Second MP compounds Premier’s problems
TROUBLE-prone Labor MP Peter Russo is facing allegations he is ineligible to sit in State Parliament, following revelations his law firm profits from significant amounts of Legal Aid work.
The Courier-Mail can reveal Parliament has sought advice from constitutional experts about whether Mr Russo's ongoing role in the firm contravenes laws prohibiting MPs from "transacting business with an entity of the state".
The long-standing law, introduced to stop politicians double-dipping into the public purse, says an MP automatically vacates their seat if Parliament decrees they have broken the rule.
Annual reports show Russo Lawyers is listed as one of the top 25 firms to receive work from Legal Aid, a state government statutory authority.
Mr Russo, who has represented the southern Brisbane seat of Toohey since 2015, lists his role as a director, secretary and beneficiary of the firm on State Parliament's register of members' interests.
Opposition frontbencher Jarrod Bleijie yesterday tabled in Parliament documents obtained under Right to Information showing Mr Russo personally signed the firm's contract in October 2015 and emailed it to Legal Aid.
"It is my belief, and legal advice obtained by Liberal National Party, that the Member for Toohey has been ineligible to sit in this Parliament since October 2015," he said.
"It calls into question the votes that the Member for Toohey has made in this Parliament since 2015.
"I know the Speaker is assessing these serious matters at the moment…"
Mr Russo did not respond to questions about the Opposition's allegations, but has previously released legal advice which states his firm's Legal Aid work does not conflict with his role as an MP.
The advice was obtained last year after The Courier-Mail revealed Mr Russo had not listed his Legal Aid income on the register or declared a conflict when Legal Aid officials appears before Parliament's Legal Affairs Committee, which he chairs.
Clerk of Parliament Neil Laurie found while Mr Russo's register was sufficient, he should have declared a conflict whenever matters concerning Legal Aid came before his committee.
Mr Russo's advice argued he was not in contravention of the Parliament of Queensland Act because his firm's legal work was for a client, not Legal Aid, and the body was not an entity of the state.
"The provision of legal assistance by your firm to legally aided persons does not involve transacting business with the state," the advice said.
However a separate legal opinion obtained by the LNP strongly contradicted this position.
It said Legal Aid was clearly an entity of the state, and as the principal of his firm Mr Russo would have played a key role applying for and obtaining preferred supplier status.
Mr Russo apologised to Parliament in October for not declaring a conflict but insisted he had not performed Legal Aid work personally since elected.
The following month he admitted he appeared in court on a Legal Aid matter in 2018.
He was also forced to say sorry over a hot-mike affair last year when he was heard in Parliament referring to a female MP as a "f-kwit"