CANBERRA, Australia — Western Australia’s corruption watchdog has been ordered to return documents seized during an investigation into the misuse of parliamentary entitlements.
A Supreme Court judge has delivered his judgment after hearing proceedings between the Corruption and Crime Commission and former Legislative Council president Kate Doust.
The latest development in a feud between Doust and senior members of the McGowan government opposed their Labor colleague over the Corruption and Crime Commission dispute.
The Corruption and Crime Commission in 2019 seized a parliamentary laptop and two hard drives belonging to disgraced former Liberal Member of Parliament, Phil Edman.
They were subsequently obtained by the powerful procedures and privileges committee, then chaired by Doust, on the basis that material may be subject to parliamentary privilege.
Attorney-General John Quigley launched legal action, claiming the committee had overstepped its powers in withholding key documents.
Doust in May tabled a report outlining her committee’s interactions with the Corruption and Crime Commission.
She alleged the committee had been negotiating with the Corruption and Crime Commission to provide access to requested documents when Corruption and Crime Commission commissioner John McKechnie suddenly “reneged” and began separate negotiations with the attorney-general.
“This coincided with the bald usurpation of the powers and privileges of the Legislative Council through the calculated intervention of the Attorney-General and State Solicitor’s Office, to the potentially unlawful benefit of the Corruption and Crime Commission,” said Doust.
Quigley has denied compromising the integrity of the Corruption and Crime Commission or undermining the rights of the upper house.
Justice Stephen Hall found the Corruption and Crime Commission was within its rights to seek the documents given many were unlikely to be privileged.
But it should not have received the material because parliamentary privilege had not been lawfully determined.
“In these circumstances, both the plaintiff and the defendant are partly successful,” he noted.
Hall ordered the documents be returned to the premier’s department or delivered to parliament “to enable a proper determination of privilege to be made.”
He said the Corruption and Crime Commission was designed to investigate public officers, including Members of Parliament, and in those circumstances, it was “inevitable” that parliamentary privilege would arise.
“Clearly, the intention was not to make members of parliament immune from scrutiny or to give them undeserved personal protection,” said Hall.
“An agreed protocol to determine privilege would enable the Corruption and Crime Commission to undertake investigations whilst protecting parliamentary proceedings. Regrettably, such a protocol does not yet exist in this state.”
A 2019 Corruption and Crime Commission investigation revealed Edman had used his electorate allowance for acting as a “sugar daddy” to women he met online, visiting strip clubs, and paying speeding fines.
After the Corruption and Crime Commission raided his premises, Edman got a former Member of Parliament and a party official to warn various sitting members that a seized laptop contained damaging material.
“It has got everything, all the emails between all of us, Black Hand Gang dinners, it has got the video, there is enough stuff on that computer to bury a lot of people,” he said.
The seized laptop and hard drives are currently held by parliament in a secure container that can only be accessed by agreement with the Western Australian Police Force.
Doust was dumped from the upper house presidency after the March election.
(Edited by Vaibhav Pawar and Saptak Datta)
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