Western Australia’s
Liberal Opposition leader Matt Birney faced an unpleasant grilling
yesterday when he fielded questions from a six-member Parliamentary
Privileges Committee (PPC) inquiring into why he had secretly updated
his financial interests statement earlier this year.

Parliament
resolved along party lines last Thursday that the PPC convene to
investigate Birney’s move and report its findings to the Legislative
Assembly by 31 December 2005. It also resolved that the Clerk of the
Legislative Assembly, Peter McHugh, and his deputy, John Mandy, be
summoned “to assist in establishing the facts even to the extent of
disclosure of matters which the Clerk and Deputy Clerk would hold as
confidential in their service to all members of the Legislative
Assembly.”

More ominous for Birney, however, is the second leg
of the Labor-dominated Assembly’s resolution, calling on the PPC to
decide if his secret updating should be judged as “misconduct as
defined by the Corruption and Crime Commission Act 2003…”

If
it so decided, Birney would find it impossible to retain the leadership
he’s held only since last February because the finding could trigger a
Corruption and Crime Commission investigation.

Birney’s
predicament has put the luckless Liberals into a bind they are unlikely
to extricate themselves from quickly. Two months ago Birney’s deputy,
Paul Omodei, resigned the number two post after receiving a suspended
sentence for negligently shooting his son in the hand while hunting on
his family’s farming property.

But that hasn’t dissuaded Omodei
from publicly stating he’s ready to become party leader if the PPC does
not exonerate his leader. Birney continues to proclaim his innocence
but he has predicted the PPC, which has three Labor members, one
Independent, one National and one Liberal, will rule against him.

“I
totally refute any allegation from that grubby little mob that I have
done anything wrong,” he told Parliament last week. Before Parliament
had met, Omodei told The West Australian: “I’m still available to do what’s the best thing for the Liberal Party and the State of Western Australia.

The
PPC is expected to table its findings just before Christmas, meaning
Birney will either get a much welcomed Christmas gift or have the worst
Christmas of his short 37-years.

Peter Fray

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