Yesterday, NSW Premier Iemma held a press conference at 10:45am to announce that he was dismissing Aboriginal Affairs Minister Milton Orkopoulos from the Ministry and as a State Labor MP.

This was the first public announcement of any problem. Later that day, Orkopoulos was arrested and charged with a large number of sex offences of a homosexual nature and involving allegations of pedophilia. Iemma also said he expected him to resign as MP for Swansea.

Orkopoulos says that he will vigorously contest the charges.

As we all know, a person is presumed to be innocent until charges are lawfully proved. This means that Orkopoulos is innocent unless and until he is convicted by a court.

Iemma has behaved badly. As a result, we have the Premier of NSW sending a message to prospective jurors that he (Iemma) is satisfied of the guilt of this man (who protests his innocence) to an extent that justifies immediate dismissal from the Ministry, the Party and the Parliament.

The conventional approach to MPs being charged (or anyone else for that matter) is for the person to stand down from any position held until the criminal proceedings have been heard and determined.

The Carmen Lawrence case is instructive. Lawrence was appointed Shadow Cabinet by Federal Labor under Beazley in 1996. She was subsequently charged with three counts of perjury and she immediately stood down from her Shadow Cabinet position. She remained a Labor MP and in 1999 she stood trial and was acquitted. In 2000 she was re-appointed to Shadow Cabinet.

At no stage was she dismissed from Cabinet or from the Labor party. Beazley never suggested she should resign from Parliament.

The defence of Orkopoulos has been severely damaged by Iemma: it appears that the Premier of NSW regards him as guilty. This matter could have been handled in the usual way – Orkopoulos could stand down from Cabinet but remain an ALP member and an MP until the prosecution was completed.

In my view, Iemma has gone into a homophobic panic because of the nature of the allegations and the proximity of an election. Sydney may be the gay capital of Australia, but life is tough for outed public gays. Just ask Alan Jones.

Peter Fray

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