Monday, 27 April 2015

When Acts Done For Political Expedience Amount To Breaking The Law

Accessing and distributing restricted child support documents and information of now Independent MP Billy Gordon and his former partner, Kristy Peckham, for political expedience has become a very serious issue.

On Friday 24 April 2015 it was reported that:

  • A few hours before the A Current Affair interview [on Thursday 23 April 2015], the Liberal National Party (“LNP”) handed documents to journalists detailing some of [now independent MP] Mr [Billy] Gordon's child support payments and naming his two young children.


  • The Queensland Opposition has attempted to divert attention away from its release of confidential child support documents relating to Billy Gordon, instead pointing the finger at the Premier and the questions it says she still needs to answer.
  • Deputy Opposition Leader John-Paul Langbroek repeatedly told journalists the issue wasn't that the LNP had released child support documents, which revealed Mr Gordon's children's names and were potentially a breach of the law.
  • The documents partially shown on the program and released by the LNP to the media on Thursday ahead of its airing, show Mr Gordon is potentially once again in arrears, for more than $700.

(Brisbane Times)

On Monday 27 April 2015 it was reported that:

  • Mr Springborg today defended the release by his office of copies of Mr Gordon's former partner's child support statements to journalists.
  • He said the information was for background, not publication.
  • "Those documents were distributed to actually indicate quite clearly that this matter, which Mr Gordon and the Premier had said had been dealt with, was not dealt with," Mr Springborg said.
  • "They were distributed by way of background information, with no expectation that they were being published, and that was the information that was given to the [media] gallery at the time."

(ABC News) (The Guardian)

If the reports are accurate the Liberal National Party may be in some difficulty. The release of documents to journalists detailing some of the child support payments of Mr Gordon and naming his two (2) young children would appear to breach section 150AA(1) of the Child Support (Assessment) Act 1989 (Cth). The Penalty for such a breach is Imprisonment for up to one (1) year.

The subject revelation could hardly be said to be without knowledge as there was controversy previously about the revelations of the criminal history of Mr Gordon and that such behaviour might be unlawful. Before that fellow LNP member Mal Brough courted significant controversy when he admitted to receiving the diary of Peter Slipper, the then Speaker of the Federal Parliament and his then political rival, from James Ashby. A police enquiry was then called for in respect of Mr Brough and his behaviour.

Mr Springborg seems to admit the subject communication of relevant information behaviour.  Thus far he has demonstrated no basis in connection with relevant Child Support proceedings to be in possession of the documents and then to communicate relevant information in respect of them. Prima facie it would appear an offence has been committed and a confession to that offence has been made, albeit in an attempt to distance himself from the allegedly offending behaviour. On that basis there is substance in the call by Mr Gordon for the police to investigate the subject communication of relevant information.

Prosecutions in this field are not without precedent. On Monday 24 March 2014 the owner of The Courier-Mail newspaper, Queensland Newspapers, was sentenced in the District Court in Brisbane for breaching restrictions on publishing court proceedings. In 2012 it identified a family involved in a Family Court parenting dispute by publishing names and photographs of the mother and four (4) children involved.

The Court fined the newspaper $120,000 and allowed it one (1) month to pay the fine.

The Rule of Law
A significant issue in the 2014 election was the attack upon the Rule of Law by the LNP government during its term in office. The approach of the LNP to the Billy Gordon matter can be said to be a continuation of that attack. It speaks to the judgment of the LNP that it would persist with an approach found by the electorate to be repugnant. It is also curious why the LNP thinks it should be entitled to breach the law and in turn benefit from those breaches to achieve a new election and possibly return to government.

It is disturbing that the LNP leader can access restricted documents and distribute them as he sees fit. His explanation for so doing is not satisfactory and his behaviour and that of his party is akin to the tail trying to wag the dog.

It should not be normal practice for Queensland politicians to access any confidential data they wish. They should be subject to the law and the Rule of Law in the same way as the rest of the community.

Whilst in the circumstances the release of the documents in question on this occasion might have been attendant with more circumspection, that they were not is the responsibility of the LNP and Mr Springborg. Both have sought to pursue the Billy Gordon matter for all the political expedience they can achieve from it. That motivation is another relevant consideration when assessing the subject access to and distribution of the documents and information in question.

Prima facie an offence appears to have been committed and, in the explanation for the behaviour, Mr Springborg appears to admit to both the behaviour and the offence. There is also an issue as to public confidence in both good governance and the police. The matter is entitled to be properly investigated and on the material to hand to date, there is an understandable expectation for Mr Springborg to be prosecuted for breaching section 150AA(1) of the Child Support (Assessment) Act 1989 (Cth).

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Endorsements and Credibility

Using a cross-examination technique in relation to a peripheral lie, we can see the impact inconsistent statements made as a result of a paid blind endorsement can have on the reputation of the maker of those inconsistent statements.

The Utility of a Peripheral Lie
In my cross-examination article I discussed how a peripheral lie can be used to challenge the credibility of a witness:
“A provable peripheral lie is a good friend when you are seeking to dismantle the credibility of a witness. If the witness is prepared to lie about something unimportant, then they are definitely prepared to lie about the crucial matters of the case, is how the argument goes.”

Inconsistent Statements
In Bilal & Omar [2015] FamCAFC 30 (27 February 2015) relevantly Bryant CJ, Murphy and Loughnan JJ at para [43] considered the issue of credibility of the wife.
  • The wife’s affidavit deposes, and the solicitor’s certificate attests, that the wife has received advice of a certain kind.
  • In defending the husband’s case, the wife clearly asserted in the witness box a position entirely inconsistent with that.
  • Put simply, the wife put squarely into issue whether the advice required under s 90G had in fact been given.

At para [54] the Court agreed with the contentions of the husband that on the evidence adverse credit findings in respect of the wife were appropriate.

Blind Endorsements
ABC science commentator Dr Karl Kruszelnicki (“Dr Karl”) agreed to and did appear in a number of advertisements promoting the Intergenerational Report (“IGR”) of the Federal Government. He subsequently acknowledged he was only able to read parts of that Report before he agreed to the advertisements as the rest of the Report was under embargo by the Federal Government. The advertisements appeared without a disclosure that Dr Karl was endorsing a Report he had not read.

Once the public became aware of the contents of the Report, that it was a flawed, partisan political document, which Dr Karl acknowledged “largely ignores the impact of climate change”, there was an outcry as to the aforementioned endorsement and promotion by Dr Karl.

Dr Karl then sought to distance himself from his prior support for and endorsement of the Report.

Dr Karl knew or ought to have known the significance of accepting an engagement to endorse a Report which he had not read. His reputation, such as it was, was sought to lend credence to the Report. Endorsing something he had not read seems to be a pretty significant error of judgment on his part. Endorse the principles you say the Report promotes, if you wish, but do not endorse the Report without reading it.

His change of position, contrition and decision “to donate any moneys received from the IGR campaign to needy Government schools” can be said to be hollow, as it only came after significant public disquiet was expressed about his endorsement of the IGR. That change of position etc can be said to be not an act he initiated.

Whilst his actions can be said to have the benefit of now focussing attention on the problems with the IGR, the damage his reputation has suffered can also be said to be significant. The lack of disclosure of the fact that Dr Karl had not read the Report he was apparently endorsing is a relevant issue. Paid blind endorsements are not worth much in terms of credibility. Integrity free endorsements should be accompanied by an appropriate warning

The impact of the aforementioned blind endorsement upon his reputation is significant. Whatever Dr Karl may purport to say now can be said to be tainted by his poor judgment and lack of research attendant with his paid endorsement of the IGR. His apparently afterthought-inspired contrition will do little to redeem his reputation in the eyes of some people.

When you look at his history and discover that in 2007 he made a statement about climate change that he subsequently admitted was wrong, his credibility takes a further battering.

His most recent foray into commentary should have been informed by his earlier experiences.

In Lee & Anor v State of Queensland [2015] QDC 83 McGill SC DCJ at para [43] found that he was not prepared to accept the evidence of the Plaintiff Mr Swindles “as reliable unless it was independently supported, or inherently probable”. Using the Lee case as a guide, independent corroboration of the contention Dr Karl seeks to make may be required in future before some people are prepared to accept that contention.

The fact that by his actions Dr Karl has educated people as to:
  • the flaws in the IGR;
  • the process by which the government sought to promote it; and
  • the damage a paid blind endorsement without any accompanying disclosure can do to a reputation,
may be little consolation to him as he reflects upon putting his reputation in jeopardy and in circumstances which were entirely avoidable.