Anger over Labor's decision to shut NSW Parli


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23-12-2010 08:07 AM


ABC Canberra 666

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ABC Canberra 666


23-12-2010 08:07 AM



23-12-2010 08:42 AM

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2010-12-23 08:07:35

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MACEY, Jennifer


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Anger over Labor's decision to shut NSW Parli -

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The New South Wales Opposition and the Greens are threatening to go to the Supreme Court over a
controversial move by the Government to close Parliament early. The State Government yesterday
prorogued Parliament - effectively shutting down an inquiry into the controversial sale of New
South Wales electricity assets.

TONY EASTLEY: The New South Wales Opposition and the Greens are threatening to go to the Supreme
Court over a controversial move by the Government to close Parliament early.

The State Government yesterday prorogued the Parliament - effectively ending all parliamentary
business until the election in March.

The Opposition parties say the move allows the Government to avoid an Upper House inquiry into the
recent sale of electricity assets.

The Opposition says it will hold the inquiry regardless.

Jennifer Macey reports.

JENNIFER MACEY: Typically parliaments are prorogued - or shut down - just days before an election,
in effect to clear the books of any outstanding business.

ANNE TWOMEY: And that formally means that it stops the Houses from functioning.

JENNIFER MACEY: Associate Professor Anne Twomey is a constitutional law expert at the University of

ANNE TWOMEY: For example any bill that was in the process of going through the Houses that hasn't
been passed, it lapses. Any resolutions or notices on the notice paper, they all disappear. And it
also affects the functioning of parliamentary committees.

JENNIFER MACEY: The New South Wales Premier Kristina Keneally took everyone by surprise when she
prorogued Parliament yesterday three months before the state election.

It has effectively stopped an Upper House committee holding hearings into last week's $5 billion
sale of the state's electricity assets.

The Opposition Leader Barry O'Farrell describes it as a grubby move.

BARRY O'FARRELL: This is a down and dirty deal to stop an Upper House inquiry that could have shed
light on last week's event, that could have revealed to the public why those directors resigned,
could have exposed to electricity consumers what the implications for them were.

But instead Kristina Keneally has closed down the Parliament and will be seeking to run to the next
election clearly concerned about that electricity deal.

JENNIFER MACEY: The inquiry also has the support of the Greens and the Christian Democrats.

Upper House MP Fred Nile says he has legal advice from the clerk of parliament that the inquiry can
go ahead.

FRED NILE: I think it was a bit like a poker game. It was a bluff. They thought by doing that and
everybody said that's the end of it, no committee inquiry.

But I've made inquiries and had advice from the clerks - there's nothing to stop the committee

JENNIFER MACEY: But the Government's advice from the Crown solicitor says committees can't sit
after Parliament has been prorogued.

Professor Anne Twomey says this means the committee might not enjoy parliamentary privilege.

ANNE TWOMEY: So that leaves witnesses and the members of the committee vulnerable. If for example
someone said something that would otherwise be defamatory they don't get the protection of
parliamentary privilege that they would otherwise have.

So it might mean that witnesses for example are reluctant to give evidence to the inquiry.

JENNIFER MACEY: The opposition parties say according to the clerk's advice the committee will
continue to hold all parliamentary privileges.

David Shoebridge is a Greens Upper House MP.

DAVID SHOEBRIDGE: The witnesses will be compelled to appear under the power of the Parliament. If
there's any issue in relation to privilege one would hope that the new parliament will clarify that
with legislation as soon as it meets.

JENNIFER MACEY: Will you go to court over this?

DAVID SHOEBRIDGE: Of course. The Parliament needs to be independent of the executive. And if
necessary that involves an application to the Supreme Court well then those necessary applications
will be made.

JENNIFER MACEY: But professor Anne Twomey says there's no clear cut legal answer.

ANNE TWOMEY: Now the question is this just hasn't been resolved by court and it may well be that a
court agrees with the clerk. But the clerk doesn't know and we don't know that either so it just
leaves everything in a bit of legal limbo.

JENNIFER MACEY: The opposition parties say the committee will meet at two o'clock today to set the
inquiry's terms of reference and then will resume hearings in January.

TONY EASTLEY: Jennifer Macey.

AM requested an interview with the Premier of New South Wales Kristina Keneally but she's been