I just read the story titled “O’Farrell in shooters’ sights for putting them on a leash ” in the Sydney Morning Herald and it could have implications for disgraced Greg Pearce in NSW. It is strictly political and not directly related to Workers Compensation. However, I just thought you might be interested in what is coming – a permanent committee looking at senior ministers in the O Farrell government, this could be a start!
A permanent committee looking at senior ministers in the O Farrell government, this could be a start
O’Farrell in shooters’ sights for putting them on a leash
Published: September 14, 2013 – 3:00AM
The announcement of the ”Goolding inquiry” sends shivers down the spines of MPs, staff and public servants due to the dangerous breadth of its terms of reference. Everyone knows the worst type of inquiry is the one whose outcome you can’t predict. In this one, everyone was a potential witness – and it could go anywhere.
NSW politics is about to experience its own Goolding inquiry moment.
While not focused on leaking between the media and politicians, its terms of reference are likely to have senior members of the O’Farrell government swearing like Malcolm Tucker, the BBC series’ notoriously foul-mouthed political fixer.
The Inquiry into Ministerial Propriety in NSW is an opportunistic stroke of political genius.
The upper house committee conducting it, the distinctively Orwellian-sounding Legislative Council select committee on ministerial propriety in NSW, was established by Labor’s Luke Foley after cabinet ministers Pru Goward, Mike Baird and (now ex-minister) Greg Pearce ran into trouble.
The inquiry’s terms of reference are about as broad as possible. They do not name a single minister or portfolio in favour of allowing probing of the issue of ”ministerial responsibility to Parliament, including the doctrine of individual ministerial responsibility”.
Further, it will investigate ”measures to reduce potential conflicts of interest between a minister’s public duties, private interests and membership of a political party, particularly in relation to financial and commercial activities”.
Even better for the opposition (and far worse for the government) as a select committee it is permanent. Previously this type of grilling occurred only once a year, during budget estimates hearings often controlled by the government.
The establishment of the select committee means in practical terms, any aspect of ”ministerial propriety” in NSW just became fair game, at any time.
How did Foley manage it? With the support of MPs from the Shooters and Fishers Party, who appear hell-bent on revenge over Barry O’Farrell’s decision to dud them on the issue of hunting in national parks.
Accordingly, Shooters and Fishers MP Robert Borsak has been appointed chairman of the committee, while his colleague Robert Brown is also a member.
There are government members – Liberal Peter Phelps and the Nationals’ Trevor Khan.
But Borsak’s position as chairman will ensure any attempts by them to run interference during questioning should be kept well in check.
Under a resolution decided this week first issue under the blowtorch will be whether Goward, who is Community Services Minister, lied to Parliament about caseworker numbers for at-risk children.
Goward has been under fire during question time on the issue, but nothing that would compare with a virtually uninterrupted grilling for several hours and the possibility of staff and public servants being called as well.
Also due for examination is the issue of Treasurer Baird’s appointments to the boards of state-owned corporations and former finance minister Pearce’s relationship with lobbyists.
A broad inquiry into the relationship between ministers and Liberal Party lobbyists Michael Photios and Joe Tannous – both of whom sit on the NSW Liberal state executive – is also on the cards. After that, who knows?
The great irony, of course, is that just such a select committee would have been perhaps even more useful under the former Labor government. The evidence for this is there for all to see: the string of former ministers who have fronted the Independent Commission Against Corruption in recent years, including the corrupt Eddie Obeid and Ian Macdonald.
The reason it wasn’t established is straightforward: Labor’s relatively effective management of the Shooters and Fishers Party in the upper house.
Then, like now, the Shooters shared the balance of power with Fred Nile’s Christian Democratic Party. Under Labor its big wins were the introduction of recreational hunting in state forests and establishment of the taxpayer-funded Game Council NSW to promote and run it.
The Shooters pushed for a lot more – including hunting in national parks, private game reserves and shooting as a school sport – but Labor resisted.
At the change of government, O’Farrell promised them the key win of national parks to secure passage of his electricity privatisation legislation.
But then he reneged on what the Shooters and Fishers clearly believed were key aspects of the deal by stipulating tight supervision of all hunting activity in national parks by rangers. He also abolished the Game Council – a hitherto fertile recruiting ground for the sport and therefore the shooters party.
As the inquiry prepares to hear evidence from its first witnesses, the Shooters and Fishers Party’s mood will not have improved at all after the federal election where it failed to win any Senate seats.
No doubt this will in part be blamed, in NSW at least, on the collapse of the national parks deal, which the party was talking up during its recruitment drive before the federal poll.
The permanence of the select committee and therefore its ability to conduct inquiries at all depends entirely on support for its existence from the Shooters and Fishers Party.
Viewed this way it is about the best piece of political leverage that could be hoped for: a virtual star chamber capable of subjecting the most senior ministers to potentially embarrassing public cross-examinations.
Beyond simple revenge, the endgame, presumably, is to apply enough pressure to force the government to give a little on national parks. Either that or cut a significant deal elsewhere to make up for the insult.
Until that happens – or the composition of the upper house changes significantly at the 2015 election – O’Farrell and his ministers look set to be in for quite a ride.
Fans of The Thick of It will know that Peter Capaldi, the actor who played Malcolm Tucker, has moved on to play the latest incarnation of Doctor Who.
O’Farrell may be wishing he could do the same thing, to jump back in time to fix what has turned out to be a pretty big mistake.
and posted by co-author “Rescape”.
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