23 August 2011
Andrew speaks about the importance of the Integrity of Parliament.
Mr WILKIE (Denison) (21:40): I rise to make a statement regarding the controversy surrounding the member for Dobell. There are obviously many accusations swirling around the member right now, arguably the most important being that he misled Fair Work Australia when it was inquiring into alleged misconduct in the Health Services Union. Added to that is the suggestion that in his previous career as a union official he used his credit card to pay for prostitutes and made inappropriate cash withdrawals on that card. The member for Dobell and the government find themselves in a very difficult situation. That the ALP paid to keep the embattled member from bankruptcy and that the Prime Minister effusively endorses him before any inquiry is finalised compound the public disquiet over this matter.
Let us not forget that the member for Dobell must be accorded the presumption of innocence no matter how strong the prime facie case against him—not just because it is the right thing to do but also because the issue has become so highly charged. Hence I will be keeping a close eye on the current Fair Work Australia inquiry and any other external inquiry, as well as any move to commence legal action against him. Until such time as the process has run its course and until such a finding has been brought down which prohibits the member from taking his seat in this place, my view will remain that Craig Thomson is entitled to sit as the member for Dobell.
The possibility that he may have engaged in activities that some people regard as being unethical is an important consideration, but the member’s character is something to be judged at the next election and is not in itself a reason for him to lose his seat prematurely. So too the next election is the time to pass judgment on the government’s handling of the matter. Whether or not the ALP thinks the member for Dobell represents the party’s values and should retain the confidence of his party’s leadership is obviously a matter for the ALP. Moreover, the member for Dobell’s chair of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics should not be denied him on account of these allegations; and, while I note he has tonight resigned as chair, I do not believe that was necessary. He is either fit to take his seat in this place or he is not, because he either complies with the constitutional requirements to do so or he does not. Frankly, until the current inquiry or other external inquiries and any subsequent legal action have run their course there is no basis for him surrendering his seat.
The same goes for the Liberal senator for South Australia, Mary Jo Fisher. Yes, she has also been accused of a serious offence and legal action against her is underway, but she also is innocent until proven guilty and has every right to hold her seat in the Senate until and unless she is found to be guilty of an offence punishable by imprisonment of more than 12 months. So too Senator Fisher should be allowed to reign as the chair of the Senate Environment and Communications References Committee until and unless an adverse judicial outcome.
That some in the opposition, media and community have ignored Senator Fisher’s circumstances while at the same time reacting disproportionately over the member for Dobell illustrates the politicisation of the whole credit card saga. If only for that reason it must be dealt with by the book with strict adherence to proper process. Against this backdrop, I am uncomfortable with the Prime Minister’s strong public show of support for the member for Dobell. Yes, this issue is highly charged politically, but a consequence of that should be a greater, not lesser, focus on proper process and it is not proper process to pre-empt an inquiry’s findings. My only caveat on this approach is that I would have supported the opposition motion yesterday to suspend standing orders to allow the member for Dobell to explain himself to the parliament. That the motion foundered was unfortunate, because I do believe the public interest would have been served by the member having his say in the parliament.
There is much talk nowadays about integrity. Did Prime Minister Gillard lie over pricing carbon? No, because changed circumstances forced her hand. Did Prime Minister Howard lie over the invasion of Iraq? Yes, and I have asked the PM to initiate a proper inquiry into that matter. When it comes to the member for Dobell I feel we should let the proper process run its course, and that is what I intend to do.