Jarrod Bleijie accused of PCMC sacking 'fascism'
ATTORNEY General Jarrod Bleijie is under renewed attack over the Newman Government's decision to sack the entire Parliamentary Crime and Misconduct Commission committee.
Leading lawyers, public sector ethicists and a key figure in the post-Fitzgerald era electoral reform are unanimous in the view the action was demonstrably wrong in principle, in breach of the Crime and Misconduct Act and arguably that both Premier Campbell Newman and Mr Bleijie are in contempt of parliament.
And they say the claims by the Premier and Mr Bleijie that committee members had shown complete bias and had corrupted and tainted the committee process were merely allegations, untested and not supported by evidence.
"They would seem to be guilty of the same bias they allege,'' leading Public Sector Ethics specialist Howard Whitton said.
Mr Whitton has 25 years experience as a senior or principal policy adviser on ethics and integrity matters with the Australian Public Service Board and Merit Protection Agency (MPRA), the Public Sector Management Commission of Queensland, and the ACT Chief Minister's Department.
He was the principal adviser on Ethics matters for the Electoral and Administrative Review Commission (EARC) of Queensland, following the Fitzgerald Commission of Inquiry into Police Corruption, in 1990-91.
In that capacity he was the principal author of Australia's first Public Sector Ethics law, and a co-author of a new approach to Whistleblower Protection legislation which was later followed by Queensland and all other Australian jurisdictions, and was influential in the new Whistleblower laws of several countries including New Zealand, the UK, and the United Nations General Assembly.
Mr Whitton said the committee had been removed merely on the basis of the opinion of the government.
"That is the beginning of Fascism,'' he said.
Mr Whitton said it was crucial that the Crime and Misconduct Commission be non-political and that the long-standing bipartisan supervision of its operation be maintained.
The bipartisanship principle also applies to the Parliamentary Committee for the CMC, as set out in Sections 300 and 301 of the Crime and Misconduct Act, 2001, which make clear that short of death, defeat at an election, the decision of the member to stand down or that of the leader who nominated them to make fresh appointments, their place is inviolate.
The reason for that is to protect the bipartisan oversight of the Crime and Misconduct Commission so that its crucial role is not reduced to the whim of the government of the day, an outcome which would render it ineffectual.
Mr Bleijie continues to defend the government's actions.
Asked last week to explain the interpretation of the Act the Government was relying on to take the action it did, Mr Bleijie said that as Attorney General he could not give legal advice.
"Suffice to say the House has appropriately dealt with the matter and discharged members who had shown complete bias and had corrupted and tainted the committee process,'' Mr Bleijie said.
"PCMC members are delegates of the House, accordingly the House can discharge its members."
Mr Whitton says on that point the Attorney General is simply wrong.
"The Attorney General seems to think that Parliament is a corporation and he is management,'' he said.
"It is arrant nonsense to claim that MPs are 'delegates' of the House. A very basic Constitutional principle is at issue here. Members are 'representatives', not delegates, nor are they employees.
The Constitution and the Members' Oath of Office are quite clear about this."
"Clearly both the Premier and Attorney General have breached the key principle that the CMC is to be nonpartisan.
The principle is still contained in the CMC Act - particularly sections 228, and s 243.
QUT law lecturer John Pyke agreed with Mr Whitton's assessment.
Mr Pyke said resolutions of the house were secondary to Acts of Parliament.
"Acts limit the government's own power as much as they bind the rest of us,'' he said.
The Newman Government is facing mounting criticism about the way it has handled its huge majority with many questioning whether the Premier has fulfilled his election night promise to govern humbly and with dignity.
Mr Pyke said the government's instinct that it could do anything it liked with parliamentary committees simply by a resolution of the House was only true if the committee was not established by statute.
"It's fairly common for Parliament to forget that it is bound by the words and Acts of Parliament,'' he said.
That view was successfully tested on Tuesday when Opposition Leader Annastacia Palaszczuk simply renominated sacked members including Nicklin independent Peter Wellington and Labor MPs Jackie Trad and Jo-Ann Miller.
Mr Newman's response was telling.
"There's a law here - a clear law that we will comply with and have always complied with - they get to appoint three people," he told ABC Radio.
"All I say is if they pick three people who've shown bias and who allowed a process to be so corrupted and tainted, then that shows poor judgment ... and leadership from the Labor Leader Annastacia Palaszczuk."
Mr Pike said the mess of the Government's making could be fixed by the manager of government business going into Parliament and revoking the membership of the independent PCMC committee chair Liz Cunningham and the three other government appointments.
"That would be a slightly humbling process,'' he said.
Perhaps more important than the Committee's removal is the use of insulting and threatening language against individual members of the CMC Committee by the Premier and the Attorney-General.
According to Mr Whitton, the Parliament of Queensland Act prohibits such language as a contempt of the Parliament, where it is intended to prevent a member or committee from performing their duties as Members.
"Mr Newman needs to be reminded that he is not CEO of 'Queensland Inc.', and its Members are not his employees.
As rallies were held across Australia by recreational motorcycle riders protesting the Newman Government's controversial "bikie laws" it remains to be seen whether or not it is ready to eat humble pie.