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Independently Minded

In recent days, much has been made of my role as an Independent Member of Parliament. Several politicians, journalists and others have spread misinformation about what I have said and done. There are rumours, innuendo and downright lies being peddled. I take this opportunity to set the record straight. I believe you, my constituents, deserve to know what’s going on.

The current Liberal-National Government operates with a slim majority; the numbers are tight and my vote counts. Now, more than ever, it is important for Independent MPs to scrutinise every piece of legislation. I take this job very seriously.

Independent MPs in WA have one additional staff member allocated to them to assist in the work of scrutinising legislation. The crux of the matter is that I am seeking the same staff allocation. I see this as an issue of equity and fairness – all Independent MPs should be resourced equally, regardless of how they choose to vote.

So what actually happened that’s created this furore? I wrote to the Premier five months ago seeking an extra staff member. I didn’t hear back. I met with the Premier on 14 October to discuss it. My understanding of our conversation was that I would get the staff member if I agreed to the following two conditions that are commonly applied to Independents:

The first was that I would not block supply – I agreed to this because I abide by an unwritten convention of MPs to support the State Budget so that our essential services like hospitals and
schools remain funded, so that our public servants get paid.

The second was that I would not support a no-confidence motion against the whole of government. This does not mean that I cannot vote against individual ministers – it means that I cannot vote to bring down the whole Government. That I agreed to, as I do not see it as my job to bring down a democratically elected government – this is the role of the voters if necessary.

I understand the need for Government, whether it be the Liberals or Labor in power, to be able to continue to operate with stability. Remember that Prime Minister Gillard recently required these conditions from Federal Independents in the interests of stable governance and no one has threatened her with imprisonment!

I remain free to vote independently on legislation just as I have always done. Nothing has changed. I will continue to vote on the merits of each piece of legislation. I will continue to vote against ministers who need to be brought to account.

There’s been much made about what I said and what the Premier said during our meeting. When people have a conversation, it is possible there are different perceptions of what took place in that conversation – indeed this is why people pay lawyers big money to write up written agreements so that everyone is clear about what the agreement is.

The Premier has a different perception to me. It is possible for two people to walk out of a meeting with two different understandings of what took place – we are all humans and none of us is perfect. This particular meeting was complicated by votes being called, so that the meeting was interrupted. It looks like a misunderstanding has taken place. As I said in Parliament this week, it is within the realms of possibility that I misunderstood the agreement and I apologised to the Premier if this happened.

The Opposition has played politics with this, suggesting I have committed a crime (carrying 7 years imprisonment penalty) and triggering a Corruption and Crime Commission (CCC) Inquiry. Even former Mayor Peter Tagliaferri jumped on the media bandwagon at its height, spreading misinformation by saying on ABC radio I had formed an alliance with the Government. None of this is true, but as we all know, when mud is flung, some invariably sticks.

On the issue of corruption, let’s get things in perspective. Two years ago, we witnessed the most cynical and expensive attempt to buy votes in WA history- when the Labor Party offered $1 billion to secure the votes of Brendan Grylls and the National Party – now that is an offer that the CCC should investigate!

Thankfully the tide is starting to turn as people become aware of what actually happened. Commentator Tom Percy QC said on 6PR on 11 November that this is “an absolute beat up”. He says that there’s nothing wrong with this arrangement and that there is absolutely no reason for the CCC to get involved.

I jealously guard my independence. Claims have been made that I’m a Liberal in disguise. The facts tell a different story. My voting record is unequivocal. In the months since becoming an Independent MP, on contested votes my voting record stands at 90% with the Labor Opposition and 10% with the Government. At times I have stood as the lone voice on issues against both parties. I voted against Labor and Liberal on the proposed stop and search laws and against them again, when the Cockburn Cement licence was voted on.

Fremantle people deserve an MP who is fairly resourced, just as Janet Woollard’s constituents have in neighbouring Alfred Cove. An extra staff member would go through the State legislation with a fine tooth comb, allowing me to spend more time working with Fremantle people.

This latest drama is the proverbial storm in a teacup. Unfortunately it’s going to cost all of us taxpayers thousands and thousands of dollars, now that Mr Ripper has overplayed his hand by referring it to the CCC.

The bottom line is that the Cabinet will make the decision on whether to allocate an extra staff member to me. It is an accountable and formal process of Government that is yet to take place. Whether or not I get the staff member remains to be seen. In the meantime, I will continue to do my job, just as I always have done, representing you and your interests in the State Parliament.

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