Premier to go down in history for wrong reasons

ANNASTACIA Palaszczuk is unlikely to face criminal sanctions after becoming the first Queensland Premier to be found guilty of contempt in the history of Parliament's Ethics Committee.

Ms Palaszczuk yesterday "unreservedly" apologised to the House after she was found to have "improperly interfered with the free performance" of Queensland's Katter Party MPs when she withdrew their extra resources after they refused her demand to denounce then senator Fraser Anning over his contentious "final solution" speech.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk. Photo: AAP Image/Dan Peled
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk. Photo: AAP Image/Dan Peled

The finding capped off a bruising day for the Premier, with unions protesting outside the House yesterday over her anti-protest laws and earlier having to issue another apology to an Opposition frontbencher wrongly accused of wasting taxpayer funds on a junket.

But there may be a silver lining, with Labor and the LNP yesterday voting to accept the Ethics Committee's recommendation that she apologise and that it be accepted by Parliament as the appropriate and final penalty.

The Parliament of Queensland Act states a person is not liable to be punished twice for the same conduct. The Government was last night confident that would spell the end of the matter.

KAP's Shane Knuth, Robbie Katter and Nick Dametto. Photo: Tara Croser.
KAP's Shane Knuth, Robbie Katter and Nick Dametto. Photo: Tara Croser.

Katter's Australian Party State Leader Robbie Katter, however, said he would still be seeking legal advice as to whether he could ask the Director of Public Prosecutions to consider criminal proceedings.

"The Speaker explicitly excluded Bribery from the Ethics Committee's inquiry," Mr Katter said.

"From KAP's point of view, this removes the application of section 47 of the Parliament of Queensland Act would apply in this situation.

"This issue goes to the heart of our democratic and parliamentary institutions," he said.

"It's in everyone's interests, including the Government's, to have the matter considered by a body that does not have the same conflict of interest as the Ethics Committee."

The Ethics Committee's finding comes more than 12 months after Speaker Curtis Pitt first asked it to investigate the Premier. That referral came after Crime and Corruption Commission chair Alan MacSporran revealed he believed there was a "prima facie" case that the Premier may have broken the law but argued it was not in the public interest to pursue her, handballing the responsibility to the House.

The Ethics Committee found that while the Premier had the right to alter the KAP's resources, she "fell into error" when she linked the review of the party's staffing to their failure to denounce Senator Anning.

The CCC did not escape unscathed yesterday with the committee labelling its handling of the initial investigation "problematic".

"It was not fair to the Premier to essentially declare there was prima facie evidence of the commission of a crime but that a prosecutorial discretion would be exercised not to proceed," the committee's report stated.

"The CCC also created an expectation that a contempt had been committed, when that was a matter for this committee to examine and ultimately a matter for the Legislative Assembly to determine."

It has asked Parliament's Crime and Corruption Committee - which oversees the operations of the CCC - to look into the watchdog's actions.

The Government will also be stripped of the power to decide crossbench resources into the future as a result of the saga. Instead, that responsibility will be handed to the Queensland independent Remuneration Tribunal.

CCC Chair Alan MacSporran. Photo: Annette Dew
CCC Chair Alan MacSporran. Photo: Annette Dew

In a letter to the committee tabled alongside its report, Ms Palaszczuk said she was unaware that her actions could constitute a contempt.

"My motivation was not to undermine any parliamentary processes; rather it was to denounce comments made by former Senator Anning about the 'final solution' - comments which I described at the time as 'abhorrent and counter to the most basic human rights, including equality and freedom from discrimination," she wrote.

"My conduct did not involve any element of dishonesty."

She has also committed to handing over responsibility for crossbench resourcing to the Queensland Independent Remuneration Tribunal.

The committee accepted her explanation as "mitigating" circumstances, finding the apology was punishment enough.

Mr Katter said he accepted the Premier's apology "on a personal level" but slammed her Cabinet colleagues for attacking the KAP during "offensive" debate that ensued after the apology was delivered as Minister after Minister rose to defend her actions.

He also took aim at the LNP for encouraging the Premier to strip the minor party of its resources in the first place.