The amazing tale of that letter from WA Liberal Senator Sue Knowles has opened the floodgates and this little yarn about her behaviour is really something special.

The document was prepared by the Liberal Party’s disciplinary committee to deal with Knowles. As Crikey readers may know, she was expelled from the Liberal party then reinstated after vigorous efforts particularly by Justice Minister Chris Ellison. His part in defending Knowles’ behaviour is referred to at the bottom of the article.

This part of the document relates to Knowles’ dealings with the Western Australian State Attorney General, Jim McGinty.

KNOWLES v THE ATTORNEY GENERAL

McGinty accused Knowles of lying and he did not hide behind parliamentary privilege to say so. He also accused Knowles of conspiring with the Labor Party to damage her own party.

First we begin with a statement originally given by McGinty for the Supreme Court action between Crichton-Browne and Knowles, previously reported on Crikey.

McGinty’s statement was used by the Liberal Party’s disciplinary committee when they expelled Knowles.

The statement relates to a telephone conversation between McGinty and Knowles while McGinty was Leader of the Opposition. The conversation was witnessed by a number of McGinty’s colleagues and staff including the present Premier, Geoff Gallop.

McGINTY: “I’ve just received information from a journalist that Crichton-Browne had recently been interviewed by Australian Federal Police in relation to threats he allegedly made to you, including death threats and that you were under police protection. I am planning to have these questions or questions based on this information, asked in the House. Is it true that Crichton-Browne has made death threats to you and that you are now under police protection as a result and that he’s been interviewed by the Australian Federal Police.”

KNOWLES: “Yes it is true.”

McGINTY: “I have prepared a draft question to be asked in the House at question time. Can I read it to you?”

KNOWLES: “Yes”

McGINTY: (McGinty then read the draft question.)

KNOWLES: “I think you should make some changes.”

KNOWLES: “If you make those changes then this will reflect very precisely the factual situation with which I am confronted.”

McGINTY: “Okay. Give me a second and I’ll just make those amendments. This is what I’ve got now.”

“What action does the Minister intend to take following the Federal Police interview conducted with the Premier’s political mentor Senator Noel Crichton-Browne in Perth last Friday in relation to very serious criminal allegations that Senator Crichton-Browne had made threatening and obscene telephone calls to a Federal Liberal politician in Perth and Canberra, including death threats?”

And

“Is it also true that the Liberal Member is now under police protection?” And three-

“If the Minister claims he is unaware of these serious matters, will he ensure that the allegations against Senator Crichton-Browne are immediately investigated by the police and appropriate action taken?”

“Are they all okay?”

KNOWLES: “That’s right. In fact he even threatened to kill my dog but I don’t want any reference being made to the dog because that would invariably make me the source of the information to you. If the questions are asked cold then they could have come from a variety of sources and not necessarily me.”

McGINTY: “Okay thanks.”

As a result of that conversation, McGinty had the Shadow Minister for Police, Mr John Kobelke ask the question in the Western Australian Legislative Assembly.

KNOWLES RESPONSE TO THE LIBERAL PARTY’S STATE EXECUTIVE

The Liberal Party has refused to release this explanation to other members of the Party or to the public.

“I did not provide any information or assistance to Mr Kobelke or Mr McGinty in relation to this question or any other matter. Upon receiving enquires from the media suggesting that the West Australian Labor Party was going to raise my contact with the police in the State Parliament my immediate response was to call Mr McGinty and implore him not to ask the question if that was in fact his intention.”

Knowles told her Liberal Party pre-selection committee that: “The first time I heard about it was 15 minutes before State Parliament question time when I was contacted by the 7.30 Report and did I have any comment. I then rang McGinty and begged that the questions not be asked.”

McGINTY’S REACTION TO KNOWLES DENIALS

McGinty responded outside the parliament without using parliamentary privilege to brand Knowles’ denials as lies, inviting her to sue him for defamation. She has conspicuously not done so.

“I wouldn’t have had the question asked if I didn’t get it from the horses mouth.” Mr McGinty said that he spoke to Senator Knowles on the phone shortly before question time on June 12, 1995 and told her that he had prepared a draft question claiming that death threats had been made by Mr Court’s mentor (Senator Crichton-Browne) against another Liberal Senator.”

— (‘West Australian’ Newspaper 24 October 1998).”

Mr McGinty told the ‘West Australian’ that he was not prepared to have the matter raised in the parliament by Labor MLA John Kobelke without verifying the facts. “She confirmed to me the essential accuracy of the thrust of the question but she modified part of it by suggesting different wording to make it more accurate” he said.

“Reference to a death threat against her dog was removed at her request because that could have identified her as the source of the information. There was never any suggestion that she did not want me to ask the question.”

“We proceeded to ask the question thinking that you wouldn’t have a Liberal Senator on the phone lying to you. Several Labor MPs [including Premier Gallop] and staffers were present during the phone call. It was incredible that Senator Knowles now denied the conversation. She has got herself into the manure by telling us lies and now she is compounding that,” he said.

“Some Liberals seem to be able to get away with not telling the truth.”

— (‘West Australian’ Newspaper 24 October 1998)

“I spoke to Sue Knowles on the telephone. She confirmed information that we had been given that Noel Crichton-Browne had threatened her. I told her that we were thinking of asking a question in the Parliament, but we would not do so unless we had some greater confirmation of the content. She went through, word for word, the question that was proposed to be asked.”

— (ABC AM Radio Program 28 October 1998).

When Knowles was confronted by the media with McGinty’s accusation of her lying, she refused to respond.

Mr Kobelke, the member who asked the question based on Knowles lies, subsequently apologised in this personal explanation to the parliament.

“I wish to put the record straight in regard to a serious matter I raised by way of a question without notice. Yesterday, Liberal Senator Knowles issued a statement as part of a settlement with former Liberal Noel Crichton-Browne. In this statement Sue Knowles unreservedly withdrew and retracted her allegation that Noel Crichton-Browne made threats to her physical safety by telephone. Her statement goes on to apologise to him for any damage, distress or embarrassment caused. I and other Members of parliament and the Press were aware of such allegations by Senator Knowles.”

“My question in this House raised the allegation by Senator Knowles that the then Senator Crichton-Browne had made life threatening and obscene telephone calls to her. My question was not based on scuttlebutt. The question was based on a telephone conversation with Senator Knowles who personally confirmed her allegations against Mr Crichton-Browne. In fact, Senator Knowles when pressed to assure us that the draft question was fully accurate, suggested corrections to the wording of the question for the purpose of accuracy. It was never my intention to further false accusations against Mr Crichton-Browne, but to bring attention to a situation which required resolution. With the issuing of the withdrawal and apology by Senator Knowles, it appears that the veracity of these serious allegations has now been determined. I regret that Mr Crichton-Browne’s reputation was impugned by these allegations which have now been shown to be false.”

Justice Minister Ellison defends his mate Knowles

The Minister for Justice and colleague of Senator Knowles, Chris Ellison, told the Western Australian Liberal Party Executive that McGinty could not and should not be believed. He pleaded that Knowles implausible account of the matter be accepted as true.

Here we have a Liberal parliamentarian colluding and conspiring with the Labor Party to damage her own Party and Ellison defends her. No wonder the WA Liberal State government got the greatest flogging in its history at the last election and Howard has openly condemned the WA federal members for the party’s terrible showing at the federal election.

Peter Fray

Fetch your first 12 weeks for $12

Here at Crikey, we saw a mighty surge in subscribers throughout 2020. Your support has been nothing short of amazing — we couldn’t have got through this year like no other without you, our readers.

If you haven’t joined us yet, fetch your first 12 weeks for $12 and start 2021 with the journalism you need to navigate whatever lies ahead.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW