What lesson are we to learn from the demise of NSW police minister Carl Scully, sacked after misleading Parliament twice in one week? Here’s the question that sunk him:
Mr ANDREW STONER: My question is directed to the Minister for Police.
Mr Frank Sartor: God, you’re boring!
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Minister for Planning will come to order. The Leader of The Nationals has the call.
Mr ANDREW STONER: The Minister will not think this is boring. My question is to the Minister for Police. Given that on last Monday week the Minister phoned the ABC television newsroom claiming that that night’s Channel 9 news item on his handling of the Cronulla report was untrue, has he now apologised to the ABC and other media for lying about the report and his knowledge of it?
Mr CARL SCULLY: Perhaps I could answer that question if Channel 9 can tell me who in my office rang and at what point I rang and what I said. Then perhaps I could answer the question.
Mr Andrew Stoner: You rang the ABC.
Mr CARL SCULLY: Now you are lying.
Scully was the one off the mark. He had to go back into the House to correct the record:
Mr CARL SCULLY: I wish to provide a supplementary answer to a question I was asked during question time today. The Leader of The Nationals asked me whether I had contacted the ABC newsroom in relation to a Channel 9 item on the Cronulla report. I answered that that was untrue because then, and now, I do not recall that specific conversation. Over the past 10 days I have had scores and scores of conversations with many journalists and many, many newsrooms. In the face of the ABC newsroom insisting I made the call, and with no means of proving otherwise, I must accept that I did actually make that call. I wish to correct the record accordingly. In the conversation it is said that I said:
The report had only got to the drafting stage so there was not a report to comment on.
Those views, which I am said to have expressed in that conversation and I accept that I now must have made, are consistent with the views expressed by me generally to many other outlets and many journalists over the past 10 days. I hope that clears up the matter.
So what sank Scully? “In the face of the ABC newsroom insisting I made the call, and with no means of proving otherwise, I must accept that I did actually make that call.” Or, as Premier Morris Iemma put it: “Once it became aware to me that he was required to go back into the chamber and clarify his words, his resignation was needed and right. The whole world knew that Carl had to be more careful with his words. It was simply a case of one mistake too many.”
It was nothing to do with his management of the police portfolio – including media management. He hasn’t been held to account over this – over the report on the handling of the Cronulla riots. It was purely the slips in the House.
The culture of buck passing and failing to take responsibility has spread so far that it is this sort of thing that political careers hang upon.