December 09, 2005 | Jeff Wall

Defending the Supremacy of Parliament

It has long been my belief that one of the duties of the Opposition is to defend the supremacy of the Parliament in our system of Government.
That is why the statement yesterday by Lawrence Springborg that the former Health Minister, Gordon Nuttall, should be charged before the law courts with an offence arising from his evidence to the Estimates Committee is so profoundly wrong and disappointing.
I know of no precedent in the Westminster system for the course of action he has embraced, but I know of any number of precedents for Parliament itself dealing with Members who breach its privilege, by deliberately misleading the House, or by conduct unbecoming of a Member – even when that conduct is unrelated to his Parliamentary office.
The most obvious is that of the Right Honourable John Profumo, CBE, who was forced to resign as Minister for War in the Harold Macmillan Government because he lied to the House over his infamous relationship with Christine Keeler.
(It is interesting that John Profumo, 88, has totally rehabilitated himself through 40 years of outstanding community service, and was awarded the CBE for his community work – and was one of the comparatively select guests at Lady Thatcher’s 80th birthday party. The Blair’s made it, Michael Heseltine didn’t).
But back to the issue at hand. In 1969, the NSW Legislative Council dismissed from Parliament a Country Party MLC, Alexander Ewan Armstrong, after it was claimed he had engaged in the procuring of false evidence in relation to divorce proceedings he was involved in.
Even though the matter was unrelated to the performance of his Parliamentary duties, the House resolved that he had disgraced his Office, and he was unceremoniously expelled as a result. At the time NSW had a Liberal-Country Party Government but that made no difference as there was bi-partisan support for his expulsion.
Interestingly, Armstrong challenged his expulsion before the Courts, and the right of the House to expel him was upheld by the NSW Court of Appeal.
But there are any number of other instances where Parliaments following the Westminster model have exercised the right to sit in judgement on a Member who has deliberately misled the House, or engaged in illegal or improper behaviour.
The role of the Opposition under the Westminster system is to guard against intrusion by the Executive, and even by entities such as Crime and Misconduct Commissions, into the sovereign role of the Parliament.
Some oppositions discharge this responsibility better than others.
One would think that, in a unicameral legislature, let alone one where the Government’s majority is overwhelming, the Opposition would be more vigilant and vigorous than ever in protecting the sovereignty of Parliament.
That sovereignty is being eroded, in many jurisdictions, by bodies such as the CMC, and New South Wales’s ICAC, either intentionally or not.
The proper place for the CMC Report in relation to Gordon Nuttall to be debated, and determined, is in the Parliament of Queensland. The Parliament has adequate powers to impose a range of penalties if it elects to do so – ranging from a reprimand to expulsion.
The State Liberal Leader has rightly taken a more cautious approach than his Coalition “partner”.
He is wise to do so. The Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition would be wise to follow him.
The supremacy of Parliament needs to be guarded carefully. Over the years it has been eroded by Governments of all persuasions.
This is an occasion to re-assert that supremacy, and for the House alone to judge the conduct of the Honourable Member for Sandgate.

Posted by Jeff Wall at 12:10 pm | Comments (5) |
Filed under: Australian Politics


  1. Mr Wall may well be right in his conclusion but his arguement is based on a misguided premis, that is that the members of the Qld ALP will deal with and judge the issue independantly and with integrity. I predict, at 2.50 pm as Parliament has begun to argue this motion, that the Qld ALP members of Parliament will vote as lemmings.
    This is a serious allegation of a Minister of the Crown lying to a duly constituted Parliamentary Committee. The Leader of the Opposition is entirely correct in his stand that the Parliament take the firmest action against the fromer Minister. Indeed, the member for Sandagate should have done the truly honourable thing and resigned from parliament altogether.

    Comment by Russell Biddle — December 9, 2005 @ 2:54 pm

  2. I believe that Jeff is right in his view, but to use his example from the 1969 NSW Legislative Council, I find it hard to believe that the same thing would happen now (curiously this is partly because I believe back then the Legislative Council in NSW was appointed rather than elected, so (a) other MPs wouldn’t have thought “it is a matter for the voters” and (b) because the government could just cut him loose and replace him with one of their own anyway.
    I don’t want to sound too purist, the absolute rigidity of the party system makes the notion of ‘leaving it to parliament’ a bit problematic in practice.
    Having said all that, on what I know of the case. I still think Jeff is right. Mr Nuttall has had to resign his Ministry (and thus from the Executive) – I think this is punishment enough. His role as an MP is another matter and something for his pre-selectors and electorate to determine.

    Comment by Andrew Bartlett — December 9, 2005 @ 7:30 pm

  3. I’m waiting for an independent body to be setup in canberra, and the same penalties that those hypocrites whom call for nutalls head, to be applied to the federal liberal party.
    Unlikely indeed…

    Comment by alphacoward — December 11, 2005 @ 7:12 pm

  4. Springborg does nothing but whinge, carp, complain and belly-ache.
    He is using this Nuttall problem for political purposes only, I doubt if he gives a stuff for the electorate.
    “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone”
    Lawrence has never lied to Parliament?? – Oh yes!
    His deputy ‘the look and act like Russel Hinze’ bloke Seeny lied to Parliament and admitted to it after he attacked the Premier’s brother some time back.
    What did Lawrence say at the time? did he castigate his deputy as he has the former health Minister??
    Politicians are seen by the electorate as lying, self seeking self serving hypocrites and this action will do nothing to change these perceptions unfortunately.
    Of course Lawrence is an honest, decent, truthful server of the Queensland people – of course! Regards, R. Patterson

    Comment by R. Patterson — December 12, 2005 @ 3:00 pm

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