This week has seen ICAC hold public
hearings into allegations that Peter Breen, a crossbencher in the
Legislative Council, had misused his Parliamentary entitlements by
claiming a Sydney Allowance when he was ostensibly in Lismore, and
misused his Parliamentary staffers by having them work on a few of his
pet projects.

Breen was elected at the infamous 1999
election for Losers Lounge, with its “tablecloth” ballot paper where 81
groups vied for votes, including a series of micro parties who thought
they would try their hand at winning a Parliamentary salary and, with
an 8 year term, a guaranteed Parliamentary pension. Breen’s “Reform the
Legal System” party drew the first position on the ballot paper, and a
preference deal which saw Breen secure the surplus ballots for One
Nation after David Oldfield was elected. His campaign for law reform
was largely driven from his experience as a solicitor in a class action
involving many of the victims of the Homefund scheme, when the lender
of last resort turned its toes up after some ill fated forays into the
foreign currency markets.

When Malcolm Jones, who was elected at
the same election as Breen to represent the Outdoor Recreation Party,
looked to be emulating his 1999 success by setting up new micro parties
to contest the 2003 election, Breen and Green’s MLC, Lee Rhiannon, blew
the whistle – making speeches in the Lounge, and referring their
allegations to the ICAC. They scored a direct hit when the ICAC found
Jones had engaged in corrupt conduct by wrongfully claiming the Sydney
Allowance, misusing his staff and allowing uteloads of stationery to
make its way out of the Parliamentary loading dock.

Anyone familiar with Nick Sherry’s
fall over his entitlement claims in 1997 would have learnt one basic
lesson: that the Gentlemen’s Rules of politics would have you ignore
any dodgy claims by your opponents for fear that they’ll hit back with
their own allegations against you. This Parliamentary version of
Mutually Assured Destruction sees the major parties keep very quiet
about these sorts of things. It shouldn’t be a surprise then that the
“victims” of blowback in the arena of dodgy allowance claims were micro
party members.

In July last year, an anonymous
scandal sheet was circulated among the Press Gallery, alleging in
effect that Breen was in no position to cast aspersions against Jones,
because he had his own skeletons in the closet. The allegations before
ICAC now is that Breen had claimed the Sydney Allowance since 1999 by
declaring that he was living in Lismore, but spent only 120 days out of
a possible 1156 at the Lismore address. All up, ICAC is looking at $130
000 in allowances that they allege were wrongfully obtained by Breen.
If true, what on earth was Breen thinking when accusing Jones of
misusing his entitlements? That Jones wouldn’t give Breen’s closet a
good shake on his way out? Anybody that stupid shouldn’t be allowed out
of the house on their own, let alone take up a political career.

Ever since ICAC showed their hand by
raiding his Parliament House office in October last year, Breen has
gone on the front foot to denigrate ICAC’s investigation even before it
had really got underway. He had the Parliamentary Privileges Committee
rule against the search and seizure of his hard drive. He made out that
ICAC was only interested in two books that he had updated whilst an MP,
which he supposedly had his staff work on in addition to their
Parliamentary duties. He proposed to take MPs out of ICAC’s purview by
having an in house Parliamentary Standards Commissioner. He succeeded
in winning some support from the Government, with Commerce Minister
John Della Bosca telling the Upper House by way on interjection that he
had the backing of the Government.

But this week Government Members were
reconsidering the wisdom of this vocal backing for Breen, shocked at
the extent of the allowances that have been alleged to have been
misused. If Breen is found by ICAC to have acted corruptly he won’t
quit Parliament without a struggle. The Government won’t relish having
to hold Breen to the same standard they applied to Malcolm Jones; Breen
is well regarded, personable and a known quantity. Removing Breen means
the Reform the Legal System Party would nominate his successor: does
Breen get his micro party to nominate him again, or does he pass the
gauntlet to an unknown?

In God We Trust

Evidence before the ICAC hearings
revealed that Breen’s ostensible Lismore landlady had a connection with
Breen through a Christian group called the Angelus Association. The
Association is basically a network of Christians who offer prayers for
those in need. The Angelus Association website (http://www.prayforus.com.au/) shows prayers for a variety of causes ranging from illnesses to dogs with cancer to financial hardship.

Back in January Breen sought divine assistance in his battle with ICAC asking the network to pray for:

Peter Breen in his deliberations with the ICAC, and for his solicitor, John Marsden.

Prayer from Peter Breen from Lismore, Australia on Thursday January 08, 2004

His plea touched the heart of a Illinois woman who prayed for:


WITH PETER BREEN – For your deliberations and your solicitor. Jesus,
for Peter we claim Luke 21:15. We ask the gift of wisdom for his
solicitor.


For you heathens out there, this is what Luke 21:15 has to say:


For I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay nor resist.


What divine intercession might do for John Marsden’s mouth and wisdom I shudder to think.

If Breen checked out Luke 21:15, he wouldn’t have been at all comforted by the very next passage:


And ye shall be betrayed both by parents, and brethren, and
kinsfolks, and friends; and [some] of you shall they cause to be put to
death.

Pass the Junket

Being winter, the thoughts of some MPs
turns to study opportunities in warmer climes. The NSW Parliament is up
until 31 August, meaning abundant opportunities to pack the bags and
see what our friends in the Northern Hemisphere have to teach us.

One MP has been quite open about his
winter plans. At the end of June Paul Gibson, Member for Blacktown and
Chairman of the road safety committee, Staysafe, told the Legislative
Assembly that he was off to Europe. Globalisation, Gibbo told the
house, meant that Australian cars were now being made in Detroit,
Tokyo, Seoul, Paris and Munich, and he was obliged to go take a look.
Last year the Committee had trekked to Europe to have a look at
emerging vehicle technology, and Gibbo was so impressed he got
permission to take another look. So it’s off to England he goes. Gibbo
knows that there’s a risk that narks in the Press Gallery might think
this to be a junket – but Gibbo had the perfect solution: invite the
Press Gallery to tag along. He told the House:


I have invited the media to meet us in England to look at this
breakthrough in road safety and to make their own decisions on it.


But the Boilermaker was given the
heads up that Gibbo will put himself out by seeing what New South Wales
can learn from him making a side trip to Iceland. Gibbo is planning to
learn about Intelligent Speed Adaptation technology – glad to see that
there’s some intelligence somewhere. It seems the Libs turned down the
opportunity to tag along, but the Nats, always with an eye on the main
chance, took up their position with considerable enthusiasm. So I’ll be
surprised if the Opposition make too much of this.

Gibbo’s European tour along with his
trip to Europe last year puts a speech he made in November 2000 into an
interesting light. First, you have to appreciate that Gibbo was put
through a gruelling investigation into allegations that he had travel
and gifts paid for by a Sydney underworld figure. The ICAC eventually
cleared him, but not before Gibbo had then Commissioner Barry O’Keefe
removed from the investigation due to a reasonable apprehension of
bias. To say that Gibbo loathed O’Keefe is to understate the enmity. So
in 2000 when details of O’Keefe’s travels in the last year of his term
was reported, Gibbo gave Barry a bit of what for:


He based his performances on how many overseas visits he took each
year! The commissioner is the greatest example in the history of this
State of someone milking the taxpayer. There should be an inquiry into
his activities. He is the greatest leech in history: he sucked every
morsel out of the package that was given to him, and he made sure he
did not miss anything. Barry O’Keefe, more than anyone else, has rorted
the taxpayers of this State and he should be made accountable.


And a day later, another touch up:


He used to travel from Mosman to Redfern in a Bentley at taxpayers’
expense. It would have been far less expensive to have had people carry
him across the bridge. There is no doubt that the previous
commissioner, Barry O’Keefe, stuck his nose in the trough and had a
really good guzzle. He had more trips than Christopher Columbus and
Captain Cook.


We can look forward to some interesting reports from Gibbo’s travel if he follows his own advice:


What did the taxpayers of New South Wales get out of these trips?
Where are the reports on these trips that the commissioner, by rights,
should have given to the Parliament to scrutinise to ascertain the
value of the trips?


And there’s another interesting factor
relating to all this travel for Parliament’s road safety committee.
While the Boilermaker doesn’t like turning the spotlight on to
Parliamentary officers, there’s an unmistakable pattern to some of the
travel undertaken by MPs.

Ian Faulks has been the staff Director
of the Staysafe Committee since time immemorial it seems. During his
stewardship Staysafe has been to some interesting places. In March 2000
there was a three week trip to North America and Europe, while in
October 2000 there was a two week trip to the United Kingdom and
Hungary and in 2003 there were delegations on 30 June, 15 August and
25-28 November.

Efforts over time to move Faulks from
running the Staysafe Committee have been thwarted, and after the last
election, he was given responsibility for the ICAC Committee. In the
four years before he took over, the only Committee trip overseas was
when two members of the Committee made a trip to Hong Kong to inspect
the ICAC there. This year at Easter Faulks took two Members of
Parliament from the ICAC Committee on an 18 day grand tour of Belgium,
England, Ireland the USA and Canada. And it seems that he’ll be
accompanying Gibbo on his European tour of duty.

The report from the ICAC delegation
contained three pages on issues, with the remainder of the 30 pages
providing itineraries, membership of the Committee, its terms of
reference, and minutes of the Committee’s meetings as well as a number
of pages left blank intentionally. Meanwhile, there are seven reports
due from the Staysafe and ICAC committees that haven’t been finalised,
some of them going back to 2001 and 2002.

While in British Columbia, Faulks got
to be seated on the floor of the Legislative Assembly chamber – an
honour usually preserved for visiting MPs and dignitaries. But some
believe that Faulks has so entrenched himself in the Staysafe Committee
that he may as well be an MP for the control he has over the
Committee’s activities. MPs always cop flack for overseas junkets, but
there are occasions when it isn’t entirely their fault.

Boilermaker Bill is seeing out the winter from his mailing address at [email protected]

Peter Fray

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