FOR A SECOND TIME in ten weeks, a Labor MP in the minority Queensland government has been hit by a raft of allegations of criminal wrongdoing; the accusations extend over decades and catalogue a slew of alleged offences including sexual assault and harassment, conspiracy to violence, professional misconduct, and drug matters. The development is a fresh threat to the shaky state government, and raises serious questions around ALP process.
My post this morning comes as no surprise whatsoever, but for the second time in just ten weeks, one of Queensland Labor’s horde of freshly elected state MPs has been hit with allegations of a raft of criminal offences, with the results of an extensive journalistic investigation by reporters Kelmeny Fraser and David Murray published in today’s issue of Brisbane’s Courier-Mail newspaper.
For the sake of expediency and to avoid copious reproduction of the material, readers can access various articles from that publication here, here, here and here. The development poses a new threat to the minority government of Annastacia Palaszczuk, and comes in the wake of a similarly explosive scandal in March centred on another neophyte MP — since expelled from the ALP — in the form of accusations of domestic violence and other matters against Cook MP Billy Gordon, which we discussed at the time.
The accusations against Pumicestone MP Rick Williams — which I was aware of some time ago, but opted not to elaborate upon when the Gordon scandal broke — cover a disturbing array of alleged offences ranging from fraud and unprofessional conduct in his financial services business, attempting to hire someone to have his wife’s ex-boyfriend “done over,” harassment and victimisation, drug dealing, and the sexual harassment and/or assault of two teenage girls, at least one of whom was an employee of Williams.
I don’t propose to discuss the allegations published by the Courier-Mail against Williams at length this morning; as was the case in the Gordon matter I suspect these revelations merely represent the beginning of what will become a protracted public expose and political cannon fodder, and given these matters may very well end up before the Courts it would be imprudent to offer any more than cursory comment on them.
Rather, the early focus deserves to fall on the Labor Party and its vetting procedures; as anyone with any knowledge of political parties knows, vetting procedures are notoriously arbitrary (people can be excluded, at the sole discretion of the party, on the basis of trivialities, internal vendettas, and hearsay) and the question deserves to be asked as to why — if, as Queensland Labor secretary Evan Moorhead claims, the accusations against Williams had been known for many years — he was permitted to run as a Labor candidate in the first place.
I’m sure some will accuse me of advocating a conviction without a trial, protesting the right of a presumption of innocence until or unless guilt is established by a Court.
But the requisite standards of behaviour and probity in political life arguably transcend such a test, with parliamentarians expected to be exemplars of community behaviour rather than followers or emulators of it, and Moorhead can’t have it both ways.
On the one hand there is a veritable litany of criminal offences Williams has been accused of in today’s newspaper; the line from the Queensland ALP is, put succinctly, that it knew about them all along.
But on the other, this is the second time in an embarrassingly short period of time that the Palaszczuk government finds itself confronted with this kind of “revelation” about one of its new MPs, and as I alluded when the Gordon issue broke, there remains (after Williams) at least one more — and possibly as many as another three — Queensland Labor MPs sitting on time bombs that, if detonated, will prove comparable to the mess already created around Messrs Gordon and Williams.
The matey culture of ALP tribalism — bolstered and deepened and worsened by factional and union ties — has, in recent years, seen far too many individuals of dubious character and background find their way into parliamentary sinecures off the back of subterranean loyalties, networks, or private obligations; Gordon himself is an obvious example. Craig Thomson is another. The parade of NSW ALP figures through ICAC underlines the point. Further afield, the cesspit that is the Health Services Union provides salutary insight into how these people move seamlessly up the ranks from rookie union officials and into positions of real power — whether in Parliament or the union movement — and the scope for those positions to be abused.
The fact a Royal Commission into the union movement has extended beyond its first year, and is uncovering evidence of criminal misconduct that threatens to rebound on the ALP (which has dutifully sought to sabotage, frustrate and discredit the Commission from the outset) merely underlines the point.
But back to Queensland.
At this stage, my purpose in covering this issue is simply to get it onto our radar; there will be scope enough to discuss these matters in more detail over coming weeks, I’m sure.
But I think it is sufficiently in the public interest for the Courier-Mail to have published the results of its exhaustive investigations into Williams today; one or two accusations of impropriety might justify Queensland Labor’s position that the matters were unsubstantiated and no bar to his candidacy for public office, but the sheer volume and nature of these allegations means that a full investigation by Queensland Police is not only warranted, but crucial.
Like Gordon before him, it is incumbent upon Williams, at the very minimum, to step aside from his official duties whilst the allegations against him are vigorously examined by law enforcement authorities.
But if the Gordon precedent is anything to go by, he won’t: and it is for this reason — the mentality of hunkering down and riding out the storm — that Labor in Queensland finds itself confronting embarrassing and damaging accusations against another of its MPs today, and in turn now faces the real prospect of having to expel another of its number in the knife-edge Queensland Parliament or, worse for its tepid hold on office, a by-election in a Sunshine Coast seat that would almost certainly be won by the LNP.