Leave our Constitution alone – voters expect MP’s to act honorably

In the hurly burly of the Craig Thomson (MP for Dobell) affair there are calls for the Australian Constitution to be amended so members of Parliament have some sort of “code of conduct” under which they must operate. I would say if they know so little that they need a code – then we should not elect them in the first place. At present Section 44 sets out the circumstances under which members can be disqualified.
I do not want to reprise the Craig Thomson affair here – anybody awake in Australia must have the gist.
There is a petition circulating in the electorate of Dobell calling for Thomson to resign his seat.
I just wanted to make the point here that it is the colossal failure by Labor to act on the Craig Thomson matter over YEARS – that is the cause of the black hole in which the Prime Minister finds herself.
Secondarily to Thomson of course and unrelated there is the Speaker of the House Peter Slipper who has stood aside while allegations are investigated.

10 thoughts on “Leave our Constitution alone – voters expect MP’s to act honorably”

  1. Warwick thank you for this post – I’ve been banging on about the ‘presumption of innocence’ that Labor and their co govt colleagues (Oakeshott and Windsor) for the last fortnight or so but here’s a copy of a comment I put on Catallaxy Files today

    My favourite topic ‘the presumption of innocence’
    I’ve chanted on a bit about this in relation to what Windsor, Oakeshott, and all of the Labor Party are singing in respect to Thomson (and Slipper) There’s a great article in the latest Spectator by Anthony Morris QC ‘No innocence in presumption’. Can’t find it on line sorry
    but paraphrasing he says recent events demonstrate how politicians have appropriated and subverted that doctrine ie ‘presumption of innocence’ and redefined it for their own benefit. This is bizarre. When a politician is accused of wrongdoing everyone must try to imagine the politician is blameless, notwithstanding of the evidence. Their thoughts, their eyes, their minds, their voices are silenced until a judicial verdict is recorded. (BTW) this applies only to elected officials not Governors-General (Hollingsworth) nor High Court Judges (Kirby falsely accused under parliamentary privilege of using a Commonwealth car to solicit rent boys.) But billionaires are excluded too, (Palmer and Rinehart and Forrest who have been labelled by Swan ‘threats to democracy’) and Julian Assange (Gillard denouncing him with no apology when AFP
    cleared him). The political version of ‘presumption of innocence’ bears no resemblance to the legal version. The legal presumption exists only in determining guilt or innocence at a criminal trial. It has no other application to criminal justice nor in civil proceedings nor outside a
    > courtroom.
    The presumption has no relevance (OUTSIDE A CRIMINAL COURT HEARING) in respect to the allegations surrounding the members for Fisher and Dobell. The real issue in respect to Slipper and Thomson is whether credible evidence of wrongdoing exists. If it does those holding constitutional responsibility to protect the national interest can’t evade their duty
    > by pretending their hands are tied by this presumption. If you don’t get the Spectator I highly recommend the article, and indeed the Spectator Now over to Windsor, Oakeshott (they’re not listening) and you guys, please pass my version of Anthony Morris’ article on to your contacts. That might get a flurry of e mails to elected reps (hopefully)

  2. Warwick

    Given the speech Gillard made on the steps of Parliament a couple of weeks ago, how could she survive a couple of questions in the House about her own murky history with the Wilson/AWU/$1M affair.

    She would probably have to re-write the constitution again!

  3. WHS said:

    I just wanted to make the point here that it is the colossal failure by Labor to act on the Craig Thomson matter over YEARS – that is the cause of the black hole in which the Prime Minister finds herself.

    I agree. There is no need for a change to the constitution. Arguing for that is just a distraction and delaying tactic.

    This is an integrity issue. It is the PM’s integrity on display. She could easily say we will not accept Craig Thompson’s vote.

    The integrity of Labor senior ministers, the caucus and the Labor Party machine is also clearly on display.

    It is clear that Craig Thompson’s behaviour is acceptable to Labor (and the unions).

  4. Did you see Tony Windsor on TV sprouting the “innocent until convicted” line? Nauseating!
    But imagine his fury if it was one of the Opposition in this position.

    There is one “independent” who isn’t going to take his snout out of the trough.

    It has taken Labor over 3 years to investigate the allegations. How long can they delay a trial?

  5. The Fair Work Australia investigation into the finances and financial management of the National Office of the Health Services Union – first began in April 2009.
    So with the benefit of hindsight and after FWA lawyers had been poking into issues around Thomson for over a year, a critical failure for Labor was that no bells rang warning that Craig Thomson was not quite the greatest choice as candidate for Dobell in the 2010 election. Or if bells rang, it was more important that good ole Labor mates stuck together rather than decent standards be maintained.

  6. As I live in Craig Thomson’s electorate, I resent having a representative who spends his time dreaming up more and more unbelievable lies.

    Today cartoonist Larry Pickering has written:

    The $200,000 paid by the ALP to “cover Thomson’s legal costs”, was paid in the interests of Julia Gillard, not the furtherance of justice for Thomson. We know that much.

    No solicitor in his right mind would have advised Thomson to plead: “It wasn’t me… my former mates set me up with hookers.”


    Julia: “You must mount a defence. You must continue to lie. I don’t give a flying f**** how ridiculous it sounds, you must defend this so it can be strung out at least for another 17 months.

    “Because, Craig, the instant you admit guilt is the same instant Tim and I need to hand back the keys to the Lodge and all of us start queuing up at the local Centrelink.

    “None of us will get a job ‘cos we’ve just finished shafting and demonising the employer class. It will be the end of my Socialist Grand Plan.

    “Don’t worry that Australia doesn’t want my plan… I know what’s best and I only have this small window of 17 months in which to implement it and render it irreversible.

    “You, Craig, will go down in history as my Grand Plan’s, well-paid, sacrificial lamb.

    “The $200,000, should help soften the ignominy, ok Craig?”

    Craig: “But Julia, isn’t perverting the course of justice a criminal offence?”

    Julia: “That will be post my Socialist Grand Plan’s implementation, Craig… haven’t you heard of Joan of Arc?”

    Craig: “No… is she a senator?”

    Read the rest of Pickering HERE

  7. great article by George Brandis SC in the Oz today
    cutting and pasting

    IT is always dangerous when legal doctrines are taken hostage by politicians and sharpened into rhetorical weapons. A great deal of nonsense has been talked about the presumption of innocence in the Craig Thomson and Peter Slipper cases.

    By invoking this principle, Julia Gillard has tried to stifle public discussion and parliamentary scrutiny of events that are a matter of legitimate public interest.

    As respected Brisbane QC Tony Morris pointed out in The Spectator Australia this week, the presumption of innocence is a legal rule about the burden of proof in criminal trials. It exists only within the context of a criminal trial and can be understood only as an aspect of the laws governing criminal evidence and procedure. As the author of the canonical text on the law of evidence, Rupert Cross, says: “When it is said that an accused person is presumed to be innocent, all that is meant is that the prosecution is obliged to prove the case against him beyond reasonable doubt.”

    None of this would come as a surprise to a competent lawyer, although it is apparently lost on the Prime Minister and the Attorney-General, Nicola Roxon. A proper understanding of the presumption of innocence tells us several things about the debate, beyond what it reveals about the venality of this government.

    Since the presumption of innocence applies only to the criminal law, it has no relevance to civil claims. At the moment, the claims against Thomson and Slipper are civil claims only: in Thomson’s case, the findings of the Nassios investigation which, Fair Work Australia has announced, will give rise to civil proceedings, and in Slipper’s case, the Ashby sexual harassment claims.

    There is no presumption of innocence in either case — indeed, in the Slipper proceedings, the Fair Work Act creates a reverse onus, a presumption of intent against the employer.

    The Fair Work Australia report concluded there had been 156 contraventions of the law by Thomson. On Gillard’s distorted view of the presumption of innocence, findings by the regulator of serial contraventions of the law, after a long and exhaustive inquiry, may not even be a legitimate matter of public discussion or parliamentary debate. One has only to state the argument to appreciate its absurdity.

    It follows from the government’s position that wrongdoing by those in public office could never be the subject of parliamentary scrutiny or inquiry, since the moment the allegations were made the invocation of the presumption of innocence would close off any further debate.

    As Morris points out, if the presumption of innocence means what Gillard and her ministers would have it mean, “no bail application could fail, no application to freeze alleged proceeds of crime could succeed . . . Outside a courtroom, innocence is seldom presumed. If the police did so, nobody could ever be arrested or charged; no search warrant or listening device warrant could ever be issued; the NCA, ASIC, ACCC and state-based anti-corruption and criminal investigation authorities could never conduct investigative hearings.”

    Gillard herself is inconsistent on this. If the presumption of innocence means there has been no change to Thomson’s status, why did she require him to step down, last year, as chairman of the House of Representatives economics committee? Or declare, a fortnight ago, that “a line had been crossed” and he could no longer remain a member of the Labor caucus? Or that Slipper must stand down as Speaker? By her actions, Gillard demonstrates that she accepts the currency of serious allegations does justify taking action against those accused, at least until the allegations are resolved.

    The only purpose for which she relies on the presumption of innocence is to silence the opposition and stifle legitimate debate.

    If the Gillard theory were to be accepted, there could have been no public discussion of the revelations of the Fitzgerald inquiry, in the time between the inquiry itself and the criminal trials of Joh Bjelke-Petersen and his ministers years later.

    There could have been no exposure of Watergate: Gillard is relying on a defence so implausible that not even Richard Nixon dared try it on (although Thomson did come very close to telling Laurie Oakes: “I am not a crook”).

    Of course, Gillard is happy to abandon the presumption of innocence when it suits her. Julian Assange was afforded no presumption of innocence when she declared him — wrongly — to have broken Australian law. Peter Hollingworth was driven from the office of governor-general by Labor politicians, eager to embarrass John Howard; there was no presumption of innocence for him, although his offence was merely that he had allegedly not done enough to prevent misconduct by others. The Australian Defence Force Academy’s Bruce Kafer — against whom no allegations were made — enjoyed no presumption of innocence from the Gillard government last year. There has been no whisper of the presumption of innocence in discussion of the Leveson inquiry.

    Howard and Peter Reith were vouchsafed no presumption of innocence by the Labor Party over the “children overboard” allegations, nor Alexander Downer over the oil-for-food scandal. Of course, those gentlemen didn’t invoke the presumption of innocence, because they were confident that they had done no wrong. People who know they have nothing to hide rarely, as the Americans would say, “take the fifth”. But in the dystopia that is the Gillard government, the presumption of innocence has become the refuge of the scoundrel.

  8. It happened when Thompson was a union official. So a code of conduct for union officials is the appropriate response.

    On the bright side, the longer this gets dragged out, the more tarnished Labor becomes.

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