NSW: Liberal MPs Stood Aside, Appropriately, Pending ICAC Inquiry

NEWS FROM SYDNEY that three state Liberal MPs are to sit on the crossbench pending the outcome of investigations by ICAC is to be welcomed; conservatively aligned as this column is, we will not tolerate corruption in government, and any allegation of wrongdoing must be investigated frankly, fully and fearlessly. The development casts a poor light, were any further suggestion of it required, on the turbid way things are apparently done in NSW.

I am going to keep my remarks short and circumspect on this, for obvious reasons; the news that three Liberal MPs in NSW — former minister and Terrigal MP Chris Hartcher, Wyong MP Darren Webber, and the member for The Entrance, Chris Spence — are to be suspended from the parliamentary party pending a corruption inquiry by ICAC is to be welcomed.

If allegations against the trio are found to be baseless, they should resume their places in the Liberal Party; if shown to have engaged in criminal misconduct, they must be expelled from Parliament. This is as it should be.

To its credit, the NSW Liberals appear to be moving to suspend the three MPs quickly.

The development — which readers can see more about here — comes as ICAC announces further corruption investigations into disgraced Labor trio Eddie¬†Obeid, Joe Tripodi and Tony Kelly.

I have opined in the past that NSW, under the long-term governance of the ALP, was rotten to the core, and I stand by that assessment: worse than anything that ever happened in Queensland under Joh Bjelke-Petersen is how I recall putting it, not that I seek to excuse anything that occurred on old Joh’s watch that shouldn’t have.

But if members of the Liberal Party — and its members of Parliament especially — are embroiled in the murky goings-on between government and business that have occurred in NSW in the past, it is fitting the culprits receive precisely the treatment currently being experienced by their alleged fellow miscreants from the ALP.

The one observation I would make at this early stage concerns the prospect flagged in the Tele article I’ve linked to of three by-elections Barry O’Farrell probably needs like a hole in the head if, at the end of the investigation process, any or all of the Liberals in question are forced to relinquish their seats.

Of the three, only Hartcher in Terrigal is securely seated, notwithstanding the tidal wave the Liberals surfed into government in 2011. Even then, with an eye on what happened to the Liberal Party in the Miranda by-election last year, even Terrigal (held at the state election by a comparable margin to Miranda) is a seat the Liberals really don’t need to be testing their fortunes over in the bubble atmosphere of a by-election.

In any case, I simply want to make clear that standing these MPs aside is the right, proper course of action to take. It contrasts with precedents in recent times set by the ALP, and somewhat ironically I note that former MP for Dobell, Craig Thomson — convicted yesterday of defrauding the Health Services Union out of thousands of dollars — only moved to the crossbench in federal Parliament when the political heat from allegations against him got that bit too hot for then-Prime Minister Julia Gillard to handle. It was hardly done out of any sense of duty or regard for propriety at that time.

This column has made no secret of its belief that a royal commission into the union movement is necessary, long overdue, and highly likely to uncover criminality (as I have put it previously) on a scale unprecedented in this country, and given accusations of bias I regularly cop from the Left it is important to make this point.

It cuts both ways, and if conservative MPs have been up to no good, they are just as deserving of having the proverbial book thrown at them as any of their union or ALP counterparts.

Even if the charges against these Liberals are found baseless, however — and in light of the thorn in the side of Prime Minister Tony Abbott the O’Farrell government seems determined to be — you have to wonder, putting yourself in Tony Abbott’s shoes, what crack in the footpath he walked on to deserve the grief that continues to emanate from NSW.

Forlorn as the hope might be, if any good is to come out of the procession of ICAC cases and potential prosecutions that may arise from them, it is the prospect that once and for all, the grubby nexus between business and government in NSW might be cleaned up once and for all.