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Wednesday, 1 June 1994
Page: 1063

Senator MICHAEL BAUME (1.35 p.m.) —It is obviously a very serious situation for a member of this parliament to threaten to shoot people. That is why I raise the newspaper report in today's Kiama Independent which has as its headline `Knott's threat to councillors' and another headline saying `If one of my boys is run over. . . I'll get a gun and come after you both.' I raise this because quite clearly there are standards of behaviour required of members of parliament and this newspaper article, which refers to Mr Peter Knott, the federal member for Gilmore, raises serious questions about that kind of behaviour.

  I would like to outline this newspaper article to the parliament. I know the people involved in this matter. I know that the people who were threatened are people of integrity and decency. In fact, for many years I resided in this area and they were my local councillors. Councillor Ruth Devenney lived down the road from me. I was continually politically opposed to her but, nevertheless, I have a strong regard for her integrity. The newspaper article says:

Cr Ruth Devenney has described as "outrageous" threats made by the Federal Member for Gilmore Peter Knott in Kiama Council Chamber last week.

  The threats were also made against Cr Neville Fredericks who said he was "appalled" by them.

The newspaper report goes on:

  Mr Knott made the threats in Kiama Council Chamber while talking with Crs Devenney and Fredericks.

  In an emotional outburst about proposed traffic changes in Cathedral Rocks Avenue (the street where he lives), Mr Knott said: "Well, I'll tell you both that if one of my boys is run over and killed by someone who would not usually be using that road, I'll get a gun and come after you both.

  "And I don't mind telling you in front of a witness either," Mr Knott said pointing to Kiama Independent photographer David Hall who was waiting at the council chambers to take a photograph of councillors.

  Mr Hall described the verbal attack as "extraordinary" and said Mr Knott appeared very agitated.

  Cr Fredericks responded to Mr Knott that he did not appreciate his attempts to intimidate him.

  Cr Devenney told him not to be "so silly".

  However Mr Knott then repeated his threat.

  He said that unlike most people in Kiama, he "knew who made decisions like these and he would hold them personally responsible". . .

  Cr Fredericks then asked: "Who are you going to shoot first?"

  "You." was Mr Knott's reply.

  Cr Fredericks told the Kiama Independent that he was "absolutely appalled" by Mr Knott's threats.

  "He said to me, `you had better have a bodyguard because I'll find you no matter what," Cr Fredericks said.

  The exchange took place in the council chambers before members of the public and other councillors had arrived for the Tuesday night meeting.

  Cr Fredericks said he had considered taking formal action over the threats but had decided against it.

  "I decided that it would just be seen as political if I did so," Cr Fredericks said.

  However Cr Fredericks said that he was concerned over what Mr Knott said.

  "It wasn't an idle threat in the way he gave it. . . he was really trying to intimidate us both," Cr Fredericks said.

  Cr Ruth Devenney described Mr Knott's behaviour as "outrageous".

  However she said she was not overly concerned.

  "I think it was just Peter Knott being Peter Knott.

It says a lot about the honourable member for Gilmore if a councillor would regard that kind of behaviour as normal for him. I can assure members of the public that it is not normal for a member of parliament. The newspaper report continues:

  "It was one of those outrageous statements that Peter makes," she said.

  Cr Devenney said she walked out of the room to get away from Mr Knott.

  "I don't think a Federal Member of Parliament should threaten anybody.

  "It was most unbecoming of a Federal Parliamentarian to speak like that," she said.

  However Cr Devenney said that it was not something of which she was going to take any notice.

  "As far as I'm concerned it was hot air," she said.

  When contacted by the Independent about the incident, Mr Knott refused to comment.

  His only answer was "No comment" when asked about the threats he had made.

  Asked further whether he was denying the incident took place, Mr Knott replied: "No comment".

  Asked whether he was upset at council's Cathedral Rocks Avenue decision, he again said: "No comment".

  Cr Devenney said she believed Mr Knott was over reacting on the issue.

  "He is saying that people are going to use Cathedral Rocks Avenue to get to Bombo Beach.

  "Personally I can't see it," she said.

  Council has unanimously approved making a road link between Darien Avenue and Commissioners Lane at Bombo to Cathedral Rocks Avenue.

The report deals then with the actual proposal to which Mr Knott objected and over which he threatened two councillors that he would come after them with a gun in the event of any of his children being run over as a result of those changes.

  The editorial in the newspaper says this:

It would be interesting to see the reaction of the Member for Gilmore, Mr Peter Knott, if a taxpayer were to walk into his office and threaten to take a gun to him if the Government made a decision to, say, increase interest rates.

  Happily the situation is most unlikely to occur but if it did, we could hardly blame Mr Knott if he rang the police and had the threatening taxpayer hauled away and charged with apprehended violence.

  The extraordinary aspect to this incident . . . is that the two persons at the brunt of Mr Knott's dreadful behaviour were, until the Kiama Independent contacted them, quite prepared to endure the tirade in their stride, accepting it as part of their understanding of Mr Knott's psyche.

  Forgetting for a moment Mr Knott's esteemed position in the community as our representative in the Australian Parliament, he of course has every right as a citizen to oppose a decision made by his local council.

I have opposed many of them. The editorial continues:

However, in our opinion, his, or any person's opposition to a council decision does not warrant such an appalling reaction.

  Notwithstanding the figurative element to Mr Knott's outburst, there is every reason for him to feel ashamed of the incident and the example he is setting to young constituents.

  The decent course of action for Mr Knott to follow is to publicly apologise to the two councillors—not only for their own sake—but also for the sake of those who may have been contemplating the possibility of taking Mr Knott seriously as an MP.

I have had my disagreements with Mr Knott in this parliament. The Senate may remember his disgraceful behaviour over the matter of an outstanding bill of 2 3/4 years to a Shoalhaven doctor—a doctor who not only is of high repute but, I am glad to say, is a friend of mine and whom I entrusted with the anaesthetics when I had a modest operation at Shoalhaven Hospital some years ago.

  The Senate may not be aware, however, that late last year, when invited as a representative of the government to attend the graduation ceremony at HMAS Creswell, Mr Knott did attend HMAS Creswell but, on seeing that there was a picket line there of cleaners and others who were about to be part of the very sensible government privatisation arrangements in that area, instead of performing his duty to attend that graduation ceremony Mr Knott joined the picket lines. I do not know what prompts Mr Knott, but I can say to him that his duty as a member of parliament should be paramount and I would hope that he would keep that in mind.

  There is another example that the Senate ought to become aware of. I refer to a copy of a letter that Mr Knott sent on 7 December 1933 to Mr Boag, of Boag's Travel Service. He quite offensively addressed his letter to `Dear Mr Bog' rather than `Boag'. The letter reads:

I read with interest your letter to the Prime Minister's department.

It is too bad your mother didn't convince you to tell the truth.

As to your opinion of me, coming from a person like you, I can only take your disapproval as a compliment.

It is true I have low opinion of you based on your actions.

Don't catch on fire.

Yours sincerely,

Peter Knott.

I join with the editorial in the Kiama Independent in saying that it is certainly in the parliament's interests, let alone in Mr Knott's interests, that he behave in a manner in which he can be taken seriously as a member of parliament. If he does not, I would look at this kind of behaviour with concern. I think it demeans the status of the parliament and I think it demeans Mr Knott. There may be many who take that as something of a blessing, as it will certainly not assist him in his attempts to be re-elected to his marginal seat.

  I think there is a greater concern than that, which is that this behaviour lowers the status, in the public mind, of members of parliament. I earnestly entreat Mr Knott to do as the Kiama Independent has recommended and apologise to the two people involved, and, perhaps more importantly, to apologise to the parliament of Australia for the diminution in the status of the parliament in people's minds that emerges from that kind of behaviour.

  Motion (by Senator Sherry)—by leave—agreed to:

  That the sitting of the Senate be suspended till 2.00 p.m.

Sitting suspended from 1.47 to 2.00 p.m.