Did then Queensland Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney, Treasurer Tim Nicholls and Leader of the House Ray Stevens break the law allegedly trying to bully LNP MPs to vote their way? Barrister Alex McKean comments.
The three alleged LNP bullies: Jeff Seeney, Shakin' Ray Stevens and Tim Nicholls.
An important piece of information was tossed up in the maelstrom of the Queensland election, which appears to have been all but ignored.
Granted, the drubbing administered to the LNP, less than three years after they swept to power with an unprecedented majority – and the uncertainty about who will actually get to form government – have been sufficient reasons for this detail to be overlooked.
The nature of the information and its source may, however, mean it has the potential to impact strongly upon the constitution of the next Queensland government.
It was none other than broadcaster Alan Jones, who seems to have come north in the lead up to the poll with the express purpose of creating employment for the LNP’s eager team of defamation lawyers, who turned up this important skerrick.
On 30 January 2015, Mr Jones interviewed Ray Hopper MP, leader of Katter's Australia Party (KAP) in Queensland. In that interview, Mr Hopper described then Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney and Treasurer Tim Nicholls as bullies.
Mr Hopper said he had seen Mr Seeney "stand over" then LNP MP Shane Knuth – the other surviving KAP MP after the weekend's election – and say:
"You will not be pre-selected if you don’t vote with us tonight."
Mr Hopper added that Mr Nicholls had come and sat next to him in the Parliament, when Mr Nicholls was intending to support Ms Fiona Simpson and not back the plan for Campbell Newman to be parachuted in to lead the LNP. Mr Hopper said Mr Nicholls threatened him on that occasion, saying
"I will come and get you."
Mr Hopper said such conduct was a ‘jailable offence’, which is correct. Section 60(1)(b) of the Criminal Code provides that a person who attempts, directly or indirectly, by threats or intimidation of any kind, to influence a member of the legislative assembly in any vote, is guilty of a crime and liable to imprisonment for 7 years.
This is not the first allegation of bullying which has been leveled at members of the Newman Government.
In a recent interview, Peter Wellington MP, the respected Independent representing Nicklin on the Sunshine Coast, said he would not be prepared to work with Jeff Seeney, who resigned as deputy premier after the election. Mr Wellington cited Mr Seeney’s "style", which he described as "non-negotiable".
Mr Rob Katter MP, the KAP member for Mt Isa said the LNP had treated him and fellow Shane Knuth "despicably" in the Parliament and agreed with Mr Wellington that the two KAP members would not be able to deal with the old LNP leadership team.
In November 2012, there was a series of defections from the LNP, with Ray Hopper leaving the party to join KAP and Carl Judge joining the Palmer United Party. At the heart of these ructions was a decision to remove Dr Alex Douglas from the chairmanship of two parliamentary committees.
On that occasion, Treasurer Nicholls said of Mr Hopper:
"There is a reason why, in Dante’s inferno, the lowest circle of hell is reserved for traitors."
When Mr Nicholls continued to abuse Mr Hopper, Mr Wellington moved that he be no longer heard. Mr Seeney then moved to silence Mr Wellington.
A week later, Dr Alex Douglas himself left the LNP for the PUP. His wife told ABC radio that Dr Douglas had received a telephone call about his removal from the Committees from the LNP leader of the house, Mr Ray Stevens MP and
"He got off the phone and he was white."
On 12 January 2015, Annastacia Palaszczuk emphatically ruled out forming a minority government. On the same day Campbell Newman ruled out negotiating with independents and the KAP, saying the LNP would rather be in opposition than form a minority government.
While any sensible person does not take such promises seriously, the LNP stands out as having spent considerable resources in a fear campaign which painted the idea of a minority government as an apocalyptic outcome for the State.
Of course, Premier Newman would have been aware for weeks, if not months, before the poll that any promises he made in the campaign were worthless, his fate in Ashgrove being sealed.
While a handful of seats still hang in the balance, negotiations are already under way between each of the major parties, Mr Wellington and KAP. The LNP would seemingly only have a chance of wooing support if the crossbenchers were afflicted with some form of variation on the Stockholm syndrome.
It may be that the LNP is now experiencing the fundamental truism that you meet the same people on the way down as you met on the way up and they will remember how you treated them.
If the ALP gains the ascendancy, one simple, cheap and effective reform which could improve the quality of our democracy would be the reintroduction of television coverage to Parliament.
Professor Scott Prasser of the Australian Catholic University told ABC 7.30 the Parliament should be more open and accessible, adding it was important to have independent camera operators covering the chamber so the public would have access to
"... the shots that sometimes the government doesn’t want to see."
It is possible some of the bullying allegedly carried out by the likes of Mr Nicholls and Mr Seeney could have been curtailed if the chamber were under surveillance by cameras not under the control of the government of the day.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License