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New South Wales: Premier discusses allegation that a Labor MP sexually assaulted a minor; public relations consultant comments on the use of parliamentary privilege.

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Wednesday 28 May 2003

New South Wales: Premier discusses allegation that a Labor MP sexually assaulted a minor; public relations consultant comments on the use of parliamen tary privilege


MARK COLVIN: The New South Wales Government has referred allegations that a New South Wales Cabinet minister sexually assaulted and then robbed a 15-year old to the state's Police Integrity Commission. 


The claims were made by a Liberal backbencher in the Upper House last night during a debate on the state's age of consent laws. Earlier today the Premier Bob Carr described the claims as a gross abuse of parliamentary privilege and referred the matter on to the PIC. 


The state opposition leader John Brogden meanwhile confirmed that he had been aware of the allegations before they were made. 


Alison Caldwell reports. 


ALISON CALDWELL: According to the New South Wales Premier Bob Carr, allegations like these are becoming stock in trade for Liberal opposition MPs desperate to score political points. 


BOB CARR: I find the allegations simply incredible, but I nonetheless want to have then properly investigated and the Police Integrity Commission is the body to do that. 


ALISON CALDWELL: Last night, under parliamentary privilege Liberal backbencher Charlie Lynn stunned his upper house colleagues when he accused an unnamed senior Carr cabinet minister of having under age sex with a 15-year old boy.  


He said he had documents from a police investigation to support his claims, documents which formed part of a secret report by the Wood Royal Commission which was never released.  


The Premier Bob Carr said he had no knowledge of the allegations, and he questioned the timing of them. 


BOB CARR: We had a Police Royal Commission. It worked through all of this material and finished its work in 1997. Since then, they've been two Parliaments, two Police Commissioners, two election campaigns. We only hear of this when Parliament is debating legislation to bring New South Wales' age of consent laws in line with other states. 


ALISON CALDWELL: This afternoon, the Premier's office released a statement from the state's Director General which says there are no parts or volumes of Justice Wood's report which have not been made public. 


The Liberal backbencher Charlie Lynn wasn't returning calls today, and his leader John Brodgen didn't have much to say on the matter either, instead issuing a short statement. In it the opposition leader says he was aware that Charlie Lynn intended to raise the allegations. He says he warned the backbencher to think carefully about his options and advised him to forward the documents onto the appropriate authorities. 


While Charlie Lynn didn't name anyone, it's not the first time parliamentary privilege has been used to air claims about individuals accused of paedophilia and subsequent cover-ups. 


Ian Kortlang is a former government media advisor and now a public relations consultant. He says voters are becoming increasingly sceptical about allegations made under parliamentary privilege. 


IAN KORTLANG: People have always been very jaundiced when they look at parliamentary privilege. I think we have to have it, but in cases when Senator Bill Heffernon and Justice Michael Kirby, I think people saw that as going too far. 


Where the Charlie Lynn thing will end up, who knows, because it may stop, but I think people are very suspicious about the use of the coward's castle. 


ALISON CALDWELL: Why do they get up and make statements like this in Parliament? 


IAN KORTLANG: I think there's always an element of square up in these matters and there's not to say that there's any great conspiracy, one party against the other. But politicians like you and I, read our newspapers, hear the radio and they in their own mind may choose to say look, I've got an issue which points to hypocrisy and I'll bring the matter up and they do have that particular power. 


I don't think there's any great sort of tactics committee that meets federally on these issues and gives a person in Queensland a ring and says "hey, have a go at Mr Beattie". But I think that people make their own judgements in that area. 


ALISON CALDWELL: Do you think this is a trend? 


IAN KORTLANG: No, I don't know if it's a trend, I just think it's part of the political process. There's been major, major politics over the last few weeks. It's been around sexual abuse, it's been around change of legislation, great social engineering change in New South Wales.  


I think we're seeing a high point of activity here. I don't think it's a trend. I just think it's a point of time when everybody's sensitivity is heightened to these issues. 


ALISON CALDWELL: You've been familiar with politics for a long time, you used to be in politics yourself. Do you notice change or was it always like this? 


IAN KORTLANG: No, I think it's always like this and it's only used in the extreme, but I'm sure there are many examples over years where the use of parliamentary privilege has led to the uncovering of something which wouldn't have come out without the use of parliamentary privilege. 


It's not a blunt instrument, it should be used very sparingly to keep the power that it has. If Mr Lynn has something that leads to criminal prosecution that is wrong, well, so be it. If its mere puffery, at least he hasn't mentioned the person's name yet. 


MARK COLVIN: The public relations consultant Ian Kortlang, talking to Alison Caldwell.