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Parliamentary Privilege’s Greatest Hits

It seems the whole world knew British soccer star Ryan Giggs was allegedly having an affair with former Big Brother contestant Imogen Thomas, as the news went viral on Twitter, despite an injunction banning the rumours from being published by the media. But this was blown out the water when UK MP John Hemming outed Giggs under the cover of parliamentary privilege.

Of course, Hemming outed Giggs very deliberately as part of his ongoing protest against the use of super-injunctions in the UK (English court orders that prevent publication of unwelcome stories and prohibit journalists from even reporting that a ban is in place), but judiciously employing parliamentary privilege to campaign on an issue or in some cases, go enemies, isn’t limited to British politicians. In fact, their colonial cousins in Australia have a long history of using parliamentary privilege to say whatever they desire.

Earlier this month Victorian Liberal Senator Julian McGauran claimed that an expert witness used in the trial of Darcy Freedman should be sacked.

Enter Professor Burrows who used his eminent position with an intellectual concoction to give an excuse for such a merciless act. Darcy deserved better than that. Professor Burrows is a gun for hire.”

Darcy Freedman was thrown over Melbourne’s West Gate Bridge in early 2009 by her father Arthur Freedman, who was later found guilty of murder. His defence team relied heavily upon the testimony of Professor Graham Burrows, from the University of Melbourne. Professor Burrows is a psychiatrist with more than 40 years’ experience and who found Freedman to be mentally ill. His evidence sat in direct opposition to five expert peers.

Senator McGauran called for his employer — the University of Melbourne to remove him and questioned his credibility. But fellow parliamentarians and other expert witnesses have slammed  Senator McGauran for behaving as a juror and judge instead of a parliamentarian.

Crikey took a trip down memory lane via Hansard for a list of greatest parliamentary privilege hits:

Mark Latham

The former Opposition Leader called The Australian’s Janet Albrechtsen a “skanky ho” in a parliamentary sitting.

They [Liberal Party] are as bad as Janet Albrechtsen, a skanky ho who will die in a ditch to defend the Liberal Party. It is her and the other dancing bears who are most likely to defend these dirty deals, but I think as time passes — and we see this day by day — it is indefensible.”

He writes in his memoir Latham Diaries, “Last night, for instance, Jo Fox, one of Carmen Lawrence’s advisers, issued a challenge: to describe Albrechtsen, so heavily loathed by Labor femocrats, as a skanky-ho who must die.

I didn’t understand what ‘skanky-ho’ meant; it sounded like more American rap rubbish to me. But I can’t say no to a challenge.”

Albrechtsen told the now-defunct Sunday on Channel Nine, “To be honest I didn’t even know what the term meant so I had to after I read it in Hansard I actually did a Google search … I learnt that it meant smelly whore and I was just horrified.”

The statement is hardly surprising, coming from the man who once called John Howard and the Coalition “a conga line of suckholes” for their support of the war in Iraq. Latham went on to use this line as the title of his seventh book.

Senator Bill Heffernan

Senator Bill Heffernan wrongly accused the first openly gay High Court judge, Michael Kirby, of using his Commonwealth vehicle to pick up rent boys in Sydney.

I am informed New South Wales police can confirm these activities. I also have in my possession Comcar driver records which document and record this same judge using this taxpayer-funded service on a regular basis to pick up from an address known to the police in Clapton Place — adjacent to Kings Cross — a young male and accompany him to the judge’s home address.”

An inquiry into the allegations found them to be baseless and resulted in Senator Heffernan having to retract his claims, apologise and step down from his position as parliamentary secretary.

Kirby refused to hold any grudges and accepted Heffernan’s apology. “I accept Senator Heffernan’s apology and reach out my hand in a spirit of reconciliation. I hope that my ordeal will show the wrongs that hate of homos-xuals can lead to.”

Deirdre Grusovin

Even beyond the confines of Canberra, state politicians have also used parliamentary privilege to speak out. NSW Labor MP Deirdre Grusovin read a statutory declaration in Parliament, which implied lawyer John Marsden to be a p-edophile.

The statutory declaration sworn by Colin John Fisk states:
I … named a number of prominent people I knew to be pederasts, including the solicitor John Marsden … and other leading members of the community. I told the IPSU that Marsden had helped me establish a disco for young people in the Campbelltown area.”

Marsden later produced a subsequent statutory declaration that proved Fisk’s comments to be false, as he made them while under psychiatric care. Grusovin was forced to resign from her frontbench post after it was clear she could no longer prove her allegations.

Franca Arena
Grusovin’s colleague named retired NSW Supreme Court judge David Yeldham as a potential p-edophile under the protection of parliamentary privilege.

What about former Supreme Court Judge David Albert Yeldham? Was he or was he not interviewed? I am not insinuating anything about the character of the former judge by naming him; I am saying only that this is but one example of a person who appears to have received preferential treatment when, for instance, Anglican and Catholic bishops were not.”

The following month, the former judge sadly committed suicide by gassing himself in his family car. Arena later resigned from the Labor Party and continued to serve as an independent MP until 1999, when she failed to get re-elected.

Mark Brindal

The former South Australian Liberal MP made the serious criminal accusation that Ralph Graham was a p-edophile, who was the carer of his former gay partner.

I believe Ralph Graham to be a p-edophile. I believe Ralph Graham to have predated at least two of the three boys that he raised, and I believe Ralph Graham to have caused this problem and to have run away and hidden from what I believe is his criminal activity.

The gossip in the gay community certainly confirms my statement. I am not saying I know. I am saying I concerned.”

It was his swansong after resigning as member of Unley in SA, after the married father of four admitted to having an affair with a 24-year-old man.

*CRIKEY: Have we forgotten someone? Send other classics examples of politicians using privilege to go enemies to boss@crikey.com.au with “parly priv” in the subject line and we’ll update the list.

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