standard. I want to acknowledge that I personally get really good answers from Ministers Cook and Dawson. That gives an indication of the quality of answers that potentially could be given if there was a will by all ministers to do exactly the same thing. Clearly, that has not been the case. But I am not going to focus on that at the moment because that will take up all my time.
I want to make some comments, particularly about what I believe has been a distinct contempt of this Parliament, at least in terms of disrespect, that has been consistently shown by the Premier towards the Legislative Council. I counsel the Premier to perhaps be a little more circumspect in his commentary around the ongoing issue that this Council is currently having and the process that the Standing Committee on Procedure and Privileges is currently undertaking to protect parliamentary privilege. I cannot believe that we have had to have debates in this place about the importance of parliamentary privilege. I cannot believe that the Council has been put in a position of needing to defend a centuries-old tradition, which is there for good reason and is important. It protects us, which protects the people who we represent and allows them to speak fearlessly and put out there in no uncertain terms what needs to be said. I cannot believe that the Premier has made any suggestion that that should be compromised in any way, shape or form. The Premier is the person who needs to back off. The Premier needs to allow this Council to undertake its processes. It needs to allow our procedure and privileges committee to undertake its work. I note that the Procedure and Privileges Committee in the other place during this term of government has had to make some pretty hard decisions and undergo some pretty tough inquiries, but there had not been a peep from this place or any suggestion that we would interfere with those processes. We recognise that that is the business of the Legislative Assembly and it should be free to undertake that important work. That is exactly the same level of respect that must be paid to this Council as well.
I have watched with increasing despair as this matter of privilege issue that we are dealing with has rolled out, particularly as more information comes to light. One thing that I take particular umbrage at is the ongoing assertion that somehow this Council has committed an error by exposing an ongoing inquiry by the Corruption and Crime Commission. That is just a complete falsehood. The reason why the Council had to become aware legally that there was an ongoing investigation was that the President’s hand was forced and she had a legal obligation to advise the Council of what was going on. The Corruption and Crime Commissioner knew that and the Premier should have known that. If the Premier did not know that, I will be starting to question the quality of the advice that perhaps is coming from the State Solicitor’s Office on this issue. It was with absolute disbelief that I read the correspondence that came from the State Solicitor, particularly to this Council, about this matter. “Shrill” and “borderline hysterical” are the words that come to mind when I think about the deeply partisan and highly compromised correspondence that is coming from our State Solicitor to this place. These demands for an apology are absolutely beyond the pale. It is absolutely outrageous. Who does the State Solicitor think he is? If we need to talk about an apology, let us talk about the State Solicitor issuing an apology to Dr Cunningham and Ms Atoms for the State Solicitor’s Office’s ongoing persecution of those innocent citizens. If we are looking at model litigant guidelines, which this state needs, that is the sort of apology we should be talking about. Perhaps the State Solicitor’s Office can turn its attention to this.
Clearly, there has been some suspect behaviour around legal advice that has been given perhaps to the director general of the Department of the Premier and Cabinet or perhaps to the Premier—we do not know. Certainly, when we look at the correspondence that has been tabled in this place, our confidence does not run high. Mr Darren Foster was put in a difficult position by the Corruption and Crime Commission when the CCC decided to disregard the agreement that had been reached with the Standing Committee on Procedure and Privileges on a process to determine parliamentary privilege, and the CCC went down its own path and put pressure on the DPC to release the emails in the first place. If Parliamentary Services were in full control of all things to do with members of Parliament, just like in every other state, there would never have been the ability to put that pressure on them. That is what we need here as a matter of urgency. But I recognise that that does potentially put a public servant in an invidious situation. The first thing a public servant in that situation would do is go to the State Solicitor and say, “Okay, I’ve been put in this position. What should I do?” There are a couple of avenues that could and should have been pursued. The most obvious one would have been to go to court. We do not know whether that advice was ever given, because we are not privy to that advice. Secondly, the public servant could have raised the issue with the Parliamentary Inspector of the Corruption and Crime Commission, or maybe even with the Joint Standing Committee on the Corruption and Crime Commission. There are a number of avenues that the public servant could have taken that are different from saying, “That’s okay, I’ll just take this upon myself. I will go through the former MPs’ emails, I will make sure that my law students and clerks and the like can go through them, and we will determine what is privileged and what is not.” That is an absolutely outrageous thing to do. It seems to me that the lawyer who was meant to be giving the principal advice on this has a vested interest in perhaps not drawing too much attention to what happened in that process. It seems to me that there are some questions to be asked about the quality of the advice given to public servants who are put in this position by the CCC.
We know that the Legislative Council has been drawn into all this only because we need to be able to deal with these issues of privilege. That is where this is all lying. What bothers me is that the further we delve into this, the grubbier and grubbier this is starting to look. Questions have been asked in this place that still have not been answered, and we need the answers to those questions. We have been told that no-one in the DPC has seen any of our emails, but we are yet to know whether anyone in the State Solicitor’s Office, including law clerks and students, have access to our emails. I want an answer to that question. I want to know whether that has occurred. That is the level of transparency that is required and that this executive should be giving up as soon as possible. We need transparency around this. I want some answers and the Legislative Council wants some answers. The more and more information we get, the clearer it becomes that we have a deeply problematic situation, and I want to know what the government has to hide.
Comments and speeches from various members
Motion lapsed, pursuant to standing orders.