Queensland: Allegations Of Criminality Hit Second ALP MP

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.

Queensland: Fresh State Election Needed To Sort Labor Mess

AS MORE REVELATIONS EMERGE over the dubious calibre of some newly elected ALP MPs, it is clear only a fresh state election will sort out the mess threatening to engulf Queensland’s government; saddled with liabilities who are unfit for public office, a convicted felon who refuses to quit, and snookered by the numbers in Parliament, if Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk refuses to return to the polls, others should engineer the move despite her.

There is an argument that says — confronted with a seemingly insurmountable hurdle at first blush in light of the 2012 state election result — that Labor in Queensland ran candidates in certain seats that it never expected to win, or at least not at the election that took place just over nine weeks ago.

But even if this rationalisation is applied in order to give the already-embattled government of Annastacia Palaszczuk the benefit of the doubt, it does not and cannot excuse the fact that nestled within Labor’s parliamentary ranks in Queensland is a coterie of MPs who are unfit to hold public office and whose tenure deserves to be terminated at the earliest possible juncture.

Last week, I wrote of the “rotten, violent ALP” that had assumed power in the Sunshine State, and opined that the circumstances it faces would see it lose power soon enough; at that time I declined to outline my views on what form of strategy LNP leader Lawrence Springborg should pursue, and today I intend to elaborate on it: no minority government is entitled to be insulated from the consequences of its component members on account of tight parliamentary numbers, and if the miscreants squatting in George Street at Labor’s behest ultimately bring the government down, Labor will have nobody to blame but itself.

After publishing the initial piece on the developing fiasco in Queensland I received some irate private communications from people known to me personally who are openly supportive of the Labor Party, as well as some comments on this site to the effect that I am “a hater of the first order” (accompanied by a laughably meaningless attempt at a personal attack) and accusations of a lack of objectivity, and I simply say that where misconduct involving conservative figures has been concerned, I have been vehement in my condemnation: this column makes no differentiation when it comes to the advocacy, without fear or favour, for probity and integrity in public office.

And those who inexplicably expect me to be critical of my own side yet remain mute where the misdemeanours of Labor’s black sheep are concerned stand to remain, happily, very sorely disappointed.

I think a fresh state election in Queensland is virtually inevitable, and lest those ALP apologists think such an exercise impresses me as a certain win for the LNP — with the parallels between Palaszczuk’s situation and the one that faced Denis Napthine in Victoria, courtesy of rogue Liberal MP Geoff Shaw, striking indeed — I share an article I wrote early last year on a potential way out of the mess for Napthine (that if adopted might have seen him re-elected).

Another election could serve Palaszczuk well, but only if it’s Labor pulling the strings — and as things stand, the Premier gives every indication she intends to hunker down and try to ride out the storm.

Last week I told readers that on the basis of credible information from usually impeccable sources, I knew of at least a further two Labor MPs (and possibly a total of four), in addition to discredited Cook MP Billy Gordon, whose misadventures prior to entering Parliament this year were likely to add to the existential threat to Palaszczuk’s government.

Now, one of these has become public, with neophyte Pumicestone MP Rick Williams finding himself (as expected) all over today’s issue of Brisbane’s Courier Mail for the wrong reasons (see here, here and here), and whilst I make no comment on the legal implications of allegations against Mr Williams — which may find their way before the Courts — only the most partisan of ALP sycophants could suggest that at the bare minimum, Williams is little better than Gordon when it comes to acceptable standards of behaviour from those who sit in houses of governance.

As they did in the case of Gordon, the allegations that have surfaced around Williams include accusations of domestic violence that remain untested.

Gordon has announced to local media in his electorate that he will not resign from Parliament; for now, Williams and Palaszczuk are standing firm; and more damaging revelations involving at least one more MP seem certain to emerge in the next week or so: and even if that’s where it ends, and the details foreshadowed involving more MPs again do not come to light, Palaszczuk finds herself burdened with no fewer than three liabilities from which defeat at a by-election would spell the end of her government.

For her part, Palaszczuk can perhaps be thankful to be ill this Easter — bedridden with influenza as she is said to be — for the involuntary removal from the media spotlight buys her some quiet time to think.

Conversely, the month-long parliamentary recess, along with Gordon’s now-declared refusal to quit, collectively render her apparent strategy to tough the growing scandals out useless.

Even discounting the domestic violence accusations against Gordon for a moment (and I say so not to diminish or dismiss them, but purely to remove them from the argument until or unless they are tried in a Court), Gordon’s long criminal record makes him an indefensible selection to hold parliamentary office.

Palaszczuk has stated she wants Gordon to resign and for a by-election to occur in his seat of Cook, and Labor’s best chance of prevailing at such a by-election was for Gordon to accede to the Premier’s demand, and to go quickly and quietly.

That will not occur, and over the next month, Queenslanders can expect the saga around Gordon to fester and pustulate and drag interminably on: further soiling his public standing, and inflicting collateral damage on the Premier and her government in the process.

The appearance of Williams amid these proceedings — even if no further action at law arises from the latest revelations — will merely sully the image of the ALP even further.

And I’m told that at least in the case of the third Labor MP seemingly waiting on the cupboard door to be flung open so fresh skeletons can leap into the government’s lap, the matters tied up with that individual are more serious than those related to Williams.

The senior ALP figures quoted in the attachments from the Courier Mail are actually right: the best course of action open to Labor is another state election, called immediately by Palaszczuk.

They are right to surmise that even if the support of the two Katter MPs were to be forthcoming, such an arrangement would be deleterious at best to Labor’s eventual electoral prospects, and would heighten the risk it would be beaten whenever it next faced the public.

And they are right that “uncertainty” would damage Labor, as it surely already is: best to call an election “and be done with it,” as one is quoted as saying.

But such an election is unlikely to be called; to navigate such a course would require the quick dumping of a handful of MPs who should never have been endorsed by their party, to say nothing of spending four weeks on the hustings on the back foot defending the disendorsements every time a press conference is held.

Yet on the other hand, the “simply stand firm” mantra increasingly trotted out by both major parties nowadays is simply a recipe in this case for three years of a slow strangulation, a poisoned political climate in Queensland, and the virtual certainty of a LNP win at a scheduled election in late 2017 or early 2018.

Labor’s best bet is to go now, apologise for the inconvenience, and roll the dice on its fortunes.

But it won’t, which means that not only is it fair game for the opposition LNP, but it will now own every misdeed and hint of scandal its inadvisedly selected MPs throw up.

As I have said to the handful of Queensland-based LNP people who have approached me for my thoughts, I think that when Parliament reconvenes in early May, opposition leader Lawrence Springborg should table an expulsion motion against Gordon.

If the motion succeeds, the resulting by-election in Cook could yield victory for the LNP, enabling a change of government on the floor of Parliament; the only reason it could fail is if Palaszczuk and her minions voted it down: welding responsibility for Gordon and his misdemeanours irrevocably to the Labor Party, and ensuring Gordon — like Shaw did to the Liberals in Victoria — corrodes ALP support for the duration if its tenure in government.

If Gordon survives such an expulsion motion, another will follow soon enough, aimed at another miscreant in the Labor caucus.

Sooner or later, all of this will produce a by-election that the LNP prevails at; and when Springborg is subsequently sworn in as Premier, he should immediately advise the state election Palaszczuk is too frightened or too conflicted by factional and union undertakings (and obligations to the odious specimens at the heart of the matter) to call.

After all, Springborg’s script is written: 52% of Queenslanders voted for Labor after preferences in January; becoming Premier by virtue of the numbers in Parliament — and remaining in the role without a mandate — would be an unforgivable arrogance. Springborg and the LNP listened to the people in January, he could say, and in view of how these matters play out, are determined Queenslanders should be given the final say in who governs them now.

As an election would be for Palaszczuk now, so too would be an election called by Springborg represent a dangerous opportunity for the LNP under such circumstances, and Queensland’s second accidental Premier in the space of a few months could find his tenure in office ended within the space of an election campaign.

I wouldn’t bet on it though; a humble Springborg falling into office off the back of the scandals engulfing the ALP could well find his way to the election win as leader that has always eluded him, and which in ordinary circumstances still seems beyond this likeable rural character who has always failed where it matters most in Queensland nowadays — the state’s urban centres.

I think we’re close to (if not already at) the point where Labor — morally at least — owes the people of Queensland a fresh say on the state’s governance, and as ridiculous as it might seem to make such a pronouncement about a government barely two months old, it bears remembering that this is as much a consequence of the minority result delivered in January as it is an outright reflection on the ALP per se.

Just like Denis Napthine’s problems with Geoff Shaw were similarly the result of the minority status into which the Coalition was plunged in Victoria when Shaw resigned from the Liberal Party to sit on the crossbench.

But unlike Victoria, Queensland is not straitened by the insidious confines of an inflexible and fixed parliamentary term.

Which is why — in the proper execution of her responsibilities as Premier of Queensland — Palaszczuk should listen to the surprisingly good advice from those of her cabal who gave it, and call a state election forthwith.

And if she refuses to, and Springborg becomes Premier as events at hand play out, one can bet he will burn rubber on the trip to Government House to advise such an election as soon as humanly possible.

Whoever gets in first probably wins, in other words.

On past and current form, you’d bet tens it won’t be the ALP who pushes the button — and this reticence will only serve it to its detriment.