Boilermaker Bill reports from a quiet Macquarie Street – plus responses
from election analyst Antony Green and Peter Breen MLC below.
It’s deathly quiet round Macquarie Street. Parliament’s not coming back
till the end of August. The only sport these past few weeks has been
watching Upper House MP Peter Breen get a grilling at the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC). For
newcomers, Breen has been under investigation for allegations that he
wrongly claimed living allowances for living in Lismore while he was
domiciled elsewhere, and used his Parliamentary staff to work on some
of his extra-Parliamentary pet projects.
While it seems that ICAC rarely goes into public hearings unless it
thinks it has the goods, Breen mounted a reasonably stout defence. Yet
the consensus is that Breen’s staring down the barrel of an adverse
finding from ICAC. Breen’s future as a MP will then depend on his
colleagues in Losers’ Lounge – he’s already made it clear that he’s not
going to follow the course taken by former Outdoor Recreation Party MP,
Malcolm Jones, who resigned in the wake of an ICAC finding that he had
corruptly used his Parliamentary allowances. Jones jumped before he was
pushed – Breen’s going to dig in.
Breen’s future will depend in part on the language used to express
ICAC’s findings. If the hearing Commissioner, Peter Hastings QC, uses
the language employed by ICAC Commissioner Irene Moss in her findings
against Jones, there’ll be very little wriggle room for his Upper House
colleagues. If Breen is removed, an interesting question comes up
regarding filling the resulting casual vacancy. Breen was elected at
the tablecloth election in 1999 as a representative of the Reform the
Legal System Party, after he got first place on the ballot paper. After
they tightened up the rules to require 750 members to register a
political party, Breen’s party fell over, and he is now an independent
member. Like the Senate, the NSW Constitution requires an Upper House
vacancy to be filled by a member of the same party as the departing
member, but is silent on what happens when the departing member is an
In a bit of kite flying, word got out that if it came to vacating his
seat, Breen was contemplating that his friend and lawyer, John Marsden,
might fill the vacancy. Breen floated the idea of Marsden running for
his party at the 2003 election, but nothing came of it. And even now,
some sceptics are wistfully musing that Breen has put forward Marsden’s
name in a last ditch effort to save his seat. The thinking goes that if
Marsden is the pea in the pod, there’ll be a sizeable majority that
would prefer Breen to stay if Marsden is the alternative.
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Leaving that aside, the filling of the vacancy takes place at a Joint
Sitting, where Labor will have control of the numbers. But Labor holds
only a narrow working majority Losers Lounge, in concert with a
majority of the Cross bench. They’ll be none too pleased if Labor takes
advantage of the circumstances to install a Labor member. Maybe they
should have a New South Wales Idol contest to replace Breen. A bit of
karaoke at the Nippon Club anyone?
Blowback Part II
The ICAC hearings finished with Breen voicing his suspicions that the
ICAC investigation was kick-started by his staffer, Adriana Sammartano,
who he claimed had divulged his arrangements to Natalie Shymko, the
then staffer for Malcolm Jones. Shymko went on to work for Jon Jenkins,
Jones’ replacement, after her own ill fated attempt to secure the ORP
nomination to fill the casual vacancy caused by Jones departure. Breen
Ms Shymko and Ms Sammartano were very close. Often I would come into my
office and Ms Shymko would be there talking to Ms Sammartano and Ms
Shymko would immediately leave the office because she knew that I
didn’t like her being there. I would frequently see them going off
together to the toilet. I would frequently see them going towards the
lift together. So they did spend an inordinate amount of time together
by comparison with other staffers in the Parliament.
When asked about a dirt sheet making allegations against him that was
handed out around the time of Jones departure, Breen told the ICAC:
When I made inquiries about the document I received information from
one of the two whistle blowers, from the executive of the Outdoor
Recreation Party that the information in this complaint had come from
Adriana Sammartano via Natalie Shymko and that Natalie Shymko had
passed the information on to other people in the Outdoor Recreation
Party and to other members of Parliament.
Some observers had always wondered why Peter Breen had hired Ms
Sammartano in the first place. Ms Sammartano had been
secretary/research assistant to Franca Arena, right up to her departure
from the Upper House in 1999. She was with Franca right to the bitter
end, seeing Franca through her resignation from the ALP after she had
claimed a conspiracy worked to prevent allegations of paedophilia from
being aired at the Wood Royal Commission. Sammartano’s loyalty to
Franca did not go unnoticed. So it was with some surprise that Breen,
whose friendship with John Marsden was widely known, agreed to take on
Sammartano after the 1999 election.
Lismore: Beautiful one day, Dhaka the next
In the Boilermaker’s last musings, he noted the travels of peripatetic
Parliamentary Committee staffer, Ian “Wanderin Man” Faulks, who has
taken a few of his Committee overlords to foreign fields to broaden
their knowledge of road safety and anti-corruption bodies. Word has
reached the Boilermaker that none other than Peter Breen had a close
call regarding one of Faulks’ proposed trips.
Breen, a member of the Ombudsman oversight committee, was in Perth last
September to participate in a round table on anti-corruption bodies
following the Kennedy Royal Commission.
Apparently Faulks wandered up to Breen, who didn’t know him from a bar
of soap, and asked him if he wanted to go to Bangladesh the following
Sunday. Breen thought about it for an hour, but eventually
refused the offer. Breen headed home from Perth, and the following day,
his office was raided by ICAC. Imagine the indignity – on top of
accounting for your visits to Lismore, having to justify a junket to
Blowback Part III
It seems all bets are now off in Losers Lounge when it comes to
allegations about potential misuse of Parliamentary allowances. In
further evidence of blowback, this story involves Outdoor Recreation
Party MP and all round boy scout, Jon Jenkins, who sent an email to his
colleagues in Losers’ Lounge letting them know that he’d be away and
virtually uncontactable for two weeks. Jenkins has now learnt the hard
away that in politics you don’t play anything with a straight bat,
unless you’ve got your opponent’s face dead centre in your sights.
Within hours of telling his colleagues of his imminent departure, the
email had been forwarded on to the Daily Telegraph, who got straight on
the phone to Jenkins thinking that another rort story was on the boil.
Alas, Jenkins was off to Broken Hill to check for holes in the Bilby
Fence, and attend a fundraiser for the Royal Flying Doctor Service.
Harried, Potty and the Order of the Griffin
The Government is fast losing patience with Police Integrity Commission
chief, Terry Griffin. On top of his last Parliamentary committee
appearance, where among other infelicitous comments, Griffin said that
he didn’t understand his organisation’s budget, he has since dropped a
clanger on his relationship with the Government. Like other watchdogs,
PIC is supposed to table its reports in Parliament, and only then
release it publicly. However, it became obvious that the Minister for
Police, John Watkins, was well briefed when he fronted up to a presser
after the report’s release, but he denied getting an advance copy.
Suspicious of this denial, Opposition Leader, John Brogden, wrote to
Griffin to ask if an advance copy had been given to Watkins.
Contradicting the Minister, Griffin told J-Bro that yes, the Minister
had got an advance copy on the Friday preceding the Monday of the
report’s tabling. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Griffin compounded his
faux pas with his observations regarding the relationship between the
supposedly independent watchdog and the Government. Griffin told
Brogden that while PIC had:
Operational independence from the government … the relationship
between the commission and the minister for police is by no means an
entirely arm’s length one.
Understandably J-Bro was furious, and Griffin’s now well in the sights of the Opposition.
Getting clubbed by your own side
Speaking of inquiries giving the Government grief, the inquiry into
arrangements at the Penrith Leagues Club, aka Panthers, went awry for
the Government last week. Ian Temby, former ICAC chief, is currently
conducting an inquiry into, among other things, allegations that
Panthers had a cosy deal with its CEO, Roger Cowan, where Cowan was
paid $2.8 million through his company, Phyro, with the money then
disbursed to other staff, and Panthers players.
The inquiry arose from reporting of the arrangements by Paola Totaro in
the SMH. When the allegations were aired, the Government wasted no time
in arranging an inquiry to divert some attention and anger away from
the controversial increases in poker machine taxes for clubs. What
better way, went the thinking, to justify the tax increases than by
highlighting the largesse of some of the bigger clubs?
So Temby was appointed to conduct the inquiry, and things were going
sweetly. Then Temby’s attention was drawn to an interview between Cowan
and Alan Jones on 2GB on the first day of the inquiry. Cowan was given
the inside running during Jones interview, which piqued Temby’s
curiosity. Temby asked Cowan to produce notes regarding the interview,
and mused out loud that this might be another cash for comment scenario.
Well, that just set Jones right off. He foamed and fulminated, raging against Temby and his excesses. A few highlights:
It goes without saying that it ill becomes an inquiry, supposed to be
founded on the basis of objectivity and factual analysis, to allow
itself instead to take an utterly improper position engaging in
headline grabbing speculation about me in an abusive, unproven, untrue,
damaging and hurtful way…
What happened, Mr. Temby, to the 40 cent phone call? What happened to
your so-called balanced analysis? If, Mr. Temby, you or your seat
warmers had rung me, I would have set them straight. I have no
relationship with these people.
And, Mr. Temby, I would have thought you would have learnt by now the
dangers of smearing people and getting it wrong after your shockingly
flawed finding of corruption against Nicholas Greiner, our former State
Premier… And who needs this cynical, smearing approach in a Quasi
pseudo judicial government appointment like Temby. Mr. Temby’s
performance on Friday was an utter misuse of power…
Mr. Temby has been on the record in the past of believing in absolute
truth. He should try living by that in the exercise of this inquiry
which is nothing more than a waste of taxpayers’ money.
Following that little outburst, there was much rolling of the eyes
amongst Government members. A free kick against some of the snouts in
the deep troughs amongst the Leagues Clubs had just been forfeited. One
observer must have been sadly shaking his head when sharing his
F***ing Temby. Couldn’t leave well enough alone. He had to go and rattle Jonesy’s cage.
Alan Jones Greek Style
When the Boilermaker went looking for a transcript on the 2GB website
to get the juicy quotes above, he was reminded that 2GB is one of the
official radio broadcasters for the Athens Olympics. The Boilermaker
got to thinking that it’s a real pity that the Parrot isn’t headed for
Athens to broadcast live alongside cagemate, Ray Hadley.
Readers of a certain vintage might recall that the Parrot ran for the
Libs in the by-election for the NSW seat of Earlwood in 1978, caused by
the retirement of former Premier, Sir Eric Willis. In one of the
miscalculations cited by pundits to explain his loss of a formerly safe
Liberal seat, Jones was doing a bit of Saturday morning spruiking from
the back of a flat bed truck. Nothing out of the ordinary there, but to
win over the not insignificant Greek vote, Jones was all dressed up in
the Greek national costume. It’s not clear whether the outfit was his
own, but what better way to have 2GB promote the Games than getting
Alan to once again don the foustenalla, fessi and tsarouhi? Petition
Antony Green corrects Boilermaker Bill McKell
First sealed – 4 August
Boilermaker Bill has made a mistake in suggesting that if MLC Peter
Breen is forced to resign from the NSW Legislative Council, Labor could
somehow arrange to fill the vacancy.
The constitution states that any casual vacancy must be filled by a
member of the same party that the departing MLC represented at the time
of their election. Election of replacement MLCs occurs at a Joint
Sitting, but the MLC cannot take their seat for two days. If in this
period the person has ceased to be a member of that party, they cannot
take their seat. Call this latter provision the Pat Field clause, in
memory of the Labor Party member appointed to a Senate vacancy by Joh
Bjelke-Petersen in 1975 against the wishes of the Labor Party.
Just because Peter Breen’s Reform the Legal System is no longer a
registered party does not mean this provision no longer applies. The
Constitution Act gives no definition of a party and so it is wrong to
assume this provision means it must be a registered party under the
electoral act. Breen was elected for Reform the Legal System.
Presumably the organisation still exists, even if the party has lost
Therefore, if the Labor Party appointed one of its own to the vacancy,
they could immediately be challenged by anyone who is a member of
Reform the Legal System. The party still exists, even if it has lost
registration, and as the Constitution provides no definition of a
party, any attempt to appoint someone who was not a member of Reform
the Legal System would end up before the courts.
Reference to party in the process of replacing Senators in the
Commonwealth constitution was added by referendum in 1977 before the
registration of parties was included in the electoral act. The same is
true for the original replacement procedures in the NSW Constitution.
As at the time resolving any replacement would have to have been
undertaken without reference to registered parties, it is not hard to
argue that this broader definition of what a political party is still
Reform the Legal System may no longer be a registered party, but it if
exists in any form, it is still entitled to claim any casual vacancy.
Peter Breen: I’m no rorter
Second sealed – 4 August
Despite evidence to the contrary, Boilermaker Bill and I appear to mix
in different circles (‘Boilermaker Bill: Walking the Breen Mile’,
Crikey, 30 July 2004). The ‘Labor Legend’ says in one breath I mounted
a reasonably stout defence to the allegations I misused parliamentary
entitlements and allowances. But then this: ‘Yet the consensus is that
Breen’s staring down the barrel of an adverse finding from the ICAC’.
Crikey rubbish! Whose ‘consensus’ is the Boilermaker writing about?
Can I suggest reading all the evidence and expanding the straw poll
before jumping to conclusions. Boilermaker Bill is living proof that
ICAC public hearings cause reputations to be trashed without a fair
hearing. To say ‘ICAC rarely goes into public hearings unless it has
the goods’ is complete nonsense. The ICAC is unique amongst standing
commissions of inquiry in that it uses public hearings as an
As for the attack on my staffer, Adriana Sammartano, it was about as
helpful as a Piers Akerman piece on weapons of mass destruction. Ms
Sammartanto was an innocent victim of a planned enterprise in the
Outdoor Recreation Party to obtain information from my office for the
sole purpose of making a complaint to the ICAC in retaliation for my
complaint about Malcolm Jones.
Boilermaker Bill is right about one thing: Adriana Sammartano’s loyalty
to Franca Arena did not go unnoticed. That is one reason I employed her
and continue to do so. The ‘Labor Legend’ might browse through the July
1992 ICAC Report into Peter Blockmore (page 22) where he will read the
following: ‘The Independent Commission Against Corruption is not a
court of morals, and I do not attempt to moralise, but public figures
such as politicians must always be vulnerable to sinister rumours by
people acquainted with only some of the facts’.
Peter Breen MLC
Macquarie Street, NSW