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Tuesday, 22 May 2012
Page: 5025

Mr WINDSOR (New England) (15:59): I thank the member for Lyne for introducing this matter of public importance and I appreciate the degree of civility around the chamber in terms of trying to address what is a very substantive issue and troubling a lot of members of this House. I also thank the member for Sturt for his contribution a moment ago because he highlighted the absolute need for due process. He raised a whole range of questions. I have no doubt that some of those questions, for students of the law, probably do need to be answered, but they cannot be dealt with in a kangaroo court situation. They can be dealt with in a court. Now a little bit of heat has gone out of the day on this issue, we are addressing how the parliament can deal with this issue and how we as individuals or as members of various committees can play a constructive role not only in the present issues before the House but also in potential issues in the future. It does highlight the need for clear minds, concise legal interpretation of people's rights, due process and, obviously, the separation of powers. I have said to the media in the past I would rather not be in this building if we start to use the numbers within this parliament—the delicate numbers of a hung parliament particularly—to start to adjudicate the law for individuals who have not been charged or convicted of anything. They may well be convicted by a court and, if they are, they should face the full force of the law. I will talk in a moment about maybe an extension of the current legislative arrangements for disqualification.

I went through a very similar situation to this back in the early nineties in another hung parliament where a very good Premier, in my view, a man called Nick Greiner, was found to be corrupt by the ICAC, the corruption body of New South Wales. There were calls then, as there is now, by the then state Leader of the Opposition—the attack dog in those days, the Tony Abbott of his day—Bob Carr, who is now in the Senate, for the removal of Nick Greiner. The federal leader of the Liberal Party, John Hewson, was also calling for the removal of Nick Greiner because it was doing damage to the party. Members of the Liberal Party in New South Wales themselves were calling for his removal.

There was talk of a no confidence motion being moved against the Premier on a Tuesday of whatever month it was. It was my vote that put the Liberals in power in that particular parliament. I can remember talking to Nick Greiner on the Sunday night and I told him that if a no confidence motion was moved by the other crossbenchers or by Bob Carr then I would not be supportive of it. I made the point that the reason for that, even though I was upset over the corruption charge as I am upset over the Fair Work Australia findings, was he had not exhausted due process. He said to me, and I remember his words quite clearly: 'It is too late. They want me to go.' He resigned the next day as Premier. Some students of politics might be interested in this point that he made to me after his Liberal Party people deserted him. He said: 'You'll be interested in this, Tony. The National Party were the only ones who've stuck with me.' He resigned and about a week later, or it might have been only four or five days later, he was found not guilty on appeal. After the subsequent election, with a majority of one, Bob Carr became the Premier and changed the corruption legislation so that what happened to Nick Greiner could never happen again. Therein lies a story too of a code of conduct.

Codes of conduct tend to come before parliaments when the numbers are very tight or in a hung parliament. Both major parties tend to run from them. There was talk of a code of conduct in those days, and I think one was actually passed. I was not madly in love with the code of conduct because I knew quite well what would happen—and what did happen—as soon as a majority government came along: the code of conduct was dictated by numbers. That is one of the issues of a code of conduct. That is one of the reasons why I have postulated that maybe one of the things this parliament has to look at—if both sides are very concerned about the current issues before the parliament—and that may be worth considering is should there be other areas that qualify for automatic disqualification of a member?

We have two areas that automatically disqualify a member as I understand it. One is bankruptcy. You are out. There is no reference to your friends, your mates, your numbers, the marginality of your seat or the colour of your hair. The other is if you are convicted of a criminal offence with a jail term of more than a year. You are also out. There is nothing about civil offence and nothing about the standards that I believe the community are requesting and in some cases are demanding. I think we should consider, if there are standards that this House is not meeting or that some of the members are not meeting, putting it into a legislative arrangement so that there is automatic disqualification for a breach, rather than just recommendations for a code of conduct. A previous parliament did decide that bankruptcy and a jail term over a year were grounds for disqualification. Maybe there are other grounds that we should be looking at. I have said for some time that I would support references to the Privileges Committee for determination on activities, not the civil and criminal ones because they are dealt with by the courts, such as misleading the House or for internal procedures and processes of the House. I would be interested to see when that reference is finally made and the terms in which it is made. The member for Lyne made comment today about the possibility of introducing a censure motion. I have spoken to him about this personally and I fully respect his right to move that motion. I will not be supportive of it, because I believe it prejudges, in this case the member for Dobell, prior to due process. When I look at this issue—and I am as angry as anybody about the findings of Fair Work Australia—I think if we start to go down the slippery slope of prejudgment before the appropriate criminal or civil action is taken we do start to put ourselves out there as the judge and jury. I do not think that is what any of us have been elected to do. I might be an excellent bush lawyer but I would be pretty hopeless in a court. I think people need to reflect on that.

I know there is a lot of hostility and feeling in the room. I have been in a hung parliament before. I was in another one with a majority of one, which was virtually the same, where one number is tantamount—is very, very important. And that can be built up by redneck radio and a whole range of other people to a crescendo, where the hounds call for blood. But I think of our parliament and our democracy—the fact that our fathers and grandfathers and others have fought for this country not just to keep us in a free state but also to preserve the rights of the individual, the rights of the democratic process, the right to separate the powers of the judiciary from the parliament. Those rights should be at the forefront of all our minds, irrespective of the numbers of the day. To start playing a game with the numbers of the day for a short-term agenda could do enormous long-term damage in terms of the integrity of this institution. I make a plea to people: be careful that you do not walk down a road that you regret later on just for short-term advantage. Thank you.