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Queensland Government Administration related to Commonwealth Government Affairs
Certain aspects of Queensland Government Administration related to Commonwealth Government Affairs
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Queensland Government Administration related to Commonwealth Government Affairs
CHAIR (Senator Lazarus)
Macdonald, Sen Ian
Canavan, Sen Matthew
McGrath, Sen James
Ketter, Sen Christopher
Waters, Sen Larissa
Ludwig, Sen Joe
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Queensland Government Administration related to Commonwealth Government Affairs
(Senate-Friday, 28 November 2014)
CHAIR (Senator Lazarus)
Senator IAN MACDONALD
Senator IAN MACDONALD
- CHAIR (Senator Lazarus)
Content WindowQueensland Government Administration related to Commonwealth Government Affairs - 28/11/2014 - Certain aspects of Queensland Government Administration related to Commonwealth Government Affairs
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WELLINGTON, Mr Peter William, Member for Nicklin, Queensland Parliament
Committee met at 11:11
CHAIR ( Senator Lazarus ): The committee will now commence its inquiry into certain aspects of Queensland government administration related to Commonwealth government affairs. I welcome Peter Wellington MP, member for Nicklin. Information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses and evidence has been provided to you. The committee has your submission. I now invite you to make a short opening statement and, at the conclusion of your remarks, I will invite members of the committee to put questions to you.
Mr Wellington : Thank you for the opportunity to appear. I have been an independent member for quite some time now, since 1998. Senators, I would like to take about 10 minutes of your time to make a brief submission—I do not intend to regurgitate word for word what is in my submission—and then I am happy to take any questions that you feel are appropriate.
My submission relates to paragraph (f) of your terms of reference for this inquiry, the extent that the state government's decisions are consistent with Australia's obligations under the international human rights instruments that Australia is a party to and, in particular, the administration of prisons and the detention of people without trial. My submission has identified some examples where the Queensland government has eroded the rights of people in Queensland in relation to the issue of detention, the right to be equal before the law, freedom of association and the right to work. International human rights law requires that the Commonwealth government protect, respect and fulfil the human rights obligations that Australia is a party to. My submission is that some of the Queensland government's recent decisions and recent laws are in conflict with some of the international human rights covenants that Australia is a party to.
I note that in federal parliament earlier this year, Minister Bishop spoke about how the Australian government is committed to ensuring the promotion and protection of human rights during the term on the Security Council. Also, in about March, the member for Bass spoke about how the coalition government is committed to international standards of human rights and said that the coalition government takes seriously all allegations of abuse. The evidence is that it is not a defence for the Commonwealth government to fail to uphold these human rights obligations, claiming that the laws in question fall within a state government jurisdiction, and, accordingly, the federal government cannot go there.
So it is my submission that this inconsistency between some recent Queensland laws and our Commonwealth obligations under the international covenants that Australia is a party to make these matters» relevant to the federal government and to this inquiry.
I hope as a result of these hearings that you will be able to persuade our Queensland government to review some of the recent decisions. And it is my submission that, if the Premier refuses, the Commonwealth parliament can use its external affairs powers to adopt the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights into Australian law. Then the federal adoption laws could be used to override some of the Queensland laws that disregard basic human rights. This action would save the embarrassment of having agreed to honour certain covenants and then be continually reminded that here in Queensland we keep breaking them in practice.
In order to introduce laws that are inconsistent with the Australian government's human rights obligations, the Queensland government has stacked various committees and reduced the effectiveness of various parliamentary committees.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Sorry, 'sacked'?
Mr Wellington : Stacked—controlled—committees. The government has used urgency to avoid parliamentary scrutiny.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: If you want unusual have a look at this committee.
Mr Wellington : Senator, my submission is that the Queensland government has been using the claim of urgency to avoid proper parliamentary scrutiny of bills before they are passed in parliament. The most topical has been the government's Vicious Lawless Association Disestablishment Act 2013 and the Criminal Law (Criminal Organisations Disruption) and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2013. Both these bills were introduced into parliament back in October last year. They did not go through any real committee hearings and were rushed through, finalised at 2.45 am the next day. These laws clearly impinge on the rights of Queenslanders in the following ways—
Senator CANAVAN: You voted for those laws when they went through?
Mr Wellington : Senator, I am happy to take your questions—
Senator CANAVAN: So you are describing the law going through—
Mr Wellington : I have already checked the parliamentary records for previous hearings; senators have badgered witnesses. I have made it very clear that I am happy to take your question. What I would like to do is make my brief submission, and you can put your questions when I finish. It will not take much longer. If you let me finish—
Senator CANAVAN: It is a simple question. It is a yes or no. If you do not want to answer—
CHAIR: Senator Canavan, you do not have the call.
Mr Wellington : When it is your turn to ask the questions, I will answer them.
Senator CANAVAN: You do not want to answer them, that is fine.
CHAIR: Senator Canavan, you do not have the call.
Mr Wellington : Senator Canavan, you are simply trying to disrupt my presentation.
CHAIR: Mr Wellington—
Mr Wellington : I would urge you to show some respect.
CHAIR: Mr Wellington, stay on track, please.
Mr Wellington : I will try.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: We are very respectful to you, Mr Wellington.
Mr Wellington : Thank you, Senator. I certainly have checked the Senate transcripts of the previous hearings and the contact of a number of senators.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: We are very respectful to you, as you can see.
Mr Wellington : Thank you. As I was saying—
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Because you are very important.
Mr Wellington : I am very happy to take Senator Canavan's question as the first question when I finish my submission. These laws I am referring to— Vicious Lawless Association Disestablishment Act 2013 and the Criminal Law (Criminal Organisations Disruption) and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2013—clearly impinge on the rights of Queenslanders in the following ways.
Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights says that everyone has the right to be considered equal before the courts. There are mandatory sentencing issues, whereby people could have an additional component of 15 to 25 years, mandatory term of imprisonment. There is the removal of the opportunity for reasonable bail conditions to be imposed by our magistrates to the judiciary. The independence of the judiciary has clearly been challenged by removing the discretion that has traditionally been part of the separation of powers in Queensland. No longer in Queensland are you able to claim that you are innocent until proven guilty by the Crown. In actual fact recently the government under these laws said people would be charged and may have to prove their innocence. Further, the right to silence has been removed. The aim of that is, as the Attorney-General said in the Hansard, 'try to coerce people to cooperate'.
The Human Rights Commission has clarified that the presumption of innocence is fundamental to the protection of human rights of citizens. And Queensland should be no different to anywhere else in the world.
Article 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights says everyone has the right to freedom of association. But these laws make people guilty of criminal offences as a result of the company they keep, even where the person has not committed any other criminal offence.
Article 29 of the International Covenant on Civil And Political Rights refers to everyone having the right to liberty and security of their person; no-one should be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention. People who are charged under these laws may be detained without trial, and people who are convicted of a crime contained in these laws may be subjected to harsher conditions in our prisons than others. And this has been promoted by our Attorney-General and Premier. According to these articles, anyone who is arrested or detained on a criminal charge should be quickly brought before a judge.
Article 10 of the International Covenant on Civil And Political Rights says that everyone who is deprived of their liberty should be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the person. But these laws have the potential to result in people being detained without trial when the length of imprisonment is disproportionate to the crime.
I will also touch on the issue of the right to be free from cruel punishment. The Human Rights Commission has clarified that the purpose of article 7—which Australia is a signatory to—is to protect the dignity, and the physical and mental wellbeing of prisoners, to ensure that prolonged solitary confinement in prisons should not be tolerated.
The right to work—under article 6 of that same international covenant—provides for the right to work. But these laws have clearly restricted the right of certain people to work in Queensland.
The Queensland government has bypassed the normal mechanisms in place to check the excesses of their government's decisions. These decisions have serious implications for Australia's international human rights obligations—in particular, the issue of excessive mandatory sentencing, the limits on the availability of bail and parole, reversing the onus of proof, coercing people to incriminate themselves, and holding people in detention without trial—creating more severe conditions in some of our prisons and restricting people's employment.
It is my submission that the government in Queensland today does not have a proper check and balance. The laws are open to abuse by certain parties, and the evidence is clear that the additional money that the government allocated to the police service—I think it was to the tune of $20 million; $16 million was spent prior to the budget this year, and there was a balance of $4 million left over—has had a significant impact on the police presence, on the Gold Coast and around Queensland, dealing with some of these issues.
It is my submission that it is that injection of $20 million and the focus of our police officers on dealing with inappropriate behaviour and allegations of criminal behaviour that has brought the increase in arrests that we have seen in Queensland over recent times. It is not the extreme laws that the government is saying has delivered these results. It is my view that elements of these laws are extreme. They are unnecessary and I believe they should be reviewed. I am happy to take questions, if Senator Canavan would like to start.
Senator CANAVAN: Thank you. Did you vote for the laws?
Mr Wellington : Yes, I did. In voting for that clause and, in answering your question, we relied on the assurances of the Attorney-General that the instances of people being affected by these laws would be very isolated. We relied on assurances that it would only be criminals who would be affected. More importantly, the Attorney-General and the government did not allow the legislation to have proper scrutiny or review by our parliamentary committees, so what we are seeing is—
Senator CANAVAN: But you knew—
Mr Wellington : Senator, you are asking the question, perhaps you can allow me to answer it.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: You have answered that, thanks.
Mr Wellington : I am able to answer the question—
Senator IAN MACDONALD: You said you did. That was the question.
Mr Wellington : as I feel is appropriate.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: No, that is not the correct case—it might be the case in your parliament; it is not in this parliament.
CHAIR: Senator Macdonald, he is answering the question.
Mr Wellington : So what we had was legislation introduced into parliament, rushed through parliament. That legislation did not have the capacity for proper scrutiny. We relied—I relied—on the assurances of the Attorney-General about the limited scope of the legislation. History has shown that many people have been caught up in the legislation, and many people have been harassed by police exceeding their powers because they felt they had the total confidence of the government. We even had the police commissioner saying, 'You have nothing to worry about because it is just like a random roadside breath test'.
Senator CANAVAN: Did you refer it to a committee in the parliament?
Mr Wellington : We did not have the capacity.
Senator CANAVAN: As a parliamentarian, you could have moved a motion to refer it to a committee. Did you do that?
Mr Wellington : Can I say there are a range of things that you might like—
Senator CANAVAN: [inaudible]
CHAIR: Senator Canavan, he is answering the question.
Mr Wellington : You have asked the question. My understanding is you were able to ask the question and I am able to answer it and you may not like the answer, but if you could give me a chance to answer. The answer is basically this: the government controls the numbers in Queensland parliament. They do not just control the agenda; they control what happens on our parliamentary committees. The government totally controls it. We do not have an upper house, we do not have a house of review; the best we have is a committee system. There is a very specific way that a matter can be referred to a parliamentary committee: first, the matter can be taken up by that parliamentary committee itself under its own referral basis and, more importantly, if that does not happen, the only way the matter can referred to a parliamentary committee is if the parliament itself refers it to the committee. The government made it very clear that they were not going to allow this matter to go a parliamentary committee. It would have been fruitless—absolutely fruitless.
Senator CANAVAN: Did you call for it to go to a parliamentary committee, in public?
Mr Wellington : In answer to your question, if you took the time to look at the Attorney-General's comments in the Hansard records you will see quite clearly that, if the government does not want a matter to be referred to a parliamentary committee, it will not happen.
Senator CANAVAN: That was not the answer to the question I asked. Did you publicly call—
CHAIR: You cannot predict what he is going to answer.
Mr Wellington : Senator, you may not like the answer. The answer is very clearly that the Liberal National Party clearly controls what happens in parliament and it also controls what happens in the parliamentary committees. The parliamentary committee is controlled by the Liberal National Party; they have the numbers.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: You must be very ineffective as a politician if you cannot get—
Mr Wellington : In relation to the 81 members of parliament, I think I am the first politician of this parliament to come here before you. I am prepared to appear to put the issues—
Senator IAN MACDONALD: This is a kangaroo committee. Have a look how representative this one is.
Mr Wellington : That may be your view, but I note the transcripts show clearly the attempts of the opposition—
Senator IAN MACDONALD: There are two Labor, one PUP and one Green and me.
Mr Wellington : When I look at the terms of reference of this committee—I understand that you are very passionate and that for 20 years you have been passionate about North Queensland—I believe they give you the capacity to put various issues to promote North Queensland before this committee to take back to your parliament. If you are really happy for this committee to promote issues that are passionate to you—
Senator McGRATH: We would like to, but we are not allowed—
Mr Wellington : I would invite you to take that opportunity. Then there will more hearings.
Senator McGRATH: The numbers are used in this committee.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Mr Wellington, are you a member of the Palmer United Party?
CHAIR: Order! You do not have to answer the question.
Mr Wellington : I am more than happy to answer the question. Senator, I think that is provocative. The record shows clearly that I am an independent member. I am not a member of any political party. I have the ability as an independent to be able to stand-up and say it as I see it.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: So you are not going to be a Palmer candidate?
Mr Wellington : Sometimes the Liberal National Party may not like it, sometimes the Labor Party may not like it—
Senator IAN MACDONALD: I love it.
Mr Wellington : and sometimes other people may not like it. As an independent, I have a conscience vote on every decision I make in parliament, whether you like it or not, and I have the freedom to act and appear before this committee without being controlled by any political party.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: You should join the Liberal Party, then. That is what we have.
CHAIR: We are getting side-tracked. Are there any more questions?
Senator CANAVAN: I just want to delve a bit more. Mr Wellington, you voted for the legislation. Did you believe it was a breach of human rights at the time you voted for it?
Mr Wellington : The vote happened in the morning. If you look at the transcripts, the facts are that the committee did not have the time and, more importantly, the government was not prepared to allow this bill to go to a committee for proper scrutiny so we had the capacity to analyse the implications of that proposed bill—to the extent that some of the bills were not even made available to members when the Attorney-General introduced them onto the floor of parliament. Can I say, in hindsight you may have all these questions, but the simple facts are these: the government chose not to refer it to a committee, the government chose to rush it through parliament and, once the government had considered it, that was the end of the road.
Senator CANAVAN: Obviously you did agree with the laws when they went through, as you voted for them. I am sure you consider your votes like we all do. You made a judgement at the time that it was appropriate to pass the laws. You now have a different judgement, and that is fine and that is your right. Different people have different judgements and still do. Do you believe that this a matter of judgements, not a matter of facts. That is the point you are putting here. Reasonable people can disagree on these issues. Would you agree with that?
Mr Wellington : I think a reasonable person would look at the transcripts of what happened during the debate and, if you take the time to read those transcripts, you will see the opposition and crossbenchers all said we were happy to have this matter referred to a committee for consideration. That was not allowed by the government.
Senator CANAVAN: Did you make that claim in the Hansard at the time?
Mr Wellington : I invite you to read the Hansard.
Senator CANAVAN: With as much free time as I have in this job, I am not going to do that. I am asking you.
Mr Wellington : The Hansard record reflects it.
Senator CANAVAN: At the time of the debate—
Mr Wellington : Yes, I invite you to read the Hansard.
Senator CANAVAN: before it was voted on, did you call for it to go to a committee?
Mr Wellington : I spoke to it before it was voted on, so—
Senator CANAVAN: I just want to put on record that that question has not been answered.
Mr Wellington : The question has been answered. I have invited you to refer to the Hansard. That is what I am referring to. The opposition and the crossbenchers said that we were happy to support the bill, for it to be referred to the committee so that there could be proper scrutiny. If that had happened, we would have identified, I believe, some of the extreme elements of this legislation, which have been criticised by eminent Australians, experts in this field.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Like the High Court?
Mr Wellington : In relation to the High Court, the High Court has made some findings. But I also know that the High Court found, very interestingly, that while—
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Struck the bill out, did they?
Mr Wellington : I will just take you to the High Court. My summary of those findings is that they found that, while the reach of the laws was very wide, their operation may be excessive and harsh—
Senator IAN MACDONALD: So they struck them out?
Mr Wellington : and the High Court's decision did not mean that the laws are necessary and are in line with our ideas of equality before the law and freedom of association. The High Court made no findings in relation to the issue of mandatory prison sentences. The High Court's decision reinforces the need for a comprehensive, proper review of laws before they are passed.
Senator CANAVAN: What were you quoting from there?
Mr Wellington : They are my notes.
Senator CANAVAN: So that was not the High Court decision that you are quoting from?
Senator IAN MACDONALD: I thought you were quoting the High Court.
Mr Wellington : No, they are my notes of the decision of the High Court.
Senator CANAVAN: Your interpretation of the High Court.
Mr Wellington : I invite you to read the High Court's decision.
Senator CANAVAN: I have read parts of it; I have not read all of it.
Mr Wellington : If you read it, you will find my comment is consistent with that interpretation.
Senator CANAVAN: I would not come to that conclusion, I am sorry, Mr Wellington.
CHAIR: Senator Ketter, do you have a question?
Senator KETTER: Thank you, Mr Wellington, for your submission. I would like to take you to that part of your submission where you make reference to the changes to the running of the Crime and Corruption Commission, particularly in relation to its independence. I would like you to go into some detail about its ability to pursue «matters» and complaints under the current circumstances.
Mr Wellington : In relation to the issue of the Crime and Corruption Commission and its independence, for over 12 months now—it is almost 12 months—there has been an investigation in relation to a number of «matters» involving advice that the acting chairman, Dr Ken Levy, presented to our committee. That is on the record. Unfortunately, 12 months later the issues in relation to the evidence that the current acting chairman presented to our committee have still not been resolved. That investigation is still ongoing; it is very disappointing. The evidence shows that, as a result of decisions of the oversight committee, the government chose to sack the full committee—bearing in mind it is questionable whether the government actually had the legal power to sack that committee. Time has moved on and there is not the capacity to review that. But legal experts have actually questioned whether the government had the power, the legal power, to sack that parliamentary committee and, more importantly, sack the people appointed by the opposition.
We have issues involving the credibility of the acting chairman, Dr Ken Levy. The opposition has made it very clear that they do not support his perceived independence. The records show the close connection between the Premier's office, the Attorney-General's office and Dr Ken Levy. When this raft of laws was introduced, approaches were made inviting Dr Levy to make comments publicly supporting the government's position. The records show that, in due course, comments were made by Dr Levy; one-on-one interviews were conducted. In the context of this request for support from the government, Dr Levy's contract of employment had not been extended, as I understand it. I understand that, shortly after these supportive comments were made by Dr Levy, the acting head of the Crime and Misconduct Commission, his contract was extended for a further time.
I also put on the record that it is also questionable whether you are able to have a person acting in an acting position for so long when the intent of the original legislation was that, for a person to be appointed to an acting position to lead the Crime and Misconduct Commission, it would be a temporary position—perhaps someone was ill—until that person could soon be replaced. But in this instance we saw a person take on an acting position and continue in that acting position for months, months and months. Again, legal experts have said that that was misuse of the law and could have been challenged. It has not been challenged and Ken Levy is still the acting chairman.
Senator KETTER: You are talking there about a perception of a lack of independence. What does that mean?
Mr Wellington : In relation to the terms of reference, the Crime and Corruption Commission is the highest commission that can investigate allegations of corruption or misconduct by politicians or senior public servants. The problem we have is that if members of parliament and members of our community do not have confidence in the independence and the separation between the Crime and Corruption Commission and the government, they will not have confidence to make a complaint about ministers, senior public servants or other people in Queensland doing the wrong thing. Above all, we need to maintain not just the independence of the Crime and Corruption Commission but the perception that they are at arm's length and separate from the Premier, the Attorney-General and the leadership team of this government. Clearly, that has been questioned over recent years and also recent decisions by our current Attorney-General and the Premier. That is all on the parliamentary record. I invite anyone who is interested to refer to the Hansard debates of the Queensland parliament during that time.
Senator KETTER: Is Dr Levy still in an acting capacity?
Mr Wellington : Dr Levy is still in an acting capacity.
Senator KETTER: In your submission you talk about measures being changed to raise the threshold for complaints and about giving the Attorney-General control of the commission's research program. Can you elaborate on that?
Mr Wellington : I think it is totally inappropriate that the Attorney-General can decide what areas the Crime and Corruption Commission undertakes research in. I think it is totally inappropriate. I believe that if the Crime and Corruption Commission wants to undertake research into a whole range of «matters» involving significant decisions or potential decisions involving big dollars and the government, they should have the capacity to do that without needing the authority of the Attorney-General. Some of these decisions, some of these investigations may have significant implications and may involve politicians. If we want to have a separation between the leadership of a government and the Crime and Corruption Commission, which has the responsibility of investigating the leaders of our state, it must be totally separate. You should not have a situation where you need the Attorney-General to approve any research that that committee wants to undertake.
In relation to the ability of people to make complaints to the Crime and Corruption Commission, that has been significantly changed. Many people are aware of information whereby they do not want to be identified. I have had people come and speak to me, who have been employed—I use these words carefully—by politicians and who are no longer employed by politicians and who have information. But they see how whistleblowers have been treated in the past and the person who most recently contacted me said to me, 'I will not put my family through it and I will not go through it. I will not come forward, but I share this information with you.'
We crucify the whistleblowers and we—when I say we, I mean the government—they look after the people and often many of the people that are being questioned. I do not know how things will end up with your committee but I know of people, but I am not able to produce their names. I have given them a commitment that I will not. They want to share their story, but they simply are not prepared to do so because they do not have confidence in the independence. It is often about perception.
You may have the separation but, by crikey, if we have an Attorney-General and a Premier, and we have these approaches that are on the record, 'What happened with Dr Levy?' and Dr Levy then made these comments about which others have said, 'How could you make those comments simply supporting the government?' people will say, 'He's in the pocket of the government.' Rightly or wrongly, the perception is there. It will be interesting to see the outcome of this current investigation.
Senator KETTER: If I could take you now to the concept of parliamentary scrutiny. You would be aware of course that billions of dollars of Commonwealth grants are going to the Queensland government. Do you think the process for scrutinising the spending of these taxpayer dollars is sufficient? And have there been any changes in recent times that adversely impact on that?
Mr Wellington : I am not on the finance committee. We have an audit office in Queensland. I think the auditor does the best he can. My experience is that if something untoward is going on or something is wrong, the only way you are going to know where to look is if someone tells you where to look and it is usually someone within the system. Someone in the system who knows the paperwork, sees what is going on will often make a phone call or draw it to your attention, so you know what question to ask. I must admit that in a previous government, a few years ago, there were issues involving—can I say—the inappropriate use of funding. I raised that matter with the minister at the time. The information was presented to the minister, in the state government, and after a number of months a result happened whereby with respect to the funding to that institution they were asked to show cause. That only happened because I was provided with the information as to where to look.
When the funding finally stopped, the minister said, 'Would you like to be involved in the announcement of the decision?' I said, 'No, thank you,' because the person who provided that information did not want their family to be identified. I would have to rely on other people better skilled. My portfolio that I have been involved in and I am still involved in includes the ethics committee, the law and community services committee—I am the deputy chair of that—and also the oversight of the Crime and Corruption Commission that oversees the—
Senator KETTER: The normal processes for scrutinising that type of expenditure are what we would call an estimates process. Have you anything to contribute in relation to that?
Mr Wellington : In relation to the estimates committee, I think I touched on it earlier in my submission where the government has been saying that these VLAD laws, these bikie laws, have got such a wonderful result. 'We have all these people being charged and coming before the courts.' But we have also got the Channel 10 and the Law & Order program supported by the state government. Every night you can turn on your television and there is a program—Law & Order. When we had the incident on the Gold Coast, all of a sudden, the state government and the police had the focus on what was going on. The government injected—and the estimates hearing showed this—an additional $20 million to the police service to deal with the issue of this criminal behaviour. At the estimates hearings this year we heard that there was a balance of $4.3 million in the budget still to be spent. So when any department which receives an injection of an additional $20 million and when the focus of the police service is, 'We want you to deal with this,' you are going to get a result. So my submission is that we have had a significant result in Queensland because of the new task force dealing with illegal behaviour, illegal actions, because the government was focused and the government resourced the police. I do not believe the increased police attention to illegal behaviour in Queensland is as a result of the extreme elements of the VLAD laws and the other parts of those series of laws. We could still have achieved the results we have achieved today with that $20 million injection of funds and with the police leadership team, saying to the police service, as they have in the past: 'There's a problem. We're going to set up these special units.' Heck, when I was in the police service many years ago, if there was a problem they had the specialist units that went out. I can still remember that when I used to work at the watch-house in downtown Brisbane, at one o'clock in the morning they would bring in the people to be arrested, searched and processed. That is part of policing. If there is a problem, you have your special units to deal with it. But we do not need the over-the-top, extreme components of the legislation that I have referred to here today.
Senator WATERS: Thank you very much, Mr Wellington, for coming along today and for your very considered submission. Are we back to the Joh days in Queensland?
Mr Wellington : I will leave it up to others to judge. I can remember in those days when I was a police cadet and when we had the laws banning people from rallying in the streets. I can still remember that, as a young police cadet, the call came out, 'We need more blue shirts.' I can remember all of us young police cadets popping in a bus out at the police academy to Oxley and coming in to downtown Brisbane. We were the third line. The police service said the intention was to have all of the police at the front so that when the protesters were marching down George Street, or wherever they were, they would see more police hats in the group, not knowing—
CHAIR: Excuse me, Mr Wellington. A point of order, Senator Macdonald?
Senator IAN MACDONALD: I have a number of serious questions to ask. What happened 50 years ago is not relevant to this inquiry. I wonder if you can direct the witness to refer to this inquiry and answer the question without giving us a history of Queensland.
Mr Wellington : The question was in relation to the context. I am just saying that, in the context of my recollection of the Joh days, I can remember where the government—
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Recollection—
Mr Wellington : That was the question that was asked of me. Senator, you may not like the answer. You have the capacity to ask the question, but I have the capacity to answer it.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: You have to wake up first.
Mr Wellington : So that is what it is about. Give me a question and I will answer. You may not like the answer, but I have the capacity to give the answer.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: This may be good play acting in the state parliament, Mr Wellington. It does not cut any ice with this committee.
Mr Wellington : You talk about play acting. I looked at the transcript—
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Even this committee, as biased as it is—
CHAIR: Senator Macdonald!
Mr Wellington : Senator, I looked at the transcripts of your actions in the previous hearings. Let the records speak for themselves.
Senator WATERS: In your 16 years in parliament, how often have you seen laws rushed through this quickly with so many civil liberties implications?
Senator IAN MACDONALD: And compare them with the federal parliament that you were part of, Senator Waters.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Fifty five bills passed through without any debate at all!
Senator WATERS: We are here to listen to you, Mr Wellington, not to these folk.
Mr Wellington : On occasions when there has been urgency, there have been numerous occasions when successive governments had seen the need to bring in urgent legislation. So it is not unusual for governments to bring in urgent legislation. The urgency is reflected in the speeches that are recorded in parliament in Hansard. In this instance, the opposition and myself, on behalf of the crossbenchers, said we were prepared to support the legislation but we wanted it to have the capacity to be scrutinised by a committee, because we relied on the assurances of the Attorney-General that it was about dealing with criminal behaviour and that innocent people would not be caught up in it. So it is an exception and it is unusual. So, yes, we have had occasion where urgent legislation has been rushed in and the minister at the time has indicated a justification for that. In this case, it is unusual to see so many challenges to the international covenants that Australia is a party to—challenged and questioned in one raft of piece of legislation. It really raises the question: where we have our federal politicians talking about how we need to be out there leading the world and telling the world how we are honouring these international covenants—
Senator WATERS: Not doing so well in that regard!
Mr Wellington : and, yet, here in Queensland, we see a government which can quite easily just ignore them. And they can ignore them because they control the parliament, they control the committees and we do not have an upper house with the capacity to review it.
Senator WATERS: In your view, what have been the unintended consequences of the series of what is known as the bikie laws—the VLAD and the other bills that were passed?
Mr Wellington : There have been significant unintended consequences where innocent people have been caught up, where innocent bike riders have been harassed by police because the police thought they could do it and have been supported by the leadership team of the police service. When I raised this matter at one instance, the response from the Premier and our police commissioner was, 'It is just like a random roadside breath test; it happens all the time.' That showed to me clearly that the leadership team in the police service and our Premier were not in touch with what was actually happening on the ground. With the random roadside breath tests, the stark difference is that you are pulled over by the police and you are asked to blow in the little gadget and then you are asked to move on, or they might look at your car and drivers licence. With this legislation we saw clear and repeated harassment of people, simply because they had tattoos, because they rode a motorbike, or because they drove a car. They were clearly victimised, and the government said that is part and parcel of the strategy they were going to embark on.
That was the unintended consequence. Some people who were charged and were caught up in this legislation ended up in solitary confinement. I do not know how many people can deal with solitary confinement. I remember from when I was working in the watch-house that people were put in the padded cell and they could not cope. Everyone has different stress levels. Of the people who were caught up in that, who were in prison in the solitary confinement criteria, I understand from their families that some of them could not cope.
Our international obligations under the covenants we are a party to, and in which we are trying to lead the world, say that we want to not just respect everyone, but, more importantly, how do we deal with the people who have some challenges. How do we deal with people who are brought before the courts. It is wrong that we have people in solitary confinement, where magistrates and judges were not able to deal with the charge in a normal way to consider whether it was reasonable to allow them to go on bail and normal reporting conditions. Instead, the legislation was clear in mandating and putting restrictions on the ability of magistrates to process people in the normal way. So there was one rule for the people who the government saw were in the bikie groups and another law for everyone else.
You can compare it with how the government wants to deal with white-collar criminals. Quite clearly, the white-collar criminals who are walking around in the best suits and the flashiest cars get a different set of rules to the person who might ride a Harley-Davidson or other motorbike, and I think that is not on.
Senator LUDWIG: You would have expected the Attorney-General to refer the legislation for the committee's consideration. Our Attorney-General would do exactly that for legislation that was going to impact on civil liberties, and the Attorney-General before him would have done that. So why does the Attorney-General in this instance not refer them, where they have a significant impact on civil liberties?
Mr Wellington : I cannot speak for Attorney-General Bleijie. There is no reason why the government could not have referred this matter to our committee to investigate. Heck, we just finished an investigation into how we can deal with crime in Queensland. The government can at any stage refer anything to a committee to investigate. They did not want to. The Hansard record shows that the opposition and crossbenchers said, 'We are happy to support it. Refer it to committee so that we can assess it.' The government refused to take up that offer. I think that says volumes about the intentions of this government.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Are you so ineffective as a state parliamentarian that you cannot get your view across there and you have to come to a federal committee to put on an act and shout at the cameras?
Senator LUDWIG: Scott Morrison also came to a federal committee.
Mr Wellington : With respect, do you have another question?
Senator IAN MACDONALD: So, you are ineffective as a state politician.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: You appeared at Mr Palmer's theme park a few months ago on a speaking list with Dr Douglas and Mr Carl Judge. Were you paid for that appearance?
Mr Wellington : What relevance does that have to the matter before us?
Senator IAN MACDONALD: I will tell you the relevance. The evidence you give here and the veracity of your evidence depends on your political take on these things. Are you intending to be a Palmer United Party candidate at the next election?
Mr Wellington : Thank you for clarifying your question. I will be very clear and very precise so the you and your party of aware of it. I have never been paid to do anything for Mr Palmer and I have never been paid to do anything for anyone. As an Independent I stand up and I say what I feel needs to be said.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Thanks for clarifying that.
Mr Wellington : That is to answer your question. I take it as an insult for you to insinuate or think that I was paid to stand up and to—
Senator IAN MACDONALD: I am asking a question.
CHAIR: He is answering the question.
Mr Wellington : No, no—I am answering it. You may not like it. You chose to ask the question. Have the courtesy to allow me to answer.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: You have told me you were not paid.
Mr Wellington : I take it as an insult after my time in parliament—
Senator IAN MACDONALD: I am not interested in your emotions.
Mr Wellington : that you have even insinuated that I would take money to attend—
Senator IAN MACDONALD: I have asked a question and you have answered it.
Mr Wellington : a meeting to speak as the only member of the Sunshine Coast who was prepared to go and speak with my constituents, who also were at that venue.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Mr Chair, can I ask that you remove the Wellington-paid cheer squad from the room.
Mr Wellington : If I can finish—
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Don't bring the cheer squad next time.
Mr Wellington : Senator, you have asked a question. Allow me to finish.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: I cannot hear it because of your cheer squad.
Mr Wellington : Senator, if you would stop interjecting, you could allow me to finish. You might not understand the demographics of the electorates of Nicklin and Fairfax. The demographics are that many of my constituents are also constituents of the electorate of Fairfax. Mr Palmer is a federal member who represents, by and large, the electorate that I also represent in state parliament as the electorate of Nicklin. When I was invited to attend that weekend that he put on, he said to me: 'Peter, we will have mutual constituents at this weekend. Would you like to come and speak to them about issues that you want to share with them about what is happening in state parliament?' and I said, 'I'd love to!' Senator, if you had taken the opportunity to attend, you would have been able to listen to what I had to say.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: So your vote is with Clive?
Mr Wellington : The records show that I supported—
Senator IAN MACDONALD: I want to—
Mr Wellington : You have just asked me a question. Senator, sorry—you have just asked me a question. In relation to the article you have just produced, 'Your vote's with Clive', the record is very clear. I publicly endorsed Mr Palmer as a candidate for the federal election because I was concerned that, if we did not get Mr Palmer elected into this area, we would have had a whole series of LNP members on the Sunshine Coast and it would have been business as usual, as it has been for the last 20 years. More importantly, it would not just have been business as usual; we would have had our part of the Sunshine Coast taken for granted by the federal parliament. That is no longer the case, rightly or wrongly. Now every politician in Canberra knows where Fairfax is, and you certainly do as well. I am pleased about that.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Just getting on to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, have you referred your comments, which you made a very fine speech about earlier in this hearing, to the Human Rights Commission?
Mr Wellington : No, I have not, because I thought this would be the appropriate vehicle to take it to. When I heard this session was being held, I thought: 'I'm going to put this case to your committee,' because of your terms of reference.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Thank you. The Human Rights Commission has been there for a long time. I thought your submission suggested that we were not parties to the international covenant, but you would be aware that that was signed in 1972 and ratified in 1980, so it does apply to Australia. Are you aware of that?
Mr Wellington : I am aware of that. I am also aware that, legally, until—as I put in my submission—that covenant is adopted as law in Australia, the government can ignore what is in that covenant.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: An international covenant should automatically be made part of the Australian law.
Mr Wellington : No, no—listen to what I am saying. I understand that, until the contents of the international covenants are adopted as part of the law in Australia, governments can ignore them.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Do you want us to adopt that completely as Australian law? Is that the thing?
Mr Wellington : My submission is that the only way we are going to be able to control the excesses of a government like we have in Queensland at the moment is to try to find a capacity to have the federal government powers used. At the moment, as the records show, we do not have an upper house—
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Okay.
Mr Wellington : Sorry, I have not finished. We do not have an upper house—
Senator IAN MACDONALD: You have told us this before.
Mr Wellington : We have a committee system the government totally controls.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: You have told us this before.
Mr Wellington : We have a parliamentary crime and corruption commission that—
Senator IAN MACDONALD: You have told us this before.
CHAIR: Let him answer the question, Senator.
Mr Wellington : the government basically is able to influence. We have another level of government—the federal government. It is my submission that, if the federal government has sufficient concern about some of the recent decisions that we have seen passed in Queensland without proper scrutiny, maybe we need to ask our federal government for some assistance. And I have put forward a solution as to how you may be able to find some assistance—
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Thanks, Mr Wellington; I can read your submission.
Mr Wellington : Thank you.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Long before this committee was established, the Human Rights Commission was around. Did you think to report all of your concerns, which you are so articulating presenting at the moment, to the Australian Human Rights Commission to investigate all of your allegations of human rights abuses?
Mr Wellington : No, I have not—
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Why not?
Mr Wellington : Because the law is very clear. The Australian government is able to ignore the covenants that it is a signatory to.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Why didn't you refer it to the Australian Human Rights Commission? You gave a very fine speech about human rights here earlier on. Apparently you do not give them in the state parliament, but we heard it here. Why then haven't you referred your great concerns about abuses of human rights to the Human Rights Commission, which deals with these things all the time?
Mr Wellington : Senator, you have been around politics for over 23 years—
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Twenty-four.
Mr Wellington : I apologise: 24 years. What we have is this Senate hearing's capacity to make a recommendation to take action to bring a government to account. So my answer is—
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Well, it cannot.
Mr Wellington : I am asking you to use the powers that you have to come up with recommendations. You may even find some way to identify that the legislation has been—
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Why didn't you report it to the Human Rights Commission?
Mr Wellington : I did not pursue it at that time.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: You were not all that concerned then, but you are now when you have got an audience?
Mr Wellington : Senator, if you do not like the evidence I am presenting, that is fine. But, quite frankly, I—
Senator IAN MACDONALD: I am trying to establish why you are doing this.
Mr Wellington : I simply did not at the time, but I have presented material to you now.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: You are concerned about human rights now in front of this parliamentary committee, the composition of which is clear, but you were not concerned enough to report it to the appropriate authority, which is the Australian Human Rights Commission. That says something about your appearance, Mr Wellington. Thanks for coming along.
Mr Wellington : Thanks Senator.
CHAIR: Would you like to answer that?
Mr Wellington : Frankly, the Liberal National Party government in Queensland significantly restricts the capacity of Independent members to pursue a whole range of issues. I am one member of parliament with two staff. Two staff are the full resources I have from this government. When I compare that with the recent amendments to the «Electoral» Act, where the state government pushed through the policy for gifting of money to the major parties, like the Liberal National Party and the Labor Party, without any accountability for where that money goes, I say that is absolutely disgraceful. There is no capacity for that sort of funding for Independents. We are limited in the resources that Independents have. When it comes to comparing how the Liberal National Party government in Queensland looks after itself, I refer you to the recent amendments that went through in relation to the «Electoral Act where the government refused to put any condition on the requirement to account for where that money—which is referred to as 'policy development payment'—goes.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Shouldn't you raise this in the state parliament?
Mr Wellington : I certainly have. If you refer to the Hansard records—
Senator IAN MACDONALD: It just shows how ineffective you are.
Mr Wellington : unfortunately what we saw was the Liberal National Party refused to even respond to putting conditions on the accountability—
CHAIR: I am sorry, Mr Wellington. Point of order?
Senator CANAVAN: I make a point of order on relevance. This inquiry was a farce last week. It is turning to irrelevance this week. I mean—
CHAIR: On the point of order, Senator Macdonald asked the question. Mr Wellington has chosen to answer it, and he is trying to give his answer now.
Mr Wellington : Thank you, Senator. That may be your interpretation. I am actually very pleased that I have had the capacity—on behalf of many people in Queensland who believe they have no voice in Queensland at the moment because of the way this government operates and the way the committee system operates—to come and appear before your committee—
Senator CANAVAN: You have a parliament. You have your own Queensland parliament.
CHAIR: Senator Canavan!
Mr Wellington : to shine a light on some of the excesses of the Queensland government. I am looking forward to the day that the Premier chooses to announce the date of the election—
Senator CANAVAN: We all are.
Mr Wellington : so that we can actually have that election and we can move forward.
CHAIR: Sorry, we are running out of time. Senator Macdonald, you do not have the call!
Senator IAN MACDONALD: He would tell you how effective an Independent—
CHAIR: Senator Macdonald! You do not have the call!
Mr Wellington : I have been a member for over 16 years.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: And you have been totally ineffective.
Mr Wellington : That may be your view.
CHAIR: That is just inappropriate. Stop it.
Senator McGRATH: Mr Wellington, do you believe there is a link between crime and criminal activity and outlaw motorbike gangs?
Mr Wellington : I understand that when the Premier was asked a question during the estimates hearing in relation to that linkage—
Senator McGRATH: I am asking you.
Mr Wellington : he said there were 11 people arrested. I will just find some of my notes here. I think he said that there were 11 people arrested who were directly connected to the VLAD laws—the criminal organisations of the bikies—11. Now, that may have changed—11 people arrested. There are criminal activities everywhere—
Senator McGRATH: I suppose my question was that outlaw motorbike gangs are renowned for their involvement in drug pushing and things like that. I just want to know whether you think there is a connection between outlaw motorbike gangs and criminal activity? Whether you personally believe there is a connection between those people who are involved with these gangs as such and criminal activity?
Mr Wellington : Quite frankly, I have no personal involvement. All I can go on is the evidence that has been presented to our—
Senator McGRATH: It was not involvement, but—
Mr Wellington : To our committee. Clearly, there must be some connection on the evidence that has been presented, and the advice and the announcements from the Premier, the Attorney-General and the Minister for Police and Community Safety. All I can say is that with an injection of $20 million to deal with this issue in the context of where things are in the bigger picture of crime in Queensland—the information that I have seen shows that we have so much other crime in Queensland: white collar crime and a series of significant criminal activities—that the government made a call. They have allocated the money. They have prioritised the police resources. The police service has prioritised the special task force, so they are out there doing the work. And they are certainly charging people. But—as I said—I understand that only 11 have been charged.
Senator McGRATH: My understanding is that the latest figures from the Queensland Police Service show that crime overall in Queensland has gone down by 10 per cent, and that on the Gold Coast, where these gangs were out of control, crime is actually down by 46 per cent. I put it to you that there is a direct correlation between the government's actions with the VLAD laws and the reduction of crime across the state—especially on the Gold Coast which, sadly, was getting a reputation for seediness because of the activities of these outlaw bikies. I just put it to you that that is a good thing, isn't it?
Mr Wellington : There is no doubt that with an injection of $20 million and with a policeman on the street at almost every corner, as we have seen on the Gold Coast since last year, that people who are going to do the wrong thing will have second thoughts. There is no doubt about that whatsoever.
In relation to whether that is as a result of the VLAD laws or simply as a result of the increased police presence and the additional resources that the police service provided to them, that will be up for others to decide. But the facts are, as far as I am concerned, that the police took their eye off the ball for some time; things got out of hand on the Gold Coast and when an incident, or a number of incidents, happened, next minute it was, 'We'd better do something.' So what did we see? We saw the government bringing in some of the most extreme legislation.
But in addition to that, they actually gave them some real dollars and they focused the police service's attention on the problem. That is not unusual. What I am saying is that the increased security that people feel at the Gold Coast is as a result of the increased police presence. But you cannot automatically say that because there are increased mandatory terms of 15 years imprisonment or 25 years in prison, or you go off to solitary confinement—or at one stage you had to go and wear pink overalls when you were in prison because you were deemed to be a bikie—that that is going to have any impact on criminal activity, I think is just ridiculous.
Connections with solitary confinement and pink jumpsuits in prison are laughable. But that is what the government did, because they had the capacity to do it and no-one could question them.
CHAIR: We are going to have to wrap it up there, I am sorry. All other questions can be put on notice. I would like to thank you, Mr Wellington for coming along. The committee will take a short break—and when I say 'short', it will be very short—of about 10 minutes.
Proceedings suspended from 12 : 09 to 12 : 24